What kind of learning do you value and why?
I value the kind of learning that helps people live qualitatively well as authentic “human beings” not just as skilful and knowledgeable “human doings.”
Unfortunately, our current American public schooling system continues to dedicate most of its attention, time, choices, actions, deeply-ingrained habits, and resources to raising a.k.a inculcating kids to become “human doings”– performers, accomplishers, achievers, competitors.
It is no wonder there’s no room for wandering attention (you’ve got ADHD), day-dreaming (you’ve got ADD), imagination, entrepreneurial thinking or attitudes (you’re disrespectful because you won’t do what you’re told; you don’t get the freedom to try it your way because I am grading you and comparing you to your peers), failure (you’re a low achiever), risky behavior (you’re a discipline problem- probably your parents’ fault), uncensored speech (you can’t make mistakes when trying to learn new concepts or experiment with new vocabulary when it may possibly offend or “oppress” others who feel victimized by your trial and error process), or love and affection (you’re too human, and not business-like enough, scientific/robotic enough) in a typical high school classroom. All of these characteristics of a genuine learner are unwelcome challenges to the status quo and fear-inducing to those who tow the party line as cogs in the wheel of the established institutional tradition.
You are just waaaay too human if you are an authentic learner. Not to mention that the whole project of schooling takes place inside, where everyone is routinely disconnected from fresh air and open spaces (hence Nature Deficit Disorder), protected within the institution, using square, little desks in rows within square, little rooms that kids get four minutes to travel between for 8 hours per day for 180 days per year with few exceptions. And we wonder why kids are literally losing their minds? Could the current mental health crisis among adolescents and teens (and everyone else) possibly be related to what we value? to what we pay attention to? to how we define learning? to the kind of learning we actually value? to how we raise and school our kids?
We do schooling really well. We just need to decide whether or not we want to balance schooling with learning. Are we willing to rethink our priorities? I don’t think these two things– schooling and learning– are mutually exclusive. A conversation about more balance seems necessary, but such a conversation requires open minds and hearts, rationality, and humility among all of us.
Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung once said, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” I ask, What are you paying attention to, superintendents? school committees? students? teachers? parents? Can each of us stop with the unconscious, habitual day-to-day to reflect for a moment or so about what we are paying attention to each moment, each class, each day, each year? Might we stop the same old same old busyness of schooling to do an honest self-evaluation of where we actually put our attention? How much attention? How much time spent? Why? Are we happy amidst the school shootings and mental health crises in our schools? Are we going to continue to hire more special education staff, more social workers, more nurses to bandaid the problems with our kids, or will we self-reflect on our values and priorities? What kind of an education do our children need today, in this new and very different world?
Part of my mission at Landscapes for Learning is to revitalize a love of authentic forms of learning among young people who may be disillusioned with, bored by, or being made sick (emotionally, psychologically, physically) by the traditional structures and forms of public high schooling in America with its inherent over-emphasis on inculcation (what to study and how to think about selected studies) achievement, testing, grading, and competition. Simultaneously, the stories recorded in the podcast are a celebration of the quality lives of ordinary individuals who are healthy and personally fulfilled as they pursue their life-long process of self-actualization. Many of my guests’ authentic learning and teaching experiences differ from their schooling experiences and/or place their formal educational experiences within a broader and more appropriate context of life-learning. This is a good thing to know– not just for kids so they don’t get discouraged by school but for their parents who might broaden their understanding of the purpose of education for their children, and for schools to keep their role in the learning process in perspective as well.
I’d like to ask parents of adolescents to become more conscious about about what kind of learning they value for themselves first of all and subsequently for their children. What is your definition of learning? Is it the same as schooling? Do you want your child to learn how to learn and to love learning, or do you want them to behave, do what they are told, get As or better scores than the next kid, and get into Harvard? You don’t have to go along with the traditional modes of schooling (that are too familiar to your own) because everyone else is! If you feel that your child is stuck in the system, that you are powerless, I am here to tell you that there are things you can do and choices you can make to optimize your child’s schooling experience without having to home-school or un-school them. Don’t play the grade game; don’t make your child do unnecessary homework that is a waste of time that may be better spent (perhaps outdoors or socializing with peers without adult supervision). De-emphasize “getting your schoolwork done” and emphasize learning when talking to your kids. Start journaling; teach your kids to journal about their personal learning rather than making time for only academic learning. Write your values. Answer, “why am I educating my son or daughter?” To what end is your child being educated? To be “X” or to do “Y?” What’s your “why?” You can also model self-inquiry, share your own journey to self-awareness and self-knowledge and discuss its connection to other forms of learning in your life. Make the distinction between schooling and learning clear to your children and live a life of learning while keeping schooling in its proper place.
