An activity of the Primer Group


A Special Integration Group (SIG) of the
International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS)
originally SGSR, Society for General Systems Research.






Stephanies Second day at school

by Matthew Shapiro

"Good Morning, Class!"

"Good Morning Teacher!"

"Are you ready for another day at school?"

The class expresses a mixture of yesses and no's, and then laughter.

"Well, today we are going to continue with systemics. Who remembers what a system is?"

Angela raises her hand.

"Yes, Angela?"

"One big clap."

"And what makes that big clap?"

"Two hands moving together fast", several of the kids say.

"Good!. Now, what was organization?"

Stephanie raises her hand. "Yes, Stephanie?"

"A lot of hands moving together at the same time."

"Right, but only when there are alot of them, and only at the same time. Today, we're going to see, or rather LISTEN, to some more system and organization. We're going to visit the sixth grade orchestra."

The kids became excited at the prospect of a field trip, even if it was just down to the first floor.


The kids file quietly into the auditorium where the orchestra is warming up.

"We have special permission to sit right in front and hear them practice", explains the teacher. "How many of you like classical music?"

Half the class raises their hands. "I like it, sometimes", says Robert.

The teacher walks over to the music teacher, and they speak for a moment. The orchestra members stop practicing and the music teacher walks over to the string section. He tells them something and they turn their music sheets to something. The audience can tell that they are going to play something and start hushing each other "Shhh."

"Class, listen carefully now."

Four of the players - one on cello, two on viola, and one on violin - start playing a song. After about three minutes, during which the students' attention is fixed on the four players, the teacher asks her class

"How many of you have heard this song before?" Almost every kid raises his or her hand.

"Great." She signals the music teacher, and he gets one of the clarinet players to come over and join the string quartet. In eager anticipation the kids watch, but when the clarinet joins in, their faces get a little wrinkled. After a minute the teacher asks,

"Does everybody still recognize the song?"

Stephanie says "Yes, but something doesn't sound right anymore."

"What's wrong?"

Elias whispers "That clarinet player is messing up the song."

"Oh", the teacher responds. "Well, I think the he's playing a different song."

"But why?", asks Trina.

"I will explain it soon. But first, let's hear what happens."

After about another minute, the music teacher puts some sheet music in front of the clarinet player, points to something on it, and the player smoothly joins in with the strings.

"Ahhh", some of the kids say. "That's better!"

Soon the rest of the strings start playing, and the woodwind section joins in. Some of the kids are waving their hands in rhythm like a conductor. Then four flutes come in, and the kids moan audibly.

"Not again!", some cry.

"What's wrong? Don't you like flutes?", asks the teacher.

Some of the kids hold their ears. "They're playing another song again!"

But after a minute the quattro blends in sweetly with the rest of the orchestra and everyone is enjoying the growing symphony.

Soon the brass section joins in, and the trumpets really get the kids attention when they alternate with the strings. Do do do do do do, mm mm mm mm mm mm, they speak back and forth.

Then a couple of snare drums resound but with a tempo completely of their own. Robert seems to be the only one pleased.

"I hope this doesn't happen in a real show", says Stephanie.

In a couple of minutes, the drums seem to get with the rest of the orchestra and they finish off the movement as well as a sixth-grade orchestra could. The class rises to a standing ovation, clapping wildly.

The teacher addresses her class.

"Robert, what does 'simple' mean to you?"


"Yeah. Not confusing", adds Trina.

"So when those four musicians were playing together at the beginning, did it sound easy, or not confusing?"

"Well, it was probably hard to play, but it was easy to listen to!"

"And when the whole orchestra was playing, was it still easy to listen to?"

Everyone nodds their head.

"So simple doesn't have to do with numbers, really, but with how good it sounds. How easy it is to listen to. Simple is not confusing"

"But when something new came in, if it wasn't playing along with the rest, then how did it sound?"

"It was awful. Like just noise. Except for the drums.", Robert said in his usual forthright manner.

"It wasn't simple then, was it? It was kind of confusing at times, right?"

The kids murmured and nodded in agreement.

"Okay. So whether it is one instrument, four instruments, or the whole orchestra playing, it can sound simple or...who can tell me what the opposite of simple is?"
Stephanie raises her hand.

"Yes, Stephanie?"


"Good! Or, we could say 'complex'."

"Now, remember what we did in class yesterday? With the hand-clapping? What was 'organization'?"

"When the hands were clapping together.'

"Right! It's the same thing with the orchestra. They are organized. And when they are organized, they are..."

"Simple!", a few kids shout.

"Yes! And when they are not organized, they are..."


"Good! And when new things come in, like when a new instrument is being played, the system - remember that word? - is complex until...what?"

"Until it starts to play along with the other instruments. In harmony", says Stephanie.

"Very good! And class will end today with a new word. When there is organization, and things are simple, and a new thing is added, things are complex until the new thing gets comfortable with the system, or until the system - for example, the orchestra - gets comfortable with the new thing. This 'getting comfortable' time is called EVOLUTION. And while the system is getting comfortable with new things, getting simpler, it is EVOLVING."

"Tomorrow, we will look all around us and see why many things are always evolving. Have a wonderful day."

The kids look around them, wondering where the evolution is, and happily file out.

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