What is truth? What is real and what isn’t? Are we “entitled,” under the guise of free speech, to embrace whatever crackpot theories and conspiracies are peddled in social and public media? Is the earth “flat” because tens of thousands of people believe it is? What is the link (or, as it may happen, the disconnect) between fact and belief? Is climate change real or a “hoax”? How should we navigate a world in which anyone and everything is capable of being manipulated and twisted to serve the purpose of postulating alternate realities?
No, I do not propose or have simple answers to these questions. The point is that they – as well as a host of others that guide us through the labyrinth of life – must be asked – in schools and in just about any place where people gather to hold intelligent conversations and discussions with agreed-upon norms and rules. These are not “trendy” or tedious questions that will come and fade like fashion styles; they are existential in that they define our humanity and shape what we are capable of becoming, for better or worse.
But are schools putting questions like these and hundreds of others prompted by them at the center of their curricula beyond dutifully – and often glibly – mouthing commitment platitudes in their mission and vision statements? Do schools instill in their learners (a much more powerful word than “students”) the mindset, skills, healthy skepticism, curiosity, and relentless persistence required for asking questions that have not yet been asked and for identifying problems that have not yet been identified? Does the mostly unchanged and “required” “canon” of knowledge which schools have enshrined in their curricula serve what we need in these turbulent times? Do the persistent narratives to which schools continue to adhere and which define their structures remain relevant when volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity hold sway in our world?
We argue that, by and large and with very few exceptions, schools unwittingly or, worse, wittingly, are trapped in self-replicating fallacies about what “effective” curriculum, appropriate assessment practices, sustained professional development, supporting learning environments, governance structures etc. should, or should not look like. And, as we know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
We do not live in a golden age despite our reach for the stars and the incontrovertible fact that we live in generally more comfortable, healthier circumstances than those who went before us. But for what percentage of humanity is this true? The wealth we parade is only a thin veneer on the colossal abuse of our tiny but precious cosmic speck. The neo-apocalyptic horsemen of inequality, prejudice, religious fanaticism, poverty, injustice, oppression, jingoism, corruption, and greed continue to ride unchecked.
H.G. Wells put it succinctly:
“Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.”H.G. Wells
It is necessary, therefore, not only to unmask the fallacies which continue to hold schools in their grip, but also to offer a vision of what a paradigm shift in “schooling,” a true re-purposing of learning in our times might look like so that our children become critical and creative citizens who are capable of distinguishing truth from lies, reality from political propaganda, and what matters from what is comfortable.
We invite you to join us as we, intrepidly, explore how “schooling” might be transformed into true learning in a series of posts and articles.
By Peter C. Mott, Director/Founder, TreeTopVisions