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The Direction of Learning

...which is it?

I was going to title this”The Future of Learning”. But the future never arrives, and in learning we are constantly arriving at new understandings and at new places. And so it is more about the direction, not the destination. have

 I have been an educator for 21 years. I have taught pre-kindergarten in a public school in Manhattan’s East Village, I have taught Elementary School in Africa and the Middle East, and I have taught Middle and High School as well. I have been a technology integrator as well as an administrator. I have had my own children, and watched them grow as learners. I have watched them react to and work within their own schooling experiences. In all of this experience and through all of my work I have of course evolved as a person and as a professional. As I have grown and changed, so has my understanding of learning, of education, and of what young people need from school.

For any educator who considers himself or herself to be progressive, the road of working within education can be one of frustration and disappointment. Being around students can take the edge off of that disappointment, they are a source of joy and inspiration. But interacting with the machinery of education can be tough. The more experience I gain, the more students I talk to, the more educators and innovators I work with, the more I realize that we are all working incredibly hard as we forge our way down a wrong path.

Young people are not learning what they need to learn and they are not learning in a way that frees their minds (and spirits) to innovate and explore. There are many speakers and writers in education who address this issue at length, with varying degrees of radicalism. Many of these colleagues of mine talk about the fact that our young people today need to be prepared for “jobs that do not even exist yet”. This is true. But I think that that is only a part of the equation. The idea is that we are not preparing our young people to be problem solvers, to develop collaboration skills, to access their creativity, to develop information literacy, etc. Often this is the case. But the real shortfall lies elsewhere.

If we want to allow our students to guide their own learning, to discover themselves as learners, and to grow into self driven problem solvers, we need to allow them time. Allow them time to find their, for want of a better term, passion. We need a better term than that, because ‘passion’ already has so many hats hanging on it. I am talking about an aptitude, the space that a person fills, the kind of thinking they do, in which they feel like they are masterful and in which they are positively affecting the people and the world around them. It takes time for an individual to find and define that place, that space, or that spark. And it takes guidance from people who have already started to travel that road to help to put them to find that similar path.

The real reward of traveling this path goes beyond what the student might experience. Learners who find that path of mastery, that place of intrinsic motivation and joy, will translate that ‘passion’ into altruism. They will work to make their own world better. In doing so they will of course make the world of others better. They will act out of their wish to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Therein lies the reward for all of us.