Transition Lab's Approach is Systems-Thinking in Action
One way to think about how Transition Lab works is to describe it as Neo-Tribalism. Tribal cultures work because of the complex web of relationships where members contribute their skills and gifts to the survival of the group, while the tribe returns the favor by providing an incredibly diverse support structure. At Transition Lab we all agree to come together to support one another as we grow. However, Transition Lab, like tribes can only support those who contribute their gifts to the well being of the tribe itself. The journey of participating at Transition Lab is a departure from our hyper-individualized culture and instead nurtures a level of personal and group responsibility rarely seen in our society.
When students arrive in Montrose, we introduce them to all of the farmers, potential hosts, and employers that they could choose (or not) to develop a relationship with while they are in the program. From there, we step back and provide support. Some students just end up camping all summer, some may want to start a skilled residence, or to build a tiny house, while others may get a job at the pizza shop and rent a place in town. It's up to you.
The beauty of trying to make a non-traditional relationship
Students One of the key differences between Transition Lab and other organizations dedicated to creating change is our radically grassroots approach. There is no better way to build community than by giving a student and a host the opportunity and responsibility of working together to meet one another's basic needs. A Skilled Resident relationship intrinsically asks us to work on the things that we care about and that we are the most skilled to take on. It also requires us to become more proactive, compassionate, and creative people as we start on projects and build more diverse relationships. This is both the most challenging and transformative thing that we do because the very way we choose to live either makes our relationship success or fail. Multiply the effect of this increase in personal responsibility and innovative creativity in households and across a community, and we can start to build a community that takes care of itself and addresses it's own problems in all aspects of our lives.
The design of our program emerged from taking a whole systems view of the problems our society faces. These include the high cost of college degrees, what skills are not being taught in our educational institutions, and how these affect our fundamental choices of living on this planet. Transition Lab is therefore a systems-based response to these challenges. Rather than using isolated approaches to address related challenges, we connected solutions in an attempt to change the larger system all at once.
This is fundamentally different than what most Universities are doing. Just as they compartmentalize degrees into highly specific skill sets, they also try to address challenges in an isolated manner. This kind of linear thinking tends to offer solutions like, "We need more money for education." While this may be true, these solutions tend to push the problem to another part of the system rather than addressing design flaws in the system itself.
The Systems-Thinker examines the big picture to look for relationships and feedback loops that are either useful or not. We can see that paying for college infrastructure (buildings, maintenance, salaries, and benefits) is very costly. To meet these costs, tuition has to rise. Larger student loans then require graduates to work harder in the extractive economy to pay off those debts. This in turn creates even greater scarcity of our planet's limited resources, which in turn drives up the cost of living -- including the costs to maintain a college. At this point, the cycle repeats itself, costing more each time. A Systems-Thinker sees this as a cyclical design flaw.
Transition Lab looked at this system and recognized that we needed a model that would address all of these issues at once. By doing so, we offer a real alternative for college bound students.
- First, our curriculum presents skills and integrative models, which are useful right now, and do not depend on outside intervention for their success. In our existing economy, graduates earn degrees that businesses or governments have the resources to support. Unfortunately, these are not always the skills that will insure humanity's long term sustainability. While we cannot promise six-figure jobs, our curriculum will be useful regardless of what happens to our economy.
- Second, we have built models which have integrated those skills to provide a symbiotic benefit for all parties involved. Rather than supporting a large infrastructure and its costs (which is one of the biggest causes of high tuition), we have decentralized nearly every aspect of the program and developed relationships with existing businesses and teachers. For example, we will never build, rent, or own a classroom. Instead, we will hold classes in local coffee shops and pay for our students' drinks. This is far more cost effective for us, supports local small business, and has the wonderful side-effect of sharing our knowledge with anybody who happens to be passing by.
- Finally, since the business, educational, and philosophical approaches of Transition Lab are based in Systems- Thinking, we will be training students to notice the myriad of relationships among all aspects of our lives. With this kind of perception, instead of seeing many disparate problems which seem impossible to address, patterns tend to emerge into coherent solutions, which can integrate all the pieces creatively. Our students will become creative Systems Thinkers with the skills and experience necessary to be creative agents of change. And since we will keep tuition low through collaborative relationships, our graduates will have more freedom to pursue the vocation of their dreams rather than just taking a job to pay off debt.