Enrique Suarez

The State of Education in the United States: Cornerstones for a More Effective Education


MIT Professor Jay Wright Forrester’s Work on System Dynamics

During the last twenty years, Jay Forrester's attention has been focused primarily in two areas: 1) the creation of a system dynamics model of the United States economy, and 2) the extension of system dynamics training to kindergarten through high school education. Forrester sees the former project as leading to a new approach to economic science and a fundamental understanding of the way macroeconomic systems work. He views the latter project as crucial, not only for the future health of the field of system dynamics, but also for the future health of human society.

Although Forrester's national economic model remains unfinished, early and intermediate results have been published. The most noteworthy of the results is that the model generates a forty- to sixty-year economic cycle or "long wave" that not only explains the Great Depression of the 1930s, but also shows that deep economic slumps are a repetitive feature of capitalist economies. At the time of this writing, Forrester's model shows that the United States economy is just beginning to rise out of the trough of the latest long wave downturn.

Forrester's efforts to extend system dynamics to K-12 education have, in a sense, taken him full circle, as the story begins with his original MIT mentor Gordon Brown. Brown retired from MIT in 1973 and began wintering in Tucson, Arizona. During the late 1980s, Brown introduced system dynamics to teachers in the Tucson school system. The results were remarkable. System dynamics spread, not only through the original junior high in which it was introduced, but through the entire school district. Subjects as diverse as Shakespeare, economics, and physics are today taught in the school district, wholly or in part, via system dynamics. Moreover, the district itself is using system dynamics in an effort to become a learning organization.

The future of system dynamics in K-12 education appears promising. Today, an international clearinghouse for K-12 system dynamics materials exists and Internet and World Wide Web sites have been created to disseminate information. Numerous K-12 teachers, in the United States and abroad, have begun to integrate system dynamics into their classes, and attend international conferences on the subject. All of these developments suggest that the corporate and public sector decision makers of the future may well begin to view the problems they face through the lens of system dynamics.

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