Sep 14, 2022

The Fallacy of Dualistic (Either/Or) Thinking

Why is it that we get stuck in a fallacy of dualistic thinking in the education sector? I have come to believe it is one of the most prevalent thinking challenges that plagues the education sector. It unnecessarily hinders progress and creates roadblocks to change in school and college cultures. Let me explain.

Just what is dualistic thinking? It is the type of binary thinking that promotes a singular position as an answer to a complex challenge. Some examples in education include topics such as educational identity (progressive or traditional) or academics (rigor or flexible) or modality (in person or online). These binary choices promote a false singular narrative and challenge us to believe that we have to be in either one camp or the other. And, what’s worse, is that they often create an oppositional view of the alternate choice, creating sort of a villain out of that choice.

The truth is – and has always been – that complex problems require a variety of well-designed solutions. There is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution to a complex problem. For example, consider the modality of learning. As educators, we know that certain disciplines promote stronger learning outcomes when taught in person, while others are more natural to be delivered online. And, not only should that be OK, but it should be celebrated that an educational institution can be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of different learner profiles.

We have a lot to learn as educators about the cultural issues that emerge as roadblocks for change. In our experience, dualistic thinking looms as among the largest in this category. After all of the lessons the last 36 months have taught us in this industry, perhaps we have learned that we can be more creative, adaptable and have more flexible solutions to complex problems.

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