Big News out of TEDGlobal 2009

•July 24, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This week, the greatest minds you can find on our planet are meeting together to share new ideas and breathtaking technologies that will change the future.  Some of the biggest items to be revealed at the conference so far includes a wireless power system (not unlike what Nikola Tesla imagined decades ago) and the fact that the creation of an artificial brain is less than 10 years away.  Links below…

Artificial Brain 10 Years Away

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8165928.stm

Wireless Power System Shown Off

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8164060.stm

Keep a look out at TED.com to see when these and other talks will be posted, so far only one talk has been posted from TEDGlobal 2009.  The talk, from UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, describes how we can use today’s interconnectedness that the internet has provided to develop our shared global ethic, which would allow us to work together to confront the challenges of poverty, security, climate change and the economy based on universally preferable behaviour.  The talk is embedded below.

Don’t Set Your Wit Against a Child

•July 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment
Salvador Dali's The Power of Thought

Salvador Dali's The Power of Thought

Ivan Illich was a man ahead of his time, over 30 years ago he wrote a small book to advocate the unthinkable, ridding the world of schools. His arguments were so persuasive that the book caused many people to question the assumptions on which we base our ideas of education, primarily schooling. Illich advocated the replacement of institutionalised schooling by community-driven “educational matchmaking” (p.533) that would enable learners to be in control of their own learning, while teachers would offer their services in an entrepreneurial fashion.  As influential as his ideas were, they were not really practical during the 1970s without a proper methodology or advanced technology to bring his ideas to a global scale.  Given the technology of the 21st Century the World Wide Web has created opportunities for both learners and teachers to do exactly what he described.  Since this is not my first encounter with Illich’s work I will be using the entirety of his work, Deschooling Society, in this commentary.  Schooling has long been recognized as a powerful instrument of social control, an idea that has underpinned the aims of many totalitarian regimes from Hitler to Kim Jong-il.  Illich understood that schooling was an institution that perpetuated class strata with an inability to provide neither “learning nor justice” (p.530).  Illich began Deschooling Society with a paragraph that radically reassessed the role of schools, the responsibilities of teachers, and schooling’s effect on societal standards:

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance . . . The pupil is “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work.  Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more and more resources. (Illich, 1971, p.1)

Ivan Illich's book Deschooling Society - A Very Good Read

Ivan Illich's book Deschooling Society - A Very Good Read

Illich argues that schools are no longer content with the mission of teaching literacy and numeracy, history and language, and other standard subjects; today’s schools are used to replicate the consumer society that had been established after World War II, with hidden agendas aimed at consolidating the wealth and power of the status quo by developing “standard responses” (p.533) from students instead of dynamic, informal thinking. The oppression that occurs from this reinforcement is not simply the case in poor states; schools are fundamentally alike in all countries, whether fascist, democratic, socialist, rich or poor.  If we genuinely wish for social change, equality and the redistribution of wealth, argued Illich, the very idea of schooling must be destroyed in order to rebuild a just society.

These goals are not enough in the 21st Century, today educators must respond to issues of educational ideology including the cultivation of individual differences, constructivist, collaborative and student-centred teaching, and the recognition of educational inequalities suffered by women, racial minorities, and those with exceptionalities.  Schools struggle to resolve these issues, which is why it is important to look at the alternatives that Illich is proposing with networks aimed at establishing a new prototype of what education means for society and what it can do to transform our ability to communicate, collaborate, and create.  Today, the fact still remains that schools, colleges and universities are not uniformly popular places in which the learning experience is a comfortable one for everyone. Many learners of all ages simply do not want to go to school. Perhaps part of the explanation for this is that the coupling of learning and certification is inherently problematic as institutions often “insist on packaging instruction with certification” (p.530). Some learners are uncomfortable with the idea that the teacher or tutor who supports their learning will also judge their achievement which Illich states is neither “reasonable nor liberating” (p.530). It seems logical to observe that certification by educational institutions tends to intensify the power relation between learner and teacher.  Illich’s analysis is an important contribution to the debate on the institutionalisation of education.  He discusses how education can be limited to an individual due to the discrimination of applicants due to their “previous attendance at some curriculum” (p.530). However, even if we accept that the roles performed by traditional educational institutions is uncomfortable, it could be debated that these tensions are inevitable no matter the alternatives, so it is important to look at what has come of the alternatives that Illich proposed over 30 years ago. The four networks that Illich proposed in Deschooling Society called for research on the possible use of technology to create new educational organisations which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction. These networks suggested an alternative approach to learning; what are needed are new networks that are readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning. These new networks would be more informal and amiable than the schools, colleges and universities which dominate education today, hence the term deschooling.  Interestingly enough, the label of Learning Webs that Illich used to define an entire section of his book would be reflective of what we see today as the services and connections the Internet has provided for education, schooling and society as a whole.

