An education agenda, please! (conclusion – for now)

21st century learningFirst, while purporting to be some brand of novel approach to the development of the person, it is little more than common sense. Does anyone doubt that we learn in many ways and frequently throughout the course of our lives? Even if we might not think much of the “learning”, the child who spends inordinate amounts of time with video games learns how to play with greater and greater skill. While I may be wandering into ideology myself here, I can’t avoid stating –to me, as an obvious reality – that human beings learn even in spite of themselves. The unstated (and, to my mind, insidious) real issue for those who want “learning” to replace “education” is the control of what is learned. This inevitably leads me to another of my favourite topics (one which I will explore in later posts): the ascendancy of a technological conception of human beings.

More significantly and negatively, the “Learning Agenda” assumes that clear directions for significant learning exist while feeling no obligation to provide even a single example. Certain catchphrases are offered in the place of substance: “we need to teach critical thinking skills”; “we need to become lifelong learners”; we need education for the 21st century”. The list could be expanded considerably since an entire language and vocabulary has grown up around the modern “educational industry” (more on that in a later post as well).

The gravity of this cannot be overstated: when definition and exactitude are lacking, how can anything meaningful be developed by way of assessment, analysis or evaluation? Furthermore, when these are absent, how can we ever determine success? And so we find ourselves fundamentally adrift as far as education goes. We look to standardized tests to provide us with evidence that something is working; we lionize the media-friendly examples of “success” (think of the history-or-some-other-subject project in an elementary school that garners attention) while ignoring the ample evidence that most schools and classes do not enjoy such “success”. And, finally, we have innumerable conferences and studies which tell us that all is well and that we are always improving and getting better. And why should we accept that? Because “we” says so.