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Paradigm Shifts in Ender's Game
by Justin Ng - Monday, December 20, 1999

Purpose: To illustrate Ender and Bean's paradigm shifting ability.
Audience: Informed
Topic: Ender and Bean
Form: Literary Insight Paper

Taunted by a gang leader and surrounded by bullies threatening to beat him up, six-year old Ender had to decide on a course of action. So he kicked the leader, hard, knocking him to the ground. Most kids would try to run away at this point, but Ender was different; he struck again and again at his adversary until he killed him so that the gang would never bother him again.

In this very common situation, Ender did not react within the preconceived rules associated with striking a helpless opponent. Instead he found a solution that was not hampered by socially accepted conventions, using a type of parallel thinking known as paradigm shifting. Bean and Ender, the respective protagonists of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, think in this unique way.

For example, Ender uniquely prepared himself for a null gravity environment. Entering the spaceship bound for battle school, he "thought of the wall as a floor, [and] began to feel like he was walking on a wall." Then, while climbing up a ladder, he told himself he was "climbing up the floor" and shortly after "climbing down the wall." With these perspective shifts, Ender was able to realize that up or down had no significance in space. He felt perfectly comfortable in null gravity while, "the reorientations were too much for some" as his several of his peers gagged.

Ender would not drift idly when cast aside for being too small and too young by his army leader, Bonzo Madrid. Instead, he questioned the time-honoured traditions of battle school. All armies participated in training battles that made up the core of battle school; in practices they would work hard to invent and learn formations in hopes of outsmarting opposing armies. Ender, however, was amused at these futile efforts - he saw straight through to the core of the situation:

Even as Ender learned how much he did not know, he also saw things that he could improve on. The well-rehearsed formations were a mistake. they were predictable There was no room for adjustment to what the enemy did against [it]. Ender studied Bonzo's formations noting ways to disrupt the formation.

Later, when Ender was given command of his own army, he was quick to put his revolutionary theory into practice. Instead of running formations, he let his soldiers use their brains, deciding, "tactical decisions were entirely up to the toon leaders". With this his army could respond quickly to any given situation, and they won their battles with ease - this solution quickly became "the only intelligent way, the only possible way."

While Ender was busy solving problems he directly faced, Bean's problem solving ability was on a different level entirely; Bean came from a very poor and difficult life which was different than those of most battle school students. Consequently, he handled the situations he faced distinctively.

Bean immediately saw the flaws in the entire battle school system that no one else noticed. Teachers favoured the students who "talked right and did well enough not to embarrass themselves, while the really good ones quietly did all the serious work and got blamed for errors". So he made a list of students who "weren't getting picked out by the teachers, but were the real talents". This list became useful when he was asked to design an army for Ender to command. But even Ender could not see the strength in those Bean had chosen - in his eyes, many were "completely inexperienced pathetically small Some he didn't even recognize, they had made so little impression." Simply because many of his soldiers were small, straight out of their launch group, or people he did not recognise did not mean they were as incapable as he judged them. Although Bean had specially constructed the best students in the school, even the brilliant Ender overlooked these students just like the teachers.

At the same time, Bean did not fail to notice the reason for the battle school's existence. While battle school was life for the students, Bean looked beyond, and saw the significance of the Formic-human wars. When discussing a possible Formic second invasion, Bean was put in the position of considering a method of defending Earth from the Formics. His response immediately provided revolutionary insight:

The real problem is we have only one strong point worth defending - Earth. And the enemy is not limited to a primary direction of approach. He could come from anywhere. He could bypass all our fortifications. our enemy can work in three dimensions.

After some deliberation, Bean concluded,

There's no point to defending Earth at all. In fact, the enemy is just as vulnerable. So the only strategy that makes any sense is an all-out attack. To send our fleet against their home world and destroy it.

Bean was not limited to the problem posed directly to him, for it expected he give a possible defensive strategy. Instead, he evaluated the real problem at hand; what is the best response to the first invasion? Immediately he found that since defense was not feasible, an attack would be the only option.

Each time Ender and Bean approached a situation, they always identified all of their options. Each time Ender and Bean approached a problem, they always looked at it fresh as if it had never been seen before. Each time Ender or Bean found a solution, everyone around them was transformed: null gravity strategies were rethought; armies quickly gave up formations; ignored students became successful; and by their cumulative efforts humankind would finally be safe from the Formics. From recognition to approach and solution, they handled problems with a visceral clarity that the reader cannot help but learn from.

[Copyright © Justin Ng, 1999. Reprinted with permission.]

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