I participated in the EdTech Talk today that featured Jay Cross and George Siemens. The conversation flowed and the chat room stayed active with Stephen Downes and many others adding additional perspectives. The initial conversation centered on Connectivism and Informal Learning but meandered to many other corners of the learning field.
Some of George’s comments about learning and education and the conflict around what a good education should be, got me thinking about the work of Kieran Egan. His book, The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape our Understanding, begins with the statement that Western education is based on three conflicting premises which compete for dominance. These three premises are:
- education as socialization
- education as a quest for truth (Plato)
- education as the realization of individual potential (Rousseau)
Since no one premise can dominate without precluding the others, we continue to have conflict in our education system. Our public education system was created to give equal access to all (a good thing) and to prepare workers for industrial jobs (a self-serving thing for the corporations). Public education was embraced by reformers as well as factory owners.
The problem is that education has become all things to all people, and this conflict is clear in Egan’s book. You cannot socialize, seek the truth and realize individual potential all at the same time – within a single, enclosed system.
This lack of agreement on what our education system should be, is also muddying the waters in our discussions about learning. My experience is that few people disagree with any one of these premises on its own. So which one is the primary premise? Should there even be a primary premise? Without one, we keep bouncing around like pinballs, addressing symptoms but not root causes.
When reduced to the basic process, I believe that learning is an individual and personal activity. Learning has social aspects and can be helped or hindered in many ways. How we build systems to nurture, support or coerce it, are the issues that we can address as a community. First though, we have to have a common understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.