Education in Life Itself -- Changing Perspective
Wil Franklin, Paul Grobstein, Emily Lovejoy and I participated in a discussion over the draft of a paper entitled "Education in Life Itself." These are my thoughts from the discussion.
When I first read the paper, the concept of learning through life didn't seem like a foreign idea. However, I soon realized, while talking with the other members of the discussion, that it was potentially not as 'common sense' oriented as it had seemed to me. The first that came to my mind was this question: where did the mentality of ending learning when leaving school result from? Why do we consider school to be the end of a learning period and life to be something inconsistent with learning? Why is there a concept that school is preparing us for a life where we do not 'learn' anymore?
Wil brought up an interesting idea. It seems that, for instance, times like the Industrial Revolution brought about what we call the 'traditional method' of education: that is, lecture style classrooms. This brought an idea to mind. It seems that these lecture style classrooms are brought about, not only because they are efficient, but because both students and teachers are afraid of being 'wrong,' or of being 'inconsistent.' Teachers are tentative to being challenged and not having an answer; students are tentative to provoke an idea and be considered 'wrong.' This lecture style classroom really hazes over these uncertainties, these feelings of not knowing what will occur and therefore alleviates that 'problem.' But, is it really a problem? To me, it seems that we must become comfortable with the uncertainty because there seem to be a lot of positive features resulting from this comfort: ability to hear and consider other opinions, formulate new thoughts and, as this paper encourages, learn throughout life rather than just through the schooling process.
I believe that one of the biggest things holding back our schooling from moving from traditional lecture format to more emergent format is the consideration of a concrete outcome. For instance, when we enter college, we must declare a major. This major, in the way it is considered in society, expects the person concentrating in the major to pursue an exclusive "job" in regards to that major. We thought that, perhaps, if the student were allowed to choose courses of study by way of interest, it could change this "curriculum based on one concrete output" method. Not only would it let students have more of a choice without the boundaries of a designated major, but it would also promote life-long learning because the students would be interested in the subject and would be more prone to learn outside of the classroom by pursuing many different options involved with their interests. Another interesting turn of events that I believe this would bring would be a change in the teacher's curriculum: the courses they teach would ultimately reflect the students who chose to take them. Wil suggested setting five questions to be addressed during the course as the only means of a curriculum, and then students enrolling if they find those questions to be interesting. I think this opens up a great set of possibilities for furthering the process of education in life, rather than just ending at the college level.
Many simple things make complex things. Ants, particles of food, earth and sun make a colony: smaller entities make a larger whole. In order to better understand that whole, we must understand the smaller entities. For that reason, I think that the reforming of what the 'outcome' of education is--that is, rather than focusing on the outcome as being 'one job' with no further need to learn, the outcome should be focused on life learning. A possible simple suggestion: end a particular course with questions, not concrete 'truths.' If we change the outcome--a simple entity--we then begin to change the traditional education the system, which is the complex whole.
I think another reason for the lack of 'life-long learning' that is promoted by schools is that people actually misinterpret what 'learning' means. 'Learning' can mean an assortment of things, like working with another person on the job and learning their methods, reading an article about a new idea and applying it in a situation; etc. But, I believe society has a label upon 'learning' that is strictly educational: we can only, technically, 'learn' in school. That really encourages the fact that 'learning' seems to end when school ends and that life is another entity entirely. However, we all realize that we constantly learn throughout life--why, then, is it considered a separate entity? I believe that the development of thought, which happens throughout life, shouldn't have any boundaries: school 'learning' shouldn't be separated from 'life' learning, and so on.
There is no global truth, only truth in context. There could be a particularly factually based 'truth' in one context that is not applicable at all in another context. I think this is another benefit of having emergent classrooms as well as de-emphasizing the 'outcome' and emphasizing the developmental process of learning. By emphasizing the developmental process of learning, we do indeed come to new realizations, but those realizations aren't necessarily the final 'outcome' or final 'truth' and should be explored further. For this reason, many people would argue that these emergent style classrooms teaching in this way for lifelong learning fail to present facts. I would argue that they present facts as a secondary level to discussion, which is the primary level. The facts that the world has discovered are definitely there -- but when they enter discussion, they may or may not be applicable/true to the context they are being discussed in. I believe a lot more can be learned when approaching education in this manner.
Finally, a psychologist once noted that these education practices might've resulted from the split between the cognitive unconscious and the conscious. At one point, it is hypothesized that there was no bi-partite brain configuration, only a unified system of the conscious and unconscious. However, when our conscious somehow separated from the unconscious and formed the story teller function--the function where we confabulate our reality, as reality is really a figment of our minds--we gathered the ability to 'think' in different ways. This also created a problem that hadn't been present before: we could think and we could thus conform, and were less likely to reflect upon ideas and often held our ideas back for fear of not being accepted by other individuals' story tellers. For instance, in a one-god religious culture, an entire group of people is apt to agree that there is, indeed, only one-god. This leads to more cohesion of the group and thus more conformity. This cohesion and conformity make it far less likely that the story of their existence can change, and they are less likely to reflect upon their past and add new details. In a multi-god religious culture, many people may believe diverse things about the diverse religious figures--this does not lead to the strength of cohesion and conformity that the one-god religions feel, and it is thus more probable that they be able to confabulate, add and reflect upon their culture's stories without feeling estranged from the group dynamic.
An Attempt for a Conclusion:
It seems that, in an attempt for a conclusion, that things like the Industrial Revolution have lead to the concept that education primes a person for one job in life, and that learning ends when the individual leaves the schooling environment. Therefore, individuals do not, in life, look for more opportunities to learn. They separate learning in school from life in general, as if they are two separate entities. I have argued that they should not be two separate entities, but rather considered to be components of a developmental learning process that consumes life.
I have hypothesized that a small change in a simple component--the outcome of a course or a curriculum, for instance--can change a greater complex object, like the education system.
'Truth' is relevant to situations and should be treated such in emergent classrooms that encourage discussion (where facts are secondary and discussion is primary). The facts are distributed but a concrete goal of interpreting those facts is not, which leads to novel ideas and develops the learning process.
The concept of avoiding uncertainty should be overcome by a desire to learn more--there is no 'wrong' answer, in any one situation. I have also stated that emphasizing the meaning of the word 'learning' should be based on lifelong goals, not simply a term associated with schooling or the education system.
The concept of group dynamics and consciousness tends to draw people into a mold where they are less able to reflect and reconfabulate old stories (like the education system, in some instances) and therefore cannot recreate ideas.
In general, simple things contribute to complex things, and I believe that by understanding and discussing the ideas mentioned above, we can grow and change the complex entity of the traditional educational system. Our world is changing--new innovations are made everyday--and so too must we change our way of looking at the system of learning.
Brielle Stark, June 2009