Where is the change in education?

3112762

Intuitive Pedagogy workshop in Berlin, May 2013. Click on it and it will move

I believe that many of us have noticed that learning starts when people are inspired, their imagination is flourishing and they have the possibility to follow their intuition. Learning begins when people feel the possibility of creative experimentation. Usually it happens when there are other creative people around and it is possible to get fully engaged with the surroundings and oneself, totally forgetting about other things, the world outside the space. Anyone who is able to provide the kind of experiences to others, is a wonderful teacher.

In 1991 proposed French philosophy professor Jacques Ranciere that teaching should “be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student, who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master.” (1991:29-30). It is two decades ago when his book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” was first published in France, only now the wider educational audiences are getting to know about his works and starting to grasp some of the ideas presented there. The main idea of the book was to question the underlying power structures and assumptions in education that are rarely touched by most of the people self occupied in the field.

A quiet opposition by mainstream educational theorists was facing Edith Cobb, a women who spent her whole life researching poets imagination and how it develops, when she published her book “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood”. She writes that “… individual men and women ultimately create cultural and social history in terms of their particular world imagery and their capacity to lead others to participate in the world as they see it, politically, aesthetically, philosophically, or otherwise.” (1977:18). Similarly to Ranciere she is stating that we, the learners and the teachers, have the power over ourselves. We are able to co-create the world with each other when we wish to do so.

Why is nothing happening in schools, in the numerous classes all around the world? Why do most of the people continuously think that education is all about the government rules, school regulations, tests and boring workbooks without the right answers? Is it because most of the people believe that in education there are always someone who knows and many others who will never be as clever?

white man hunting

Conference about early education in Trondheim April 2013

This picture presents us with a sentimental stage of expertise in educational research. As I am the one who took the picture just a few weeks ago in Norway, I know that the audience mainly consisted of women. It is a typical picture of educational conferences held in Europe. An old man talking about his work, talking about something that has been done a long time ago and having a lot of women carefully listening and making notes. This is a picture of expertise in the field of education, where most of the people occupied with the work are women but the know-how still belongs to men. I would argue that the expert in education often looks like an old white Western male presenting himself, having only very little to do with the actual field of the research. The gap between educational theory and practice is therefore profound.

One of the most courageous school critics in USA, Everet Reimer, noted already back in 1970, after years of working with disadvantaged children in poor areas, that the school is dead. That statement was the title of his book “The School is Dead: Alternatives in Education”. It has been 40 years since but the school is still alive. The critique towards the school system has grown to be more profound than ever before and it makes one wonder what will happen in the future. How long is it possible to carry on?

Waldorf2.0 people on stage APR2013

Waldorf 2.0 conference held in April 2013 in Stockholm

In April this year I took another picture, this time in Sweden. I was again taking part of a conference about education and its future. This time I could see people on stage, people being active agents in the processes. The papers being read are the collected presentations from several workshops where the future of Waldorf Education in Sweden was discussed earlier the same day. The two conference days were full of lively discussions organized in different open formats and frame works led by people themselves.
After the conference was over I met women and men on their way back home, they were excited and felt empowered to continue their work in kindergarten groups and school classes. These people had experienced their voice having a meaning for the wider audiences; they had had a possibility to make a difference and continuously to do so. It made them feel as being part of the change taking place, it gave them lot of hope for the future and plenty ideas how to proceed.

Where is the change in education we have been talking about for so long? Where is the change we have been anticipating for decades? I would like to share with you a provocative thought: Perhaps the educational realities have already changed but it is just us who have not noticed it yet? As being very actively travelling Europe and visiting schools, conferences, meetings, numerous online networks and webpages, I witness school change taking place every day. This change manifests itself in these moments of “ordinary” people having the possibility of making their voice heard and actions visible. Until we continue to worship the golden experts and have faith only in fame and titles, and “official” “peer reviewed” research, the change will not be noticed and it will feel as we were living in old times and old paradigms forever.

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How to become an artist? Susanne Oertel from Basel.

