We used to teach about content. Now we teach through concepts. The next step, in my opinion, should not be to teach students about or through concepts, but rather for students to become them.
Everyone knows the Ghandian quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s plastered on bumper stickers, printed on t-shirts and screened on reusable bags throughout the Western world. At first glance, many might say the quote points to walking the walk rather than talking the talk. Instead of just discussing change, or posting about it, some of us might be so internally conflicted that we actually inconvenience ourselves and take a new form of action.
But, perhaps Ghandi was pointing us to a greater meaning, one filled with other principles he emanated: Oneness, the diffusion of duality from subject to object (human to thought) and, most importantly, being.
The Beatles, another group of influential humanists, also pointed us towards the fundamental word, but perhaps we misunderstood that as well? “Let it Be” is a global ballad that unearths the common denominator in all humans. Just a few notes of that song can cause most humans to transcend all perceived ethnographic differences and sing out together arm in arm as they relate to each others’ suffering. In relative terms, the song’s meaning might be associated with acceptance of what is, surrendering to life’s struggles and allowing things to happen as they may. In absolute terms, maybe Mother Mary’s wisdom was pointing at something more fundamental and core to the human condition: being.
In Shakespeare’s classic, Hamlet, Prince Hamlet coined the now overused soliloquy “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” Maybe Shakespeare, too, had his pulse on the essence of humanity and was able to articulate that existence, being, is its highest concept?
In times of shifting educational paradigms, we re-creators of learning should look to those past and present torchbearers who have been pointing to being, being the key all along.
Maybe our goal of a transformative education is misled by the very nature of the word? Maybe we shouldn’t be revolutionizing how to educate students about concepts? Maybe we should be inventing new ways for students to experience and to become them.
Maybe students shouldn’t explore form? Maybe they should be forms.
Maybe students shouldn’t observe function? Maybe they should function.
Maybe students shouldn’t explain causations? Maybe they should cause them.
Maybe students shouldn’t assess change? Maybe they should be changed.
Maybe students shouldn’t make connections? Maybe they should be connectors.
Maybe students shouldn’t look at other perspectives? Maybe they should become them.
Maybe students shouldn’t reflect on their learning? Maybe their lives should be a reflection.
Maybe students shouldn’t be more responsible? Maybe we should instead.
In an attempt to uproot the old model of education, I’m curious about ways that we might be able to provide an experience of being, rather than imposing prepositions upon our concepts. I look forward to investigating the creative potential that might exist in gaming, virtual simulation and other pedagogical portals to this state of experience. This would be a learning environment that would not necessarily require a physical place. Rather, it would encourage a cognitive and affective space because the experience of being in physical human form would not be the existence where most of the being, most of the experience, takes place. The device through which this occurs, if a tangible medium is even necessary in the future, would act as not only an extension of their body and mind, as the portal for entering this world of being, but also as an extension of their past and a composition of their future selves.
This device could act as a gateway for students to enter and exit this point of cognitive and affective engagement; thus, allowing learners to eliminate the subject-subject or subject-object duality inherent in modern education. Students would then not learn about or through a concept, skill or knowledge domain; they would become an active and integral component of it. They would emerge as the concept.
They would be able to realize its forms, functions, causations, changes, connections, perspectives, reflections and responsibilities in the first person. The simulated or virtual space they would occupy while having this learning experience would be so real and so intense that it would cause them to become one with the concept. They would not learn. They would become the learning.
In the process of navigating this virtual world, students would eliminate dualistic prepositions caused by reinforced notions of self and other in their real world. The cognitive goal upon returning to their physical place would be increased understanding of the concept they once were inside the virtual space. In the affective domain, the goal would be to foster lasting and experiential memories so powerful from that virtual space that it would yield more empathetic interaction in our shared physical place off the grid.
For example, in a unit about geological transformation, students wouldn’t learn about plate tectonics and volcanism. Students would enter a virtual world where they are the shifting plates. The class as a whole might makeup the world and each student would be a moving, dipping plate. They would experience the process of transforming themselves through the states of matter and reemerge as new earth. Consider how powerful that experience would be for them and how that might change the depth of their understanding of the key concepts mentioned above.
In a unit about survival, migration and interdependence, students wouldn’t learn about migrating animals and the reasons that caused them to relocate. Rather, the class would exist as sets of animal species and enter a virtual ecosystem that was interdependent on each other for survival. When environmental conditions in the virtual space (manipulated by the teacher) force students to migrate or die, they would experience first hand what it means to be a migrating species on the brink of extinction due to deforestation. Certainly, being a living thing would be far more engaging and meaningful than learning about one and lead students to more sustainable transferred action in the real world.
In our quest engage a new 21st century paradigm, we should strive to adapt envisioned learning to our technological potential rather than adapting our technological capacities to contemporary learning. We should explore the possibilities for learners to be the concepts, rather than to learn of them, and immerse our students in true experiential education.
In the end, it might not be the education that needs transforming. It might be ourselves.