Matthew Fox 1995
By the work people do they define themselves and their role within the community. Healthy work integrates body, mind and spirit. Unemployment is a feature of highly structured, industrial economies; an unemployed adult with no work to do is unique amongst the world’s species. When work is not to be found, hope is the first casualty. As Saint Thomas Aquinas observed in the 13th century, “despair is the most dangerous of sins (for when despair takes over) all kinds of wickedness follows.” In November, 1996, it was estimated that 30 percent of all able bodied adults worldwide were either unemployed or so under-employed that they were unable to earn a livings The goals of education – to better people and to encourage conscientious citizenship – cannot be realized in a situation of endemic unemployment and the despair that accompanies it. The very nature of work has to be redefined and how, why, and for whom that work is done better understood.
To pretend that all human progress is motivated solely by the prospect of financial reward is to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to be human. This is a critical issue that a world ostensibly concerned about the nature of learning has to addressÑif it has first thought out what kind of society it wants that learning to support.
Deep down we have all known this for quite some time. But we ourselves are products of that linear, reductionist, mechaftistic world that has valued the relatively easily definable skills of the specialist, rather than those more general, often intuitive skills such as wits, whims, inklings, insights and “holy incredulity” that are so helpful when dealing with ambiguity, confusion and prejudice. Not only do older generations find these issues virtually impossible to get their minds around, we ourselves are not well equipped to prepare a younger generation to do something we have not doneÑreally to invest in our own creative learning skills.
As never before the human race needs all the wits it can muster.
Such expertise as implied by wits – the ability to step back as a specialist and honestly re-evaluate what you are doing in terms of a general perspective – is by its very nature, a skill more naturally developed in the rich collaborative problem-solving and uncertain world of the apprentice, than ever it can be in the formal classroom with its inevitable emphasis on tasks, schedules and measurable activities. Expertise is difficult to achieve without being a specialist, but it is much more than just specialization. It requires the knowledge of much content, and the ability to be able to think about this both in the specific and the abstract. It is essentially that deep reflective capability that helps us break out of set ways of doing things, unseating old assumptions, and setting out new possibilities. It is the essential ability necessary to face a world of change.”
A model of learning that could deliver just such expertise could be ours now for the asking. It would work on the basis of the biological concept of weaning…giving young children all the possible help they might need when they are very young, and then reducing this progressively as the young master more and more skills so that, as adolescence ends, the young person has already taken full responsibility for managing and directing his/her own learning. The age of 18 (younger in some countries) should become not the age in which people start to become independent learners, rather it should be the age when they demonstrate that they have already perfected that art, and know how to exercise this responsibly.
Surely it should be the child who is tired at the end of the term, and not the teacher?
Formal schooling, therefore, has to start a dynamic process through which pupils are progressively weaned from their dependence on teachers and institutions, and given the confidence to manage their own learning, collaborating with colleagues as appropriate, and using a range of resources and learning situations.
The importance of such changed practice below the age of 18 on Higher Education would be profound. Like everything else these changes are totally interconnected, and have to also be interdependent. Both school and university systems would best help themselves by supporting each other’s change processes.
To achieve this, the formal school system and its current use of resources has to be completely
“It isn’t that assimilation of knowledge isn’t a good place to start, because it’s hard to investigate something unless you know a bit about it. But assimilation is a terrible place to stop.”
Professor Chris Dede 1995
reappraised, and effectively turned upside down and inside out in most places. Early years learning matters enormously; so does a generous provision of learning resources. If the youngest children are progressively shown that a lesson about learning something can also be made into a lesson about how to “learn-how-to-learn” and remember something, then the child, as he or she becomes older, starts to become his or her own teacher. In highly industrial terms the child ceases to be totally dependent on the teacher as an external force, and progressively becomes part of the “learning productivity process.” The older the child becomes, the more the child as a learner becomes a resource that the community has to come to value.
Following from the argument to reverse staffing ratios and create smaller classes in the early years of elementary education (developing as a matter of course a very particular style of education), would be the progressive provision to children of an ever richer array of learning resources as they get older. The whole community has to become a place of learning, not simply the classroom. Learning does not have to be bounded by the walls of an institution any longer. If young people are to develop the skills and attitudes they will need it is essential to view learning as a total community responsibility. It is not merely teachers who can teach, it is not just pupils who need to learn, and it is certainly not just the classroom that can be the major access point to a range of knowledge, information and skills.
The current crisis in learning has its origins not so much in the failure of teaching in the classroom as it has in the failure of the community at large to capture the imagination, involvement and active participation of young people.
Just as we are undoubtedly on the brink of new understandings about learning, so too are we on the brink of radical developments in technology that are so fundamental that they hold the power to alter, not merely our education system, but also our work and our culture. At its roots, however, this technological revolution puts learning and conventional education systems on a collision course. The traditional role of education has, for too long, been predominately instructional and teacher moderated, but the essence of the coming integrated, universal, multi-media digital network is discovery – the empowerment of the human mind to learn spontaneously, without coercion, but independently and collaboratively.
