This essay attempts to explain a social system transformation, but the history behind it is also a personal one.  While my impressions of the educational system in the United States are based on my personal experience and observations, others have written much more eloquently on the subject from years in the profession, John Taylor Gatto (2000) among others. My grandmother, Josephine Kelsay was also teacher who observed it from the inside as well as the outside while raising four children. Gatto has documented its deterioration in recent years, my grandmother observed it in decades’ past, recounting it through many discussions with me, and I have recently observed it through some higher education systems in Georgia as well as through the first-hand accounts of relatives who just finished their public-school education.  Like any phenomenon, there is always the possibility of outlier teacher apathy which causes a small but very vocal minority with no experience working in education to decry the inequity of the entire system.  That is not my intent here.

My intent is to offer a possible solution, an application of reflexivity based on Cooley (1922) Mead (1962), and Gouldner (1970), instead of adding fuel to an unproductive fire of disagreement that has extended from local neighborhoods to the halls of government for several years.  Working within the school systems’ and federal requirements while utilizing a reflexive model that incorporates mentor and student researchers of all ages to reflect upon and process incoming information independently and to critically analyze the results so that the model can be duplicated outside of the classroom is the primary goal.  In short, this is the outline for a campaign for small-scale (and perhaps larger later) social system transformation.  The campaign will be divided into several sections through the lens of Gladwell’s “Three Rules of Epidemics “(2002) and Moyer’s “Movement Action Plan” (1987).  First, the present social system paradigm will be defined and briefly described as will a teaching example.  Second, the necessity of facilitating change in that paradigm will be discussed through the adaptation of or incorporation of reflexivity into the existing education paradigm. Strategies and tactics that may be employed to alter the thinking, and actions of individuals within the existing paradigm will be considered.  Finally, I will consider the internal and external signs that a paradigm shift has occurred.

Before beginning this discussion, a few terms should be defined and clarified.  Reflexivity, for purposes of this paper, is derived from Cooley’s (1922) exploration of the looking glass self, the perception of self in others and the other in oneself.  In Mead (1962), reflexivity is further clarified as “organizing a reaction to an object,” (p. 357) and analysis of that object.  Gouldner (1970) incorporates reflexivity into a radical sociology that “recognizes “that knowledge of the world cannot be advanced apart from the sociologist’s knowledge of himself and his position in the social world, or apart from his efforts to change these.” (p. 489). As much as Gouldner refers to academic sociologists in his work, he could also be referring to anyone, an academic, a student, or a citizen-observer.  And while the paradigm shift under discussion will be a reflexive education model, the students are also participating in another unrelated paradigm shift as student participant co-researchers. Propaganda, the example study object for this paper, is defined by Ellul (1969) as “an attempt to spread an ideology through the mass media… to lead the public to accept some political, or economic structure, or to participate in some action” and sociological propaganda is “…the penetration of an ideology by means of its sociological context” (p. 63).  Sociological propaganda is further explained through the application of horizontal propaganda within group dynamics, especially between individuals within small groups (p. 81).


Current Social System Paradigms

Kuhn (1995) defines paradigm as a question, “What do … members [of a particular community] share that accounts for the relative fulness (sic) of their professional communication and the relative unanimity of their professional judgments?” (p. 182).  While the teaching profession, public, private, and university, is not necessarily unanimous in its appreciation of current standards, they are relatively unanimous in their adherence to it.  These standards have evolved over time, and so the paradigm has evolved with it.  While critical thinking may have been encouraged at one time when small one-room schools and tutored-education for elites held sway, once the dominant Prussian system was adapted and well entrenched by the 1930’s, critical thinking was no longer the primary goal, and conditioning every student to a role of dominated compliance became the norm, and critical thinking became the exception. (Gatto, 2000).

There may be small pockets of resistance to the norm where critical thinking paradigms exist in your community schools that allow for critical thinking and reflexivity in the teachers and the students (Free Schools, such as those modelled after the Sudbury School,, and students that are educated in the home as they were in the distant past, but these are not the majority.  This proposal incorporates reflexivity and critical thinking where the teacher and the students become active participants and researchers in their own daily investigations into specific phenomenon, whether that phenomenon is a subject of study in the classroom or outside of it. The example used here will be the subject of propaganda, but, really, this model of reflexivity and critical thinking can be applied to any area of academic study or daily life.


Is Change Necessary or Is Adaptation Possible?

While the suggested change from dominated conditioning to reflexive and critical analysis exercises seems impossible to drastically change the current system, I believe that gradual adaptation is possible. Gladwell (2002) looks at recent social epidemics and applies their so-called laws to the present.  The first law, “the law of the few” where efforts are driven by a handful of exceptional people,” will necessarily require more than just a revolution of one, the present author.  It will obviously require at least a handful of advocates and practitioners.  While anyone can be a supporter, groups of advocate teaching colleagues and advocate parents are going to be ideal, and presentations and networking opportunities to explain the process to gain those advocates is going to be vitally necessary.  To gain those advocates will require more than just this paper.

Gladwell’s “stickiness factor” (2002) is a nod to the fact that the propaganda that is proposed to be studied in this example will need to be employed to promote the method of study, especially on a smaller scale utilizing sociological horizontal propaganda.  Promoting this method of study is obviously vitally necessary to stick, to make the message, in this case reflexivity and critical analysis in the employ of a curriculum, contagious to several people.  The “power of context” that Gladwell includes is a personal “stickiness factor” in that the details of a situation may sometimes be unknown that relies on a gut reaction or personal situation that is affected by this stickiness factor.  In this case, it may be a known factor where the application of the lessons that the children bring home reveal a new skill, the ability to think critically and analyze incoming information.


