User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

21st Century Enlightenment . . . in Education

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Recently, I discovered RSA Animate series of videos. The importance of these types of resources is not only in their content but also in that the messages are conveyed in written, oral, and visual modalities. If I had only seen this type of content in written context or heard it in an oral presentation, I am certain I would have acknowledged it as interesting or possibly noteworthy, but missed the synergistic power of using the combined media.

This brings me to the most recent RSA Animation, 21st Century Enlightenment, by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

I became intrigued with this organization and when I looked them up via an Internet search, I found the following mission:

For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress. Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action. We encourage public discourse and critical debate by providing platforms for leading experts to share new ideas on contemporary issues. Our projects generate new models for tackling the social challenges of today.

What a great mission . . . “to encourage public discourse and critical debate by providing platforms for leading experts to share new ideas on contemporary issues . . . to generate new models for tackling the social challenges of today.”  I would love to see a similar mission for public education . . . “to encourage discourse and critical debate by a community of educators and learners to share ideas and generate solutions for social challenges of today.”

Another significant point about RSA is that even though they are 250 years old, they recently made a proclamation, of sorts, that their organization should reflect 21st century enlightenment. Again, this could apply to public education systems – a need to re-conceptualize its mission to reflect this period of human growth, development, and evolution.

Taylor believes we need to ask ourselves: “What are these values (that shaped us and our systems)? Do they work for us? Do they meet the challenges we now face?” We need to live differently in the 21st century and to live differently involves thinking differently. To paraphrase Taylor, this form of questioning, of thinking often unsettles who we are in the world, and states that we need “to resist our tendencies to make right or true that which is familiar or make wrong or false that which is only strange.”

21st Century enlightenment, according to Taylor, encompasses the following:

  • The principle of autonomy holds that human beings should be free to use their reason to create self-authored, valuable lives. The 21st-century enlightenment should involve a more self-aware, socially embedded model of autonomy.
  • Universalism is generally taken to mean that all human beings are born with inalienable rights and are equally deserving of dignity. The emotional foundation for universalism is empathy.
  • The basis for social arrangements should be what increases human happiness and welfare.
  • Mature ethical discourse is the foundation for multiculturalism, mutual respect and conflict resolution.

How does this translate into everyday practices in the education environment?

  1. We are living in a world that easily, frequently shares information via the Internet through Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. In order for our learners to be able to engage in mature ethical discourse, first and foremost, they must have access to this information. Blocking, or if we really want to label it truthfully – censorship, does not help learners become critical consumers of the information they have easy access to outside of the school environment.
  2. As noted by Taylor, the real time global media has brought suffering of distant people into our living rooms. These are teachable moments in the educational setting – where learners can engage in discourse and intelligent debate, and develop and implement action plans for change, if so desired.
  3. Educational systems do and should take responsibility for teaching skills – skills for and related to reading, writing, mathematics, science, humanities, and the arts. I think, though, we need to question the content that is taught. Schools are often driven by an Essentialist view – that there is specific content that students NEED to know. Why, for example, do New Mexico history textbooks only contain one chapter about Native Americans when there are centuries of historical events there? Why did I have to read Shakespeare (over and over) in high school when my preferences, at the time, were to read African American female writers? Why does a young person need to struggle learning geometry out of a textbook when s/he would prefer to be learning principles of 3D objects via drawing or building in a virtual world? Who and how chooses this content? Why do administrators and educators take at face value that this content is what young people are to know?
  4. As the noted by Taylor in his RSA talk, this century has given us some tools for being different in the world than in the past centur. The systems that drive the education of youth need to both mirror and assist them for being in the world. What are these systems doing to . . . prepare them to lead self-authored and valued lives? . . . to engage in mature ethical discourse? . . . to develop empathic capacity?
  5. So, what I propose for education for 21st Century Enlightenment:
    • Assist learners in developing their own individual learning plans.
    • Open up the Internet and ask learners to engage in ongoing and critical analysis of its content.
    • Ask learners to produced content/projects based on their interests and share it in ways to get feedback – both positive and ways it could be improved.
    • Assist learners in developing survival skills – personal safety and protection (online and real life), interpersonal communications (real life and online), networking, and goal setting.
    • Provide venues for engaging in mature and intelligent discourse, e.g, Socratic seminars.
    • Help learners develop and engage in communities of practice.
    • Provide opportunities – both with time and suggestions – for learners to work in and for global collaborations and stewardship.
    • Rid the system of tests, data-driven decisions, assessments – assist students and educators in establishing feedback loops for improvement (peer, experts, educator-based) (see post – Youth Participatory Action Research).
    • Help learners develop their own unique voices in whatever medium and modalities they choose.  Again, this means opening up the internet and giving them a tour of all the media creation opportunities and then . . .
    • Assist them in becoming the authors-producers of their media and in finding ways to publish these works for viewing, commentary, and feedback by an audience both within and outside of the immediate learning environment.
    • Build in reflective practice for learners to self-evaluate, assess real-life relevancy, and articulate one’s desirable long-term, lifelong legacy.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 23, 2010 at 1:16 am

One Response

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  1. Very interesting video Jackie, I think I’ll be watching it several times in order to pick up all the connections. I’ve just begun reading “The Empathic Civilization” (Jeremy Rifkin) and it covers many of the same themes.

    The tools we have now to encourage discourse and develop empathy are indeed very powerful and we must strive to get them into the hands of every child. Your list of ways we can do just that is bang on ~ great post!

    Jeannine St. Amand

    August 23, 2010 at 2:37 am


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