Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Robinson's The Element Reminds Us to Tend to the Lifeworld

My state, Ohio, has been reeling for some time from the wave of job losses that is just beginning to affect some states. Many people—from blue-collar workers to skilled trades people to educated professionals with solid track records—are contemplating choices they never thought they would have to make. Choices like:
  • Should I wait out this drop in the construction trades or start college at age 40?

  • Should I go back to college at age 50 for a second degree that will improve my "marketability?"?

  • Should I move to where the job market is better—which means uprooting my family and selling my house at little or no profit? Or should I stay here and settle for a job that realizes a fraction of my potential?

  • At what point will I take whatever job I can get so we can keep our house?
With those kinds of dilemmas all over the news, the vision of Ken Robinson's book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything is truly a revolutionary one. The current job market and the jobs President Obama is trying to stimulate seem to be largely for those whose "Element" is science, technology, engineering, and health care. Those certainly are pressing needs that must be met. But I think many who have been hit hard by the economic downturn may not be able to have the dream of working in a job that epitomizes their aptitude and passion. I fear that today's jobseekers who want to avoid major disruptions in their lifestyles will need to find that outside of the job world. I hope today's children and young people won't be in that position down the road.

As we rebuild, I hope to see some new dimensions of economic development emerge—a real attempt to begin making full use of human potential.

Thomas Sergiovanni wrote about "lifeworld" and "systemsworld." (Based on the work of sociologist Jurgen Habermas). The lifeworld deals with goals and purposes and is concerned with culture, meaning, and significance. The systemsworld deals with methods and means and is concerned with efficiency, outcomes, and productivity. He said that the two are symbiotic and that the lifeworld should be “at the center as a driving force for what goes on” while the systemsworld should be "at the periphery." With our systems—infrastructure, health care, financial—in serious need of attention, I think Robinson's book is an important reminder of why we are fixing those systems and the vision to which we should aspire.

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