Susanna Oertel

Many of us get to know quite early in life that we are not good enough painters or singers or something else.  This is probably the main reason why most of the students focus on the much more “practical” list of the school subjects already during the first five years of their school lives. Arts and music is mostly considered like something that just has to be passed. There are people who feel that these are still on the lists of compulsory subjects only out of some frozen traditional habits. The dry, demanding and boring art classes are bringing children many disappointments and feeling of exclusion, the joy of creative arts is something as rare as quality art materials in these spaces.

To make it short, becoming an artist is a luxury or a looser option. Most of us consider ourselves not to be suited of becoming an artists and therefore do not think of it as a career choice in the first place. We make that decision for life without ever having a chance to find out what does it mean to fully get engaged with colours and lines so that you forget about time and space and just play.

As a parallel stream to the development of math and languages based global curriculum (measured with PISA), there is so much talk about the need for innovative and creative people who, as some think, can save the world from the catastrophe we are heading towards in full speed.  The enterprises are crying out for creative people for better businesses and continues growth, hoping with the help of these miracle people introduce new sustainable approaches to economics.

Where can we find such special people if everyone are only interested in math and physics, the basic aim for all education is linear predictable lines in thinking?

Susanne Oertel is one of the successful women I have met who manages to combine both, “the very practical” job as a nurse in a hospital in Basel, and being a painter. In my opinion it is the creative people, like her, who will save the world from the disaster. She is one of the many who is renewing the way how Western people are looking at their working and consuming habits. She is creating global change every moment just by continuing to be herself.

Susanne has been taking part in intuitive pedagogy painting workshops with Merete Lövlie in Germany and in Sweden but also in a special workshop that was created by the artist group “Picking Apples” in Prague. Our last meeting was in Berlin, we were painting for four full days. The second day I asked Susanne to tell me more about her becoming an artist, explain what does it mean for her to take part in Meretes painting classes and what are her future projects. This interview is now available in soundcloud.

Who are the experts? #artofeducation

3112762I would like to start with a quote from Diana Ravich from an article she wrote in 2010.

“It is a well-known fact that American education is in crisis. Black and Hispanic children have lower test scores than white and Asian children. The performance of American students on international tests is mediocre.”

This comes as no news to us, because similar statements are being heard all around the globe nearly every day. The same is with the headlines about top-down initiated educational reforms which, after a certain time has passed, are in public rhetoric announced to be failures again. The repetitive pattern of the stated phenomena is an indicator that educational crisis is becoming a global epidemic. In this paper I am making a bold proposal how to find our way out of this worrisome chaos by asking for who are the experts in learning and what are the underlying values of being an expert in the field of education.

The school is dead    

Everet Reimer noted already back in 1970, after years of working with disadvantaged children in poor areas that the school is dead. That statement can be openly spelled in the title of his book “The School is Dead: Alternatives in Education”. Based on his experience claimed Reimer that

“[t]he underprivileged, whose home environments are lacking in the specialized resources schools provide, are relatively unsuccessful in school and soon leave it with an experience of failure, a conviction of inadequacy, and a dislike for the specialized-learning resources of which they are subsequently deprived.(ibid.)

He went even further and announced schools having a “pernicious effect” on cognitive learning for everyone because

“[t]he privileged, on the other hand, are taught to prefer the school’s resources to their own and to give up self-motivated learning for the pleasures of being taught. The minority of Einsteins and Eldridge Cleavers lose only a little time. The majority lose their main chance for an education. (ibid.)”

Well, one might think, this is just one example, one man, one research project but… Already next year, in 1971, Ivan Illich, a well known educational thinker and an associate to Reimer, came out with his book on the same topic. The book had a famous and even today widely discussed title “Deschooling the Society”. Illich called for attention to the failures of American school system and expressed the need for unschooling not only the schools but the whole society. He was openly criticising the educational system and especially the institutionalisation of education; which used to be public good had been made an obligation. People were forced to give up their power and leave education to the specialized institutions where specialists work. During this process, as Illich claimed, they had lost their freedom to decide.

