July 20, 2012

Declaration of Interdependence

Category: Educational Practice
red education barcode graffiti on building

We have massive research and many evidences available…[ie: Diane Ravitch is declaring a bunch of them here, we’ve gathered particular ones here]…that what we’re doing in the name of public education is not serving us well. Perhaps we declare some new laws in regard to public education, in regard to interdependency.

The term interdependency came as we were researching laws for homeless teens. While some states allow 14-year-olds to declare independence, often resulting in homelessness, some are trying to restate that to a declaration of interdependence where each teen is matched up with an adult. If we want to create spaces of permission where learning is accomplished through living, we feel this interdependency will provide stability in the potential of, and in fact encourage, chaos.

Imagine if we rewrite the law in regard to public education, by redefining public education. As it sits now…it’s mostly about sitting. From this age (5ish) to this age (17ish) — in order for us to (as always — with original good intention) help every child to achieve success, they will sit for this many hours in schools, in classrooms, and take in this specified content — or core curriculum.

Imagine if we redefine public ed to be:

1) why — a process by which one declares interdependence…everyone is known by at least someone

2) how — methods to facilitate random/intrinsic curiosities…via a process of detox (if so needed) holding each other(s) accountable to one premise (goal): knowing what to do when you don’t  know what to do, and using that process to create serendipitous gatherings that matter (who’s together in a space — per choice)

3) what — indispensable people…who are life-long learners, aka: usefully ignorant (Erica McWilliams)

Imagine a world where we boldly spent our 16,000 hours within public education, focusing on one thing — learning how to learn. Imagine if there was a means for everyone to become expert (most believe this to happen after 10,000 hours) at embracing uncertainty, that’s it. At becoming self-directed, life-long learners. Imagine if everyone was an expert at thinking for themselves. Ridiculous? We’ve felt a sense of security in pushing a specific math and science (STEM, et al) to that end, and even that, even our most lofty definitions of success are changing before our eyes.

Imagine we redefine better. [I especially love Will Richardson’s 3 bullet points: different assessment — (perhaps self-assessment – rhizomatic learning); different teacher role — (perhaps modeling how to be usefully ignorant — rhizomatic expertise); different school — (perhaps city as floorplan/school — rhizomatic spaces)]

[Like this potentially…perhaps this, more here: declaration of interdependence – slideshare]

A great question for teachers perhaps:

How do I have to be in order for you to be free… – Orland Bishop

[What if one of the answers is — and again — especially to teachers, in order for students to be free, teachers need to be free.]

If you are lucky enough to be connected to someone per passion, or be known by some youth, one key element toward facilitating self-directed learning, is to deliberately not teach. We live in a world that is so used to directions, so used to being told how and what to do, it’s hard for many of us to function on our own. In most learning situations and opportunities, we seek out the perceived expert, sit in their path, and wait to be filled. This mindset disables and disengages the indispensable person from within. This pattern, tradition, training, encourages mindlessness.

If the goal is self-directed learning, if the desire is youth who know what to do when they don’t know what to do, if the aim is for youth to fall in love with learning, then the mentor, needs to be positioned, physically and mentally, alongside. Alongside, doing their own thing, modeling what it is to learn, what it is to be.

The word assessment is derived from the Latin verb, assidere, which means, quite literally, to sit beside

Useful ignorance, then, becomes a space of pedagogical possibility rather than a base that needs to be covered. ‘Not knowing’ needs to be put to work without shame or bluster. – Erica McWilliams

Mentors available to the youth, and ready to learn from the youth are most beneficial. The mentor’s mindset should be that of keen interest and inquiry into what is going on in the youth’s head, not the mentor’s.

Sugata Mitra calls this the method of the grandmother: friendly but not necessarily knowledgeable in that topic.

As mentors, listen without an agenda, demonstrating and communicating genuine patience and caring. Encourage the expression of ideas, even (especially) if they are different than our own. Rather than alarm, try to honestly understand the underlying sentiment, in order to more fully understand. For an effective mentor, “I don’t know” is always an okay answer. “I don’t know” is an opportunity to access and use resources together. When we don’t know, we brainstorm together with youth. Keep from developing an inflated view of our roles; there are mentors all around us. The key element is to deliberately not teach, as constant instruction encourages mindlessness. Encourage independence. Youth need time for self-discovery. Time to be. Trust that learning will happen. No, know that learning is happening.Be available to youth, modeling what it is to learn, what it is to be, doing our own thing,exploring our passion, discovering ourselves.As mentors, we should underscore the importance of learning and working for oneself andone’s own self-improvement. The youth should understand that they alone assess theirprogress, without outside influence. We also need to recognize the effect of inappropriatepraise. Praise shackles youth to a course of pleasing others, rather than themselves.

