A pattern language-based curriculum – Looking at a pattern language for a sustainable economy, I once thought, “Boy, you could pick your major to be a particular pattern or set of patterns and then the related patterns would be your minor, and your general education would be the whole pattern language.” What would it be like to have a curriculum like that and to be able to connect up with people who are specializing in the same or different parts of the pattern language? When you are working on your pattern you know the connected patterns and therefore you know who you need to work with. So there is a way of organizing your life and organizing social change or transformational activities using a pattern language and learning on the go. You will be bumping into people who are both within your pattern and working on related ones. Having pattern language-based learning and teaching is just filled with possibilities.
Waldorf, Montessori, and Sudbury schools – These are famous school traditions that are trying to actively and realistically engage children in ways that are more life-serving and whole.
Chrysalis is a private school in California that is based on engagement with nature. They teach math, science, writing and reading and all the other subjects through engagement with nature.
Interest-based learning helps kids learn what they want to learn. It creates learning environments that tap into students’ passions. You don’t have to stuff knowledge down their throats. There are stories of kids who didn’t learn how to read until they were seven or eight years old or even in their teens. They don’t know anything about reading, and then they discover, because of the educational context, that in order to do something they really want to do, they need to be able to read. And suddenly they become able to read in a couple weeks. It’s mind-boggling when you tap into the energy, curiosity and intentionality of a child – or if you track your interest rather than just “here’s what they want me to learn.”
Then there is the active learning, the experiential learning of getting your hands dirty, where you live into the subject matter rather just hearing a teacher talk about it or reading theory.
4-H Clubs – 4-H stands for head, heart, hands, and help – which provides a pretty holistic framing. The 4-H movement started I believe in the United States about 80 or 100 years ago. It was based in helping kids learn how to be healthy successful farmers, but it has expanded to include kids from all kinds of populations and to countries around the world. There are millions of young people – kids up to youth – who are engaged in 4-H’s version of holistic, experiential, active hands-on learning.
Eco-pedagogy is an emerging field. It proposes that all learning should help us understand how to become partners with the natural world.
The Khan Academy is not itself holistic but offers interesting tools because it is totally student guided. The student is studying a particular subject to gain particular knowledge or learn a particular skill. They watch a short video lecture about that specific topic. Then they do exercises and only finish that section when they actually know the material and can use it. It’s not that they get a mediocre grade and then move on to something else. If they are going to learn it, they learn it and they learn it at their own speed. If someone’s having difficulty, the teacher can spot it really easily and come over and help. They can afford to help a single student because everybody else is busy working on their own. They can also make this helping activity into a collaborative thing by engaging another student who is a little ahead in their studies. The teacher would say, “Charlie, can you come over to help Jack work on this?”
So there are all sorts of ways to learn. When you actually need to learn certain specific skills and facts, the Khan Academy is useful, even though it is not open-ended and exploratory. It is designed to teach specific knowledge while allowing students to learn at their own speed and to help each other in specific ways. Even open-ended education includes some specific things we need to learn in order to do other things. And the Khan academy excels in helping us do that.
Of course, apprenticeships are invaluable for building skills. You are helped to learn by helping somebody who knows and is already a master of the skill or area of knowledge you want to learn.
Now we move beyond educating individuals to the larger social realm and explore the question “How does a community or society learn?” Deliberative democracy is a key piece of this, addressing how a society learns about the issues it needs to deal with. I would like to add to the traditional deliberative democracy vision and field the idea of iteration. When we deliberate on a particular subject, we can get very educated about it and do good work in that area. But then things change. We need to include in our deliberative democracy visions and concepts the idea that we deliberate again and again, adding the output from one deliberative activity into another deliberative activity. So that’s one way a community or society can learn over time as conditions change, just as an individual does.
Open Space and World Café are designed to mix-and-match people in ways that explicitly use their diversity to share and expand their understanding. People are always learning in Open Space and in World Café and in Dynamic Facilitation. They are all different processes and they offer learning opportunities in different ways. It is extremely hard to walk out of an Open Space, a World Café or a Dynamic Facilitation session the same way you walked in. These are all designed to draw out, stimulate and nudge you in open-ended, learningful ways.
We can also say that science is a major way societies learn. But to be wholesome life learning, our sciences need to be socially and ecologically responsible. Our science cannot be just an isolated inquiry to find out whatever we want to learn in order to have the power to win against the larger world, against nature, against reality or our opponents. We need to learning things that will allow us to be more whole, to be in a more wholesome relationship with each other and with life. So that direction in science, that particular kind of inquiry fits very well in the concept of wholesome life learning.