No two people learn in the same way.

“The method people naturally employ to acquire knowledge is largely unsupported by traditional classroom practice. The human mind is better equipped to gather information about the world by operating within it than by reading about it, hearing lectures on it, or studying abstract models of it.”

— Roger C. Schank & John B. Cleave

“Natural Learning, Natural Teaching: Changing Human Memory”
in The Mind, The Brain, and Complex Adaptive Systems, 1995

Now a statement from the Santa Fe Institute – perhaps the home of the world’s greatest assembly of Nobel Prize Winners.

It’s sobering isn’t it? All that money we put into classrooms when “the method people naturally employ to acquire knowledge is largely unsupported by traditional classroom practice.” We learn best from experience, through interaction with real time situations.

Now look at my third exhibit.

“If each of you went forth with lanterns and spent a lifetime searching, it is unlikely you would find an educational system that truthfully served its culture.

Why is that? we might all ask.

Part of the problem, I suggest, is that we teachers tend to see education as a stand- alone discipline, rather than an integral part of a greater endeavor. We tend to define this discipline narrowly and happily burden it with our own rules and theories.”

— Sir Jeffrey Henry
Prime Minister, The Cook Islands
UNESCO, 1992

Geoffrey Henry is the only Prime Minister I know who is also a primary school headteacher. If you live in the Cook Islands in the middle of the Pacific it’s perfectly possible to do both jobs well!

I like his analogy of going out with a lantern to search for a perfect education system. “We’ll never find one,” says Henry, “because education does not, never did, stand in isolation from the rest of life.”

I want to focus on this Greater Endeavour Henry talked about because that is the world our children experience. Here we have a problem. I don’t believe we can bring children up to be intelligent, in a world that appears unintelligible to them. That sounds harsh. Let me explain.

“The world has 358 billionaires and their combined assets exceed the total annual income of nearly half the global population. If this continues, the rich-poor divide (at individual and country level) will produce a world ‘gargantuan’ in its excesses and grotesque in its human and economic inequalities. Economic decline has affected 100 countries, home to 1.6 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population. Eighty-nine states were worse off in income terms that a decade ago; 35 have suffered a deeper fall per capita than that seen in the 1930’s.”

— The Financial Times
July 16, 1996

My first quotation comes from the normally dispassionate Financial Times. Read what it says. 358 people (about half the number in this room) have assets which exceed the earning capacity of half the world’s population. It’s a shocking thought. Of course there have always been rich and poor, but two things have changed.

The gap between rich and poor has got bigger [both within countries and between countries]. The average American CEO earns about 70 times as much as the average wage earner. Don’t be complacent; the gap in the U.K. is second only to the United States. Note this: half the world’s population is living on less than $2 (£1.25) a day.

Easy access to television means that the poorest of the poor can daily see just what it would be like to be rich. (And technology won’t necessarily address the problem of inequality).

Recently I have seen abject poverty in Africa, in Southeast Asia, and in parts of South America. The emptiness in those people’s eyes is terrifying. Increasingly people world-wide are getting ever more angry. They question just why it is that our generation have let this differential grow so rapidly. Young people are starting to ask of our sophisticated investment arrangements, “Is it really true that you, the older generation, have mortgaged our long term future, for your immediate pensions?”

Now my second quotation.

“Today, it doesn’t take much intelligence to realize we are in the midst of a global epidemic of institutional failure. This next decade and maybe the one after that will be the two or three decades that people will look back to over a thousand years and say ‘that was the melting pot.”

— Dee Hock
Founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA
Wingspread, July 1996

You won’t recognize Dee Hock’s name. He shared his thoughts at a 21st Century Learning Initiative Conference but, more importantly, he invented VISA, the revolutionary form of electronic money transfer which took the “waiting out of wanting.”

Dee challenges us to think in more connected ways. “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he warns, “just think what’s already in the pipeline for the next twenty years!”