Saturday, August 02, 2008

Open Source Learning

You can not teach a person anything. You can only help him find it within himself.
Galileo Galilei

Philosopher and historian Ivan Illich defined school almost forty year ago as "an age-specific, teacher related process requiring full time attendance at an obligatory curriculum." Not a very flattering definition, but honest none the less.

Despite heroic attempts to create 'stimulating educational environments' plastering walls with colourful illustrations and graphs ('teacher/expert approved' naturally), even though we scramble to provide classrooms with computers, spend millions on revised text books and curriculum, and introduce novel concepts such as 'citizenship education,' education is still about getting schooled rather than getting educated.

Plus ca change, plus ca reste le meme. The more things change the more they stay the same. We're still acting as if a young person is an empty vessel to fill.

Worse, our micro-managing of children's time can lead to intellectual timidity, over-cautiousness, fearfulness and lack of entrepreneurship.

This in the face of all the knowledge we have gained concerning how the human brain works.

"Genius is as common as dirt," is one of my favourite quotes by former teacher and author John Taylor Gatto (Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and The Underground History of American Education).

But six hours a day, five days a week, most weeks of the year for twelve years spent warming the old school bench does little to support individual talents. It's a sobering thought to think we might be "educating people out of their creativity." (Sir Ken Robinson).

Kids know they can do better than this. We know they can.

Thankfully people are doing something about it. They're putting aside the cookie cutter, one size fits all, standardizing, compartmentalizing, institutionalizing approach in favour of ways of learning through living and doing.

Proponents advocate mentoring self-directed, interest-based learning, initiative taking, questioning and inquiry in contrast to the inane habit of force feeding curriculum on schedule; the doling out of information in small portions less, God forbid the child become ignorant in one area and too knowledgeable in another.

Nobody can know everything- and as knowledge is forever changing the important thing is to know how to learn. As educator and author John Holt wrote "the true measure of intelligence is not what you know but what you do when you don't know something."

What needs nurturing is the intrinsic motivation to learn; it's already in born. Does a gardener keep uprooting the plant to measure and test how much it's grown? Rather than hindering and bothering young people with grading and testing, allow them accessibility to the community's resources.

In a nut shell the kind of education that's stirring in the Zeitgeist, that's taking hold of the imagination is called open source learning.

We have heard of the concept 'open source' in internet circles; anything can be learned over the internet. There is a new openness to educational resources; for example MIT (Open CourseWare) is now offering up to 1800 on line course materials for free - their motto being "unlocking knowledge, empowering minds."

Open source learning as coined by Taylor Gatto is based on extending this idea to all learning, to everyone. The underlying premises of open source learning is that learning is available everywhere in life and not restricted to 'places of learning'-namely schools.

Resources are every where to be found in the day to day world; people, art galleries and science centres, businesses, professional schools, museums, community centres,libraries, the internet, and so on. Much learning happens incidentally and by doing; through games, work, and living. You learn fractions by cooking, history by watching movies, writing by reading books.

Forget Montessori versus Waldorf or homeschooling versus private school. Rather think of it as an alternative vision of the pursuit of knowledge and education. Much deeper than simply another novel way of doing business, it is a different business all together. Open source learning is a shift in consciousness- a fresh wind that is sweeping out the old ideas of what, how and when one should learn.

Questions arise that challenge the entire concept of education at it's roots; whose education anyway? Do we even have the right to impose on another human being our own ideas (the states ideas, the religious establishments ideas...) of what another person should learn? Crazy? Going too far? Still it goes to the roots of freedom. And it's happening the world over.

As John Gatto says, "Nobody can give you and education. You have to take an education." And that means taking here, there everywhere from the world around us, according to what we are interested in, passionate about and not what some one prescribes for us.

"We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves."

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