Ivan Illich - 1926 to 2002

Ivan Illich - 1926 to 2002

Writing more than 30 years ago, Illich makes specific reference to the use of computer technology, although his details are slim. The Internet offers a freedom of access to databases which he could not anticipate.  As I stated previously, the fact that he called one of the sections of his book Learning Webs is almost prophetic. For those who grew up with the Internet, this title highlights the suitability of the Internet for providing free public access to the information databases Illich proposed.  His assumption was that skill exchanges, peer matching to identify fellow learners and reference services to elders would lead to face to face meetings which “permits identification only on the basis of a mutual desire to discuss a statement” (p.534) without the discrimination of age, sex, and other characteristics. Illich proposed that “matching the right teacher with the right student” (p.532) through these networks would provide for a highly rewarding relationship that would motivate the learner and be centred on their goals and challenges. As we have seen over the past decade, online technology offers more than what Illich thought was necessary for this type of authentic learning, notably its ability to support dialogue online through video conferencing, which makes face to face dialogue no longer a boundary for those in poorer countries.   We can see that the human relationships Illich wanted to build to create informal learning, for example the meetings in coffee shops to discuss a book, can easily be matched and even conducted through technology used in online social communities such as Facebook or Elluminate Live.  However, despite technology’s ability to surpass Illich’s proposals that would allow for a deschooling of society, these types of programs are few and far between, and those that do exist have been developed for profit, mainly at the university and college level with “all the inefficiency characterizing large bureaucracies” (p.534).

These types of online learning programs and peer matching have not been able to serve the poor, and nor has it supported informal learning, both a central focus of Illich’s work. That is why it can be argued that educators have a responsibility to resist the wholesale commercialisation of currently emerging online learning, just as it happened to educational institutions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Informal learning today can benefit from the availability of learning resources, video conferencing, course outlines, limitless databases, visual instructions, online discussion groups of various sorts and online experts if they are easy to find on the Web and free to users. Just as public libraries in the 19th and 20th centuries made books available to people who could not afford to buy them, online facilities that are freely available need to become better and more diverse.  Technology has the ability to allow learners to choose the timing, location and content often in response to a specific problem. Therefore, learning can be prompted by real world challenges or problems rather that taken up for its own sake through a mandate.  Faced with immediate challenges or problems, people are instead motivated to find time to acquire the new knowledge, skills or attitudes they need due to necessity and interest.  Illich stated that this happens most often already as “learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction” (p.530) which allows for “skill learning and education for inventive and creative behaviour” (p.532).  Online learning technology is developing rapidly in response to the technological opportunity offered by the Internet.  The relationship between the increased popularity of online learning as an activity and the technical development of the technologies which support it seems symbiotic and it is reasonable to anticipate accelerated growth.  These changes will not happen in isolation; it will be a substantial challenge to formal educational institutions to help the emergence of more global and pluralistic educational opportunities for it to truly succeed. While Illich’s desire to tear down schooling has yet to be a reality, it can be debated that a less radical vision of the future seems to be emerging, in which increasing demand for informal and dynamic education will be met by new institutions, many of which will exploit new learning technologies to better meet the demands of learners than they do today.  The video below is a TED lecture by Gever Tulley who opened a “tinkering” school that allows students to educate themselves through problem solving.  The school provides students with various materials and tools, but leaves the rest to them.

