2 Filters of Uncompromisingly Learner Centered Schools

“Vigor and creative flow have their source in internal strains and tensions, it is the pull of opposite poles that stretches souls. And only stretched souls make music”

-Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer was considered the “workingman’s philosopher” and is best known for his 1952 book The True Believer.  The above quote is a result of a line of thinking that Hoffer undertook when discussing religion and change.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about this quote and placing it into an education (or learning) context.  What are the implications of this statement for learning?  First, let’s review the current state of learning (education).

Our current learning system is an inspirational wasteland which counteracts all impulses of learners and teachers to “stretch their souls” and make music. The system of learning encourages learners to look for one “right” answer that can only be accessed by the adult in the room.  Governments urge this type of learning by implementing State sponsored testing of students based on an approved curriculum that reinforces the idea that there is only one correct answer to any question.  There is no room for learners (or teachers) to spend time interacting with lessons where students critically review different viewpoints. After all, there is only one “right” answer…and that is either “A”, “B”, “C” or “D”.

We can do better…

We can create a learning ecosystem that is uncompromisingly learner focused and centers on the learning experience.  By doing this we can “stretch student’s souls” (and teacher’s souls too!). Being uncompromisingly learner centered is one filter we must use when reviewing ALL decisions in our learning (education) system.  Just a thought..a great discussion to have with your teachers is to define “rigor”. Who is rigor for? Is rigor meant for the system (grades, class rank, a transcript), or is rigor centered on the learner and what they learn? In other words, do you define rigor as an output for the system or the learner? How you answer this question will affect how you define the term. That, in turn, will color all of your decisions in your school based on “rigor”.

The second filter for all decisions in a new learning ecosystem is how to create the best learning experience for learners.  How will you create learning experiences that “fire” learners, souls, hearts and minds?  Moving beyond traditional lesson plans, you must create learning experiences that have no barriers of time, place or pace.  Learning for some learners (at times) will occur in a traditional “school” setting, while other times the learning for the same student will be community-based and not occur in a traditional school setting.  For example, community activism or internships are a valuable learning experience in which a specific physical space for learning is unimportant.  Creative flow for learners cannot have a time constraint placed on it.  One learner may be able to be inspired by simply reading a quote and trying to figure out its significance over the course of a few hours.  Another learner may be placed in a creative flow by interacting with nature over the course of a few days.  Either way, our new learning ecosystem encourages learning experiences that recognize these differences in learners.

Learning experiences that place learners in situations where they experience “strains and tensions” based on their unique place in their learning will benefit the learner and the communities in which they live.  We want learners to interact in learning experiences where true critical thinking occurs.  These experiences will occur in the community, local businesses, colleges, career and technical schools, and schools (of all stripes).  The pace of learning will depend on the learner, not on “getting trough the book/curriculum.  Learning will be based on actual learning.  you can, and must, build the new learning experience for all of your learners.

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About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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