Sunday, March 05, 2006

Network of Learning Posted by Picasa


Network of Learning

The longer I take between posts, the larger the amount of fear I have in opening the Blogger dashboard! I don't quite understand how some bloggers manage to be so prolific. I wonder too how they manage to write so well. What I don't wonder is how people manage to find so many interesting pages on the Internet to link to on their blogs; it simply boggles my mind how many wonderful places there are to find.

I began reading blogs by reading a few popular political blogs in advance of the last presidential election. I still read them, but I've also happened upon networks of bloggers writing about diverse subjects I'm interested in, or didn't know I was until I started reading their blogs.

Christian Long's wonderful blog think:lab has introduced me to the world of blogs about education. Recently Christian signed on as administrator for a group blog at DesignShare: The International Fourm for Innovative Schools. Oh wow! Check out the home page and link to the blog if you've got just the slightest interest in architecture or education.

Christopher Alexander
along with collegues wrote A Pattern Language: Towns-Buildings-Construction. By way of Wikipedia, it's "reputed to be the best selling treatise on architecture of all time." The book provides 253 patterns derrived for the study of existing architecture of quality. The patterns are roughly organized in a hierarchy of scale from large to small.

Pattern 18 is Network of Learning the authors write:
In a society which emphasizes teaching, children and students--and adults--become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.
Christian Long was a school teacher for many years before he "joined Huckabee & Associates -- an architectural firm that loves designing/building 'learning environments.'" There are people who really do envision a society which emphasizes learning instead of teaching.

In Pattern 18, Network of Learning, the authors draw from Ivan Illich's seminal De-Schooling Society. Then provide this discussion of the pattern:
Instead of the lock-step of compulsory schooling in a fixed place, work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the citiy's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network.
As was advised back in the seventies when I was first reading Illich and Alexander: "Don't hold your breathe!" Until a couple of weeks ago I might have said the same, but then I discovered DesignShare and a network of professionals: educators, architects, school administrators sounding a vision of engaging learners using online communication tools: Alexander's Network of Learning suddenly seems closer than I ever imagined.

Feet back on the ground, I understand that "accountability" and "high stakes testing" are the watchwords for schools today. Putting aside for a moment what we do to our children in the name of teaching them, consider for a moment education for adults like us. Imagining a network of learning following Pattern 18 doesn't seem so far-fetched; perhaps, except for paying for it through a community tax.

I like wishful-thinking and think wishes as often as I can, and that habit makes people laugh. Many of us probably would wish for a network of learning, if we do we might as well try to address how to pay for it. Alternative currencies, like Bazungu Bucks might just be a way, or at least a part of the way.

Unfortunately waiting for me to organize something is going to make for a very long wait. I'm very fond of the idea of Banzungu Bucks as a way to encourage service to African people, but haven't been convincing enough to make them go very far. Right now the value of Bazungu Bucks is allocated as a time-based currency. I've backed the limited number of Bazungu Bucks with hours of my time. So far those that hold them have been gracious enough not to try to redeem their Bazungu Bucks for hours of my time--not that I'd mind it if they did.

The good news is that many time-based currency schemes have been organized all over the world. The purpose to increase educational opportunities for adults seems an excellent one for organizing a Time Dollar Network.

Most of us know that too often schools are failing our children, but aren't at all sure what to do about it. It seems significant and insightful that in A Pattern Language a network of learning is placed near the start, towards the biggest patterns. Learning is not an embellishment rather fundamental to the places we live. One way that we as adults can make schools better is by emphasizing learning in our own lives.

Most of my friends at some time or another have said aloud an idea they have for teaching something. An attorney friend has an idea for "Teens and the Law" and artist for "What You Can Do With an I-Pod" and goodness knows you can pick from a number of my silly schemes. And already we've been organizing learning networks, for yoga, children's play groups, gardening and a host of others. A currency might increase the motivation to organize even more.

Imagine learning to garden incompetently with me for a couple of hours this spring, paying me with your Bazungu Bucks. Okay, right away there's a problem because I can print all the Bazungu Bucks I want. Nevertheless there is an alternative currency and some of you do have Bazungu Bucks. Then imagine that you want another couple of Bazungu Bucks to pay another installment of gardening incompentently. But the question is how to earn them?

One way would be to earn some Bazungu Bucks by organizing your own learning experience payable in Bazungu Bucks. Because I'll give out Bazungu Bucks promiscuously, people can easily get them to pay for the learning experience you'll lead by leaving a comment at my blog or some other excuse to get them from me. Soon some people by virtue of their organizing great learning experiences could become rich with learning dollars to spend.

Oh yes, somebody could manage to organize a proper Time Dollar bank and program for a network of learning. We needn't wait for that and probably just by going ahead using Bazungu Bucks, or simply IOU's for hours of time, it will hasten the day when someone takes up the ball and organizes it more broadly in the community. Alternative currencies can start out small and scale up. Increasing adult learning opportunities using alternative currencies can happen anywhere and everywhere.

1 comment:

Christian Long said...

John, Thanks for the blog-juice, brother. Good stuff all the way around. While I'm no longer at Huckabee (as of last week), I am most appreciative of your willingness to talk about such a good firm, a firm that does indeed strive to create true 'learning environments' one school at a time. I've taken a large leap professionally, joining DesignShare permanently, and having the time of my life as an 'advocate' for great design teams across the globe, and the communities/kids they serve. Keep on stopping by www.designshare.com when time allows. And if you really want to push the envelope of what is going on in the school design world, let me know. Lots of great stories to tell...and perhaps you'll test your hands at it in the future. By the way, added a little blog-juice back your way today:
http://thinklab.typepad.com/think_lab/2006/03/finding_a_robus.html
Cheers, Christian