Illich told his readers that 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.” (2012:1).

In his opinion, the schools are not there for man´s advancement in education but about bureaucratic machinery, the means to control and keep the social order.

“Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank,”

announced Illich (2012:12) and for him there was no question about it, this was an obvious fact.

Of course there is plenty of research published by now (see for example Pierre Bourdieu or the works of Nils Christie) that indeed shows Illich`s notion

Instead of equalizing chances, the school system has monopolized their distribution. (ibid.)

being a correct one.

These harsh claims are hard for educators, systems administrators and parents to swallow, even today, so many years later. System is rigid and beneficial to some, therefore we just continue the way it has always been. The question still remains: if schools are not providing education what are our chances then to learn and become educated?

 Is MOOC (massive open online learning) the answer to our questions?

Both of the two men mentioned above come forward with their suggestions. Everet Reimer says (1970):

Every thinking person knows that real education occurs primarily at home and at work, but a number of facts have conspired to rob this truth of its former general acceptance. The modern organization of society, by offering free schooling, rewards both parents and employers, in the short run, for reducing their educational roles.”

He is suggesting us to give up the idea that governments are organising education for us and for our children as we would see it best fit. Instead we should take our own initiative and find our own ways, be creative and active. 

As a possible future innovation Ivan Illich is inviting people to think about “learning webs”. According to him the good educational systems will:

“provide access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” (2012:75)

While being part of MOOC, some people have perhaps experienced that Illich has a point here. Even though there are minor drawbacks and some try their best to control and institutionalize, the realm of educational practices is shifting. People are taking more responsibility of their personal learning as well as teaching others. It is indeed happening online with the help of the learning webs.

Ivan Illich called this kind of process “deschooling”. I would speak of networking and learning in networks as a parallel educational system that exist inside and outside of institutions. Illich´s book “Deschooling the Society” is worth attention even today, because he foresaw this new wave of education at the times when computers were just starting to emerge and global online learning communities were unimaginable for the most.

Taught by the ignorant schoolmaster

During the MOOC courses there has been some criticism about the peer-to-peer feedback. Many people simply do not trust learning without a master. Ivan Illich says in 1971,

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.”(2012:12).

A year before him declared Paulo Freire, a well known adult literacy pioneer from Latin America, education to be a “cultural action for freedom and therefore an act of knowing and not for memorization.”(1972:13). His thoughts have been inspiring many to look at education in a different way, and if mention just one, I would pick Jacques Ranciere, a philosophy professor from France.

In 1991 Ranciere published his essay “The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation”. This book is a collection of his ideas about equality and democracy in the field of education. It is easy to follow because of the simple language the man is using, though the thoughts he is sharing with the reader are complex and very provocative, especially if you happen to be an educator.

Through the work of Jacotot (an ignorant schoolmaster) Jacques Ranciere introduces us to the concept he calls “universal teaching”. According to Ranciere, teaching is all about how to become emancipated, he speaks not only about the emancipation of students but also about the emancipation of masters. Only emancipated master can emancipate his students.

The whole practice of universal teaching is summed up in the question: what do you think about it?” (1991:36). Ranciere notes that “Everything is in everything” (1991:27) therefore we are all equal in our intelligence, because “there is nothing to understand” (1991:23), “one must begin to speak” (1991:24). No one understands more, we might just think that they do, we hand over our power of thinking as well as learning the moment we start to worship the master.

Teaching can only

be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student, who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master.” (1991:29-30).

The ideas stemming from this though are further elaborated in a scientific peer-reviewed journal called “Educational Philosophy and Theory” Volume 42, Numbers 5-6 published in 2010 which is dedicated to Ranciere´s work in education.

His thoughts open up a wide array of new ideas and possibilities for experimenting in education. I see the whole online learning community as a possibility to go much deeper if we wish. We might even look at education and learning online as complex educational process that is in the hands of the people themselves who take action and therefore are the agents of change reclaiming the realms of their own education and emancipation.

