‘Learning’ AWOL in schooling discussions

Well it’s
Labour Day weekend, and many neurons and conversations are focused on Tuesday’s return to school for many millions of kids across North America. For some kids, tomorrow can’t come soon enough – they enjoy schooling and thrive in its environment. I’m delighted for them. For many more though tomorrow is not a joyful date but marks a return to a kind of imprisonment where they may be deeply bored, bullied, or witnesses to social behaviours they find contemptible. For too many kids, schooling, and its bias on logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligence will prevent them from developing the full range of their intelligence-potential, a situation that I find contemptible. 

Mediated (online) conversations I’ve perused this weekend about schooling reflect concerns about busing, school fashion, bullying, teacher indifference and school board choices. Remarkably, almost no one is commenting on LEARNING – and the characteristics of learning that pertain to discussions of schooling. This, to me, is a sign of a society hypnotized into believing that schooling = the best learning opps for kids and young people. That never was true and it’s certainly not true today.

Here are comments I posted into a CBC discussion thread:

Your education series, well-intentioned though it may be, is myopic in scope, ignoring what I assert is the pre-eminent (and self-evident) topic that should be informing and guiding discussions on education; namely, what is the nature of learning, and what are ways to optimally support learning in children, youth, teen, adults and people with special learning orientations?

The last 15-20 years have provided researchers with astounding tools and insights into learning. For example, with the assistance of brain-scanning technologies, neuro-biologists are able to map the characteristics of learning under various conditions, and for various ages. What is emerging is new understanding about learning that is profound and should be informing education, but it’s largely being ignored. Ditto for Multiple Intelligences, a discipline of learning psychology minted by Harvard prof Dr. Howard Gardner 25-year years ago.

The upshot for me, a 20+year educator, is that conventional schooling (K-12 & college-university) and its extremely narrow focus on logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligences is starkly out of touch with new research insights. In the (online) school I helped to found in 2002 – SelfDesign Learning Community, based in BC but now going global – we recognize and validate at least 8 kinds of Intelligence, and identify with a world of learning that goes far beyond conventional schooling.

To its credit the BC Ministry of Education has probably the widest bandwidth on the continent for recognizing and supporting online learning opps, including SelfDesign (we are a certified ‘school’ and receive funding) but it still defaults to a retrograde model of schooling for grades 10-12, just when the neurobiology of teens is expanding and ready for much more sophisticated expressions of learning. Please go to work and explore these topics!

– Michael Maser, SelfDesign Learning Community; www.selfdesign.org

One Response to “‘Learning’ AWOL in schooling discussions”

  1. wendi722 October 19, 2008 at 7:38 pm // Reply


    I found your last post about children and technology really informative. Save the Children organization is similar to you in that they care about children too.

    I wanted to let you know about the More than Footprints campaign Trip Advisor is running to give away $1 million to five great causes, including Save the Children. Trip Advisor developed the campaign to give to organizations that are doing amazing work to help our planet and people around the world. The five causes were chosen by Trip Advisor members, and they are all fantastic! Money is rewarded to the 5 charities through votes.

    I am particularly enthusiastic about Save the Children because I love kids believe in their mission in working together to help needy children in the United States and around the world through healthcare and education.

    Will you write about this amazing campaign, and encourage people to vote for Save the Children! Please post the link to vote: :

    I will be blogging about the campaign through a Trip Advisor site (http://morethanfootprints.typepad.com/votesavethechildren/) and I would be happy to post about your blog as well. Please let me know if you would like more information and I’ll keep you updated on the voting progress!

    Thanks so much,
    Wendy Huang


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