Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Possibilities of Education

At the confluence of catching the new talk by Sir Ken Robinson, "How to Change Education From the Ground Up" (July 1, 2013, 24 minutes), the finishing up of Imagining the University, by Ronald Barnett, and a poem by Staughton and Alice Lynd in Alice Walker's recent, Cushion in the Road I catch a glimmer of what education could become for the human family.

Robinson has us question what is the purpose of education, or at least in my translation, what do we need of it in today's world. He offers four purposes - economic, cultural, social, and personal. And he goes on to explain them and why they are necessary and how, with the possible exception of the economic, we are largely missing the other three.

Barnett, wants us to expand  our way of thinking, specifically about the role of the university in this rapidly changing world. He urges and presses for an approach that releases the imagination, that enables creativity and that is simultaneously optimistic, critical, and deep. He likens this approach to consideration of 'feasible utopias'. And he offers the scaffolding to enable the ideas to emerge, while critiquing both the present system of education and some of the 120 plus alternatives that he has identified in the literature.

The possibilities are palpable in each of their presentations. And the fecundity of possibility is the necessary soil for new species of social learning to evolve and prosper. What is one of the many attributes both thinkers share is the tone in which they offer their thoughts. It feels like a generous gift. Offered not with arrogance, but with a desire to engage a wider community in thoughtful, civil conversation about what is possible, not probable, not certain.

perhaps the Lynds' poem, We Believe says it best from Cushion in the Road (pp.170-71) copyrighted 1990s by Staughton and Alice Lynd

We believe
Not only in the lengthening of days
And the return of springtime,
But in sudden reversals,

Unexpected triumphs.

We believe in the restoration
Of trust between friends,
And in the ability of ordinary folk

To puncture lies.

We believe in the way to be safe
Is not to enclose ourselves in walls
Of cash and property,

But to live in solidarity
With those who need us.

How can we give the Good
More chance to prevail?

What can we add
To the chemistry of change?

Surely, first, persistence.
Prisoners are obliged to learn it.

How many times did Nelson Mandela
Reach for his shovel in the limestone quarry?

Soon Mumia will have been behind bars
More than Mandela's 27 years.

"Keep smiling," we told 
The man serving two life sentences
For crimes of which he may be
Completely innocent.

He replied "I have to.
But inside my heart is broken."

So, while we ask to persist,

To be dogged, to stay strong,

We must also be open every moment
To that which only yesterday
Seemed impossible,
To transformation
Of quantity into quality,

To the instantaneous advent
Of the unimaginably new.


The good we secure for ourselves
Is precarious and uncertain
Until it is secured for all of us

And incorporated into our common life.