In conversation, my Sandi commented on my last post about education. Along with her education in education and child development, Sandi got certified in Montessori. She said that regardless of what is taught, we have to think about how it is taught. What is usually lacking is a context, or purpose, for what is taught
Montessori pre-schools are hugely popular. One of the many concepts underlying her teaching methods is the notion that children learn better if they start out manipulating things and then extract from these things (beads, say) the abstract notions of numbers.
Montessori high schools are rare. One of the key concepts behind her design of learning for teenagers is the notion that they need a context for what they are learning. She recommends, for example, that they actually run a business part time, extracting from that day to day operation more abstract notions of math, value, and translating ideas into action, into product. Lacking such a context, it is hard to engage students. Those who learn in traditional classes do so in spite of the design of education, not because of it. (Imagine a road designed in such a way that it was in spite of, and not because of, the design that cars avoided collisions.)
Russell Ackoff, one of my heroes, made this profoundly interesting point about our application of the analytic model to our world. If you analyze a problem, you break it down to its constituent parts and then work with those. The problem we analyzed about 500 years ago was the problem of life. We broke it into pieces - learning, work, and play all made separate. We have playgrounds and coliseums for play, schools for learning, and factories and offices for work. If you are in the classroom, you ought not to play and you are not going to work, to do anything productive (teenagers running a business as a way to learn?). If you are on the playground, you are not going to learn anything.
Ackoff is a systems thinking advocate and pioneer. For him the next wave of progress will come from adopting a worldview that looks at wholes and the relationships between parts instead of using analysis to break our world into parts seemingly easier to manage and solve. Instead of institutions that separate out our different selves, we should be designing institutions that accommodate our humanity. Why should we live our lives as tools of our tools or institutions? Why not make these tools adapt to us?
And taking such an approach may well have a more profound impact on the transformation of education than adopting or emphasizing any one new subject of study.
[And no, I am not turning R World into an education blog. But sometimes, thoughts just come in clumps, no?]