June 2, 2021

Do you have a book in your life that you continually go back to and read again and again? The books that can continually draw you back are important. These books are important because the concepts, stories, or insights gained from reading the book are continuously relevant for your life. Books that stay relevant are "evergreen" books…books that (like the evergreen tree) are always "in season" for you.

Let me share with you some concepts from my "evergreen" book. The book is Education for What is Real by Earl C. Kelley. It was written in 1947, and the ideas presented in the book are just as appropriate today as they were in 1947. Actually, it's a sad commentary on education that the ideas are just as appropriate now as they were 74 years ago! The author starts the book by discussing ten assumptions about education. You can stop and think about the assumptions and how they still drive the narrative around education in today's world. I will share two of them today, and two more throughout the next few blog posts.

Assumption #1

We assume that the child goes to school to acquire knowledge, and that knowledge is something which has existed for a long time and is handed down on authority.

Well now, this is interesting. The real question here is this: Is knowledge "static", or does it "grow"? The assumption is that knowledge is static. Learners come to school to acquire all that is already deemed knowledge as determined by authority figures. This creates a situation where knowledge comes before the act of learning. Learning is simply the act of memorizing what those in authority believe is important enough to know (knowledge).

As the author says on page 16: 

"The ordinary textbook is a good example of this. The textbook not only sets out what is to be learned, but it eliminates what is not to be learned. This brings comfort to the teacher, who like all of us, is a person of specialized and limited knowledge and understanding, because of the teacher can confine [their] efforts to the textbook, then [they] can maintain his pose as an authority."

Learning that is meaningful and lasts is much more than just memorizing someone else's knowledge. Learning is the co-creation of something new when the teacher, the learner, and the learning experience work in harmony with each other.

You, as a learner-centered leader, are aware of this assumption and the ramifications it brings to your school. How will you create the conditions where the learner and the teacher co-create a learning experience that is more than just passing on "knowledge?"

Assumption #2

We assume that the best way to set out subject matter is in unassociated fragments or parcels.

This assumption implies something very important for a learner-centered leader: Are learners (and humans) a whole being or just a collection of different boxes in the brain?

Curriculum in schools, in general, do not allow for cross-disciplinary understanding. Math is math, history is history, and never the twain shall meet. More interestingly, we claim to encourage “work habits” or “critical thinking” by teaching them as skills separate from what the learners are learning. These are not separate parcels to be learned, they, like subject matter, need to be incorporated into the act of learning.

Learning is much more than the components or packets of discrete pieces of knowledge. Learning is a verb…it is action. Through the process of learning, you gain critical thinking skills, you gain work habits, and you learn the content. You, as a learner-centered leader, must be hyper vigilant for those in education that want to atomize learning…I am thinking of you, curriculum coordinator!

More assumptions on Friday!

About the author 

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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