Our Pale Blue Dot

•February 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment

earth

Looking to our immediate solar system, we have been granted with a planet that has evolved quicker than any other due to the appropriate catalysts for the growth of life.  It strains the mind to think of what the universe may hold in other galaxies.  Due to the short life span of a human being we must understand that these ambitions may never come to fruition so the paramount path we can take is to understand and care for what we have now and ensure its use for future generations.  The entire Earth is aesthetically stimulating, philosophically challenging, and ethically disturbing.  The current need within any form of education is to rethink a budding vision of Earth and the place of human life upon it, or as David Orr states “the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival” (p.8). I will be using Orr`s philosophy in his book Earth in Mind to aid in discussing the vital issues that face educational institutions`roles in educating generations to take care of our pale blue dot in space.  I suggest you give it a read.  For those teachers and students fortunate enough to have the perspective of Earth as a whole in space, the many thoughts that come to light are that of beauty, fertility and that of its small size in the relative space of our universe.  It is a gift to have a planet so full of life yet because of so many individual’s limited spectrum of knowledge this idea can be nothing more than a pretty picture.  It must be disseminated to future generations that Earth is to be treasured and nurtured.  It must endure so that future generations can have the same feelings and emotions.

Two of the greatest marvels on our planet are life and mind, both among the rarest things in the known universe.  Orr understands this and states that our educational systems ignore these types of amazing aspects of life on this planet when he says that education “emphasizes theories, not values; abstraction rather than consciousness; neat answers instead of questions; and technical efficiency over conscience” (p.8). Humans have become startling in their powers to rebuild and modify the Earth along with the more prevalent power of degradation.  We are facing many problems from population to ecological which are all intertwined.  Humanity’s desires for maximum development on Earth have caused an escalation in the exploitation of the environment.  Therefore, we are searching for an education adequate to respect life on Earth, the only planet yet known with an ecology.  Orr states that our intelligence to aid in developing this respect within education has been overshadowed by cleverness, he states that: “True intelligence is long range and aims toward wholeness.  Cleverness is mostly short range and tends to break reality into bits and pieces” (p.11).  Therefore, humans can be regarded as the wise species that now hold the future of Earth in its hands, however we still find it difficult to stray away from cleverness instead of embracing true intelligence, especially within educational institutions and how it is broken down into those bits in pieces through isolated subjects.  Through this characteristic of wisdom, humans have established education within cultural spheres to allow for the dissemination of wisdom, knowledge and skills.  However, education’s role in developing an ecological consciousness within students has been underwhelming.

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Many ecologically conscious individuals will say that Western cultures have become so destructive to planet Earth due to the human centred or anthropocentric ideals that are established through education.  This term has various forms; egocentrism, selfishness, ignorance, capitalist, but all have one thing in common, their lack of ecological ethics.  Orr believes this to be one of humanity’s greatest follies as “there is a myth that our culture represents the pinnacle of human achievement.  This, of course, represents cultural arrogance of the worst sort and a gross misreading of history and anthropology” (p.12). This human centred outlook has grown worse with every generation, causing us to lose touch with ourselves as natural beings.  We are part of the same biosphere as every other entity on the planet, all with a dependence on a healthy biosphere.  Over time, humanity has created a conception of the human identity as a part of its own sphere, not connected to nature and ecology which Orr states is the “result of an education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and careers, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance” (p.17).  Since most view education as relating only to this human sphere, the environment is exempt from its influence and our relationship with it becomes an afterthought.  Many educators who do not view the environment from this human centred view are divided about how to challenge the dominant framework in Western educational thought and how far ecology should extend into this  human sphere when discussing curriculum practices.  In this challenge Orr believes that “all education is environmental education” (p.12).

Many argue that human centeredness is inevitable and that there is no way we can ever disband the shackles of our human conceptual tools to see the world differently.   Since there never has been direct competition to the human species, other than other humans, we have been stuck in our view of dominance over the natural world despite climatic disturbances.  This view of dominance pervades our human sphere as oppression occurs to other humans as well, and within our educational institutions with Orr stating that: “Higher education has largely been shaped by the drive to extend human domination to its fullest” (p.9).  Many teachers give up on restructuring their lives or advocating for change within educational institutions due to the difficulties they face attempting to be environmentally conscious and become a role model for students, as Orr states educational institutions need these “faculty and administrators who provide role models of integrity, care, and thoughtfulness” (p.14). Their inability to do so has come from accepting the rules of a problematic educational framework as their attempts only become cynical or pessimistic.  However, just looking at what our planet is capable of, seen in the video embedded below, it may provide solace that there are ways to save the human species.

