Open letter to Claire Boonstra

To Claire Boonstra (1975)
MSc Civil Engineering TU Delft

Dear Ms. Boonstra,
Dear Claire,

You are a concerned mother of three. You don’t have a degree in education, but you want to do something about education, using your experience in technology and marketing. In 2012 you made a speech at TEDxAmsterdamED, saying that you left, and that your new mission was to do something about education.

Claire Boonstra in 2012 at TEDxAmsterdamED (screenshot)

Claire Boonstra in 2012 at TEDxAmsterdamED (screenshot)

You didn’t mean to say that you would go back to university to study education, and get teaching practice and a teachting degree. For example, with your background in civil engineering, you might become a teacher in mathematics in two years, and then write a thesis on math education.

Instead, what you meant is: first you wanted to think about what you wanted to do, and then do this.

This is your manifesto (from 2012 ?). You have been thinking for three years. Now in 2015 you state that you know what you want to do.

“Now, three years later, œ Operation Education is focused on feeding the movement to revolutionize education. We do this by creating frameworks and facilitating networks, connecting the different players, and especially by creating a large public debate on the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of education. Our ultimate mission is to unleash the infinite potential of humans, and of humanity. A never-to-be-achieved-in-one-lifetime mission which serves as our compass direction.” (Claire’s website)

  • It is a pity that you didn’t do this thinking in a more structured environment. Some of your criticism of CITO tests – see the IGLO question – would be useful in the common discussion about the validity of CITO tests: but then in a systematic manner.
  • You have been thinking in your own way, with a company œ Operation Education – in which the œ stands for infinite potential – talking with a network of people like EU Commissionar Neelie Kroes and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who enjoy speaking about education with people who know less about education but more about technology and marketing.
  • You must be warned about some tendency among persons with an engineering background to see everything as engineering. We should not reduce this to a bias against engineers, since points of views must be judged on their merits. But some warning is fair, like with doctors who see patients everywhere, or lawyers who wonder whether suing you could be won, or people with hammers who see nails everywhere. For example, when we compare your position with the partnership on 21st Century Skills (P21), then we see that chair dr. Lizabeth Fogel has teaching experience, while Charles Fadel is more like you, with a background in engineering and marketing.

Your three years in the desert ended when you discovered Theory U by the Presencing Institute (PI – another mathematics-like symbol), created by MIT organizational engineers Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer:

Theory U, says that the quality of the results that a system creates is a function of the awareness from which the people in that system operate.”

One supposes that Senge & Scharmer allow that a system reduces awareness. Somehow the Dutch system of education may have reduced your awareness about the possibilities to study education before embarking upon “creating frameworks (…) to unleash the infinite potential (…)”. If you had a degree in education then you likely wouldn’t use this funny language.

The Senge-Scharmer story-line is:

“The Presencing Institute grew out of the MIT Center for Organizational Learning, which was founded by Peter Senge and his colleagues together with a group of global companies in the early 1990s. Senge and his organization were part of the same MIT System Dynamics group that had produced the influential Limits to Growth study that had helped spark the worldwide environmental movement in the 1970s.

In his work, Senge kept noticing how well developed the skills of the System Dynamics PhD students were in analyzing the broken systems of our current society. But the practical impact on changing any of these systems was almost zero. Based on that puzzling observation, Senge became interested in the behavioral dimension of change.” (Presencing,com)

I am very sympathetic to the Limits to Growth study, see this weblog text on Roefie Hueting‘s groundbreaking work on environmentally Sustainable National Income (eSNI). However, when people don’t fully buy into the Limits to Growth story, then

  • the conclusion is not quite: to look into the behavioral dimension of change, like Senge and Scharmer did,
  • but it is also a good idea to wonder: what is wrong with the Limits to Growth story ?

Some suggestions of mine:

  • switch from Limits to Growth to Hueting’s analysis on eSNI, see his website.
  • Enhance the system of democracy, see Voting Theory for Democracy.
  • Strenghten the role of science in the preparation of policy, see the Economic Supreme Court.
  • Beware of engineers who want to perfects systems of social control without the dimension of democracy and science.

Thus, dear Claire, you are only 40 and still have three decades in this 21st century before official retirement. Stop chasing fata morganas of your own creation. Stop locking yourself up in your prison of lack of knowledge and experience. Create a solid intellectual and emotional foundation for your future endeavours. Thus:

  • please reconsider your bet on Theory U,
  • respect the experience by teaching professionals,
  • first get your own teaching degree and experience,
  • then join the ranks of those who are working for better education in a knowledgeable manner,
  • and while this is your focus, you may of course speak about your experience in technology and marketing, but without the confusion.

Why don’t you check out this book of mine on education in mathematics, and observe the challenges: Elegance with Substance.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Colignatus
Econometrician (Groningen 1982) and teacher of mathematics (Leiden 2008)


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