The Application of Moyer’s Movement Action Plan

While Gladwell (2002) describes the stages of a social epidemic, he does not describe how to accomplish it.  For this, Moyer’s (1987) Movement Action Plan (MAP) may be helpful, though MAP seems to be a long and drawn out series of steps.  In some cases, MAP may serve as a guideline for future reference rather than a set of hard and fast rules or change may take generations.  Moyer’s first stage, and a necessary one, in some aspects, is “business as usual” where a serious problem is documented and active opposition is maintained no matter how small.  In the case of the current education paradigm, documentation may already exist in the form of academic research and other public accounts that include more that Gatto’s (2010) firsthand accounts.  To convince a small group of individuals to act within the education system, psychologically it will be necessary to employ the public accounts of educational deterioration for some and the academic accounts for others because not everyone will be convinced through academic research.  It is through this documentation that an active opposition to the current paradigm will be formed, or at least some adherents to support a modification of the current teaching curriculum that will allow for the reflexivity and critical thinking adaptation described earlier.

If normal channels fail and approaching the school board and the city council yield no compromise within the current curriculum, Moyer (1987) suggests, “Document the problem, including the involvement of the powerholders. Document the citizens’ attempt to use the normal channels of citizen participation and prove that they did not work. Become experts. Build small opposition organizations.” (p. 11).  However, until this naturally breaks from a smaller movement and becomes apparent on a larger scale, it is doubtful that there will be such resistance to change when immediate results in the students should be noticeable to everyone.  To facilitate this, Moyer suggested something that has been readily apparent since the Arab Springs and the Occupy movement in the United States.  Recognize the historical conditions that make this new movement possible while creating, inspiring, and preparing older and newer groups through networks (at this point, easily through local physical and Internet social networks) to develop new leaders with expertise to form the vanguard of the new movement.  Key to this, is Moyer’s emphasis in making the movement personal.  With children and students at stake, this should not be difficult to emphasize the focus here.

If this movement were to be converted to a revolution for policy change, though this may not be the most effective means to accomplish it, Moyer’s (1987) fourth stage, where the social movement takes off, suggests, again, using the propaganda that is the subject of the proposed curriculum, that includes putting policyholder’s policies into the public consciousness and on the agenda of major public issues.  “Creating a public platform for the movement to educate the populace,” (pp. 19-20) may even incorporate the reflexivity and critical thinking curriculum into the platform where public dissonance is naturally created by allowing them to see the dichotomy between what they are being shown versus what is currently being taught in the schools.  This tactic should win the sympathies and the opinions of the public and with a little effort it will become the recognized opposition to the status quo.

While nonviolence or violence is not applicable to this initiative, stage five of Moyer’s (1987) MAP includes, the identity crisis of powerlessness (Given the need that is apparent within and without the literature, I don’t see this happening.), forming political and personal support groups and empowerment models of organization and leadership (adjuncts to the previous stages above), and moving from protesters to life-long change agents (also discussed above), all valuable elements.  Stage six of Moyer’s MAP for promoting the reflexivity and critical thinking curriculum is a reiteration of previous elements and key to the success of the campaign.  Keeping the issue as well as the opposition of the policyholders foremost in the minds of the public as well as engaging them in a long-term effort for social change to continue winning larger and larger numbers of the general public is vital.  Moyer’s stage seven is for MAP, and for this initiative, a measured success where stock is taken with how far the movement has advanced to note the successes along the way and continue the movement.  However, a better planning strategy would be to create decentralized centers of participatory activism along the way rather than suddenly at this stage, and the movement can continue without interruption, perhaps converting into branches or groups within each independent center that can become an independent instruction group to teach the curriculum.  Stage eight of Moyer’s MAP, continuing the struggle that insures that “the demands achieved are maintained and the movement circles back to focus on other demands.” In this case, it will be to ascertain that the curriculum is solidified in the minds of the supporting public and the various groups and to expand the movement to include the expansion of this curriculum further into the education curriculum locally, regionally, and nationally.


Conclusions: Towards Signs of a Paradigm Shift

While it is too early to determine what success means and what a paradigm shift actually looks like or if one has actually occurred until the curriculum is implemented, there a few signs of what this paradigm shift will look like.  First, the curriculum is proved successful when students of all ages are implementing it inside and outside of classrooms.  Additionally, parents guardians, the media, and general public enthusiastically share in the success of the program and promote the initiative without being prompted.  Second, at least the local school board and city council measure those results clearly, hopefully without pressure from state or federal agencies applying  pressure from above, and measurable results can and will be provided showing that the curriculum satisfies their requirements and, in fact, exceeds them. Some or all of these results may occur in succession or in tandem depending upon the success of the campaign, which may or may not require a team of public relations professionals. Third, while a paradigm shift may have occurred locally, in a school district, in order to succeed, the campaign has to spread within a fairly large metropolis or an entire state in order for it to spread nationally.  At that point, the beginnings of a paradigm shift will appear to have occurred.



Kuhn, T.S. (1997). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Ellul, J. (1969). Propaganda: the formation of men’s attitudes. NY: Knopf.

Gatto, J. T. (2000). The underground history of American education. New York, NY: Oxford Village Press.

Gladwell, M. (2002). The tipping point. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Gouldner, A. W. (1970). The coming crisis of western sociology. New York, NY: Basic.

Mead, G. H. (1962). Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist: Ed., with Introd., by Charles W. Morris. C. W. Morris (Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Moyer, B. (1987). The movement action plan: A strategic framework describing the eight stages of successful social movements. Social Movement Empowerment Project.