Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What Role can Ecosystems Play in Changing Education Paradigms?

Video: RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms; 
Credit: RSA Events; Sir Ken Robinson www.theRSA.org in Accordance with RSA Policy Statement 

“If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our own institutions, great is our sin.”

We at Genesis Eco Fund are very much concerned with the issue of education, but not in the trite, clich√© treatment it normally receives: by parents, teachers, employers and—worst of all—politicians and bureaucrats.

Genesis Eco Fund concerns itself with the machinery of education (that is, what it has become). Not just “the education system” as it were, and certainly not “the institution of education.” Rather, the unquestioned assumptions regarding the institutionalization of education as a matter of natural course.

With that in mind, we share the above video by RSA Animate featuring a talk by Sir Ken Robinson (about the need to reimagine the paradigm of institutionalized education as we know it (as some kind of “natural” phenomenon). Not least in the light of the quote by Charles Darwin.

Image: Charles Darwin Quote on Slavery, “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” (1836)  
Source: todayinsci.com: TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY: Charles Darwin Quote on Slavery (1836)

The fact is, the “emerging problems” of education are, in-fact, inherent in the underlying myth that the institutionalization of the current system is natural. It is not at all natural; it is, as Ken Robinson points out, a myth!

What else unnatural, Mr. Robinson goes on to say, is the current paradigms’ lack of recognition that “most great learning happens in groups,” that is to say “collaboration is the stuff of growth; and, that the current educational model of atomizing and judging people separately, we “form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment.”

This statement could easily describe ecosystems. What is collaboration after all? Collective harmony and mutual symbiosis…the modus operendi of ecosystems. So what about the apparent competition of said ecosystem? What of our friend Darwin’s famous axiom “survival of the fittest”?

Ironically Social Darwinism (very prominent when the current educational paradigm was established) is to blame for the insistence on standardized testing and pitting individuals against one another. But this is inherently counter-productive to the collaboration just mention; and, as it turns out, is ultimately a bit-player in the functioning of ecosystems!

In other words, survival of the fittest may be a natural phenomenon, but human beings have placed far too much emphasis on it and not the more fundamental law of nature: harmony and symbiosis. Survival of the fittest as “understood” by Darwin and everyone since is an ego-projection. Darwin found a phenomenon in nature which provided him with a reasonable theory to explain “the origins” of our linear, intellectual, reactionary experience of conflict (personal, tribal, social, national, etc).

The problem is, Darwin didn’t see the bigger picture. He saw organisms only in isolation according to classical definitions of human conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature): individual vs. individual, pack vs. pack, individual and/or pack vs. nature. Darwin didn’t see ecosystems; he certainly never stopped to recognize that ecosystems are “super organisms” (that evolve, have interests, etc).

Competition (testing of individuals against each other, the environment, etc.) is part of the constant balancing inherent in symbiosis and harmony, just as any collaborative group encounters conflicts and conflict resolution as the inevitable differences and competing interests of individual are integrated into the whole collaborative effort. And yes, struggle and death are a part of life, but not according to some linear equation, or massive “us versus them” oversimplification as experienced by human ego-intellect!

In other words, individuals have clearly defined personal goals, but in a successful collaborative effort (sports team, business, etc.), individual goals are aligned into the collective goal, such that cooperation trumps competition by far! This is how nature really works…ECOSYSTEMS!

Example: many “favourites” for this year’s world cup had “superstar” players whose individual interests included “showing their nation and the world they are deserving of such praise and adoration.” Germany had a solid team of players whose individual interests were aligned with the collective interests. How often we saw German players in position to “go for glory” instead pass the ball to a teammate in a much better position to get a goal—and pass and score Germany did. And the results speak for themselves.

Image: “There is no “I” in “team” Germany 2014 

And then at 11:00 minutes into the talk, Sir Ken drops this bombshell:

“It’s about the habits of our institutions and the HABITATS THEY OCCUPY.”

The very presence of ecosystems in an institution changes the habitat of that institution. One CANNOT occupy an ecosystem and not be a part of it. One cannot be a part of an ecosystem and not experience an alignment of one’s individual goals with those of the collective.

This alignment is bi-directional. In other words, just as your habits change to align with the habitat, the ecosystem adjusts to accommodate your goals.

Example: Germany had solid players: Klosse, who became the winningest player in world-cup history, for instance. But the culture of collaboration meant he didn’t “go for glory.” He was just another equal member of the team.  He wanted to win. His team wanted to win. He probably did want to break the record, but his personal success was secondary to his team’s success. In the end, that formula for success allowed him to indeed accumulate the goal count he was looking for…but not at the expense of his ecosystem.

Example: let’s say you want to be healthy, happy, peaceful, etc. The ecosystem also seeks harmony and healthy—optimal levels of performance for all its members. There is a clear and obvious alignment.

But what if you are a smoker? Sure, you want to be healthy, but you just can’t break this habit which relaxes you? In the short run, the ecosystem will synthesize bacteria to break-down tar and nicotine in the air. Over time, your presence in the habitat of clean air, positive energy, and natural calming power of nature will reduce your need to turn to cigarettes. Our habitat affects our habits. Plain and simple.

Image: Stillframe from Video: RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms; 
“The habits of our institutions and the habitats they occupy…” 
Credit: RSA Events; Sir Ken Robinson www.theRSA.org in Accordance with RSA Policy Statement

So, too then, with the institution of learning. And let’s face it, one look at an ecosystem and one realizes that lateral, divergent thinking, inspiration, imagination, and all the wonderful preconditions for real creativity are all there…naturally. Truly.

And that’s all just the tip of the iceberg of how ecosystems can change any institution, especially education (which is, let’s face it, supposed to be all about GROWTH). If education is all about growth, then the ONLY model, the ONLY paradigm that will ever work is THE TRULY natural, effective and proven model for growth: ecosystems. Here we coin the phrase: “Survival of the most fitting?”

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