Saturday, 23 August 2014

My education

My best friend asked me one day how one can even conceive of the dual nature of reality (wave and particle), and I told him that we can see this in the everyday: everything that we see has colour.

I read a very interesting article on Scientific American by Barbara Kantrowitz called, The Science of Learning (August 2014), but it was a quote in the article that got me thinking. Said Joseph Merlino (on p. 73):

"I don't think you can look at education from the point of view of whether it works or doesn't work, as if it's a light bulb. I don't think human knowledge is like that...In the mechanical age, we are used to thinking of things mechanically. Does it work? Can you fix it? I don't think you can fix education any more than you can fix your tomato plant. You cultivate it. You nurture it."

As someone who has spent his life learning and thinking as much as I can for the sheer joy of it, I say well said, Mr Merlino: You cultivate it; you nurture it. This is an art in the decline.

Yesterday I was listening to the CBC radio show, Ideas, where Steven Pinker spoke about his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. During the Q&A segment of his presentation, a military academy teacher of philosophy tried, rather dismissively, to box him in with a question why he'd claim such a thing when everything that's happening in the world points to the contrary. His answer was brilliant.

After all his tour de force presentation on statistics and inferences from humanity's past, his answer was that he's talking about the part that is not reported on the news or documented by historians (countries at peace, schools that weren't shot up, mailmen who didn't go postal, etc.) but nonetheless bear down on his (rather counter-intuitive) conclusion.

The brilliance of his answer lies in the fact that he's somehow able to take a step back to take in a more complete picture than the hapless guy who thought he had him. But...but...but. But nothing.

There is a piece I just read on Huffington Post (Canadian edition) by Giovanna Mingarelli (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/giovanna-mingarelli/inuit-elders-history-_b_5698664.html) where one of the comment posters betrays his mechanical thinking (a right-wing troll who thinks he cracks wise regularly on subjects he knows very little or nothing about); something Merlino is saying is the problem.

I've spent a great deal of time thinking about what (especially) younger aboriginal people mean when they talk about education as if it were a reward or a designation earned after suffering through something rather than a characteristic one acquires through (sometimes) hard work. Unscrupulous bureaucrats visibly cream their pants when confronted thus because it is the most unproductive and uninformed starting point of discussion (can we even say "discussion"?).

I know some of the elders Mingarelli writes about in her article (elders including Shirley Tagalik who has spent many years working with Inuit elders both as an educator and social activist). Their assumption is that "education" is a human developmental process where acquiring manual and intellectual skills is seamlessly incorporated to developing character (to have a good and caring heart capable of being useful and wanted on the voyage). It is called the "warrior mind" by some cultures but I think a closer description is "inferential learning".

We were struggling one time in one of the workshops organized by Shirley and her colleagues in the Arviat curriculum development office trying to communicate the subtleties of Inuit notions of education when it occurred to me that we (the Inuit) were actually talking about the holistic process of human development (Inuliurniq).

Mark and Donald are no longer with us but I am grateful for all the learning I got from them and the others mentioned in the Mingarelli article. From them I learned that it is less about the brand of "education" than it is about acquiring the drive to become fully human.

Jay

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