Education's Ecology

About Bruce Lindgren

My own thoughts about education, teaching, learning and life have evolved enormously across many decades of engagement beginning as a student, continuing without a break as a biology faculty member in higher education, and emerging through work as an activist and consultant. My hope is that this site will become a repository for not only my thoughts and writing but a place where others with concern for education can contribute to a community of interest that will facilitate the evolution of education. As a biologist and an environmental activist I rather naturally now gravitate toward systems thinking and explore the importance of Social Systems Design for the Future of Education.

Education's Past

The history and philosophical roots of education help foster an understanding that can guide our critical thinking about education's future. Unfortunately history and philosophy have been fraught with undertones and overtones derived from religions that were formed well before contemporary understanding of our universe emerged from science. Engineering and its technologies have relied on mathematical manipulations that have yielded much confidence; some might say a level of confidence that approaches deep religious belief. Unfortunately the mathematical techniques are as mysterious to most people as are the stories (histories) that surround and bind people to religion. Mathematics is not a religion even when some claim that it is.  So too, science is not a religion. Science is a way of knowing based on evaluations backed with data (numerical) that can be replicated through standardized observation often using instruments that greatly extend and exceed the capacity of human sensation.

By looking at history it is possible to achieve some sense of what we don't know. One result could be humility. Every story of success in human events is preceded by a condition of not knowing who, what, when, where, why and how. Good history reveals the limits, gaps of human knowledge. In short, good history not only tells stories of success and failure, it helps reveal the details leading toward and away from success. Stories tell about the foundations and consequences of decisions; choices that were made and how those choices turned out.

It is unfortunate that too much of the details have been lost as to why certain choices were made for education. Yet analysis of broad trends provides some perspective about what we do in the name of education at the present.

Education's Present

The School has emerged as a central paradigm or framework for education, and many people find the idea of education and the idea of school to be inextricably linked. You go to school to "get" an education. If you don't attend school you "fail to get" an education. Education is seen as impossible without school. That is, except for those who have spent an enormous amount of time in school and achieved that highest honors that schools can bestow—The Doctorate. Yet that enormous honor is a certificate of independent scholarship; learning without guides or mentors. Leaving aside how some contemporary graduate programs and schools have bastardized the meaning of The Doctorate, particularly the PhD as a sign, symbol, certificate of an original contribution to knowledge, and the lack of employment of so many holders of The Doctorate, the achievement of independence in scholarship is a remarkable accomplishment.  Yet the best of these doctoral graduates become part of a community of learners and mark their independence inside a group of peers to challenge the scholarship of another. They are well aware of history and contemporary gaps and challenges.

Education's Futures

So where do we hope to  go from here? We go into the future. We have not choice. Our society has a host of problems to solve. A partial list includes: climate change that is an increasing burdon on financial systems and resources, a dramitic decrease in biodiversity and consequent destabilizing of ecosystems upon which life, all life including human life, is completely dependent, rogue regimes in underdeveloped countries. not to mention the exponential growth of the human population, and the massive inequality of resource use and allocation. 

Education is about leading away from a current uncomfortable, even painful, condition toward a condition that is more pleasurable. Society is the source of solutions to these essentially social problems. Education is an institution of society and an institution upon which our society must depend for solutions.  Accordingly it is now necessary to look at the institution to find ways for it to change in order to both serve and support the changes needed to solve these and other large societal problems. 

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