Communities of Learning
A New Story of Education For a New Century
Ideas conceived 1968. Gestated 1970's,1980's, 1990's.
1st public presentation March 1999. Site first draft March 2000.
Full site launched September 10, 2001
Summary of Core Ideas of This Story
The ideas I discuss for creating Communities of Learning do not follow along the usual lines of discourse on education. I neither discuss nor champion any particular teaching method, style, or technique. Nor do I advocate for any specific educational component or program, hoping this could have a system-wide, transforming effect.
Rather, I talk about living,
about cultural evolution and social thought -- about how people think and feel about being alive on this planet;
about the images and stories human beings use to convey these impressions to each other; and how a society's education
system both arises from and reinforces these impressions.
Our world's old story about life went something like this : "Human beings are incapable of managing their own activities and therefore require direction from 'above.' " This was thought to be an incontestable, theological truth, delivered complete with Earthly agents claiming to extend this authority - - religious, civil, economic. This old story legitimized organizing human activities using the lower-order intelligence model of the authoritarian, top-down, command-and-control, hierarchical institution. Logically following was the conviction that young people must be prepared for adulthood through an education system organized as a factory assembly line.
Today, our modern society has outgrown that old story. Deeper insights into what it means to be fully human, coupled with sweeping changes in the nature of daily life, are ushering in a new era with new images to live by. These images are calling into being an entirely new story of life that uses an organizational model of higher-order intelligence.
We can use complexity science's model of an adaptive system for the guiding, higher-order intelligence this new story needs to fully emerge. A complex-adaptive system uses the operating principle of self-organized, free initiative and free choice. The resulting new story contains within itself the cues for creating the human ecology settings and stages for its acting out. This includes those for education : introducing the dynamic of free choice for all participants in all activities causes both the physical and social architectures of education to regroup into a dramatically different alignment. This new arrangement both welcomes and cultures the vitality and adaptivity of an education relevant for today's world :
* Local hubs of the learning network
- - offering both drop-in activities and regularly scheduled classes for all ages
* Focal points for neighborhood life - - meeting, gathering, and hanging out; large-group events
* Liaisons to the wider community - - information and referrals to additional local and global learning resources
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Summary of More Fully Developed Ideas of This Story
(For complete development of each major aspect of this discussion, click on the linked heading for each part.)
Flight was the discovery of lift
- - not push.
- Buckminster Fuller (1)
"Come to the edge"
It's too high
"Come to the edge"
We might fall
"Come to the edge"
And they came
And he pushed them
And they flew
- Appolinaire (2)
The educational choices of the future will be much more varied, vital, and relevant in character, selection, and location than what is currently being offered.
Most people - - even in their wildest imaginations - - can hardly conceive of the abundant smorgasbord of opportunities looming just over the horizon. We need to set people free to create it.
- - Nobel Laureate in Economics Milton Friedman (paraphrased), 1998. (3)
(Insert image: Children’s mural with vibrant colors and images, Vancouver)
The future will consist of a matrix of organizations with common interests, densely interrelated
like the neurons in a brain.
- - Futurist Alvin Toffler, 1980. (4)
The future will consist of a matrix of organizations with common interests, densely interrelated like the neurons in a brain.
- - Futurist Alvin Toffler, 1980. (4)
Part 1. Our Current General Social Transformation
We Are Our Stories, Forever in the Telling (5)
We human beings are storytellers. Across all eras of time and in every geographic locale, human cultures develop images and stories which form their mythologic truths about life. These become the foundation for a culture’s worldview - - the filtering structures of our inner world through which we take in, process, and make meaningful sense of the world around us. These are the "invisible structures that secretly govern everything.“
Every culture attempts to legitimize its worldview and to perpetuate itself by creating a framework to communicate its values to its members - - especially to its impressionable, moldable, youngest members. This framework is called a culture's education system. A culture uses the images and stories from its worldview as the building blocks for its educational framework. A culture puts its members through its educational system during their formative years to prepare them for their roles as adult members in that culture.
Accordingly, an education system becomes a socially powerful channel through which a culture attempts to indoctrinate its new members into - - and thereby to reinforce - - its internally consistent worldview. This is every culture's method of trying to ensure its worldview's continual legitimatization and perpetuation down through the generations.
However, life is not static, but evolves over time. To continue functioning as relevant guides for living, our internal images and stories about life must grow and change along with changing times. But these changes happen neither automatically nor immediately. And sometimes the images and stories people hold in their minds significantly lag behind the reality that life presents. When this is the case, a need arises to create new, effective images and stories to live by. (5)
From Where We Have Come: Our Old Story of Power Pyramids
Throughout the ages and continuing through the Industrial Age's end in mid-20th Century, most of this planet's cultural worldviews legitimized a model of social organization that used lower-order intelligence. This social model was the single-centered, power pyramid which organized human activities through top-down, command-and-control hierarchies.
