Resistance to Paradigm Shifts is Resistance to Change

Thinking outside of the box is easier said than done

Dear Dr. Fournier:

What do you think about the increasing digitization of learning in the classrooms of today?

Caroline S.,

Akron, OH

Dear Caroline,


Recently, there has been a proposal submitted to legislators in the state of Georgia by Apple to furnish iPads to students to replace standard textbooks. There are those who see this and like products as a step in the right direction as far as the future of education in the United States is concerned and its struggles to keep pace in a globalized world. Conversely, there are others who are still married to the idea that textbooks in classrooms continue to be the way to go. Whether this proposal comes to fruition or not, it is worth noting that considerations of this sort mark what could be the forefront of a paradigm shift.

A paradigm, according to Joel Arthur Baker, is a set of rules and regulations (written or unwritten) that does two things:

1. It establishes or defines boundaries

2. It tells you how to behave inside the boundaries to be successful.

A paradigm shift is a fundamental shift to a new set of rules. And when the rules change, the whole world changes. In this case, much of the resistance undoubtedly comes from those of us who grew up in classrooms with such staples as chalk, a blackboard, a stack of books and an apple on the desk for the teacher. For the “modern” classroom in the 80s and 90s, the teacher had to wheel in the television and VCR on a giant cart with cords dangling from it. We are incapable of imagining anything drastically different than what we knew then and now as the current system, and this defines the edges of the box we don’t realize we are trapped in. The inability to see the boundaries is why paradigm shifts are extremely difficult to both predict and/or recognize in their infancy, because it is inevitable that once a rhythm is found within the current paradigm, challenge to it or proposed shifts are met with anger, ridicule, dismissal, and the like.

However, once we acknowledge that it is our own resistance to change that is the root cause of our hesitance, we can look objectively at the pros and cons of ideas like doing away with textbooks in the classroom. Does it cost more to continually reprint and refurbish, reprint and distribute new books, or simply make an upfront purchase and update software digitally? It would certainly eliminate significant paper waste and the need to revise outdated information that is a present problem with the size and content of older textbooks. Information updates would be handled digitally, so it would be current. Kids would not be forced to tote thirty pounds of books around school and home. It would be more difficult to leave assignments at school. Everything would be in the same place, and it would open the door wider for teachers to extend the classroom beyond the walls of the school using a variety of media sources.

There are obvious cons as well, for example dealing with replacement of defective pads, maintenance, and the potential for lost or stolen items. The idea however, is certainly worthy of consideration before we look past an opportunity that could move our country forward with a giant leap.


Notice how the old paradigm is still pushed as what we should expect to see in classrooms today. A quick Google search of “education” images shows how the outdated model is still promoted by advertisers, out of a combination of lack of innovation and reliance on “token” school imagery: chalk and chalkboards, apples with smiling worms in them, pencils and books, rulers, and even the old red schoolhouse. This group of images and associations should be buried with the dinosaurs, because it belongs to a paradigm that best fits in the industrial era.

My advice here is simple: Your charge is to try and identify paradigms that you unknowingly uphold. If you catch yourself saying “I wish it were that easy,” or “That’s impossible,” or “That’s not the way we do things,” then you have identified the edge of the box you are in. Remember that everything was impossible until someone came along and showed that it wasn’t. But fear not proponents of the old model- in the new model, there will still be an Apple on the desk for teacher.


Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. She has followed her own roadmap in becoming arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today.