Who is the expert in education then?

To sum up the discussion I would finally like to introduce you to Edith Cobb. A lady who only published one book, “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood” was her lifetime work and came out in 1977, the very same year she died.

Edith Cobb was not a typical educational thinker, she did not follow one school or tradition, instead she mixed ideas and research results from various fields of studies. This was probably the reason why writing a book was such a long venture. To combine and integrate the impossible, to read and learn in multitude of areas parallel, is not an easy task, but can be a rewarding one. During the years of searching she developed an original independent vocabulary. Already for that reason only, one might want to read her book now, 40 years later.

Her work is based on numerous autobiographies and play observations. At her time her research methods were way out of the common approach. It was at the height of the positivistic era of experimenting, testing and interrogating. While discussing her methods in the first chapter of the book, she does not mention much about the background of her study. Instead she writes:

“… individual men and women ultimately create cultural and social history in terms of their particular world imagery and their capacity to lead others to participate in the world as they see it, politically, aesthetically, philosophically, or otherwise.” (1977:18)

Even though one might say, that she says little or nearly nothing of the actual method of her study, it states clearly the underlying values. That kind of open declaration of individual freedom, need of taking responsibility for your personal actions in combination with creative attitude has been missing in the work of most authors and researchers in the field of education. Even though we have been presented with thousands of books about research in education, there is very little valuable content on most of the pages printed. I propose that being the reason why people are reclaiming the expertise in the field of education and taking public action, each individual on its own and together as a global learning community.

About the illustration. I took the pictures during the last intuitive pedagogy course in Berlin 17-21 May in Thomas Pedroli´s workshop about play. Playing is one of the most powerful ways of learning. It is a gif file and if you click on it it starts to move. Try!

List of references

Freire, P. (1972). Cultural Action for Freedom. England: Penguine Books.

Illich, I. (2012). Deschooling the Society. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd.

Ranciere, J. (1991). The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. California: Stanford University Press.

Ravich, D. (2010). School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/sep/29/school-reform-failing-grade/?pagination=false [retrieved 13-05-13]

Reimer, E. (1970). School is Dead: Alternatives in Education. Garden City, NY: Anchor. http://learninfreedom.org/system.html [retrieved 13-05-13]

Some parts of the article have been previously published in my blog “An Apple Tree” https://evelintamm.wordpress.com.

This is a second draft of assignment paper for MOOC online learning course about critical writing. Comments are most welcome.

EDUCATION AS ART #artofeducation

#artofeducation

Many people think that education is all about the government rules, school regulations, tests and boring workbooks without the right answers. There are some who know and many others who will never be as clever. I believe that education can also be something else. It is our personal choice how we look at education and most of the time we actually have a freedom to choose.

I have noticed that my learning starts when I am inspired, my imagination is flourishing and I have the possibility to follow my intuition. Learning begins when I feel the possibility of creative experimentation. Usually it happens when I have other creative people around me and I can get fully engaged with my surroundings and myself, totally forgetting about other things, the world outside the space. I begin to believe that everything is possible if I just keep on working. In this creative process I am able to learn very much in a short time. I think that anyone who is able to provide the kind of experiences to others, is a wonderful teacher.

This is an invitation for everyone to tag their personal learning moments and share them with others. In this way we can collectively inspire ourselves to become better teachers for each other.

#artofeducation

Picture is taken yesterday by me. More pictures in my instagram account @evelintamm or twitter @tammevelin.

Edith Cobb “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood”

Cobb Ecology of Imagination in Childhood Edith Cobb is one of the few grand old ladies in educational thought and worth reading even today. Actually, one might say, that only today the general public starts to understand the true depth and value of her ideas in the first place. “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood” is Edith Cobb´s lifework. She collected materials before publishing anything for very many years. The book came out only in 1977, the same year when she died.

I have found traces of her ideas in Margaret Mead´s work. Mead was a close co-worker and even wrote an introduction to the book. Cobb´s thoughts about children and their connection to nature are amongst others praised by a popular contemporary journalist and thinker George Monbiot , if just to mention few she has influenced.

