If we apply the wrong model of learning for the best of reasons we will not get the results we seek.

5 What must we do

“The emerging shift in the workplace from ‘command and control’ hierarchies to empowered high-performance work teams was pwerful implications for schools, if schools were ever allowed to truly experiment.”

Institute for Research on Learning 1996

As we come to terms with a new way of thinking about ourselves as humans; about the way in which the natural world self-organizes and co-evolves through support for diversity; about natural intelligence, the process of learning and the significance of environmental stimulation, so our view of what is needed to support learning changes radically.

This Initiative has an immediate concern with the learning of young people as an essential first stage in the creation of a more thoughtful, responsible, humane and democratic society.

Knowing what we now know from neurology and cognitive science about how people most effectively learn, it is critical that we change the traditional relationship between students and teachers, and between schools and communities. We have also to alter our representation of what classrooms and schools will look like. We have also to rethink the role of the community in the learning process. This will eventually change the shape of our houses, our institutions, the designs of our towns, and the use we make of the countryside.

These new understandings will require the adult community – parents and others – both to give more of their time to the individual child, and to create communities where children have the opportunity to become fully contributing members; places where children learn from their experiences of being “useful.” In this way the disastrous trend of more than a century whereby children have few, if any, direct responsibilities until they are past 18, and where youth has been seen as a mixture of disconnected “theoretical learning” and extensive holidays, could be reversed. This will not be easy. However, time spent helping children learn how they can contribute to the community would pay dividends in the long run for the community at large and, immediately, for the individual child. If children need communities, then it can be argued even more strongly that communities need children.

Children’s search for meaning starts young. It is the children who are already anxious to make sense of issues that matter to them in their own private lives, who come to formal schooling anxious to use whatever it can offer them to help meet their personal objectives. Not the other way around. The greatest incentive to learn is personal, it is intrinsic. That is why a caring, thoughtful, challenging, stimulating life-a life of manageable child like proportions – in the greater community is so vitally important. That is why streets that are unsafe for children to play around is as much a condemnation of failed policy, as are burned out teachers or inadequate classrooms.

Extrinsic rewards stimulate various levels of memory retention, but used too frequently they dull the desire to take responsibility for one’s own life. Herein lies the rub in today’s world. It was recently reported that “a survey of 237,717 college freshmen found that 72.4 percent said a principal objective in going to college was ‘to be able to make more money.”

Most learning has become dependent on extrinsic rewards, and these are often rewards deferred until a point far in the future and of questionable validity.

“Work hard in school, and if you do well, you may be one of the fortunate who will then make a great

“We are not blind! We are men and women with eyes and brains…and we don’t have to be driven hither and thither by the blind workings of the Market, or of History, or of Progress, or of any other abstractions.”

E.F. Schumacher 1973

deal of money, and be able to buy all that you want,” has become the mantra for motivating young learners. This is becoming an increasingly less persuasive argument for critically minded young people for two reasons. First, more and more young people are witnessing first-hand, parents, siblings and friends who have followed this advice yet continue to feel economically insecure.” Secondly, young people are seeing the social costs that too often follow a single minded pursuit of economic prosperity separate from other considerations. They are motivated (as were their ancestors) by something deeper. Remember the 17-year old? “(We) want time to be ourselves, to appreciate other people, and to enjoy the richness of our cultural inheritance. We are going to inherit some pretty tough problems. We will have to be wise, not just clever. Our futures will need careful planning. We have to think on a global scale. What we want is your help in learning how to learn in ways that mean we will be able to deal with issues that haven’t ever come up before.”

It has been on the restless, creative energy of each new generation that human society has been dependent for its progress, and for the solution to problems that earlier generations had thought intractable. If, however, too many young people feel such a “disconnect” between their own aspirations and the natural satisfying of these within a society where they, as individuals matter, then society loses that creative zeal so necessary for its future well-being.

The overriding need facing the world’s advanced economies is to use all of its imaginative powers to create a vibrant way of life that treats neither whole sectors of society as “mere unthinking consumers,” nor wreaks havoc upon the environment. “Economics as if people mattered.”~ Such a vision is as essential to motivate whole generations of young people to delight in the development of their intellectual powers, as it is to create an adult society that is able – and willing – to devote quite enormous amounts of its energy to the slow, fascinating, if sometimes frustrating but totally essential, task of inducting all its young people into adulthood.

“The job crisis is a symptom of something much deeper: a crisis in our relationship to work and the challenge put to our species today is to reinvent it. We must learn to speak of the difference between a job and work.”