When attempting to move away from human centered approaches to ecological education in both public and higher education, it is important to understand that we cannot avoid thinking in terms of our own interests.  Most attempts today at ecological ethics and literacy in schools have always retained human interests into consideration before anything else.  Subjects within schools focus on how Ozone depletion and pollution harm human health, how over fishing destroys resources for future humans, why global warming could unleash potentially catastrophic climatic changes and extremes, and so on.  We are humans and we cannot evade our needs, to ignore humanity and only consider the effects on the planet would be irrelevant to the practical politics of ecological activism.  Human knowledge is rooted in experience and is therefore different from other species.  Orr agrees with this when he says that “we cannot say that we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities” (p.13). Despite this, humans must still understand that in order to treat other species, beings, ecosystems and so on with consideration of their welfare, humans must take some distance from our own immediate impulses, desires, and interests in order to consider their relation to the demands of others.

Therefore, teachers must have authentic empathy for the planet and understand that its needs are both similar and different from our own.  However, it must be connected that all subjects within an educational institution are connected to ecology, despite the fact they may serve human interests.  As Orr describes, if these connections are not established students may “believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that economics has nothing to do with physics” (p.23). Through this, authentic ecological education can take place and provide students with a new perspective on our relationship with the natural systems that provide us with life, including our own.  Attempting to keep a view like this becomes difficult as it requires us to extend our understanding beyond our own location and interests, but it does not require us to eliminate them.  This is quite the endeavour for many teachers and students as today’s educational subjects and content focus on the here and now or as Orr states the “skills, aptitudes, and attitudes necessary to industrialize the earth” (p.17), rather than the extension of one’s self.  Awareness is the only way that this can change.  Since human interests are shared by all some may only finally understand the need for empathy when it is too late to act.

Humans must be accountable for what they are doing to their Earth, which is our life support system.  We are not responsible for creating Earth’s systems and resources; we are late in evolutionary history.  Despite this fact we have become increasingly responsible for Earth’s health and future.  The most important aspect in ensuring Earth’s future is to see ourselves, humans, as Earth residents with global interests.  Hopefully over time boundaries and governments will become much more amalgamated with this worldview in mind.  Humanity is a by-product of Earth’s grand systems, mainly evolution.  For a large majority of Earth’s history humans did not exist along with the cultural entities that come along with them, which includes education.  In the time of humanity’s absence, Earth was only a natural system; it is only recently that it has gone under the stress of supporting cultural systems.  Our modern cultures threaten the health, stability and future of Earth and the cultural systems on it.  We must advance forward in creating a culture in harmony with nature and learn to handle ourselves and direct ourselves away from “intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions” (p.33).  Our next step is to discover the appropriate respect for ecology; we must examine our lives and our world and choose to protect the highest of goods, Earth.

Our Galactic Core

•February 18, 2009 • 1 Comment

The Milky Way Galaxys Galactic Core

What’s happening at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy? To help find out, the orbiting Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have combined their efforts to survey the region in unprecedented detail in infrared light. Infrared light is particularly useful for probing the Milky Way’s center because visible light is more greatly obscured by dust. The above image encompasses over 2,000 images from the Hubble Space Telescope’s NICMOS taken last year. The image spans 300 by 115 light years with such high resolution that structures only 20 times the size of our own Solar System are discernable. Clouds of glowing gas and dark dust as well as three large star clusters are visible. Magnetic fields may be channeling plasma along the upper left near the Arches Cluster, while energetic stellar winds are carving pillars near the Quintuplet Cluster on the lower left. The massive Central Cluster of stars surrounding Sagittarius A* is visible on the lower right. Why several central, bright, massive stars appear to be unassociated with these star clusters is not yet understood.

Taken from: http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap090107.html

Simulated Visions of the Cosmic Dawn

•February 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

It appears that cosmologists have been able to predict what the universe may have looked like 500 million years after the big bang (if it occurred).

The Cosmic Dawn

The picture above displays what their model created visually.  The entire story is in the link below:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090211082359.html

Are Schools Killing Creativity?

•February 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Xanadu Fractal Art

It was a miracle of rare device, A sunny dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer, In a vision I once saw:

It was an Abyssinian maid, And on her dulcimer she played,

Singing of Mount Abora.  Could I revive within me

Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight ‘twould win me,

That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!

