Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Know for Real

What is learning? Where does it happen, and how? Who is a learner, and who a teacher?

Who decides what must be learned? Who should?

Sometimes I think that as a society we've skipped over these questions and jumped right to certain conclusions--however untested or disproven they may be. Witness the failures of our school system to accommodate the learning styles and needs of diverse student bodies, struggling to prepare even the privileged students for a college system entirely divorced from the lived realities of the vast majority of people in this country, let alone to live as critically and flexibly thinking members of a democratic society. We ask students to regurgitate facts and perform skills on command--regardless of whether they have to do with that young person's life or not. We stifle students' natural inquisitiveness and personal passions in the quest for improved standardized test results. But what if our failure to engage students as full and capable human beings is what defeats their performance?

I've been reading "To Know for Real" by Ann Giles Benson and Frank Adams. It's about Royce Pitkin, one of the founders of Goddard College, where I am currently a student.

Goddard has a fascinating history as one of the first and few institutions in the US committed to enacting a living model of progressive education. In short, progressive education puts the student in charge of her own education: "since the material of education is living, you can't escape building any kind of educational program around the lives of persons…you do not educate other persons; persons educate themselves."

Imagine, for a moment, that "the purpose of schools, and the function of a teacher, is to create the conditions of learning, the kind of learning that enables one to increase one's own abilities." Does it change how you think about my initial questions?

What is learning? Where does it happen, and how? Who is a learner, and who a teacher?

Who decides what must be learned? Who should?

Royce Pitkin proposes "an 'assignment' in living," asking that we "organize our lives so as to hold firm convictions and yet tolerate dissent; to behave with becoming humility toward others; to recognize the probability of imperfection in all plans for a new social order; and to put our time and energy into work calculated to make better our community, our society, our world."

What do YOU think?

And finally, because to me Goddard College is one of the most beautiful places on earth, I'll leave you with a photo taken by Ann Driscoll, program director for the Master's Degree in Socially Responsible Business and Sustainable Communities. It's the Manor House on Goddard's campus; a beautiful building that has housed the untold brilliance of thousands of students throughout the college's history.

Here's your moment of Zen:

1 comment:


    It turns out you are not the only person who is questioning this. Here is a link to a post by a local Denver students questioning our current system and the way we motivate students to learn. In my opinionwhat is most important is teaching people how to learn. Sharing our passion for learning is contagious. I love listening to someone who is in love with a subject and desiring to share that knowledge.