Living with brown bears

There was a huge song festival last week-end in Tallinn and I was singing together with 20 thousand singers. This is a special feeling to make music together with so many people. Estonian song festival is not about just singing, it is about making music together. These are the words of Raul Talmar, he is one of the main leaders of the festival. And indeed, we had about one hundred thousand people listening (that is 1/10 of Estonian population!).

Estonia is such a small country. There is one million of us speaking Estonian. Sometimes I say it is like a secret language when I write in Estonian, only few can understand me. So extraordinary!

I am living at Altja Toomarahva farm. This is my home, even though I have another home at East-coast of Sweden. Toomarahva farm is located at the North coast of Estonia, about 90 km from Tallinn, the capital. We have big forests here with many wild animals, including brown bears. There is lot of culture and history everywhere you look. The village is ancient. It is so old that none knows when exactly it was established. Our farm was one of the first one ever built here. People were always building boats, fishing, hunting and farming here. I love my home because it is just so very beautiful here and full of traditions!

Altja is a popular tourist attraction, ever since the borders re-opened after the collaps of USSR. There are many tourists visiting our small fishing village in the middle of the wild forests. We renovated some of the farm houses and opened a tourist farm twenty years ago. My mother Ülle Tamm is running this business now together with my sister Merilin Tamm. The visitors come from all over the world.

During my stay, I am always filming a lot. They say that picture is worth a hundred words. What about a video?


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. [retrieved 13-05-13]

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

Some parts of the article have been previously published in my blog “An Apple Tree”

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

“MOM, watch me, I am doing the impossible”

 “Let´s hit the sweet spot away, candy tonight… I am ready to go…”
Flo Rida “The Sweet Spot” featuring Jennifer Lopez

For many the daunting need to understand and work with talent is present every day. The kindergarten teachers who look at the eyes of children in their care groups, and see the amazing future ahead but are unable to support their individual learning needs, because for twenty four children in the group there is just one adult working with them. The parents who have to take their children to daycare starting as early as possible for their bosses do not except long maternity leaves and the house loan needs to be paid every month. If give just few examples that are everyday realities for people all over the globe.

Daniel Coyle introduces us in his book “The Talent Code” his perspective on talent, a perspective of a white successful Western male. He makes a trip to Brazil, Russia and to different locations in US in order to visit some special schools for young talented people and see what happens there, how they learn. He interviews experts like Robert Björk at UCLA[1], gives us glimpse of Henry Roedinger´s work [2]. Unfortunately we do not get any further references to the research done by these men.

In the first chapter we will meet two hands on guys Edwin Link[3]  and Simon Clifford[4]. Both of the practice based people are also presenting us a beautiful example of a typical American success story.[5] Can it get any more boring? Yes.

One of the first things Coyle does is to share a picture of his perfect small family probably living in some suburb in a big university city.

“My daddy is a treasure hunter!”

Isn´t that sweet! He is a good man, we think. Or perhaps things are not as innocent as they look like?

Seems as if in Coyle´s life every day is like a birthday, he himself calls his ethnographic field trips to these various places in the world as “GREAT EXPEDITIONS”. It used to be the Europeans who were discovering the world in medieval times with the weapons in their hands, now it is men like Coyle with the words instead of swords. He loves the images of great old times, using also the picture of a gracious deer running on hills in various occasions. Almost poetic in a way but isn´t that the symbol of old aristocracy in England, the ones who used to rule all the people and made them feel miserable?

This is a story of a white man hunting and conquering the world. Will history repeat itself and many get hurt? I am afraid so. Actually, how many times did Coyle repeat the idea of “Brazil PRODUCING his TALENT” (starting p.14)? Critical examining of his notes from the field trips presented in the book makes it clear that actually he has no respect for the country. At some point he is even making cold hearted and impropriate jokes about the 40% of population being “desperately poor” (p.15). On top of it he names one of his subsections “Brazil`s secret weapon” as if being in war with the country.

Coyle loves black and white, big and small, rich and poor division. Due to the overly simplified and dualistic worldview interesting word combinations like “Everest-size amount of talent” (p.11), “places so small, humble and titanically accomplished” (p.11) are caching the special attention of a careful reader.

Coyle is doing several classical tricks with words but giving us quite little to think about when it comes to the actual topic of his book what is talent and how it can grow. He admits that in his travels he expected to “witness world class SPEED, POWER and GRACE” (p.12) and ads that he has even found it! What was he looking for after all? Was it a red Porche or people working with their talents?


What a way to present your findings!  I am not convinced, Coyle, you need some deep practice with your academic writing as well as your ability to really depict what is happening out there with people and their talents.



Coyle, D. (?). The Talent Code. Greatness isn´t born. It´s grown. Here is how.

Flo Rida and Lopez, J. “The Sweet Spot” music video [29.03.2013]

Vonnegut, K. “Shapes of the Stories” Lecture in youtube [29.03.2013]  


[1] It remains unclear throughout the chapter what kind of institution is the author referring to.

[2] Doyle is unclear about his secondary as well as primary sources of knowledge all the way through the chapter. It is also not clear what kind of research methods he has been using.

[3] Through the historical viewpoint Coyle aims to show (using unknown historical evidence) that his claims about talent have been verified long time ago. Link developed a successful training system for US air forces during the II WW.

[4] Clifford has been probably interviewed by Doyle but it is not clearly stated. Clifford introduced a special kind of Brazilian football in US that has made some teams succeed.

[5] Look at a short online video lecture by Kurt Vonnegut about how it is done and why people love it “The shapes of stories”.