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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

William Blake: Illustrations to Milton's "Paradise Lost"

William Blake: Illustrations to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

“Harmless”.

This was the original entry for planet Earth in Douglas Adams’ the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was later expanded by the book’s sub-editors in a subsequent edition to… “Mostly harmless”.

It’s great to revise a definition, and a nice way to begin a meandering blog entry.

Every now and again I like to try to rekindle my thoughts regarding the aim of education. I have rather got into the habit of saying only that ‘the aim of education is emancipation’. I’m not sure this is enough. After all, emancipation implies someone else (or someone else’s ideas) from which one has been given freedom. Though I know in many parts of the world that is a real issue, this wasn’t quite what I meant. I had in mind an internally generated aim, not a “release by” but a “release in”, achieved without external reference to anyone (or any thing) else.

So far, the best I’ve managed to come up with is: ‘the aim of education is freedom from comparison’.

This expresses more what I want for the Henley MBAs; that they should make informed choices not restrained by alignment to the notions defined by past experience or by prediction of future event alone (or, perhaps, at all). For personal development, the aim is freedom from validation, and from uncritical judgement of the opinion of others. It is an act of becoming completely at ease and at one with the world as it actually is. In its unspoken assumption of control over the world, our current pedagogy is very poor at this. For me, “freedom from comparison” is significant because it demands that you know under what system of restraints (i.e. being governed by what you cannot do) your awareness level is being limited. Awareness, actually, is the word I’m looking for.

In fact, I think “awareness” could stand as the real aim of education. Awareness subsumes comparison.

How do you get to awareness? (Easy when you know how, huh?) I think awareness is, in some way, being in tune with all forms of living system that demonstrate mental process in their function (Bateson, 1979), but explaining it is not easy with our current mental maps. The greatest barrier to awareness in education is whether or not we are aware of what a context is. Without context, education has no meaning, but meaning is not a thing, it is a pattern (i.e. it has no physical properties or dimensions, so is not to be quantified, objectified or reified in the manner that modern science has envisaged). Meaning carries weight (metaphorically) when it contains coded forms of information of what we can exclude (not what we must include) as alternative possibilities in each case. A red stop-light “tells us” nothing in and of itself. Its meaning is a very complex systemic property of interconnected levels of information (knowledge and structure of the legal system, social conventions on behaviours that align with the legal system, regulated processes of driver instruction and licensing, moral imperatives on behaviours that do not endanger others, etc.). The more such information it carries, the higher the probability of it not occurring just by chance.

All the possible restraints exist for us in nested levels of categories that each contain redundancies (i.e. information of the whole from a part) that mean we can navigate this complex social world without needing to exhaust ourselves with mental processing of every alternative. Systems of restraints are what keep dynamic systems stable over time. Including ‘you’ (as a circuit).  Your breathing, for example, works in a comparable way because your ability (for short periods only) to make this process a conscious one is merely an illustration of this whole nesting principle.

Managers carry with them maps of how their organisations work, and these maps contain many taken-for-granteds. We don’t understand this ‘gut feeling’ very well, but it is redundancy that allows educated guesswork on the part of the manager. Redundancy gives that person a better than random chance of ‘filling in the gaps’. The freedom inherent in management education is observed in how leaders conduct themselves and their work, and I think uncovering how these systems of restraints are universal could free their thinking and learning potential. To do this, education must seek news of difference (i.e. where are the limits?). The internal territory contains homogeneity or redundancy of information and there is nothing to be learned here. The individual is involved in the task of locating the boundaries where mistakes may be made in order to learn.

Reference

Bateson, G (1979), Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, E P Dutton

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I don’t know where Malala Yousafzai will be in the future, nor can I know the context in which as a 14-year old campaigner for education for girls in Pakistan she was the target in a deliberate, ignorant and contemptible assassination attempt, but right now as a clear-thinking and brave 16-year old, she is incredibly important to the idea that education has a purpose, and that education is the only thing that holds any hope to break the unbroken global cycle of economic, ecological and ideological hubris.

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Model for PD at Henley

Those of you reading this who also maintain a Twitter account probably already know that with a little thought and some clever connecting, you can access a whole range of contacts, ideas, knowledge and links related to your interests or career there. If you have included being active on Twitter in the category of ‘Personal Branding’ and make use of it professionally in conjunction with, for example, LinkedIn, then it probably pays for you to spend some time giving irection to the list of those you are following (whilst keeping track of a whole load of wacky topics, celebs and funny tweeters as well).

Twitter, the micro-blogging website where any post is limited to 140 characters in length (in case you’ve been in the back of beyond for the last 5 years) encourages further exploration in two ways. First by you searching for #hash-tag denoted words, and the second by you searching for and then following “@” named users.

I was thinking about the things that interest me on this blog, and I came up with four categories to make some recommendations to check out and perhaps follow. Any text below that is in quotation marks is just the verbatim description from that Tweeter’s description, other comments are my own.

A. MBA
There are way too many resources on Twitter catering to all aspects of the MBA to cover in four, so this would need further expansion in the future, but here are my ideas:

1. @econwhichMBA
“The official Economist account for news and insights for Which MBA”. The Economist has a sales boost in its MBA ranking system, and business schools do their best to be the best in the list.

2. @TopMBA
A useful source of information from the company that organises many MBA fairs and events around the world. Worth looking at their web site.

3. @businessbecause
A networking account for those at all stages of their MBA. A bit “hit and miss” on the content of its tweets, but often with interesting links to articles etc.

