Education for the Self and Community

I’ve been thinking more about what it would take to redesign an educational system to honor student agency and center the learning where it belongs…on the learner.

First, we need to have some idea of what knowledge and skills an educated person ought to possess.  I wonder how many administrators/teachers/citizens have a common picture of what that person looks like.  We could refer to the standards, but inferring from those to the real world seems hard for some, and their codification and commodification (from the outset, in terms of big business’s influence of the creation of the Common Core) is a non-starter to many.  Instead, in the face of innovation-speak and market economies, a better picture can be drawn from the tradition of a liberal education.

I was a fortunate learner.  Somehow I developed/possessed the skills necessary to win the game of school.  This allowed me the great fortune to explore the meaning and importance of a liberal education for over 25 years.  One document in that time has meant more to me in terms of getting that “picture” of an educated person than any other: “Only Connect:  The Goals of a Liberal Education” by Professor William Cronon.  I’ve studied that document and revisited it every year I’ve taught.  It is part of me.  As such, I have a  particular and, I think, historically accurate (though culturally and ethnically skewed) view of what an educated person ought to know and be able to do.

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William Cronon’s 10 Goals of a Liberal Education

Thus, at least in some part, redesigning schools necessitates designing/redesigning curricula to create modern pathways to the goals of a liberally educated person.  Further, though…schools need to have a common picture of their end and language with which to talk about the learning experiences they can design to help all learners get there.

Education as an Organic System

Still, none of that matters if the school leaders, both administrators and citizens on school boards and in other elected offices, do not view education as more than some assembly line/linear process.

“Education,” as Cronon points out, derives from a proto-Indo–European root, “rodhati”, meaning “one climbs, one grows.”  Clearly, education wasn’t originally viewed as a linear, mechanistic process, but rather as an organic/dynamic system.  Like a vine, it rises to the light, adjusts, stalls, changes, and moves up again.  It is always overcoming obstacles, making course corrections.  It does not follow rubrics or recipes. It seeks the light.

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From Patrick Cook-Deegan Wayfinding Our Purpose” in Purpose Rising: A Global Movement of Transformation and Meaning, Kuntzelman and Diperna, eds.

But linear systems are easier and more efficient for humans to create, and so we wind up with a school system that works in a linear fashion.  We know this is not the best system for education–one of the most important responsibilities of any community–and yet, here we are.  Our communities and school leaders need to create cultures where calculated/educated risk-taking is part of the environment, where such traits as courage, persistence, creativity, and risk-taking are what we look for, not only in our students but in the lead learners hired for our schools.

Get a B.S. Detector

As well, if we are to truly shift our systems of public education,  we need the same thing that Hemingway said all great writers need:  a great B.S. detector.  It’s so easy to want to jump on the new, the ed-tech, the subversive, the test-prep, the “innovative” because it seems so…shiny and data is so “objective.”  And yet,  so much of it is B.S.

At the most basic level, our understanding of human beings hasn’t grown all that much. The observations of the Progressives about the classroom environment, the efficacy of discovery learning, and (still) the work of Dewey are ever reified in the studies of more modern social scientists.  While our potential is infinite, our learning interventions need not be so.  Human beings require meaningful relationships, connection with their natural environment, and a sense of joy and purpose in what they do if they are to grow and learn.  (We do not learn through coercion unless the learning goal is how to despise learning.  I recommend William Glasser’s The Quality School and The Quality Schoolteacher for more on that point.) If we can use these needs to guide our schools past the dictates of efficiency and cost savings (a daunting task) we’ll have a more humane society, perhaps.

Human-Centered Education

Finally, we cannot overlook the fact that, at its heart, American Public Education will always be driven by three goals:  Economic, Civic, and Personal.  (Erin Raab names four…and I’d not disagree with her, though the Eudaemonic goal–Aristotle’s “Flourishing”– I’d fold into the “personal” (again, see Cronon’s “Only Connect”).)  While we’d like to think there is no hierarchy in these goals, the economic goal generally dominates and pushes the other goals behind it.  Its ends are to ensure the continuation of the free market capitalism that is the foundation for our own form of democracy and which makes our pursuit of happiness (the personal ends) possible.  While I’d rather think it otherwise, I have to believe that without a functioning economy, our government and our own pursuit of self-actualization break down.  Empirically, look to our devolution as a political society and our hunkering down with those most like ourselves post-2008 market crash as evidence. So we must always consider that the culture our schools create is geared towards feeding a hungry, (sometimes beneficient) monster…though monster nonetheless.

But that monster need not be as frightening and consumptive as I paint it.  An education that puts the human at the center, that recognizes its end as the elevation of all learners so that they may reach their own highest potential could ameliorate many of the more base effects of the economic ends.  Of course, that can only happen within a functioning democracy and that end, the civic end, of public education, cannot be overlooked.  We must understand and be driven by the sense that Jefferson noted when he wrote that “A people who seek to remain ignorant and free, expect what never was and never will be.”

It is no secret that education is Wicked Problem. We will always be at it…tweaking, pushing, pulling, and at times disrupting.  We’ll never solve it. The best we can do is hope to manage it better and seek balance among our goals.  But none of that should ever, must never, distract us from what I believe is William Cronon’s most important point in “Only Connect“:

“In the act of making us free, it [a liberal education] also binds us to the communities that gave us our freedom in the first place; it makes us responsible to those communities in ways that limit our freedom. In the end, it turns out that liberty is not about thinking or saying or doing whatever we want. It is about exercising our freedom in such a way as to make a difference in the world and make a difference for more than just ourselves…Liberal education nurtures human freedom in the service of human community” (pp 5-6).

