The volume of education has increased and continues to increase, yet so do pollution, exhaustion of resources, and the dangers of ecological catastrophe. If still more education is to save us, it would have to be education of a different kind: an education that takes us into the depth of things. ~E.F. Schumacher
Dear Springhouse community,
A Springhouse learner, who came from a conventional educational design, used the word “academic” this week in such a way that defined it as content memorization and accumulation and situated testing as the most valid form of evaluation. In other words, he defined it in a way that many of us are used to when it comes to defining education. This learner was saying that Springhouse should have more “academics” based on his definition. It wasn’t the first time I have heard this.
What does academic really mean? I wrestled with this question (along with “What does it mean to be a scholar?”) throughout my entire doctoral program. Thankfully, I had a dissertation committee that radically expanded my understanding of both of those words. This led to a wild, emergent learning journey that I will forever be grateful for.
I learned a long time ago that when we mistake one part of something for the whole, (like cognitive development = education), we create lives and cultural designs that are too small for us. Cognitive development is an important and remarkable part of human development, but it is not the whole of the human experience. Most of us have collapsed education, academics, and cognitive development into one thing, and our personal and collective lives suffer because of it. One part of something is not the whole, no matter how familiar (and therefore safe) it might feel.
When I looked up the etymology of “academic,” I found this: “theoretical, not practical, not leading to a decision.” I continue to hear education (or a legitimate education) defined in a way that conflates it mostly, and sometimes soley, with “academics.” Theory and abstract learning and thinking is an important part of being human, but it is not for all of us. Therefore, how we define and practice education must widen in ways that do not exclude “academics,” but rather includes it along with the many other aspects of our human capacity.
When a community does the courageous work of widening the definition and practice of education, it will experience resistance. It is uncomfortable (at best) to redesign a cultural way, especially when it has been done a certain way for a long time and for certain reasons that perpetuate a culture where an elite few are comfortable. Education is how we create culture, or how we foster and pass down what we value; it means fostering healthy human development. When we expand our understanding of what education is, we expand our personal and collective cultural design.
For those of you who feel some resistance reading this, please know, I am not saying we shouldn’t exercise our cognition, strengthen our thought process, or gather information when needed. I am not saying we do not need evaluation, which, to me, means learning and growing through feedback. What I am saying is that we need to widen the circle of what education means and that can be really uncomfortable.
If we want a world that is radically different, we must do something radically different. The word radical means “to the root.” We must go to the root of our cultural design, starting with how we define and practice “education.” We must liberate education from being only associated with “academics” and support it in busting open to something more life-giving and whole, that includes the theoretical but doesn’t collapse into it.
At Springhouse, we are committed to being an example of this busting open and supporting others in our region and around the world in doing the same. Just last week, I spoke with someone in Europe, who is called to initiate a radically new learning design, and who is scared – rightly so. It felt so life-giving to be able to share the experience, strength, and hope of Springhouse – a little light for the journey.
Thank you for being a part of it. We could not do this without you and all of the ways you participate.