Being a Concept

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.

Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca via Compfight cc

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?

Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Vainsang via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: musubk via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: musubk via Compfight cc

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.

Photo Credit: c@rljones via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: c@rljones via Compfight cc

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.

6 Replies to “Being a Concept”

  1. I love this post!

    I think about this idea all the time, instead of thinking, how can we be. Especially in the PYP, how can we be change, be responsible. Be reflective, not know what it is, but do it.

    I think for sure this is the highest form, it’s the idea of creating, and living it.

    The longer I get into this idea of tech, the longer I move into the idea of slow learning, and slow pedagogy. We have access to everything, so can we slow down and actually be it.

    Great ideas, and great images.

  2. This week I have been struggling with what using technology to create new things really means and your post is a brilliant insight into a new physically (but not virtually) impossible version of experiential learning.

    Thanks Reid.

  3. OK…first I need to go do some yoga so I can allow this to sink in to my deeper being. 🙂

    The amazing part is….we can do all of what you layout here. The tools are out there, the websites, the virtual worlds. Heck….you could go into Google Earth go underwater and “be” the plates. Get a feel for how big you are, ‘swim’ your own cracks and see where you bump up against other plates. Have an understanding of who you are as a plate on the crust of the earth.

    Changing education is not a tool set it’s a mind set. Change the mind and the rest will follow.

  4. I love your post! At my school, the PYP teachers, have been talking and mulling over the concepts and how to incorporate them fully in all subjects for weeks! Your posts came like a breath of fresh air, and your photos are gorgeous. Yes, we should become the change we want to see. In the end it is all about connections again. Teachers, students and content. All should blend perfectly, like mixing different colors to make a brand new, amazing, never seen before color in education. Merging with what, who and how we are teaching our children for their future. Thank you for the “spiritual” enlightenment, Reid.

  5. Wow, Reid, you are really pushing boundaries with this post. So much of what school is about is creating boundaries – classrooms, schedules, timetables, due dates…

    The idea of students ‘being the learning’ is quite profound, yet I am sure it has been done many times before. When I began teaching in the early 90s, I worked at Natural Science School where most of the activities occurred outdoors. One activity, predator-prey, had the students roam a forest taking on the role of an animal they had been randomly assigned – if they were a predator they had to find food, if they were prey they had to make sure they were not found! Although this was just an upgraded version of tag or hide and seek, those who took their role seriously learned the basics of survival and what it was like to adapt. They were the learning.

    Thanks for reminding me about this simulation game and how powerful this type of learning can be. I agree with Joe T. earlier, we should move towards a ‘slow-learning’ model so that what we do learn is more thoroughly understood. Rushing through material or concepts does not help students learn. Nor does it allow them to ‘be’.

  6. I love how visual and easy it is to read your blog. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is a great quote for starting a conversation with students on change. In one of the Grade 4 classes I support we were talking about this subject the other day. The teacher had taken a photo of a pile of rubbish that was left on the side of the road as she walked to school that morning beside the river that runs by our school. We are coming to the end of our water unit and we co-taught a lesson on change and empathy. Many of the students don’t seem to care. Maybe by becoming the concepts themselves they will better understand the ideas that are being presented to them. I’ll try this next week. Thanks for an excellent reflection!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *