The Synthesis, as now set out on the following pages (a work in progress in draft form), is designed to assist serious readers – people able to spend two or three hours thinking deeply – to understand the nature of these issues, their essential interconnectivity, and why they impel The Initiative to say that, “with this knowledge, we simply can no longer do what we now do.” Several other versions of this Synthesis will be made available, both for the more specialized and for more general audiences. This version of The Synthesis, however, contains all the essential elements of the argument, and is complete within itself.
“Learning…that reflective activity that enables the learner to draw upon previous experience to understand and evaluate the present, so as to shape future action and formulate new knowledge. ”
Wingspread (November 1995)
The Synthesis comprises seven sections. It is preceded by is a collection of voices from real people, in 1996, that creates the human dynamic behind The Initiative’s Purpose Statement. In trying to understand these issues, our earlier assumptions often prevent us from seeing dearly what is actually happening around us. The first section, therefore, explores the nature of “profound change” in both systems and perceptions. With such changed perceptions of how the natural world works the second section explores how these may influence just what it now means to be human.
The third section explores the impact of recent findings in medical, cognitive and pedagogic research about the nature of the brain and, broadly, why we are as we are. The fourth section gives an explanation of what we now know, again from a wide range of studies, about natural patterns of learning, and how society attempts to extend these “to go beyond what comes naturally.”
The fifth section – “Knowing all this what must we now do?” – explores how, by seeing all of these issues as part of a totally interconnected web, we now have an opportunity to release human talent on a scale not hitherto thought to be possible. The sixth section describes the essential innovations necessary for the fundamental changes set-out in the last section – outcomes.
1) The Initiative’s starting assumption has been that as “societies become evermore dependent on the intellectual and practical capabilities of people to demonstrate creativity and the mastery of a variety of skills, so the key objective of formal schooling has now to be to give every child the confidence and ability to manage their own learning as an on-going activity.”
2) A proper appreciation of human learning will reshape the nature of family life and schools, and revitalize communities. The Initiative defines learning communities as “communities that use all their resources – physical and intellectual; formal and informal; in school and outside of school, within an agenda that recognizes every individual’s potential to grow and be involved with others.”
3) A recommendation that is emerging, as a first step in the creation of learning communities, is that “schools have 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.”
4) The formal school system and its current use of resources has to be turned upside down and inside out. Early years schooling 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 “leam-how-to-learn” and remember something, then the child can increasingly become his or her own teacher.
5) We are on the brink of radical developments in technologies of information and communication which are so fundamental that they hold the power to alter, not merely our educational systems, but also our work and culture. The traditional role of education has, for too long, been predominantly instructional and teacher moderated, but the essence of the integrated, universal, multi-media, digital network is discovery – the empowerment of the human mind to learn spontaneously, without coercion, both independently and collaboratively.
A Note to aid the Reader
There is no short-cut to understanding this Synthesis which has emerged from a non-linear argument in ways that often seem counter to how most of us have been taught to think. The Synthesis has to be read in its entirety, thought about, talked through with others, and then read again. This is about gaining layers of meaning. We have to come to terms with understanding issues in such non- linear and interconnected ways, dealing with ambiguity, paradox, high-level generalizations and genuinely new ideas.
“When a great question is first started, there are very few, even of the greatest minds, that suddenly and instinctively comprehend it in all its consequences.”
John Adams 1775
To many readers this may seem like “something old, something new.” Many may be most comfortable thinking deeply about the explanation for those parts of the argument they already understand. That would be to miss the essence of a synthesis. What matters is how these ideas relate to each other. In this way the whole Synthesis is far more significant than the sum of the separate parts. It is the new relationships that “add value” by creating new, more appropriate patterns.
It is The Initiative’s experience that few people are naturally good at thinking like this, hence the construction of this Paper. It covers many topics, but only in just enough detail to draw out those elements that are essential to understand if the scale of the transformation is to be truly understood.
Dee Hock, founder of VISA and a member of this Initiative, summed the difficulties of this up best when he said, “it is a very difficult way to start thinking. I warn people: don’t start this lightly. Because once you start, it will put a burr into your mental saddle. It will call into question all your beliefs about organizations and management. You will never think about them the same way again.”
Put another way, “as with an impressionist painting these issues require bifocal visionÑthe ability to understand the interrelationship of individual blobs of color, as well as the ability to stand back and appreciate the beauty and the significance of the whole.”