What is weighing down learning?

Two years ago Albert Ip wrote how our schools are failing us. The other day I was reviewing some of my online bookmarks and re-read Albert’s post.

My own criticism of our current school model is that it too closely resembles the industrial economic model of the past and is not suited to our current societal needs. Albert’s post shows that the baggage encumbering our education system goes back much further than the industrial era. It seems that we need to critically question the entire foundation of our education systems as we prepare for an age requiring creativity at every level, in an information-rich world.

Albert refers to the work of William Spady, a somewhat controversial figure in outcomes based learning, but with an interesting take on our current system, which Spady calls an iceberg, weighed down by layers of inertia:


The iceberg metaphor shows how much work there is to do below the surface in order to achieve systemic change. I’ve seen this with relatively small changes such as reducing homework in schools. It makes a learner-centric, process-oriented education seem even that much more inaccessible. But then, no one expected the fall of the Berlin Wall. We can change it, but first we have to understand what we’re up against and be ready with an appropriate option when the system cracks.

11 Responses to “What is weighing down learning?”

  1. Marco Polo

    Albert ends his article with the “real” question: What should the education system for our kids be? I wonder if there isn’t another question hiding behind this one: Who gets to decide? I haven’t read Spady’s stuff, but John Gatto suggests the present system of compulsory education arose at a time when people were starting to get Utopian ideas (and techniques) about how they could control entire populations and hence markets: compulsory, systematized education was key to that control.

  2. Kelly Christopherson

    I would agree with some of the underlying assumptions. However, we are still very much driven with by a society that hasn’t moved out of the industrial mindset. As much as we say that things are flattening and changing, much of what happens in the day-to-day life of many N.A. people is still following the same system as it did years ago. Until society changes its view of what schooling is all about and we can come to grips with a youth population that thinks very differently, the present system will prevail with all its flaws. As I deal with students and parents as an administrator, we are seeing a different type of parent – one that wants to protect their child from all ills and consequences to the point where they will take the blame for what the child does. At present, compulsory education now allows both parents to seek employment without incurring the cost of childcare and, with the advent of school extra-curricular programming, provides parents with after-school care so that there is little out of pocket expense. With the advent of childlabour laws, there is little that children can do but go to school unless one parent stays home which, in our society of excess, isn’t necessarily the norm. Marco Polo asks “Who gets to decide?” Is he implying that children get to decide whether they go to school? As I’ve wondered in other discussions, have we entered an era when adults, wanting to enjoy the wonders that our society is creating, are wanting to divulge themselves of the responsibility of raising the youth therefore giving them the choice of what they do with the idea that society, with its market mentality, will provide the appropriate consequences if the decisions are not in line with what society will tolerate based on the ideals that society, with its morales and values, will dictate what is allowable and not allowable. Of course, I could be out to lunch!

  3. roy williams

    There is an interesting and useful approach to learner-centric education, which circumvents many of these issues, and remains empirical and practical: Its the ‘non-method’ of Maria Montessori. She had a neat approach, and when asked “what is the Montessori method”? she said: “There’s no such thing, just follow the child”. [… which resonates with Bruno Latour’s ‘Actor-network theory’, if you’re interested in research methodology].

    She spent many years following children, and trying to tempt them into learning with wonderful (3D)’learning objects’ that she created, most spectacularly the Trinomial Cube [http://www.montessoriworld.org/sensory/strinom.html], which is a 3D instantiation of the Trinomial Theorem (there’s also a Binomial Cube). The pity is that many ‘Montessori’ teachers dont follow either her advice, or the childen, and even fewer of them have the mathematical imagination to create a multi-coloured Trinomial Cube.

  4. Glen Gatin

    Add the weight of a shadow…Organizational shadow that is.
    “Organization Shadow is understood as facts which organizations wish to deny about themselves, due to the threat posed to self-image and self-understanding and, more generally, the need to be viewed in a favourable light by others. The Shadow is repressed, and, as unconscious content, is projected onto others, often those who are incapable of resisting it.”

    Bowles, M. (1991). Organizational shadow. Organization Studies, 12(3), 387-404. doi: 10.1177/017084069101200303

  5. Andrew Wetzel (@CircleReader)

    One aspect of the “industrial weight” is the effect of the factory / assembly line model on society outside the “factory.” Every individual, child or adult, has a “work place” to go to during the day, “efficiently” segmented by location, age/grade, company, department, etc., and usually cut off from network ties to other segments. This segmented disconnection supports the ends of the “feudal weight,” and is counterbalanced (a little) by the “agrarian weight” of a calendar that provides seasonal opportunities (summer, winter holidays, etc.) to be part of more integrated networks (families, service trips, whatever).

    So what happens if we give up commitments to disconnection? In what ways then could both work and school co-evolve?

    • Harold Jarche

      I think we’re seeing some co-evolution already. More people are working from home. There are more home-schooling and de-schooling options. There are “go local” movements in politics, business & agriculture. For schools to remain relevant they might have to switch to community centres. This switch may also be driven by demographics, costs for infrastructure and fuel costs (buses & heating). As William Gibson says, the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.

  6. Brendan

    I’m most struck by our reluctance to ask questions about these weights. It seems like we are afraid to challenge tradition. I read this one guy named James Herndon who talked about how we are perpetuating a system created by people not around anymore. We get to decide what it looks like, he claims, but just don’t realize we have that power. Why aren’t we having conversations about this stuff?


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>