“Learning is at once deeply personal and inherently social: it connects us not just to the knowledge in the abstract, but to each other.” Peter Senge Schools that Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares about Education.
Applied knowledge is the act of learning through hands-on experiences. It is a concept that takes education out from behind the desk creating classroom communities of practice. In communities of practice, individual and shared meaning moves beyond the school into community and society. Learning, as a dynamic process, therefore becomes ever changing responding to the dynamics of our ever-changing world. An applied learning journey leads to a very different classroom experience from the test driven, direct instruction models that most teachers are forced to adopt through policy mandates. Our ability to be engaged citizens of the world is not based in filling in a bubble on a standardized test.
Our ability to be citizens, actively engaged in our society, advocating for continuous learning, and improvement of our society is based on critical thinking skills. Our ability to make moral decisions that support a societal greater good is found in a consciousness that is both deeply personal and inherently social.
Our greatest challenge in education lies in the development of critical thinking. When critical thinking is minimized by standardization of education, it begins to wear down our concept of community. Our sense of community is further eroded by our ability to customize our experiences. Customization of experiences further undermines critical thinking as we further weaken a muscle that never needs to negotiate counter-narratives to our beliefs.
Our ability to respect differences, negotiates meaning, and acknowledges the deeply personal nature of each person’s experiences, within a social content is one of the foundations for lasting change/citizenship. When we dichotomize an issue to two polar opposites, we loose perspective. Polarization is the opposite of critical thinking – it is the unexamined acceptance of a belief.
In this season of divisiveness, take some time to work with a child to engage in activities that offer opportunities to build critical thinking skills. Ask questions, provide enough time for answers to be formed, reflect deeply on what was said, and respond with respect. While you may not agree on the outcome, you will have engaged in a deeply personal and inherently social learning process together – a vital step in the building of a better society.