Inclusive Education and the Dialogue of Learning
I have been thinking about the nature of education and how necessary inclusive education is to a healthy society. Education involves a social behaviour which is built significantly from the dialogue of learning. Francis Bacon is often attributed with having said ‘Knowledge is Power’. Regardless of who first said this, what is obvious is that it has become common currency as a phrase.
There are various ways in which this can be interpreted but one I like, which is not so commonly encountered is ‘Knowledge is only power when it is shared’. It was Francis Benton who told me this when she kindly consulted on the Ragged project at its inception.
This makes me about how education only gains its potency when it is inclusive. To me, education is knowledge shared and its carriage is enjoyment. The enjoyment of having someone understand what you are trying to communicate is something which is intimately social and a process that enriches our world.
Whatever way I chalk up education in its inclusive form, it yields equilateral benefits. It is when knowledge becomes an exclusive enterprise that it loses much of its potency and attraction.
Education in its highest form does not set people up to fail but constantly revisits its last known communal point and endeavours to extend that horizon. Inclusivity is key to empowering the knowledge which can make positive social change.
In these terms education is when someone who knows something shares an expression of that knowledge with someone who is new to it. If the person who has the knowledge rejects the other person because they do not know what knowledge they hold, then they are excluding the other person from involvement.
This kind of exclusive behaviour narrows every aspect of social interaction which is needed to have an enlightenment culture which encourages people to engage with problems.
The project of ‘education’ becomes less about enriching the world (both inner and outer) through discourse and more about self affirmation through status comparison. The compulsion to test and create singular opportunities to become valued is a chief example of how culture is set up to exclude people.
Not allowing people to repeat throughout their lives and adapt to their mistakes is a practice not facilitating learning but more prescribing a colloquial elitism. Imagine if Albert Einstein’s work had been forever rejected on the basis of a spelling or grammar error which is particular to a school of thought !
The idea of equity has bearing on open education, and in approaching the equality and openness of situations we learn in we need to identify people who have ‘character’. This idea is not a simple one but it is an important one we find in values education.
Whilst using the word ‘character’ is problematic, it helps us alludes to some fundamentally important behavioural choices which we are looking to find embedded in certain people if we are to generate open education.
It demonstrates character to value things for their intrinsic worth rather than their extrinsic rewards – meaning, it takes valuable people to understand that learning has a set of rewards inherent to the activity and that money, status and power are secondary.
Those who place the ability to accrue money as the reason for learning something will consider the work which needs done to reach a deep understanding of the topic an obstacle. Like a cuckoo in a nest, finance starts its obscuring process.
Equally, it takes people of character to challenge the way things are. Someone who is simply interested in maintaining a status quo will have less motivation to query whether the way things are the right ways to do things.
In the words of Professor Marvin Berkowitz, it is important to ‘disconcert’ in a learning process. In the video below he challenges the common practice of tests and prizes in educational contexts – he explains how these can end up creating so much ‘collateral damage’ that they are counterproductive….
Many vocational teachers and academics have expressed to me that they learn that ‘there is no stupid question, only stupid answers’ and that ‘if I truly know my subject then I can find a way to express it which will allow anyone to understand what I know’. Held in this is a concept of sharing is which has helped me become familiar with the relationship which best expresses what happens in an educational context.
Learning is a dialogue, and people who are often identified in the role of teacher explain that they continue to learn from their students through ‘teaching’. Another part of this is that people cast in the role of students get a great deal from the opportunity to communicate to others what they have come to know about a subject. Integral in all of this is that conversation is a vehicle for discovery.
Where Is Learning Situated
Developing the project of education in Ragged University holds these ideas of dialogue, sharing and intrinsic value as central. The aim is to foster settings where learning can take place in social spaces. For these purposes, the unformalized is a context to be recognized as vital, dynamic and fertile due to the lack of constraints which are normally carried in the formalized spaces we inhabit.
Think, for example, the learning processes we engage in with our friends, partners or spouses. None of these are regulated, none are accredited by some external body, there are no prizes or certificates; the value is inherent to the relationship and time spent. In these spaces we are free to learn what we want to, and tap into further dialogue as we need to…
Here is to the individual(s) who made that vital and bright spark in our lives opening out ‘a universe in a grain of sand’ without motive beyond sharing the awe which makes their day to day life an ever extending pleasure.
Here is to the friend who taught me of the history and heritage in each brick or carefully hewn stone in the innocent railway tunnel, signed by its author in craftsmanship. Here is to those who have taken the time to enlighten me through entertaining chat over a coffee, beer or bite to eat, making me realise how much painstaking attention to detail has gone into the pointing of a building or the turn of a phrase made hundreds of years ago.
Here is to the person who has recognised in others a passion to learn and brought them into a fold to share with them what they know because they saw in another human themselves (someone who similarly did not have the knowledge once upon a time).
This to me is the root of enlightenment and the betterment of all which is quite beyond the Malthusian spectre of physical resources and the crisis of our plunder of the biosphere. Inclusive education is the path to a shared solution of a logistical mountain which we all must address. The grassroots history of the Ragged Schools demonstrates vividly how communities, from the bottom up, peacefully recreated the society they lived in so that lives, health, and prosperity were improved for all.
The Victorian’s did not have the benefits of all the technologies, tools and hindsight which we have today, but nevertheless, their determinism to use what they had to best effect, demonstrated the exponential potentials which are unlocked when communities come together and individuals are given chances to become valued.
Community is the antithesis to exclusion. The Ragged University project aims to make a contribution to building the community we need to improve every aspect of our existence through open education.
Higher education needs to be freely accessible if our cultures are to overcome the problems we face. Something similar to the Ragged Schools movement needs to happen for our culture(s) to advance. Ragged University is an exploration of this aspiration, documenting the problems which arise and getting involved in implementing potential solutions as they emerge. It represents an optimism by the people who take part, and a commitment to climbing that Malthusian hill through constructive rather than destructive means.
Knowledge is a limitless resource, the most sustainable of all our commons. Carefully managed, it remains a wellspring which enables us to achieve Gestalt outcomes – benefits which are greater than the sum of all their parts.
It was suggested by Robert Putnam that a crisis brings people together. My feeling is that and our existential crises are quite enough to bring us together and that also pleasures can bind us together too. For me, there are powerful opportunities available to us if we use education/learning as a lens to focus community, thereafter seizing on the creative things which emerge. Thus considering social capital is very important in this exploration.