Walter McKenzie


We're in the midst of an education paradigm shift. Are you on board? How do you know? More importantly, do you know what's driving it? Knowledge? Technology? The institution itself? We may have as many different definitions of the paradigm as we do of the shift.

I would argue the true paradigm shift is the move of focus from an individual to a communal orientation to society; a global view. This is a challenge in a culture where rugged individualism is a virtue. Our lore and legend are full of examples of strong individuals standing staunchly against adversity: Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Superman, Rambo. Then again, our historical heroes are also larger than life: Washington, Lincoln, Patton, MacArthur. They are revered for altering history against all odds. So how did this become our defining ideal, when the earliest settlers focused on the virtue of community? From colonizing in the new world to finding salvation in the afterworld, everything was achieved through communal life. How did we get from The Pilgrim's Progress to Walking Tall? It feels like a shift in paradigm and a paradox; a paradigm-a-dox.

The romantic notion of the rugged individual persisted over time, as pirates, gunslingers, and gangsters were celebrated as daring rogues living by a maverick code. People prided themselves in living within "decent" society, but they were fascinated with the dashing figures living on their own terms outside the law. Even as we moved toward standardization a century ago, people flocked to theaters to cheer on renegade characters portrayed by Edward G. Robinson and later Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, and Robert De Niro. Individualism continued to be celebrated. Is this a paradigm-a-dox?

Today the world is shrinking because of global access to everything and everyone. We are morphing into one singular global community. Individually, however, it looks as though the exact opposite is happening: everyone is customizing and personalizing how they live and work. We create our own playlists. We entertain ourselves on demand. We immerse ourselves in news sources that reinforce our beliefs. We can learn and shop and have relationships online on our schedule and on our own terms. And when we do seek one another out, it's most often as birds of a feather. So I ask the question: Can we form a global village when we are in fact living lives of customized experience and selective participation? Is the paradigm-a-dox playing itself out?

I believe the answer is this is the path to global community. There may be reciprocal processes at work, but personalization and globalization are both necessary to complete the shift. Personalization is necessary for us to sift through the information inundation we experience on a daily basis. By filtering the information we encounter, we make meaning out of cognitive chaos, creating the conditions where we can incubate original ideas, create new insights, and contribute to new global understandings:

This reaction to information overload is how we maintain personal identity as society morphs towards globalization. If one-size-fits-all is no longer the ideal, people need to individualize before they can globalize. What will it ultimately look like? We can speculate in generalities, but we won't know until we get there. This is why it is so important that we all contribute towards the building of this new society. Everything is in play and innovation is key.

What are the implications for us? Education is in flux because society is in flux. We cannot sustain an old-school model in a world that prizes personal customization and global innovation. We are in institutional disequilibrium, and it's only going to get more uncomfortable until schools begin to reflect the agility and responsiveness of the society we serve. As much fun as it is to pronounce, there is no paradigm-a-dox. A paradigm shift only looks like a paradox when we hold onto outdated assumptions and beliefs.

Walter McKenzie is a lifelong learner, teacher, leader, and connector. A director of Constituent Services for ASCD, he served 25 years in public education as a classroom teacher, instructional technology coordinator, director of technology, and assistant superintendent for information services. He is internationally known for his work on multiple intelligences and technology and has published various books and articles on the subject. Connect with McKenzie on the ASCD EDge® social network, on his Actualization blog, or by e-mail at

Comments (2)

Peter Rawsthorne

May 28, 2013

Easy… starting at an early age, we teach people to teach themselves. Then get out of the way and become cheerleaders and mentors. This does disrupt traditional approaches, but sits nicely with all innovation, no matter what it is. People will then have the freedom to choose for themselves the resourcs, assessments, credentials they strive for… we have innovations for all of these. The big part is getting out of the way!!!

Walter McKenzie

July 17, 2013

Peter I believe your vision is where education is headed.

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