Non-Linear Learning

What is it that makes education work? Thats a big question isnt it? And the answers we have will vary according to what we stance we have adopted towards the current education and training systems we have experienced or understood.

The way we deliver the majority of education today is based in the classroom, is led by teachers, inspected by Authorities, controlled by Government and measured by exam results published in league tables and described  in HMIe or Ofsted reports.

This form of education is about “first past the post”, about “getting straight As”, about conformation, control, selection, and “filling the empty head of the learner from the vast reservoir held by the teacher”.

Well that is one way to look at it. There are other ways.

Henry David Thoreau  way back in 1850 asked the question… “What does education often do!  It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook” (after 31 October 1850, Journal). Schools are effective institutions for controlling the masses. It is no coincidence that they closely resemble the factory system in their methods of production.”

Mark Twain once quipped, “I never let school get in the way of my education!”

Ivan Illich who in his writing of “Deschooling Society” gave examples of what he regarded as the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education with which we agree.

What Ivan created was the basis of non-linear learning – learning that is a self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements.

It works because it is based upon the idea that learning is a process that has to be individualised. If you wish an educational system where people know how to pass exams – you have it already. If you want a system where people want to learn, where they are excited and cant wait to learn, where everything learnt has a use and benefit – then we must change the current system of mass education.

The educational systems used across the World are based largely on methodologies devised in the industrial development period.

John Taylor Gatto in Weapons of Mass Instruction focuses on mechanisms of schooling which cripple imagination, discourage critical thinking, and create a false view of learning as a by-product of rote-memorization drills. Gatto’s earlier book, “Dumbing Us Down”, put the now-famous expression of the title in common use worldwide. In this book Gatto suggests that the real function of mass pedagogy is to render the common population manageable. He realized that mass education demands that the young be conditioned to rely upon experts, conditioned to remain divided from natural alliances, conditioned to accept disconnections from their experiences, which would otherwise create self-reliance and independence. – and we wouldn’t want that would we?

Charles Sullivan wrote an interesting journal article back in 2003 in which he summarised some points about the current systems of education..

“Our students are not educated to become useful and creative members of society; they are programmed to be unquestioning conformists and mindless consumers of goods and propaganda…. The idea of measuring the progress of millions of individual students by subjecting them to standardized tests is absurd. This does not measure the progress made by the student; it measures the progress made by the system. Our schools are really factories of mass production where the object isn’t to educate and inform, but to produce a homogenous culture of non-thinking conformists and consumers. The finished product is like a fast food hamburger from McDonald’s. It’s uniformly the same no matter where you buy it from.

In his published article “Non-Linear Learning: Education for Practitioner Social Entrepreneurs: Toward a New Paradigm” (2003) Adrian Kitchen follows up these thoughts with a practical methodology.

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