by Terry Heick
I. Education is a system, but teaching and learning are not systems. This presents a challenge.
II. First, education. As a system, it is made up of parts, and these parts can be conceived in any number of ways. That is to say, they are subjective because we, as individuals are subjective.
III. We only become objective under strained scrutiny from others, and even then that objectivity is temporary. Once we move from an object of study to something familiar–from a being to a person–the objectivity is lost. (To the biologist, the species becomes a primate becomes a monkey becomes a friend.)
IV. It is through this loss that human connectivity is gained; it is through human connectivity that we then discover our own interdependence. That is, by how we connect with the people and spaces and ideas around us, we begin to make sense of ourselves. One changes the other.
V. Education, as a system, doesn’t have a way of responding to or planning for this nuanced and entirely human process. This leaves a key actuator of education–teachers–to “handle” that part. And when this doesn’t happen, the marrow of learning is gone. It is a shell. (This is when academics move from a worthy body of knowledge worthy of study to a mechanical and thoughtless process that belies its own wisdom.)
VI. Systems don’t plan for people. The language of systems is binary and mechanical; the language of people is musical and irrational. Education can’t communicate with teachers; teachers can’t communicate with curriculum; curriculum can’t speak to communities; communities can’t speak to families or students. Of these parts, only the teachers and families and students are real–capable of speaking and being spoken to. Of responding and creating and resisting and laughing and running amok.
VII. How we see ourselves changes how we view “reality,” and how what we believe about “reality” affects how we see ourselves. We construct and co-construct a reality that provides an always-on feedback loop where we constantly calibrate our sense of self, and based on what we “see,” either adapt that view of reality, or iterate our sense of self. (Consider how you think of yourself as an adult versus how you viewed yourself as a teenager; then think not only of that difference, but the events that caused that change–what we call “maturity” or “growing up.”)
VIII. This is a ceaseless process that education, by design, seeks to interrupt because it never bothers to learn the language of the individual student–this child with this story sitting in this chair. Teachers are the great translators of learning–mediators that speak in binary code for the system, and in human tongue for the children. This both emphasizes and overburdens teachers.
IX. Secondarily, this reduces knowledge and wisdom to matters of performance, which is further reduced to letter grades and certificates. This sequence represents the complete dehumanization of the learning process, done so not out of malice, but by an entirely predictable pattern: systems-level thinking rather than personal-level affection. We continuously seek to make that which is subjective, objective.
X. In response, education technology has recently been turned to in hopes of easing this burden, but without clear and human and careful communication between teachers and curriculum and communities and families and students, “edtech” merely energizes the system itself, illuminating all of its parts in jagged and purple and thrumming arcs. And here, the best we can hope for is disruption.
XI. If we can accept knowledge, wisdom, literacy, and critical thinking as goals of education (if that continues to be our choice of, for lack of a better term, educating), we might study the characteristics of someone that excels in these four areas to see what it looks like. We might think backwards not from standards, but from people in their native and chosen places.
XII. Put another way, we could do worse than to begin with a question: If knowledge emancipates the mind, once freed, where does it go?
Where Does A Freed Mind Go?; image attribution flickr user thericks