By Linda Fisher Thornton
There’s a problem that people don’t talk about often enough. In the quest to understand things, we have divided up content and areas of science and our world in general into categories that we label (like biology, art, and psychology for example) and think of as separate. People study inside these realms intensely until they become experts in them. The problem is that these divisions and their labels are false constructs that we have imposed on a world that is much more complex than the categories convey. When we think in these simple terms (and teach using them) we are oversimplifying our decision making, and that can lead us to make choices that don’t lead to the outcomes we want.
When we make decisions about problems that cross these artificially constructed boundary lines (and most problems do cross them), we need to carefully research the issue across disciplines to have a full understanding. This is important because real life doesn’t happen in separate disciplines. Real life crosses disciplines, so to solve problems we need to think across them. This is called transdisciplinarity, and it involves applying the thinking from the many different disciplines that relate to a problem in order to solve it. The bigger the problem, the more important this approach will be to make sure that solutions will work in the real world.
Following this line of thought, as problems become more and more complex, we need to ensure that we are teaching the skills for transdisciplinary thinking in our schools so that future citizens and leaders will have these important skills. In other words, we need to teach the transdisciplinary skills that are required to solve the complex problems we face today and will face in the future.
Another problem that complicates solving problems across disciplines is that “disciplines” tend to create a siloed effect, with people advancing higher and higher in a hierarchy within that silo until they reach the top (of that silo). This can make them feel accomplished and important. Upon reaching the “top” it can seem to some that it would dilute their wonderful knowledge (that was difficult to acquire) to collaborate with others across disciplines. This thinking, however, is more grounded in the need to protect one’s position that the need to solve a real world problem.
To collaborate is essentially to bring your talents and knowledge to a collective problem solving endeavor for the common good. To see the value of doing that, though, one has to be willing to move past the trappings of one’s status and position and into the domain of making a positive difference in the world, which can be infinitely more satisfying than being at the top of a silo watching as problems escalate.
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