If you were given the opportunity to completely reimagine education, what would you do? Would you instinctively go back to what you know – the world of textbooks, memorizing content, standardized testing, moving from one class to the next without seeing the big picture of what this all means? Would you create pressure situations where a student’s life comes down to a single moment in time where they are held accountable for information? Would you create large facilities where everyone gathers between certain hours in order to learn at the same time and place? Would there be a disconnect between subject matter and the student and their capabilities and what they might do in the world? Or, might we really try for something different?
If you are not familiar with the Bildung movement, that is a good place to start.
“Bildung is a combination of the education and knowledge necessary to thrive in your society, and the moral and emotional maturity to be both a team player and have personal autonomy. Bildung is also knowing your roots and being able to imagine the future.”
In other words, one can be an individual or part of a team. One can appreciate their heritage while also thinking globally. One can learn about the past while preparing to solve both personal and global problems in the future.
If we are to understand Bildung, we must also understand metamodernity. In a nutshell, it is saying no one thing is true to the detriment of all other things.
As Lene Rachel Andersen says in Metamodernity: Meaning and Hope in a Complex World,
“Metamodernity can allow us to appreciate the entire historical human experience as a meaningful and connected whole […] We belong in it and it can allow us to seek out different kinds of knowledge and wisdom in different places for different purposes. Personal intimacy, faith, cultural heritage, satire, facts, knowledge, personal freedom, responsibility, and a sense of belonging and connectedness are all crucial. They serve different purposes in our lives, and each of them provides an irreplaceable part of a meaningful life in a complex world. Metamodernity offers to contain and promote it all.”
Another way to say this is e pluribus unum (In many, one). But, you would also have to say e unum pluribus (in one, many) since every person is unique and offers something of value to the world.
Based on this understanding, here are nine starting points for reimagining education.
1. Create more user-generated classrooms. People do best in environments where they have a “buy in” or take ownership or pride in their work — whether individually or collectively. This can reduce the stress level of the teacher and staff at a school to control behavior. There is a lot of evidence supporting the notion that heterarchical environments can produce more than rigid hierarchies. Students can work on building confidence and having tangible products to show, e.g. portfolios, upon graduation. Learning how to work in a self-organized environment is also a great way to prepare for one’s role in helping the world in some way.
2. Allow for student discovery outside of the textbook. Information evolves (see Calvin Andrus) and there are, obviously, multiple perspectives in the world. Yet, we believe in packaging or containing our content in textbooks. Wikis, blogs and some interactive texts allow students to actually interact with information. Keep in mind that up until blogs, wikis and social media, the Internet was sort of a “dead” environment, where all one could really do was read static websites. Think how much the internet exploded when we all found out we could participate in the “conversation!”
3. Move towards quality and away from quantity. Spreadsheets and numbers are nice. They keep classrooms and schools orderly (for the most part), but is that what we want? Automatons who fall in line with pre-existing categories? Grades and test scores look at a small percentage of who a student or person really is, so do we want to really mark someone for life with a number or letter grade?
Put another way, we know that people are diverse in their thinking, offer unique perspectives, come from different cultures, are part of a beautiful spectrum of humanity that has evolved over millions of years. Yet, we prepare our students for the world by neatly packaging educational content into textbooks. We compress and limit human thought through standardized testing and multiple-choice tests and assign value to each student in a centuries-old five-letter system (A – F). If problem-solving is what we need in the world, then why are we intentionally limiting the scope of human thought in our schools? Instead, let’s open up the door to portfolios of work, expressions of creativity or craftpersonship. Give every student a chance to shine in their own unique way.
4. Accept neurodiversity: We are learning in the 21st century how to acknowledge and appreciate cultural, racial, gender, class and generational differences. Might we also move in the direction of recognizing different ways of thinking and perceiving the world? If we all process information differently, we ought to be able to express those differences in understanding in an academic environment. Linear, logical, abstract, non-linear and hyper-creative students should all be welcomed in such an environment and need not fear a test geared towards just one or two styles of thinking.
5. Seamless learning environments: The idea that we all learn in a giant structure with other students at the same time and between certain hours of the day seems out of step with the world we are living in (especially in a post pandemic world). Though it’s great to have a school as a hub for learning, we could be more open to hybrid learning systems or systems where students collaborate with other students in different parts of the world who, for example, might be working on a similar project. A “global challenge” might be set up so that students from around the world work together to solve actual-world problems. At the same time, this could help create new opportunities for themselves and others in the future, e.g. partnerships. Using more game and project-like systems for learning, students would no longer be restricted to traditional schedules that may not be in sync with their sleep requirements. Seamless also merges indoor with outdoor so that students could participate in “place-based” or “experiential” learning programs like “HikeStorming” or school gardens. Quarterly “show and tell nights” might be a great way for students to show the community what they learned in these experiences.
6. Game and Project-Based Learning: We all grow up with games. Even animals play certain games as a way of preparing for their adult lives. There are very creative ways to gamify almost any assignment or unit of study. In fact, referring to number one above, students are probably the most adept at creating their own games. Token economy and level systems are also great ways to introduce students to both the positive and negative aspects of various economic systems. Numbers one and five above show how this can work.
7. Multipotentiality: Many schools seem to be designed in order to create experts or people with a specific skill set. Yet, is that what we need in order to solve problems in today’s world? Are we doing enough to produce students who can merge ideas together to form something new; who can bring in aspects of all areas of their interests and knowledge to form a new product or system or type of organization or method? Are we educating students so that they can find the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts? Will they be able to merge things together from different disciplines in order to find better solutions? Have we even thought much about interdisciplinary studies outside of higher education? You can read more about the value of a liberal arts education
8. Preparing for the Future. Visualizing our future affects what we do now. By learning with the future in mind, students would study things in relation to what they will most likely be doing in the future – whether that is a vocational school, college, apprenticeship work, travel, study abroad, uncollege, gap-year, entrepreneurship, etc. Assignments, classwork, games, projects, and tests could all be more geared towards these eventual outcomes. Adding some of the previous recommendations to this, one might encourage students to have an even greater hand in creating their own learning programs. Then, instead of tests, we might encourage students to develop portfolios of their work. One step further, they could get a head start on careers as athletes, artists, writers, entrepreneurs — even putting money away for such ventures through online fundraising or startup company revenue.
9.One Step Further. Under the heading of “needs further development,” we might even imagine something along the lines of [insert name of school here], Incorporated. Want to develop a scholarship program? Raise money for your school or classroom? Want to take a field trip to a faraway place? Would you or your class like to work on a program that addresses poverty, homelessness, or income inequality? Idea: Using the principles of self-organization and multi-potential, students and faculty emerge into “startup pods” and actually create real, monetizable products, ideas, and services.
Coming out of the pandemic is an opportunity to reimagine our institutions and what they can do. The ideas above are just some starting points, but it’s a conversation that will allow us to assess where we are and where we want to be.
Lee Chazen is an educator, writer, and musician based out of Sacramento, California.
Lee produced this video called “Thriving on the Edge of Chaos,” which tells a more personal story of how many of the above ideas developed.