I’d also like to prompt schools to self-reflect on the type of learning they value– this is not the same thing as having a mission statement or school mantra written in the handbook or posted in the entryway to the school, but whether they are consciously living out the kind of learning they purport to value each and every day, in each choice and decision they make, for each child for whom it affects. I hope to begin a discussion with schools and parents about the “why” of educating kids– their specific intentions for their children/students and to where they put their attention on a daily basis, class by class, moment by moment. Is learning really the focus, the value that’s being lived out day in and day out, or is more time, effort, energy, attention, and reflection focused on schooling– that is, but not limited to– grading, coverage of curriculum, and achievement (college acceptance rates, drop-out rates)? What are the priorities? How much professional development time is dedicated to using new grading systems, new administrative technologies, new methodologies for implementing the same curriculum, assessment, analysis of data? How much time is dedicated to teachers for them to implement real change and personal growth and creativity? How much time is given to the “who” of teaching? Observe your institution for a day, a week, a month, write down what you see happening among students, teachers, support staff, and administrators. Notice (without judgment) what your organization is spending its time doing and talking about. Then sort through how much time is spent on schooling and how much on learning. Confirm what your institution actually values– that is, what it lives out, in action, on a day to day basis.
If we fail to value self-knowledge and exploration of the inner landscape and all we do is over-focus on the externals– grades, achievement, administration, controlling our environment to solve the problems that live within each of us, how will kids learn how to learn about themselves? How will they understand anyone else if they don’t know their own human nature? How will they do any of this essential interior work if they are over-scheduled with building their resume for college entrance or held after school to complete work that is entirely irrelevant to them but required curricular content aimed at the imaginary “average” student? How will they learn how to be decent, healthy human beings if they are consistently directed toward and overwhelmed by human doing?
It’s crucial for us as a society that each one us know ourselves as deeply as possible and take individual responsibility for our own lives, as a priority above and beyond any sense of belonging to a group we might also naturally feel. “Us and Theming” is one of the problematic paradigms of our time, that through which we interpret the world and that which informs our notions of tribalism, identity politics, political correctness, free-speech, mental health, addiction, education, parenting and much more. How can you know you belong to a group if you don’t know, firstly, who YOU are as an individual? How can you “know” that you “know” who you are if you don’t understand the nature of “knowing” or what forms of “knowing” exist? How can you understand human nature if you don’t understand your own human experiences? How can you answer, What is the “right” relationship of the individual to society if you don’t understand what it means to be an “individual?” How do you figure out what “right” means? Perhaps we need to shift our focus from developing intellectuals to developing ethical and wise human beings.
Through real life stories of ordinary people, the Landscapes for Learning podcast is meant to illustrate and concretely demonstrate the value of many other forms of learning and teaching that happen outside of school environments– across the landscapes beyond formal education. The podcast also places special emphasis on discussing with guests how they explore and travel their inner landscapes, which is learning about oneself throughout life. Learning about one’s inner life, about one self, finding and living according to wisdom and one’s moral compass is also a lesson in what it means to be human and therefore how to understand and connect with other humans, other individuals who are like you, but not exactly you.
In addition to the podcast, the coaching curricula and support I am creating and plan to offer on the site soon is meant to assist parents and students in designing individual education plans to better balance the aims of schooling with the more authentic value of learning, including more curriculum focused on teaching individuals how to explore their inner landscapes through journaling, employing the principles of yoga, metacognitive reflection, and other techniques.
If you are interested in finding ways to help your student, your son or daughter, or an educator you know engage in an important and ongoing conversations about learning, the need for a shift in values, and a re-balancing of priorities between schooling and learning, or if you would like to contribute to the development of this site and its mission, please subscribe to LandscapesForLearning.com below where you will receive regular updates in your in-box (not too many!).
Sincerely Yours in Learning,