Edith Cobb was not a typical educational thinker, she did not follow one school or tradition, instead she mixed ideas and research results from various fields of studies. This was probably the reason why writing a book was such a long venture. To combine and integrate the impossible, to read and learn in multitude of areas parallel, is not an easy task, but can be a rewarding one.

During the years she has developed an original independent vocabulary. Already for that reason only, one might want to read the book now, 40 years later.

Cobb starts by describing the anatomy of wonder.

“…rhythm, like motion, is a cosmic experience, in fact, and the child´s “world making” is a continued cosmic speculation in the form of a recreation and rearrangement of parts of the environment into the synoptic wholes in which the self exists.” (p.43)

Her work is based on numerous autobiographies and play observations. At her time her research methods were way out of the common approach. It was at the height of the positivistic era of experimenting, testing and interrogating. While discussing her methods in the first chapter of the book, she does not mention much about the background of her study. Instead she writes:

“… individual men and women ultimately create cultural and social history in terms of their particular world imagery and their capacity to lead others to participate in the world as they see it, politically, aesthetically, philosophically, or otherwise.” (p.18)

Here you can find her way of approaching the research and introducing it to others. Even though it says little of the actual method of her study, it states clearly the underlying values. I have been missing that kind of declaration in the work of most authors in the field of education.

Cobb Ecology of Imagination in ChildhoodWhat is world image? She mentions it in several occasions.

“The concept that the individual´s creation of a world image is the central drive towards human learning (as adaptation to the environment) brings out the ecological pattern of give and take, not only between inner and outer world, but also between past and present as the “autobiographical” search for futurity.” (p.69)

According to Cobb, is nature part of our primary needs, like breathing and eating. Children need nature in order to be creative, to be able to imagine and learn.

“Even in the simplest day-to-day activities, the experience of being oneself, a “circular causal system” in one´s ecology, with the capacity to add forms or to change the very shape and nature of the environment, is in itself a far more creative process, with a much more profound meaning for human beings, than is generally conceded.” (p.69)

She emphasizes terms like “map” and “mapping” because these two words “express an immediacy of experience of organism and environment that has been extended, extrapolated, and transformed into speech as well as into systems of behavior…” (p.46-47). Nature and places in nature have deep meaning to our growing up and becoming an adult. The childhood experiences of explorations and mapping “permits condensation into symbolic pattern or form” as a child and in later life (p.47).

“[B]ecause of our complex eyes, vision has undoubtedly been the ruling experience in the development of human culture and language.” (p.47) Based on that idea she proposes “Intuition, therefore, can be considered to be a type of “seeing,” stimulating in turn the organizing process we call imagination.” (p.47)

As she had followed children in their play for years, she also proposed her original view on play.

“Play can be observed to be a sort of “fingering over” of environment in sensory terms, a questioning of the power of materials as a preliminary to the creation of highest organisation of meaning.” (p.48)

She invites us to think about evolution theory as well as psychoanalysis in her terms throughout the book. Sometimes it is hard to follow the connections she is trying to establish between different theories and ideas. One might consider this being the main difficulty with her style of writing. At the same time it is obvious that the kind of wondering in the world image of hers brings to us novel ideas never really thought let alone discussed before.

I finish this overview with a thought from Edith Cobb directed towards the future of our society, the vision about tomorrow.

“Child fills in the distance between the self and the objects of desire with imagined forms. This psychological distance between self and universe and between self and progenitors is the locus in which the ecology of imagination in childhood has its origin.” (p.56)

It is important to maintain our unique individuality created in contacts with natural environments and not too lose ourselves in the specialized technocratic world of today. Mankind needs the creative imagination of our children more than ever.

Ivan Illich. Deschooling society using learning webs.

vaikne tundIvan Illich´s book “Deschooling Society” was first published in 1971. That is six year before I was born. In his book Illich is criticising the educational system and institutionalisation of education, which used to be public good is now made an obligation. People give up their power and leave education to the specialized institutions where specialists work. During this process we lose our freedom, our right to decide. He calls for disestablishing the schools, unschooling our society.