And all who heard should see them there, And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread,

For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan

One of the most known poems of the creative process was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the nineteenth century.  He had described the poem as a metaphor for the turbulent processes that underlie creative activity.  The poem is based upon Xanadu, the centre of Kubla Khan’s Yuan Dynasty in China.  The creation of the palace, Xanadu, which is surrounded by a circular wall, begins with power, grace, and delight but also with infinity and darkness. Coleridge’s inspiration from the fascinating creation process of the palace brought him to write the poem.  The entire poem can be found at:

http://etext.virginia.edu/stc/Coleridge/poems/Kubla_Khan.html

There is also Rush’s musical piece, Xanadu, which is based on the poem, using some of its prose, which you can listen to in the video embedded below:


Educational institutions have provided a conditioning and socializing factory where mistakes are stigmatized and change and uncertaintiy are feared instead of embraced.  The search for a methodology within education that harbours the imagination, and creativity that is naturally found within every child has yet to be developed, although the works of Kieran Egan, Larry Cuban, and Elliot W. Eisner have brought the need into the limelight.  As Egan has stated “there has not been much research on students’ imaginations, and yet they are clearly central to students’ learning.  But ignoring the imagination because our research methods have difficulty coming to grips with it is somewhat self-defeating.” (Egan, 2003).  The uniformity and efficiency that permeates the educational field causing this self defeat, which Eisner calls our “technically rationalized industrial culture” (Eisner, 2002) is not a recent development but rather one that “began with the Enlightenment” (Eisner, 2002).

The answer to these problems is the advent of neuroscience.   Researchers like Eisner have made it clear that psychologists have not researched creativity properly by using the example of Edward L. Thorndike’s ideals of psychology and their application within education.  Thorndike used psychology in the early 20th Century as a means to view students as a raw material that can easily be molded through a processes of schooling.  These issues are still alive today, even after prominent psychologists like J.P Guilford complained fifty years ago about psychology’s lack of attention to creativity and challenged his field to rectify the problem.

The current educational literature is lacking in one central area, educational researcher’s pressure upon neuroscientific researchers to aid in helping answer some of the most interesting questions ever asked by science about one of the most interesting organs in the most interesting creature on Earth.  The mind has allowed the cosmos to contemplate itself and understand itself.  Egan said it best when he stated that “there should be research showing conditions that constrain learning that are something other than logical truths” (Egan, 2003).  It is sad to say that most of the research that researchers like Eisner and Cuban offer is nothing more than logical truths.  We must understand how creativity functions within the brain to create a design framework within education that can take advantage of these natural learning processes best.

The video embedded below is a TED lecture by Sir Ken Robinson detailing human potential for creativity and education’s need to place creativity in the same league of importance as literacy or numeracy:

The human brain is one of the most complex devices on Earth, and perhaps even in the known and unknown universe.  Only in the past ten to twenty years has it begun to give up some of the secrets about its near-miraculous activities and abilities.  It is without a doubt that there is a neural basis for extraordinary creativity within every individual.  As human beings, all of us create new language every time we speak, using the multiple nodes in our language circuits.  We all make connections between various words and ideas using our association cortex.  We can perform tasks that require focused episodic memory, such as recounting personal experiences.  We all have brains that are self-organizing systems.  We are able to think in nonlinear dynamic ways.  But are these the same properties that produce extraordinary creativity as well? Does the extraordinary creative person simply have a mind/brain that differs only in the amount or extent of these properties? Or does that person think in a truly different way? And if different, how so?  With the current understandings and research within neuroscience we only have hypothesis, and hunches that are held up by modest evidence.  What we do know is that everyone is capable of a great level of creativity as Elizabeth Gilbert discusses in this embedded TED talk below:

To truly create an educational framework based upon creativity is a task that requires information that we have not developed concrete evidence for.  Neuroscience has only been at the frontiers of science for the past 20 years, and is still in its infancy.  Even the established framework of neuroscience is being shaken by the findings of neuroplasticity where With this it can be understood why these articles did not provide anything beyond the logical truths of orienting the values of education towards one invested in creativity and imagination rather than the industrial structure invested in efficiency.  However, the use of multiple intelligences, the creative process of “rightness of fit” and encompassing the whole child, bring about new ways of inspiration and motivation for students.  This process allows for the student to become an individual within the educational system rather than a resource.  It is those who let their imaginations and creativity run wild that have provided the world with the most long lasting and world changing ideas from Leonardo daVinci to Larry Page and Sergey Brin.  Imagine a world where our educational systems are able to harbour such creativity on a scale once unheard of, it would be a very different place indeed.

