Some theses for consideration:
- Everyone who acts to change society has a mental model that represents portions of the social world.
- It is better for our models to be explicit in our own minds, so that we can be clear about what we are assuming and open to changing our assumptions.
- Our models must be sufficiently complex. (For instance, if you think that the Israel-Palestine conflict has just two parties, that is unacceptably simple.) But a model cannot be as complex as reality. Modeling is a matter of judicious simplification.
- Our models may include causal elements: e.g., “This phenomenon affects that one.” But they also inevitably reflects values. It is better for the value components to be explicit. They may take the form of ideals, goals, specific injustices, and other objects. Or they may be normative connections among objects, such as: “This situation merits that response.”
- A model may be an application of a more general framework to specific circumstances. In that case, we are obliged to have a good framework and to apply it correctly.
- We must check our models against events, observations, and other kinds of information from the world.
- We must compare our model to other models (and our framework to other frameworks) and constantly reconsider whether the alternatives offer insights. The assessment of social models is comparative: it’s a question of choosing the best model for the situation, given the alternatives. If we don’t seriously consider other models, we are not thinking hard about our own.
I think that educating for responsible civic participation is substantially about developing the skill of forming and improving social models. I am very skeptical of curricula–at any level–that offer students one model. That is not even a satisfactory way of understanding the model that is presented, because full understanding requires comparison. And it discourages the essential civic skill of critically assessing one’s model.