The transformation of learning into education

24 Jun

The transformation of learning into education paralyses man’s poetic ability, his power to endow the world with his personal meaning. Man will wither away just as much if he is deprived of nature, of his own work, or of his deep need to learn what he wants and not what others have planned that he should learn. (“Tools for conviviality”, Ivan Illich)

“Learning” is so intrinsically human that it almost defines us as a species. It is more than the process of acquiring new knowledge. It is a natural, innate propensity for integrating the world, our relationships with others, and our own identity through communication, interaction, and exploration.

You cannot stop a person from learning, except by shutting down their cerebral activity. We are learning constantly, even while we sleep. It is such a natural and automatic process that we are rarely aware of what we are learning.

John Dewey talked about “collateral learning” in the context of schooling, and he was referring to what students learn while they are being taught. He argued that the most important learning was not familiarity with the content, but the development of a love of learning. Process, context and relatedness represent the real life-changing power that teachers and parents can harness to promote the learning of life-critical values and attitudes.

Yet the trend since the industrial revolution has been to redefine learning as a service or even as a commodity that can only be delivered by trained professionals. When parents consider the possibility of reclaiming primary (not sole) responsibility for scaffolding their children’s learning of “the right stuff” (the way it used to be), they often exclaim “oh I could never do that, I’m not smart enough!”, or “I don’t have the time”, or worse yet “I couldn’t stand having my kids around all the time, I’d go nuts! I need some me-time!”.

We have outsourced this most essential of parental and community duties to a faceless, careless and amoral institution: the Education system. In this process we are wantonly sacrificing the most priceless treasure we have: our children’s natural curiosity, creativity, and love of learning.

To force a child to learn English literature while preventing him–directly or through schedule-crowding–from developing his current passion (or even mild interest!) for astronomy is nothing short of a crime against human nature. It forces an all-encompassing and narrow-minded value system onto him. It smothers his fascination for the unknown and stunts his natural development.

In short, in the process of educating the child to prepare him for the “the real world” (which apparently only exists once you leave school!), we ensure that he is almost completely unprepared to change it.

And perhaps that is precisely the intent of the professionalisation of learning.

We must reclaim our roles as exemplars, mentors and guides over our children. We must rebuild our trust in their natural ability to learn. We can use modern technology to assist with this, but we must never do it at the expense of our watchful, respectful and compassionate presence. We must study and come to terms with what the research in learning and motivational psychology has been shouting at us, mostly ignored, for well over four decades. We must then be willing to unlearn false ideas, adjust our values, shift unhelpful paradigms, change bad habits, and realign long-term goals, even when doing so feels like swimming against the current.

We need courage, strength, compassion, and, most of all, we need each other.


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5 responses to “The transformation of learning into education

  1. moodlechick

    June 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Your passion for learning with heart shines through this piece Nicolas – I would love to talk more with you on what small things we can do on a daily basis to make this change happen. Keep going, I think you’re onto something here!

    • nicolasconnault

      June 26, 2013 at 6:31 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Lindy. I don’t know if you normally find much time for reading, but I would strongly encourage you to make a bit of regular time for it. Nothing (even Moodle!) can open our minds as much as reading what great thinkers have written.

      To answer your question about what we can do on a daily basis (what an awesome question!), let me give you a succinct answer, with a reference to a book that explains the why and the how.

      The answer is: connect

      The book is: “The abundant community: awakening the power of families and neighbourhoods” by Peter Block and John McKnight

      Without going into spirituality (not knowing your views on that), I haven’t yet found anything else that comes nearer the root of the problem. I hope you read the book, I think it will resonate with you.

      • moodlechick

        July 3, 2013 at 9:26 am

        Thank you so much for the recommendation! I read often, and re-read those I love (am currently re-reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and Drive by Dan Pink, both of which I recommend).

        I wonder how many other folks find connection quite frightening? Having lived with depression for over 10 years now, connection is one of my biggest challenges, but I will most certainly read Block and McKnight – and connect with you again πŸ™‚

      • nicolasconnault

        July 3, 2013 at 9:40 am

        Making first contact has been a real struggle for me all my life, partly due to a youth spent mostly on computer games, disconnected from local residents and even from my own siblings. I’m making progress, but it’s very slow, painstaking progress πŸ™‚ All worth it of course!


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