A Design Guided Daydream
The last two decades through the adoption of postmodern liberal ideologies. They note, quite rightly, that what now stands for critical pedagogy has been stripped of its political and transformative underpinnings and replaced by watered-down theories of critical thinking and cultural pluralism. The social, cultural and political potential of critical pedagogy - its capacity to incite cutting analysis of the nature of power relations in society and its ability to generate social and political change has been largely outflanked by the consumer, ego-centred politics of ideological fashion or in the search for warm, fuzzy consensus ideologies that refuse to ask the hard questions. The moral issues of knowledge and power - issues of oppression and subjugation, of displacement and identity-loss have been subsumed into an overarching ethic of cultural acceptance which elides any reference to class or the economic issues that flow from modern, post-Fordism capitalist development.
In this picture, it is easy to look critically at consensus -uiilding as yet another element of what has been called the Conservative Restoration in education. Apple, in particular, has been scathing in his criticism of these tendencies, and of the attempt made by the conservative Right, to eliminate any thought or reference to Conflict from the classroom environment. From this it might be assumed that there is no place for consensus-building in a learning environment, since this seems to be antithetical to the recognition and resolution of deep-seated conflicts of perception, experience and intention. The normative use of consensus-building techniques indeed is one that in general tends to generate "group-think" conceptions of reality that fail to account for strongly-held differences in belief and experience. It has also been suggested that decisions and solutions arrived at by consensus lack both the intellectual rigor or the inspired clarity of personal views and solutions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The use of specific consensus-building techniques can, on the contrary, provide an extremely useful vehicle for the uncovering and resolution of the deepest conflicts, and can lead to solutions that far exceed, in their depth of understanding and their conceptual complexity, the creations of individuals. Furthermore, consensus building processes in education nand in problem-solving can, when properly organised, lead to more penetrating insights into the relationship between power and knowledge and can help to inform and conscientise students in their understandings of not only education, but of the wider social and political context that shapes it.
Most of the Critical Education Practice Case Studies listed on this website were conducted in the Community Design Studio at the University of California, Berkeley or the University of Auckland School of Architecture in New Zealand bewtween 1972 and 2002. As you will see when you browse them, they involve projects in which students worked collectively on real projects in the community - working for and with communities who could not otherwise afford to pay professional design fees. Many of the projects are quite radical and political - particularly those carried out within the Maori community in New Zealand. New Zealand still retains much of its colonial mentality, and the identities that have been constructed over two hundred years in this social context are also part of the classroom environment. Any reference, therefore, to issues of cultural conflict can be expected to raise passionate and deeply held beliefs that stand in the way of mutual understandings. It was in this specific context, from 1982 to 2002 that I gradually developed what has since been referred to elsewhere as The Ward Method of consensus building - a student-centred method of education built on iterative learning principles and using personal and individual constructions of reality to uncover critical issues around which to focus consensus understandings and to develop solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
The method grew out of the critical design practice of the design studio, and grew slowly as difficultiues in process and learning became apparent, and as the cultural politics of the classroom and studio demanded new and unique strategies of conflict resolution. The method has never been fully theorised - the time needed for its practice greatly exceeding and often exhausting the time avaiilable. to write up results and developt systematic and coherent theories. I have several times been asked to publish the method, because, as you will no doubt gather from the case histories to be found here, it is an exceptionally powerful problem-solving tool.
In ALL of these projects (more than 60 in number) the outcome was every time more profound, more penetrating and more radical than the individual conceptions of any one single member of the group. And in every instance, the design solutions developed significantly exceeded the material, social and political expectations of our impecunious clients.
The broad outline of this method was picked up in the mid 1990s by Bill Stiles, an American psychologist from the University of Miami at Oxford, Ohio who along with his colleagues has since then has been using it in a wide variety of educational and psychanalytical settings. In the PDF available here, is a paper written by Stiles and his colleagues Hugo J. Shielke, Jonathan Fishman and Katerine Osatuke on The Ward Method. Titled: Developing Creative Consensus on Interpretations of Qualitastive Data: The Ward Method.
While not the definitive version of the method (there are, for instance elements of the group process and structure that are not accounted for) it nevertheless provides a thorough and interesting background to the literature on creative consensus-building and on the achievement levels of participants in such processes. At some point in the future, I intend to write the definitive description of the method. In the meantime this will have to do.
To download the PDF on The Ward Method click here