College, teach thyself?
My commentary from a discussion thread at the CAC blogs on the topic of General Officers education and selection. I am interested in how we improve the capability of the college to support life long learningi nour student officers (and faculty). I argue that our college should be as flexible as the organizations we are telling these officers they will have to create and lead when they leave our building.
Marshall fired a ton of old guys prior to WW2 who were optimized for their peacetime positions based on their experiences and the nature of the pre-war environment. The discontinuity that was WW2, in Marshall’s judgment, required a bold shift in selection criteria for GO. It’s a young man’s game? But is there a substitute for the years of practical experience and intuition honed by the career paths of GOs prior to their promotion? Doesn’t the top leader have to go through all those formative experiences to develop the skill sets required for the thorniest problems? Perhaps, if you believe that we are looking for leadership to be contained within a single node inside the network organization.
But if you believe we are in a world of complex adaptive systems, filled with wicked problems, then the probability goes to zero you can have anticipated all the requirements the GO leader must have in place prior to the challenge emerging. You would tend to prefer selection systems that reward the kind of attitude toward learning and developing that Jim Greer describes above, where ideal GOs candidates have a record of modelling the lifestyle of life long learning and building organizations. Particularly if you believe that the solutions for or management of wicked problems are to be found in quickly framing problems and assembling the right team from the network of resources to satisfy the challenge.
In that kind of organization you would expect to see officer students inside Army schools taking on more responsibility for their own education, particularly those attending colleges that aim for graduate level education and seeking to leverage the insights and potential of soldiers fresh from the cauldron. You would expect to see a broad diversity of topics, approaches, methods and reflections, a flexibility towards learning that models the kinds of open and inquiring attitudes we say the future battlefield will require. You would expect risk to be taken within schools, rather than say, an approach of standardized curriculum, methods and assessments that aim to certify performance against an established, seductively time-tested checklist.
within CGSC, for example: do we “give students voice” to shape their personal learning environment? Are our students speaking their minds or are they waiting for permission to speak? If they aren’t speaking is it because they are certain about the probable outcome of their feedback? How much authority do they have to steer their own learning course? We see stats from student feedback in curriculum meetings but there are no students present when we make crucial decisions, and our curriculum meetings are not assessed on quality and performance like we do for every lesson, block, and graded student product. Are students satisfied with the payoff of giving feedback for themselves? Or is it really indirect, weak “feed forward”?
Are our classrooms and learning environments truly a network of learning organizations or are we a set of isolated, compartmentalized homogenized standard parts designed to teach the same things in generally the same way against a single consensus view of what’s required for the next 10 years of service?
If you’d argue that we can’t teach everything the officers will need to know in the next 10 years I’d agree, and then ask if we are helping jointly create the environment that promotes lifelong learning, providing the infrastructure to support it through reachback and the ability to adapt quickly to emerging educational requirements in whatever scope and size is required for the next surprise, rather than trying to get the curriculum “correct and stable, once and for all”.
The Romans had tribunes of the people to directly represent the people, with real authority to act in real time on their behalf. Do our officers have an equivalent voice to take on real responsibility for their education?
Could our college routinely solicit the educational needs of our newly arriving officers in August, do a needs assessment and create curriculum for learning inquiries that satisfied most of the expressed “needs to know” within 3 months? We couldn’t if you believed that each new piece of curriculum would have to be exhaustively researched, vetted and synthesized and approved for mass consumption before the first day of class, and we couldn’t if you thought every new piece of curriculum must meet the standard of “every MAJ for the next 10 years needs to know”. And yet that’s the kind of organizational flexibility and adaptability we are asking them to develop in their units upon graduation. College, teach thyself?
Chapters 25 and 27 of “The Future of the Army Profession” (2nd ed) are scholarly treatments of these issues