Systems, interconnectedness and how we learn

I read a great post this week called Conceiving Of Change And Invisible Alternatives at The No-School Kids. It deals with something I grapple with all of the time: being activated and engaged in thinking about education and learning, while around you it feels as though your peers are inactive or  at least un-questioning of the systems we’ve inherited. I just recently had a colleague tell me about the unbearable night-terrors that her 5 year old has developed since starting kindergarden. I wondered, but dared not say, “don’t you think perhaps it is the experience of school that is bringing these terrors on? What happens if you let him stay home part time? Is worth thinking about delaying kindergarden a year?” Why don’t some people question the system, the infrastructure, even when they see pain, stress and anxiety in such a young child?

Parenting is personal. We tend to measure ourselves against others and unfortunately we assume that our children’s successes and failures are a reflection of how well we are doing our jobs. It’s unfair to everyone involved. And the paradigm doesn’t allow for us to have honest conversations parent to parent. If I were to share with my colleague what I thought about her son’s situation, she may have thought I felt I was superior, that I was questioning her love for her child, or even that I was blaming her. There is just no easy way into a conversation with someone who is unquestioning about compulsory schooling– it takes time, empathy and an assumption that you may never get very far.

When we design a lamp, we unquestioningly add electrical infrastructure to that design, with the understanding that it will plug into a wall and illuminate.  Like the electrical grid, schools are the invisible infrastructure that most of us rely on– without question. Schools, we assume, are the place to grow and learn. And by creating that space of education– a space with walls, days, times, and a schedule– we delineate the space which is NOT, which is outside of the space of learning. The unseen infrastructure separates us from engaging meaningfully with all that is outside of those walls, and doesn’t allow us to practice an interconnected and systems understanding of how the world works.

This gets me to the quote that Lindsay and Cathy at The No-School Kids shared. It demonstrates the siloing effect, the disconnection that happens, not just between learning and the world, but in the mindset of those who experience it. I am really excited to dig into Orr’s work after reading this quote– as it relates so directly to the mentoring I do with grad students in the design field. {Here is a link to a PDF of his work}

“[A] danger of formal schooling is that it will imprint a disciplinary template onto impressionable minds and with it the belief that the world really is as disconnected as the divisions, disciplines, and subdisciplines of the typical curriculum. Students come to believe that there is such a thing as politics separate from ecology or that economics has nothing to do with physics. Yet, the world is not this way, and except for the temporary convenience of analysis, it cannot be broken into disciplines and specializations without doing serious harm to the world and to the minds and lives of people who believe that it can be. We often forget to tell students that the convenience was temporary, and more seriously, we fail to show how things can be made whole again. One result is that students graduate without knowing how to think in whole systems, how to find connections, how to ask big questions, and how to separate the trivial from the important. Now more than ever, however, we need people who think broadly and who understand systems, connections, patterns, and root causes.”~David W. Orr, “The Dangers Of Education”