24 October 2008

Transforming Education Through Action

"Knowledge and action are the central relations between mind and world. In action, world is adapted to mind. In knowledge, mind is adapted to world."
- Timothy Williamson

The history of education has basically been one of adapting the mind to the world - imparting knowledge about what is. This works. It is powerful and explains a great deal of why our world is vastly different from that of medieval peasants.

The model of learning and work now is to first learn about the world and then to go work in it. You graduate from high school or college and then get a job. In school, we learn what is. In work, we attempt to change it to what could be. Learning and action are sequential.

But of course this is not how it works. Most of what we know comes from what we have done. This effectively means that great potential for learning in the early years is wasted because of a lack of action.

What if the line between learning and work were not so clear? What if even in school, students were expected to take action, to adapt the world to mind?

This suggests the possibility of students beginning to take action on their world early on. First graders might raise a garden. 12th graders might build homeless shelters. Sophomores in college might re-design or build bike paths to encourage healthier commuting.

By blurring the boundary between action and knowledge - by making the adaptation of mind and world iterative rather than sequential - would both be enhanced. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about the modern world is how powerless so many people feel to change things, to change their world as they experience it. How different could it be if from the very beginning, students felt able to take action, to make change?


ThomasLB said...

So education would be sort of a "life apprenticeship." I like that idea!

exskindiver said...

you couldn't have just said repetitious, could you.

exskindiver said...

okay on a more serious note,
perhaps before students are able to take action and make a change--they should be given choices.
the ability to choose is what gives people power.

K-Kix said...

I hear you.
My 5 year old tutee is supposed to know how to spell words like "eighteen", "library"

My grade 3 tutee is supposed to remember terms like eviration and is using books and materials a level higher because the school wants to "up" its standards...

I have often wondered about how much of what we've learned in formal schooling do we actually get to use in our current jobs or in the stuff that makes us who we are...

"Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about the modern world is how powerless so many people feel to change things, to change their world as they experience it." I sometimes feel guilty of this - and know that I can and should be doing so much more.

Ron Davison said...

I like describing it that way.

choices with consequences? isn't that what PE is for? Actually, I agree that learning how to choose is key to autonomy - which ought to be the final goal of education.

I once heard that engineers - who apply more of their education to work than the average person - apply about 16%. It is an amazing small ratio of education to application. That seems to me a sign of an inefficient system.

Pinky said...

This does happen to some degree, especially in the medical field. High school students who show an interest in allied health are allowed to attend work programs in which they volunteer hours at a local hospital. Unfortuantely, I recently heard that these programs are being phased out.
I think it should start much sooner, but with a wider base of interests.

Ron Davison said...

Thank you for the reminder that this does exist in places. I guess I'm thinking about it more as a philosophy than a program, which might be just one of the things that makes me an idealist.