“We cannot restructure a structure that is splintered at its roots. Addings wings to caterpillars does not create butterflies – it creates awkward and dysfunctional caterpillars. Butterflies are created through transformation.”
Stephanie Pace Marshall 1995
Such a new set of arrangements would be highly compatible with the natural functioning of the brain, of what we know about human aspirations and in particular of what is now known about the adolescent’s need to feel involved and of value. It offers the greatest hope for an all-around improvement in people’s intelligence, and the development of thoughtfulness.
Contrast this with what all too often happens in conventional schools. “Hardly anything in conventional educational practice promotes, in a direct and straightforward way, thoughtfulness and the use of strategies to guide thinking. Those students who acquire reflective intelligence build it on their own, by working at personal repertoires of strategies. Or they pick it up from the home environment, where some parents more than others model good reasoning in dinner table conversations, press their children to think out decisions, emphasize the importance of a systematic approach to school work, and so on.
6 Essential Innovation
These ideas prompt a radical agenda. They have to. Thinking about thinking challenges the very way in which people both think about themselves and about others. Our present community and school structures are finely tuned on an old model of learning. The new understandings about human learning and human capacity development simply undermine all these structures.
Remember the earlier insight, “when the factory was touted as the ideal organization for work and when most youngsters were headed for its assembly lines, making a mass public education system conform to the model of the factory may have seemed like a great achievement. But the old fashioned factories are dead, or dying and they will not be resurrected as we know them. The limitations of the traditional factory model of education have become manifest and, they are crippling. The traditional model of schooling is, therefore, incompatible with the idea that students are workers, that learning must be active, and that children learn in different ways and at different rates.” Writing on the science of learning in the classroom, John Bruer wrote “if we change our representation of intelligence, learning and teaching, ..we change relationships between students and teacher; schools and the community..-and our representation of what the classroom and schools should look like. ”
Equally the concept that the community does not have to think seriously about children other than during school board elections, or referendums on tax increases for schools, is again totally inappropriate. Children learn whenever and wherever they are stimulated; just what it is that they learn is problematic. A society careless about children’s informal learning experiences has forgotten how children are inducted into adult society. (By the time a child is II, according to the American Psychological Association, he or she will have watched over 100,000 acts of TV brutality. In both the United Kingdom and the US the majority of adolescent boys spend less than five minutes a day in solo contact with their fathers.)
The rapidly increasing influence of information and communication technologies means that young people can do as much learning in their bedrooms and livingrooms as they can in a classroom. The recognition that children will do anything wherever there is an intrinsic interest means that children need to grow up in a community that is sensible to their deep and varied needs. It is impossible to bring up children to be intelligent in a world that is unintelligible to them.
“The thing I objected to most about the war (with Iraq) was not being with my son as he passed into adolescence. ..One moment he was a gangling 13-year old, wanting to sit on my lap to tell me stories, yet when I returned nine months later he was a veritable young man.”
General Norman Schwartzkopf 1993
Fresh thinking is desperately needed, unconstrained by conventional assumptions and institutional priorities. This is as much to do with the creation of new forms of community as it is to do with the incredibly important issue of children’s learning. The old structures for decision-making are constraining the formulation of new ways of doing things. These ideas know no political coloring, and are untied to national boundaries. Political polarization has to be avoided.
This Paper has made the case for a paradigm shift and shows that it is no longer possible to address reform in a piecemeal fashion. These new understandings of learning will change the nature of the community, of employment and of schools. These changes are of such a scale that normal processes of incremental innovation are totally inadequate; neither of the conventional units of change (a single school or statewide government) is appropriate. Neither top-down imposition or unsupported grassroots innovators can create these changes alone.
It requires long-term systematic development. This proposal requires a very different long-term systematic development. Enterprising employees at the age of 21 are very largely the result of skills and attitudes learned before the age of five, and consolidated by radical changes within the elementary/secondary school systems. These changes could take at least 15 years to work through, and so require long-term political support of a bipartisan nature.
“As complex learning systems, schools are far more organic and dynamic than linear. Vie, therefore, must design them to function less like clocks, and more like kaleidoscopes. ”
Stephanie Pace Marshall 1996
So well established are present structures that even with very carefully articulated arguments such as those within this paper most people just cannot see what needs to happen. Although politicians of most persuasions endorse the objective of enterprising, thoughtful and civic-minded young people they feel the need to support only programs that have a measurable result within three or four years time, and real system-wide change cannot happen in such a short time frame.
Nothing is more persuasive for many than successful demonstration projects that turn theory into practice. Indeed, with proposals of this complexity no country or state could attempt to implement them “across the board.” Pilot projects of this kind will be essential to test and evaluate those strategies that are most likelv to succeed.