What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Visionist as Synthesist

As one can read from my profile, I am a professional political analyst , previously with the State Department and now with the US military. I have studied and loved politics my entire life, and as a diplomat was actively engaged in political activity on behalf of the United States of America. But that is only half of it. For most of my life I have really thought of myself as a synthesist. Sure I can analyze political systems, by "slicing and dicing" them or "drilling down" to deeper and deeper levels, but to me a much more important facility is the ability to put together diverse, at times seemingly random, phenomena to construct something totally new. Not that analysis is a simple intellectual skill or that when really well done does not require a capacity to think holistically. But synthesis really does require thought that is out of the box (OOTB- for those who prefer the expression outside the box, that is OK too, but in honor of a popular local Norfolk radio music show by the name I prefer the former version.)

Now getting back to the Zeitgeist, a term given to us by Georg Hegel, Hegel also was the person who came up with the term dialectic, in which the result of bringing together two different forces, the thesis and the antithesis, resulted in synthesis. I like Hegel's formulation, and though it was hijacked by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, to come up with the term dialectical materialism, just as his concepts of Volkgeist and Zeitgeist were hijacked by Adolf Hitler to create Nazism, it seems to me quite clear that the process of history cannot be explained by a linear progression of events. If it did, trends would always allow us to predict the future. Dialectics, encourages us to view history as a tendency for clashing forces--political, social, cultural, military--to result in something totally new under the stars. In our own era of Globalization, we find that a Clash of Civilizations is driving us toward some new, as yet unforeseen global system. I am willing to suggest what this system is, but will save that for a later blog, but let's call it Global Governance. Synthesis has an association with the concept of synergy, in which two elements are brought together and what comes out of their fusion is a value greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy is the hope of synthesis.

But let's return to synthesis. My thoughts on this have really been driven lately more by my work as a part-time educator. In teaching college level students, particularly in my field of Political Science, I believe that it is my obligation to introduce some theoretical and conceptional underpinning. Moreover, there is a very large field of political theory. While this is largely for the more advanced students, nobody can study anything in my view without getting some kind of conceptual foundation for what is being observed. In politics, in particular, models and system types are widely referred to, even in the vernacular.

However, it is currently in vogue in education to educate more based on demonstrating the practical value of information. I have no problem with this and was taught these methodologies at CCNY's School of Education when I worked briefly as a New York City school teacher under Mayor Bloomberg's educational revolution. I actually had a short debate with my fellow instructors at TCC a couple of weeks ago over this, with some teachers thinking students could not handle too much conceptualizing. This led me to a debate at home with my visiting son Andrew, who has opinions about everything, over what is the highest level of learning in education, practical manipulation of information and experiences or what is usually called "critical thinking" by educators. Andrew, naturally, thought critical thinking is the lowest form of learning. I beg to disagree but recognize that critical thinking and conceptual thinking are not necessarily the same thing, but they probably come close. In fact, what is in vogue now in teaching, the Standards-Based methodologies, teach to national and state testable standards that are based on a hierarchy in which "critical thinking" is the highest level of learning.

At the top of the page you see Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning, what is sometimes called "Bloom's Rose." (Click on the rose to read it.) In 1956, Bloom and other educators wrote of a hierarchy of learning and created this circular representation of what he calls the cognitive domain. At the center labeled from 1 to 6 in reverse priority order are six learning objectives: knowledge, comprehension, application and analysis, synthesis and evaluation, with the last three considered of the highest order. Bloom's Taxonomy has been challenged and efforts to revise it have been made, but it has withstood over half a century of influence over educational psychology.
If synthesis comes in only second highest among the top three categories which represent critical thinking skills, that does not concern me. It does beat out analysis, and frankly as difficult as evaluation is--and I assume the members of the Supreme Court need to have this skill--frankly, I never aspired to be a judge. Synthesis represents creativity, and I would prefer to create than to evaluate.

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