Welcome to Schooling Matters, a place where seeming differences in and about learning can meet and make sense. These are exciting times: Cutting edge research on matters of heart, mind, and body keeping running into each other. As it turns out, when such research is brought together, a coherent sense is possible and can be transformative. I offer a visual to help with just that. Join me.
Schooling: A contested space
Rising anxiety in students; math wars & tutoring programs abounding; students as education’s products & under enormous pressure to achieve, but also students as education’s consumers putting enormous pressure on teachers to ensure their achievement; behaviourism (still) underwriting protocols for managing individuals & classrooms; standardised tests at seeming odds with learning-for-personal-meaning; bullying in schools, across social media, & increasingly polarized political landscapes – all, attest to “trouble in schooling.”
For all our technological prowess, societies are only beginning to appreciate that learning is a whole-self event and never separate from relationships with others and our world, past and present. Yet, we continue to prepare teachers according to theories that keep cognition, motivation, behaviour, physical bodies, and the interpersonal separate. Never mind that neurologically speaking, most of what we do depends on unconscious & nonconscious motivations, these realms remain hardly a consideration for educational theory and practice.
Like the pet fixes of bygone eras, current offerings carry grains of truth riding on the guarantees of evidence-based research. Today’s most popular remedies come under such headings as self-regulation, mindset theory, mindfulness practices, design-based protocols, brain-based techniques, rich learning tasks, gaming conventions, maker-spaces, and (as before) back to the basics. And though each of these has something of value to offer, present urgencies and the quick remedies they spawn eclipse the long game in what matters in schooling.
An integrated and comprehensive understanding of learning and not learning, as starting point, would serve students, teachers, school leaders, and inclusive ideals so much better.
The visual: An integrated model of learning
A convincing model will not only account for universal phenomena in learning, but also for the uniqueness of individual experiences. It will also make sense of the story of emerging selfhood – of how anyone learns to be who they are and how lessons in selfhood are also lessons in what it means to learn.
It is a story that I want to share with you – one captured in an idea of the self as radically embodied (meaning that the things we think and know, literally, go back to what our bodies, including the neurons of our brains, learned to do). Importantly, it is also a story of selves shaped in relationality and steeped in affect; that is, our bodies learned and continue to learn in the presence (physically and in mind) of others. There are histories of experience that colour who we are, but to which we have no conscious access. They are these unconscious (emotionally laden) memories, that move how we are with ourselves, others, the world, and learning.
We come to know ourselves and others in a bit of a sideways manner – out the corners of our eyes – as we focus on worldly things and ideas together. In the same way, schools teach students about themselves and about others through shared encounters with intended curricular objects. But movement in learning often has less to do with the learned things themselves and more to do with the experiences in learning that communicate to us, in no uncertain terms, who we are and can be.
Even so, I believe that the governance of schooling remains, at bottom, myopic in its focus on the curricular objects of study. Academic success depends on taking the curriculum, as given (per the designs and ideologies of politically driven mandates) and making those givens into one’s own, according to the sense we already have but also according to the rules of the players in charge. We will be judged by how well we do.
If learning on such terms is too often beyond our reach, we will find ways for dissociating from the threats of: not learning, not being found worthy, and seemingly no where else to turn.
Implications for teaching
Whether or not we learn turns on capacity, trust, and meaning – capacity to revise what we know, trust to be open to such revisions, and the emotional meanings that fuel our desire to revise our knowing in the first place.
The combined lessons of attachment theory, psychoanalytic psychology, and neuroscience tell us that to realise independence as learning selves, we depend upon the witnessing presence of others. How such interdependence plays out is critical knowledge for teachers.
Indeed, the very power of an integrated framework of learning inheres in its practical implications – as intuitive as they are monumental.
A website cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of the these ideas and their implications. That would take ongoing conversations, reading, and/or a full course. Instead, I have fashioned this site as a kind of inviting and intriguing taster.
Please consider contacting me to learn more about professional development opportunities that take state-of-the-art understandings and integrate them in ways tailored to you and your team’s expressed needs and desires.