4. @sustainableMBA
Just one example, of many possible choices, of an account run by someone with an MBA. Included here because I think the interest in sustainable businesses is vital for the MBA in the future

B. Personal Development
This is a huge category, and difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (often bland or folksy quotes or endlessly re-churned lists). Avoiding the mundane PD self-help/self-improvement types, here are four possibilities:

5. @_robin_sharma
Interesting take on PD, Robin is a widely read author (I mean that in both senses)

6. @paulocoelho
Writer. Read on.

7. @alanwattsdaily
Not him, obviously, since sadly Alan died in the 1970s, but a way to see his eloquence, Tweet by Tweet

8. @careerealism
“Because every job is temporary”, Career and Job Search Resource

C. Reflective practice, education and management learning

This is quite wide as well, and actually there aren’t too many people dedicated to reflection in learning on Twitter.

9. @edutopia
“Inspiration and information for what works in education” Covers all types of education, so have to pick and choose from their links

10. @presentationzen
Garr Reynolds, author of a book designed (beautifully) to guide people away from awful powerpoint. Worth combining with Nancy Duarte’s “Resonate” and “Slide:ology” books, which all MBAs should own.

11. @sirkenrobinson
He of the classic TED.com presentations…

12. @hansrosling
He of the legendary TED.com presentations…

D. Systems thinking, Gregory Bateson, constellations and related stuff…

Could go anywhere, and include anything…

13. @whittingtonjohn
John is an amazing constellation therapist and professional developer.

14. @norabateson
Gregory’s youngest daughter, film-maker, thinker… director of the film  www.anecologyofmind.com

15. @eckharttolle

Eckhart is, er, actually, he’s a bit hard to define. Not always my style, but worth looking into, so to speak

16. @carolinelucas

Britain’s first ever Green MP!

Happy hunting. If anyone can recommend any sites in any of the categories above that they think worthy of a mention, then add a comment below.

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Someone recently asked this question on one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of and it has prompted some thoughts to post in response. This, it turns out, has been in common with a host of other group members (incredible how some discussion threads quickly generate comments on LinkedIn while others flounder). With a few notable exceptions, however, many of those answers seem to me either fail to clarify or succeed in making matters even more muddled. But then, other people might well say the same of mine.

So, with additional embellishment here is my answer:

“1. Education in the specific sense of organised, social process (as opposed to euphemism for a more folksy ‘lessons learnt from whatever life throws at us’) is a categorical term, and therefore is a collective word to characterise a whole set of activities. As such, there is always a wider societal purpose that first frames the category, such as Dewey’s explicit 20th century notions of democracy or the implicit requirement for standardised knowledge and skills to meet a rapidly growing need for labour force in the 19th Century that preceded that.  In other words, the categorisation of education is itself categorised by historical context and reproduced by those taking part in it. The growth of public education has surely enabled many social and technical innovations, but not all frames have been positive ones and the topic, seen this way, will forever be unfinished and contested because society and science are themselves subject to change over time.

The modern purpose of Education is, or should be, emancipation – measured usually in terms of increased levels of freedom from control, or increased levels of freedom to choose. For many reasons, this is not often achieved but is remarkable for what can be achieved when it works. Ideally, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, education ought to be tailored to the potential of each individual, and informed by each person’s innate creativity. My own view is that the ultimate goal of emancipation in education should be to achieve “freedom from comparison”. That last part is not so easy to explain, so it may be a thread I need to develop in future blog postings.

2. Training is the term used for another category of activities, this time those designed to facilitate or demonstrate a given change in behaviour. The change may also be the potential for behaviour.

Training can be highly useful as a means of preparing people to undertake particular tasks and highly destructive if the motives behind the required change in behaviour are hidden or perverse. Training, like education (and coaching, for that matter), needs its own set of contexts to make any sense.

3. Coaching is the term used for a category of overt activities, tools, intentions etc. employed by one person to facilitate another person or group of persons in getting ‘unstuck’ by using certain presuppositions, such as that – aside from the presence of the coach – the coachees already have all the resources they need.

People are welcome to throw in their own ‘2 cents’.

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I have, in common with many others, been inculcated to accept an assumption that education is the process of preparation for being something else, that it is a means to the arrival at a desirable destination. The problem, however, is that you never quite get there. When you get through one round of education you discover that somehow the target has moved and in fact you have only got through to another level of preparation for another ‘something’ or another ‘somewhere else’.

This assumption is necessarily built on another – i.e. that you are not “fully cooked”. Education, it turns out, is a sort of perpetual game of “jam tomorrow”, an insoluble problem of identity formation. What if we have this idea about our education system back to front? What if we assumed instead that everyone who came to education was already “there”? In other words, and to paraphrase (crudely) Alan Watts, how would things change if we were to assume that education is not so much about being on probation for when you ‘really’ start being a proper person, in a future that is separate and remote from now? What if its function were to wake you up to the idea that all those distinctions between past, present and future identities are false? Here, the assumption becomes “It only ever happens in the now”.

I suspect that very few managers who come back to school for their MBA would be happy with the idea that they were already there, even though that’s one of the things they might accept when, on reflection (you might say), it’s all over.

Just a thought while I reflect on the past few days here in Trinidad and wait for the car to the airport.

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I think  everyone should watch this presentation, all the way to the poetic ending. It’s beautifully crafted, and craftily beautiful.

“It’s very hard to know, by the way, what it is you take for granted. And the reason is that you take it for granted.”

According to Robinson, what we take for granted in education is linearity and conformity. Linearity in terms of the determinism of reaching, one-step-at-a-time, a pinnacle of academic achievement. People need time to play with and discover their talents, and not everyone should go to university (or not right away). Conformity in education is compared to the fast-food industry, which seeks to standardise every aspect of delivery, and where the only difference between institutions (and MBAs?) is the badging.  Education is not industrial, he says, it is organic.

Here is WB Yeats’ poem, which Robinson quotes:

Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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