– Amy Lewark, unschooling mom


Most of us are convinced that learning only comes from teaching. That thinking can create an unhealthy dependency. Dependency on someone else teaching us and/or someone else praising us.

Knowledge, which is acquired under compulsion, contains no hold on the mind.

– Plato

Educators will need to spend less time explaining through instruction and more time in experimental and error-welcoming modes of engagement. This is supported by findings from neuro-science about the way in which the brain is ‘changed’ (see Zull, 2004) through hands on, minds on experimentation and how it is not changed by instruction-led pedagogy.  – Erica McWilliams

Prepare people for uncertainty.  – Dave Cormier

Natural, self-induced feedback loops help encourage self-directed learning by focusing on hard work and effort as opposed to talent and/or momentary success.

The rhizomatic capacity of networks to flow around a point in a chain means that teachers may be located in a linear supply chain of pedagogical services but excluded from their students’ learning networks.  – Erica McWilliams [also see Carol Dweck’s Mindset]

Youth need to be doing with people that are doing, with people that are modeling vulnerability in context. We’re redefining No Child Left Behind to be this vast exposure to mentors who listen without an agenda and who breathe curiosity themselves.

The reward is brilliant minds set free, to be.

We will be absolutely blown away by brilliance only when we offer support and create these types of spaces. Spaces where the heart of the matter, the very heart of the matter, the only agenda, is the curiosity, the curriculum if you must, residing within each person, each youth, each learner. A rhizomatic space, community, learning, where there is no hierarchy. A space where everyone is practicing, experimenting. Becoming.

To foster optimized self-directed learning, mentor alongside: question prescribed learning; just be there, being you; learn alongside, listen; listen without an agenda.

It is impossible to change others…harvest invisible intelligence. 

Meg Wheatley

Partial Freedom is no freedom.  – Krishnamurti, Education & The Significance of Life 

The child is the result of both the past and the present and is therefore already conditioned. If we transmit our background to the child, we perpetuate both his and our own conditioning. There is radical transformation only when we understand our own conditioning and are free of it. To discuss what should be the right kind of education while we ourselves are conditioned is utterly futile. Sensitivity can never be awakened through compulsion. One may compel a child to be outwardly quiet, but one has not come face to face with that which is making him obstinate, imprudent, and so on. Compulsion breeds antagonism and fear. Reward and punishment in any form only make the mind subservient and dull; and if this is what we desire, then education through compulsion is an excellent way to proceed.  – Krishnamurti

In Selling Schools Out, Lee Fang discloses an incredible disservice to our children, to us, to freedom. To me it’s a keen vision of partial freedom taking over. We offer choices to parents who want the best for their kids, but really those choices aren’t full and most of them are incredibly risky, and even more harmful than no choice. It’s like paying for the more credentialed baby-sitter, (rather than the teen down the street who knows you in and out and would literally die for your child), who, once you’ve left for the evening, really has no eye/heart on your child. We need to wake up to what is best for all of us. ie: The MacArthur Foundation has been focusing on just that over the last several years as they are sending people like danah boyd to where kids are, so that we can authentically re-imagine education.

In the sharing economy — everyone is their own entrepreneur. And each one then creates (or co-creates) their own networked individualism (Barry Wellman via Howard Rheingold). Doc Searls writes of this in The Intention Economy, [especially resonating with this vision in public education starting with ch 21.]

This networked individualism, or personal data (vs big data) could look like any of the following…

  • http://prezi.com/8jjua_mwynxj/how-i-connect/
  • the brain – Jerry’s brain
  • http://www.instagrok.com/
  • https://www.mindmeister.com/134164237/http-drprestonsrhsenglitcomp-blogspot-com
  • Sierra’s story. (tedx)
  • More resonating conversations on building trust in the sharing economy, how things might look, be. 

Banner image credit: xgravity23 http://www.flickr.com/photos/linden23/3105409743/