The Brain is Plastic to all External Influences

Creative and imaginative personalities are always helped by direct nurturance and support. Multiple intelligences are an educational practice that has allowed teachers to coherently cater to all types of individuals through each student’s independent and creative nature. I wholeheartedly agree that today’s societal norms suppress imagination within children. We can see how eager and even naive children can be due to their imaginations. Children will never doubt the existence of Santa Clause, for example, at an early age. That is evidence enough to show how positive socialization towards imagination and creativity is key in harbouring and nurturing those tools throughout an individual’s life.

I feel that teaching should lean towards a mentorship role, recognizing and rewarding students whose abilities are even greater than their own. Some even say that it is a “poor teacher who is not surpassed by their students“. However, it is very difficult to be a mentor with a changing class of 30 students each year or semester. Mentorships are a profession that have a great history, but have recently become disassociated from development and has orientated itself towards capital gain. One of the greatest mentors of all time, Lorenzo the Magnificent, found and embraced talent and creativity within individuals wherever he could, even bringing them into his household. He gave them psychological support as well as financial support. The emotional and intellectual support of a mentor is an important nurturing resource that counters other inhibitory forces within an individual.

Teachers are given 30 unique individuals to be a mentor to, and it becomes a very difficult task to provide the psychological and intellectual support that is required for them all. Some students will not get that support from school or at home, and it is without a doubt that all students can do something great if they are given the aid. However, I feel there is an even greater barrier for students to express their imagination and creativity, and that is freedom. Nations have been built upon the idea of freedom of religion, choice, speech, etc., yet it seems to be completely absent in most educational systems. Why we have restricted freedom within education is baffling. Does anyone think otherwise?

Going back to imagination, it can become somewhat of a paradox. Objectively, we can only be in one place at one time. I can only be Anthony Marrelli, sitting at my desk at my computer typing this post, on an evening in February 2009. But subjectively I can be anyone, anything, anywhere, and in any place. I can be DNA inside a neuron, sensing that my cell is being repeatedly stimulated. I can be an unmanned space capsule, hurtling through the universe, sensing and observing the sights and sounds that rush past me. I can ride on a photon from the Sun to Earth traveling at the speed of light. I can do all of this, and much more, by simply exercising the imagination that resides in my brain, all while sitting at my desk at my computer, on an evening in February 2009. Our ability to use our brains to get “outside” our relatively limited personal perspectives and circumstances and to see something other than the “objective” world is a powerful gift. Many people fail to realize that they even have this gift, and most who do rarely use it. Its potential is limitless, yet it underutilized within education. Spend some time imagining, you will be surprised at how fun and interesting it is. And even if you have, make a practise of doing it occasionally. The essence of the imagining is to expand your perspective on the world so that you are liberated from time and space. We must implement these ideas within education to allow students to become limitless in their ideas rather than suppressed.

Collaborating Theory and Practice

•February 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Collaborating Galaxies

We all construct the reality of the world we are a part of, and within that reality we have over 6 billion other realities contemplating their next move within their own, and in turn our own. All of them are unique, all are shaping the future and all are developing an intelligence and disseminating knowledge in various ways. Two great educational researchers, William F. Pinar and William G. Wraga, understand this truth and are both searching how “knowledge and intelligence as free exploration become wings by which we take flight, visit other worlds, returning to this one to call others to futures more life affirmative than the world we inhabit now.” (Pinar, 1992) Of course this is no miniscule task, and one of the most boisterous barriers has been the issue of design that collaborative efforts between theory and practice must resolve.

Pinar’s reconceptualist ideals are brought about by Wraga as working towards a “consistent and continual advocacy of significantly separating curriculum from practice” (Wraga, 1999). The continuous dialogue in the literature of many fields, education in this case, have been advocating alternately between bridging the gap and burning the bridges between stakeholders within the field. If history can provide us with any evidence, separating individuals only proves to be disastrous.  As Wraga discusses “exalting theory over practice have failed on two counts: Arts and sciences elitists remain unimpressed, and practitioners become alienated”. (Wraga, 199)