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.” (p.1).

It is not about man´s education but about bureaucratic machinery, the means to control and keep the social order.

Illich says, “Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank.”(p.12). To him there is no question about it, this is a fact. Of course there is plenty of research published by now (see for example Pierre Bourdieu or Nils Christie) that indeed shows Illich`s notions being correct. “Instead of equalizing chances, the school system has monopolized their distribution.” (p.12)

“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.”(p.12). This is hard for educators and systems administrators to swallow, even today, 40 years later. As a possible innovation Illich suggest “learning webs”. According to him will this kind of good educational systems:

“provide access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” (p.75).

While being part of MOOC (massive open online courses), I know that Illich has got his dream come true. Even though there are minor drawbacks and some try their best to control and institutionalize, the realm of educational practices is shifting. People are taking more responsibility of their personal learning as well as teaching others. It is indeed happening.

Illich called this kind of process “unschooling”. I would talk of networking and learning in networks, it is a parallel educational system that exist inside and outside of institutions. His book is worth attention, because he foresaw this new wave of education at the times when computers were just starting to emerge and global online learning communities were unimaginable for the most.

About the photo. You might wonder what have children to do with all of this.

The photo is taken in an ordinary kindergarten somewhere in Eastern Europe. I guess the guarding teacher went out for a second. The author, place and date are unknown. It might be dated back to seventies or it might be taken today. How to we know I am telling the truth? I know places like that because of my personal experience, years of attending soviet kindergarten, working and researching in the field.

All the children are forced to sleep during the daytime in former soviet countries even today.  The Berlin wall has never fallen for these children, freedom does not exist. It is between 13.00 and 15.00, right after lunch, when all the children from Estonia to former East Germany have to go to sleep. Most of the children older than three or four years do not need it, but they have lay for two hours anyway.

Why do they keep doing it? It is a regulation made everywhere in order to save finances, you do not need adults during that time, teachers can take a break or fill in the files. During the sleeping time or “piece hour”, as they so ironically call it for example in Estonia, children are usually forced to lay under their blankets with their eyes closed, they are not allowed to move, talk or play. There is one adult watching them all the time, keeping order.

This is a perfect example of modern educational system for our own good. In Estonia 95% per cent of all the children attend this kind of early educational institutions.  In EU they call it exemplary level of early educational attendance. Congratulations, Estonia!

Jacques Ranciere´s “The Ignorant Schoolmaster”

eductionI found Ranciere via a special edition of “Educational Philosophy and Theory” (Vol 42, Nos 5-6, 2010) which was dedicated to his work.

The Ignorant Schoolmaster” (first published in 1991) is a collection of Ranciere´s ideas about equality and democracy in the field of education. His language is easy to follow and his ideas are provocative, specially to an educator.

Through the work of Jacotot (an ignorant schoolmaster) he introduces us to the concept Ranciere calls “universal teaching”. According to Ranciere, teaching is all about how to become emancipated, he speaks not only about the emancipation of students but also about the emancipation of masters. Only emancipated master can emancipate his students.

The whole practice of universal teaching is summed up in the question: what do you think about it?” (p.36). Ranciere notes that “Everything is in everything” (p.27) therefore we are all equal in our intelligence, because “there is nothing to understand” (p.23), “one must begin to speak” (p.24). No one understands more, we might just think that they do and we hand over our power of thinking as well as learning the moment we start to worship the master.

Teaching in a democratic way can only “be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student, who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master.” (p.29-30).

This book is definitely worth reading because of its interesting language and novel ideas it brings to the field of education. Inspired by Ranciere´s work one could write a whole series of articles about the topic of equality and freedom in education (adding some bits and pieces of Illich, Bourdieu, Arendt and Freire for example), this is a lot of work which I personally have no time for at this point. Perhaps sometimes in the future?