Education in an ever-changing world…

August 28, 2015

This blog entry is meant to be interactive. It is designed to be read in about 5 minutes, with four short 1 to 2 minute breaks for reflection-expression. I find it best to do this with a pencil/pen and paper, so if you still use those things, then get them out. Here we go…

 

Wherever you are in life, I want you to look back on your experiences in formal education thus far. Think of school/college/institute, where you learned from teachers, books and fellow classmates. What are the dominant images? Focus in on these images and see them in movement, so that it is not a still-shot; rather, you perceive the action. Allow the action to impact you… what do you see, what do you hear, and what do you feel?  

 

Write words or phrases in response to these questions for 1 minute.

 

Wait, did you do the exercise? It is important. We often zip through readings without ever really contextualizing them into our reality, so take the minute.

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OK, now that you feel a little more closely related to your educational process, in which you learned based on some kind of institutional philosophy, predominating methodologies and a chosen content, it is time to think about the big picture: the essence of education, why do we do it.  We could debate this topic our entire lives, so let us speak broadly. I wonder if we can come to an agreement that education serves 3 very general primary roles, each of which can be interpreted differently according to culture, political persuasion, etc.:  1) To make us better human beings, 2) To prepare us for the future, 3) To fulfill a role in, or transform, society.  In other words, with respect to a given context, the hope is that we complete a formal education process as better people prepared to face the future as members of our collective. The sharp disagreements on education come from the context of the following questions:

 

What does it mean to be a good human being? What are the values we should teach? Does facing the future imply survival in a modern world or making a new world? (Depending on the answer, survival implies a question of what are the ethics we teach for survival; and making a new world suggests a vision of what kind of world we seek to create.) How do we define our collective when dreaming of education? Is it my local community, my ethnicity, my country, a globalized society, a planet of diverse life forms?

 

Take another minute to quickly jot down your reactions to the phrases in bold.

 

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If you did the exercise, you will have formed some quick ideas in your head of what these phrases mean to you and expressed those ideas by writing them down. They are now personalized ideas with which you identify. If you take more time, you could reflect at greater depth and shape these ideas and then express them in multiple ways. The issues would then be even more personalized, and if I were to propose very different answers, we could engage in a very interesting dialogue. If we both feel passionately that our ideas are correct, that dialogue might even turn into a nasty debate.  After all, the issues are of the utmost importance. So we see that context and perspective are fundamental in this discussion, but so is our global reality.

 

We live in a tremendously challenging and diverse world, which seems to be in a big hurry to get somewhere. If we didn’t know better, we might think that the planet is spinning off its axis into free fall. Undoubtedly the planet is not moving faster, nor is it producing the challenges of which I speak. When I refer to a challenging and diverse world, of course I mean “our world,” the human world, which is more interconnected than ever. Whether it is because of the internet where you are reading this blog, easy international travel, or our global production/consumption system, the phrase “global community,” while almost too complex to fathom, is incredibly real. Like it or not, for most of us on this blue-green ball, especially us in the more industrialized countries, our everyday activity is intermingled with the daily labor of someone who we will never meet halfway across the globe.  And this takes us to our second to last reflection:

 

Think of what you had to eat the last time before reading this blog post. Start writing down all the people who played a role in getting that food to your plate and stop after a minute or two.

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If you think you finished the exercise, trust me that you didn’t. Unless you picked an apple from your own organic orchard, then there are thousands of people involved, many of which are likely halfway across the globe.

 

This is a small example that demonstrates the endless interconnectedness of our lives on a global scale. Thinking of such an interdependent global community makes me feel panicked and inspired. I am in a panic because everything seems to be out of control and it doesn’t feel real when you tell me that I am connected to a 17 year-old boy making my iPhone in China, yet I am inspired because there is something magical about being linked to a single mom in Bangladesh struggling to provide for her children.

 

As humans, we thrive on relationships with other humans, but only when those relationships feel real.  Local communities feel real, and they come first because we are present with them; we physically share our lives with that community. If I tell you my story, it is so clearly part of my local community’s story, whether that community is my town, my neighborhood, my college, my work, etc.  If we do not tell the stories of global interconnectedness, it is because they don’t feel real. Nevertheless, we cannot deny that we have all been thrust into an evolving global story: we are all characters bound together in time and space, struggling to resolve profound conflicts in a tremendously complex plot.  

 

It is time to rethink the big questions of education so that they include these stories of global interconnectedness. Those stories will help us redefine what it means to be a better person, how we need to prepare for the future, what that future should look like and what should be our role in shaping that future. Without a doubt, we cannot discard the local. Quite the contrary, our local stories ground us, they give us a place and a sense of community from which to shape our global story. However, if education is to respond to the reality of our world, then our stories must become more inclusive of the global, which means we must become more creative in how we research, shape and tell our stories. At Pachaysana, our experiences suggest that treating our interconnectedness as a web of stories is both empowering and liberating.

 

We all say it all the time: our world changes soooo fast. What we teach today cannot be blindly followed by the next generation. We must find a new way of doing education so that it responds to our diverse planet and ever-changing reality, a way that values every person, and maybe every living being, as equal key players in a transformative, creative dialogue that will eventually lead us to a new paradigm.  We do not have the answers for how to easily achieve this new way of doing education, but we know that it must start with this dialogue.

 

The last reflection… and we hope you will share some thoughts by responding to the blog: What are the key elements for achieving a new way of doing education, in which we can find the links between our local and global selves? Some might say it is a change in philosophy, others would suggest content or methodology, and still more will say a complete transformation of our institutions. What say you?

 

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