And so, the picture we need of this learner is not intended to create a template for some standardized form of “liberally educated widget maker.”  Rather the picture will serve to show us that these learners, these children so full of freedom and potential, reveal to us our own best selves, and their education represents our own highest potential.

 

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Only Connect at Project Wayfinder: Purpose, Meaning, and Human Centered Education

Wayfinder Canoe

Polynesian Voyaging Society “Voyaging Canoe.”  http://www.projectwayfinder.com/why-wayfinding/

(Following is a blog post introducing a series I’m posting at plusus.org based upon my attendance at Project Wayfinder’s Summer Teacher Institute.  I’ll be posting once a day about my experiences at Proj. Wayfinder and links I find to design and design thinking as well as to education in general.)

In a few days I will be among 50 educators from around the world attending the Project Wayfinder Teacher Institute at Brown University.  Based upon the navigational techniques of ancient Polynesian sailors, Project Wayfinder’s vision is “that all people have access to tools to create lives of meaning and purpose.”

Founded by Patrick Cook-Deegan and designed through his work as a fellow at Stanford’s d.school, Project Wayfinder seeks to meet a glaring need in education:  We are turning out students who may know a great deal but lack any purpose with which to apply their knowledge. In doing so, we are denying a generation(s?) of adolescents access to a life in which they can flourish in ways beyond mere self-fulfillment or pursuit of happiness.

Indeed, if a recent survey from the National Institutes of Mental Health is correct, approximately 31.9% of adolescents age 13–18 have suffered from any type of anxiety disorder.  As Project Wayfinder points out, “while school is in session, high school students are the single most stressed out population in the US(http://www.projectwayfinder.com/our-vision/).

As an educational design consultancy, PlusUs is dedicated to a human-centered approach to our practice.  In addition to providing a full range of design solutions, we strive to keep the learners and their needs at the center of all we do. Regardless of whether we’re working with you to design a new informational mailer or to create curricular materials, we are always thinking about the learners our work will ultimately affect.

Thus, our attendance at Project Wayfinder will assist us in better understanding the needs of today’s learners.  It will also help us position our designs more firmly within a value system that recognizes the importance of meaning and purpose to a healthy, fulfilling life.

Starting on Monday, July 16, I’ll be blogging about my experience at Project Wayfinder’s Teacher Institute both here and at PlusUs.org.

Blade Runner 2049: What to Watch Beforehand

Blade Runner

I just (finally) watched Blade Runner 2049. In the fall of 2017 I watched one of the “prequel” shorts that helped fill in the blanks between 2019 (setting for the original) and 2049.That’s here: https://motherboard.vice.com/…/the-blade-runner-2049-anime-… It addresses the key plot event of a massive blackout that sent the world into economic turmoil.

Image result for blade runner 2022 blackoutWhat I didn’t know until last night was that there are two other prequels, live-action shorts that develop two characters, Jared Leto’s Niandir Wallace, and the Nexus 8 Replicant Sapper, who we meet in the beginnning of BR2049. Here’s a link to those: https://motherboard.vice.com/…/heres-what-you-need-to-watch…

Image result for blade runner 2036 nexus dawn

Anyway, if you’re a fan of the original and haven’t seen the new one, it’s fantastic, picks up on a lot of the motifs from Ridley Scott’s original cinematic vision, and continues to ask the (now even more pertinent) questions of “what does it mean to be human” and “what pieces are integral to the creation the ‘self’?” (Turns out one answer to the latter question is related to storytelling and narrative…which reminds me of this quotation I have had hanging in my classroom for years: “The world is a story we tell ourselves about the world.” Indian Novelist, Vikram Chandra.” )

Let’s Eat!

Check out what one of my students is doing for his Purpose project: Helping his dad by learning how to become a food writer so he can collect recipes and produce a cookbook. From the looks of this beautiful blog post, our world will be the better for it.

Once Upon a Time...

As we’re quickly approaching the end of the school year, it’s time for another final project! I have to say, I’m pretty excited about this one, as unlike last year’s iteration, we have a lot more creative freedom. It’s similar to a concept called 20Time, where we’re given time to work on a passion project of ours. We then have to create whatever we design and give some talks about it, which is probably the best project I’ve ever gotten to work on in high school!

20180307_155230 Empanadas and Tostadas

I went through a couple iterations for this idea, ranging for stand up comedy to political fraud. However, I eventually settled on an idea I had a while ago yet never pursued, that could begin to grow in this project. You see, my dad is a chef, and he has been his whole life. He currently works as the executive…

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Romeo and Juliet: Acts Two and Three

My 9th graders are getting the hang of this blogging thing. I’ve so many examples of blogs from Romeo and Juliet, here’s one that deserves a wider audience. Give her a “like” by visiting her site if you have time.

Stepping Stones

First Impressions 

By the end of act three, the play is clearly developing into the tragedy it was meant to be. Mercutio and Tybalt have been killed, Romeo has been banished, and Juliet is dealing with Image result for love conquers all question marka large amount of grief and is now being forced to marry Paris. It’s exciting to see all of the drama that these young teens have gone through in a matter of just a few days. However, this is confusing at the same time. How could all of this really happen in a couple of days? This feels a bit unrealistic to me. I don’t quite understand the actions of Lady Capulet either. She is Juliet’s mother, so shouldn’t she be helping Juliet through her grief and not forcing her into another by making her marry Paris? I am certainly glad I have a mother who helps and supports me unlike Juliet’s mother.

I…

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