In a field that deals with human experience, how can we determine what theories hold any water within practical use if we do not relate theory to practice? Neither one of these facets within the educational field is independent; practice provides the precedent for change, with theory providing the theoretical framework to implement new design perspectives. It seems that this is where much of the literature tapers, their theories lack any design perspective with the big picture in mind. Politics and social forces can have very damaging and indoctrinating effects on education; therefore theorists must understand that they are too affected by their influence. As Pinar stated progressive theories “would contribute to an improvement of the nation’s schools if current power arrangements would permit curriculum theorists sufficient influence” (Wraga, 1999). Creating a larger collaborative gap between these stakeholders will simply build loathing that does not provide theorists with a louder voice, elitism is not a solution. Political processes and institutional organizations are not a bad thing, it is what they value which can be. Their failure to work with theorists provides the precedent that the entire design framework of how they all interact must be revised.

Collaboration is vital within any field, one great advocate for collaboration and rethinking the way humans work together and our natural instinct to do so is Howard Rheingold. A great lecture is embedded below:

The most important part of collaboration is what the collective group values and their goals for their field. Within education, as Pinar stated: “Intellectual freedom would allow, however, for meditation, contemplation, and exploring subjects – those associated with progressive forms of the arts, humanities, and social science” (Pinar, 1992). This would allow for students to understand what it means to be a moral citizen within our global community. Jonathan Haidt is a leading writer on the subject on the moral mind. A great lecture on the topic is embedded below:


Creating gaps within fields, education or not, ignores the fact that all aspects of theory and practice are interconnected. Practice breeds results to test the theoretical framework; you cannot have one without the other. Theory must be tested or else it is useless, and the only way to do so is through practice. Once a theory is tested it no longer becomes a theory, it becomes truth. Therefore, the only way to disseminate truth is to test the theory. Theorists must not leave behind the practitioner, and visa versa. The problems we face come from the forefront, from the student and the schools, within practice. It is the objective perspective of the theorist that allows for change to occur without letting interpersonal issues become barriers. The issue reminds me of an Inuit prose poem:

Two men came to a hole in the sky.

One asked the other to lift him up…

But so beautiful was it in heaven that

the man who looked in over the edge

forgot everything, forgot his companion

whom he had promised to help up

and simply ran off into all the

splendor of heaven.

The main problem that has created these gaps between theory and practice within the educational field is the lack of power that is given to the teacher as a researcher.  Every year a teacher will have at least 30 students, and when that teacher is creating lessons, or tuning their pedagogy they must be reflecting in some way or another on the success of their tinkering.  When teachers fail to become reflective and choose a route of inaction it creates a stagnancy and reliance on government mandated treatments.

This problem of inaction from teachers to participate is a product of antiquated human affairs.  It is difficult to find any organization that is not dominated by by a lack of reason and logic.  Most individuals are integrated within an organization simply on a whim and disperse their ideologies that may be based upon prejuidice.   These problems are found all over the world, the basic example being interrelations between nations.  As Kenneth Waltz voiced back in 1950s after World War II, he hoped that dealings between nations, organizations, governments, etc. might one day be conducted by the use of rational theory rather than by dogma and polemic.  One quote that fits well within the teaching profession from Waltz is that “the causes one finds and the remedies one proposes are often more closely related to temper and training than to the objects and events of the world around us.”

Over the past two decades there have been extraordinary happenings.  Tools, methods, designs, and ideas initially developed to understand how the universe behaves are now finding application in areas for which they were never designed; some may even view their application as ridiculous.  Physics is finding its place in the science of society.  It is the simple idea of change where the physics of society come into play.  These developments are similar to like Rene Thom’s proposal back in the 1970s of catastrophe theory.  He outlined how “sudden changes in society might be provoked by small effects.”  This theory did not hold much water and newer developments in the 1980s of Chaos Theory provided the needed fundamentals of the mechanisms and processes of change.  Today, Chaos theory does not truly resemble the physics of society, and the door is open to a new theory.

Social Physics Model

The latest theories outline the science of society as a collective behaviour, meaning both action and inaction provide variables within society.  It is this difficulty for the human species to understand how their collective behaviours affect the world around them that has caused so much pessimism within any field for change.  We must first understand where our values should be orientated within a field and advocate for change.  Action is much more powerful than inaction; it is simply the problem that the scale favours inaction currently in our society that it can become difficult to see how change can occur. We are a young species so it is no surprise that we are still having trouble taking ourselves seriously; I feel that change is coming.

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!

– William Shakespeare, Hamlet