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#84 Imagine if…
“Human history is a race between education and catastrophe.”
— HG Wells quoted in Imagine if…
I have a bachelors in educational science, which I haven’t used in a lifetime. The degree has since disappeared, I recently learned. To increase its appeal, in my time, it was renamed educational design, management, and media, EDMM, which sounds like a misspelling of the dance music The Netherlands is famous for. It turns out that a long name doesn’t ensure a long life.
I have a few fond memories of my studies. The pre-MOOC online course we created to teach the local dialect, complete with videos and automated conversations. The final exam for the course examinations that didn’t follow any of the course’s recommendations. How I had to twist and turn to finish learning to present.
The degree was necessary to do what I really wanted: a specialization track in international development. So I did the bare minimum for education to spend all my time learning about the world and its future.
One way to save time was to avoid reflecting on what I had learned. I had substantial issues with elements of the curriculum, but I kept these mainly to myself. I followed suit and helped design and manage hierarchical, outcome-obsessed, and test-driven learning experiences that prioritized overall outcomes over individual learners.
In February of 2006, Sir Ken Robinson gave what was to become one of the most-watched presentations: Do schools kill creativity? Yes, he convincingly said, they do. But we can fix them.
Had I known about Robinson’s talk at the time, I would have felt vindicated in the muted criticism of my studies. I’m sure there are millions like me. Maybe you feel the same.
Robinson died in 2020. He left behind a manifesto, Imagine if….
“Imagine if we used our incredible capacities to create a world in which every person had a deep understanding of their own unique talents. Imagine if we built systems that lifted us up instead of keeping us down. Imagine if we embraced our diversities rather than running from them. We have come to a point in our history in which continuing to do what we have always done is no longer an option. We must do better. It begins, as it always does, with each of us taking a stand.”
The booklet is a thorough exploration of the topic of education. It’s also as wide-ranging as a bachelor’s curriculum ought to be. For instance, it taught me that we have at least nine senses instead of the five we usually name. (We can also sense temperature, pain, balance, orientation in space, and likely more.)
Robinson takes a stand. Maybe a common stand now but controversial in practice:
“A healthy school ecosystem depends on the shared respect for individuals, empathy with the needs of the group, and the commitment of the whole community to common purposes and mutual well-being. These values should be at the heart of every school.”
The book really adds to what I learned in university in the way education relates to other aspects of society. For instance, culture:
“There should be three cultural priorities for schools: to help students understand their own cultures, to understand other cultures, and to promote a sense of cultural tolerance and coexistence. The lives of all communities can be hugely enriched by celebrating their own cultures and the practices and traditions of other cultures.”
And agriculture, where Robinson takes a leaf from the regenerative farming book and talks about rewilding education:
“Much like agricultural systems that thrive when the soil is right, we thrive when the culture is right. An education system is not successful because of tests and output-driven hurdles; it is successful when individuals are recognised, and the diversity of their talent is celebrated. It is successful when students are fulfilled and continue to live fulfilling lives.”
Not included in the book are statistics 1 and 2, which made reading it a more pleasant experience than the three years of educational science.
Last week, I was invited to give a few lessons to 16 and 17-year olds in Leiden. The first two lessons I approached relatively straightforwardly, with the expected result. For the third lesson, I decided to start with the ending of our audio walk, tailored to my audience’s age. I was helped by being in the school theatre, a magnificent space. I’d say theatre worked slightly better than the straightforward approach.
Thanks for reading this update! The list of subscribers continues to grow, and I’m humbled that my irregular writing appeals to some of you. Thanks so much! I look forward to next week. Until then, take care,