An example of the command-and-control power pyramid was the cultural worldview of the Industrial Age, beginning in the 19th Century and ending mid-20th Century. It was based on the machine-thinking, assembly-line premise of life as a closed system -- that pre-determined input would result in pre-determined output. Industrial Age society effectively harnessed this premise to make unprecedented strides in technical progress.
Similarly, the Industrial Age’s accompanying approach to education was a machine-thinking, closed system: put pre-determined information into students’ minds to fulfill the objective of having students contain this pre-determined, quantifiable information.
by Santiago Cohen, for The New York Times (see Notes)
The Industrial Age education system reinforced the Industrial Age worldview and provided "human resources" for its factories. It all fit together very well. Or did it? Was something crucial being left out? What developments would the future bring?
Where We Have Arrived : The Industrial Age Worldview Having Burst Its Seams Starting in Mid-20th Century
By the mid-20th Century, the Industrial Age worldview had sown the seeds of its own decline : the technological means for dramatically increasing the speed and fluidity of communication and transportation. The increase of fluidity in these areas severely challenged the legitimacy of the single-centered, authoritarian, hierarchic, power-pyramid model of social organization. The old worldview had reached its limits, became stretched out of shape, and its legitimacy began to wane.
Stirring in the last half of the 20th Century was the character of daily life in the beginning of the 21st Century. We began witnessing a transformation in social organization from a model reflecting lower-order intelligence toward one reflecting higher-order intelligence. The still-emerging model is multi-centered, fluid, complex-adaptive, and self-organized. This model is founded on the basic dynamic of building relationships of equality, respect, and mutual volition. This dynamic of relationships functions both between individuals and between groups, and serves to guide the new possibilities which arise from these freely-formed connections.
Part 2. Our Current Education System
The American Education System: Lagging Behind in the Current Transformation
However, some arenas of life still resist updating their images and operating styles. One of these arenas is education, whose story and images remain dismayingly rooted in the antiquated, rapidly receding Industrial Age. Education retains the organizing model of the command-and-control, hierarchic pyramid with its closed-system focus on pre-determined, institutional objectives.
However, attempts to superimpose the Industrial Age worldview onto the lives of today’s young people - - who neither recognize nor legitimize its values - - inevitably brings chafing against a too-small box. The students' objections often take tragic expression, both outwardly loud and inwardly quiet.
The yearning for complexity strains outdated images and expectations, demanding expansion. We have pushed off from the Past. The Future pulls us into its current. The misalignment of obsolete images and current reality brings ever more symptoms of systemic dysfunction. Pressure to transform becomes increasingly urgent.
Part 3. Education's Future
Building Education's Future : A New Story of Vitality and Adaptivity
The Communities of Learning model offers a way out of our current miasma. It offers a way to build a new story of education for a new century.
The current general transformation in social organization offers cues and images to apply to this new story. This new story reflects a transformed, expanded image of what life - - and by extension, education - - is about.
The Communities of Learning model takes these transformed, general images about life and uses them to systemically reorganize both the physical and social architectures of education. It presents a vision for an educational approach which moves away from the outdated, lower-order-intelligence model of the centralized institution.
The Communities of Learning approach proposes instead using the higher-order-intelligence model of the complex-adaptive system : voluntary, decentralized, self-organized communities. It proposes we create vibrant, relevant, community marketplaces of learning for citizens of all ages.
To make this transformation, the Communities of Learning approach offers both a conceptual framework and concrete steps to reorganize the channels of education. These steps are the following :
1. Base all educational decisions on the premise that learning is fundamentally about process, connection, and flow. It is the process of people forming approaches to and relationships with life - - to what it means to be alive on this planet. Use this basic premise to encourage the process of people building connections and relationships with :
2. Re-conceptualize the roles of the players in the learning process :
3. Separate the learning activities of both teachers and students from the politics of certification - - from the requiring, conferring (or withholding) of certification, degrees, and diplomas. Use as a precedent the individual negotiation currently being carried out by independent-study students with the powers-that-be. These students work either with representatives of government agencies or of "umbrella schools" of independent-students to create programs meeting individual students' needs and goals.
4. Re-conceptualize the physical infrastructure of education to support a rich marketplace of learning. Move away from closed-system, centralized institutions with their huge buildings and entrenched, paternalistic bureaucracies. Instead, develop multi-centered networks of learning (6, 7, 8, 9), drawing on existing programs such as local public libraries.
Use the following principles to guide the transformation of both the physical and social architectures of education:
- Regularly-scheduled, instructor-led,
- Resource-rich activity areas for drop-in users
- Lounging and hanging out opportunities - - for both individuals and groups
- Web access plus a wide array of other high-tech tools
- Large-group, entire-neighborhood events : presentations, celebrations
To offer feedback about any of the ideas in this proposal,
please contact me at the address at the top of this page.