World Learning is World Living
In a time when people appear to be closing borders and building walls the world is opening to new possibilities such as the exploration of Open World Learning. I take comfort in knowing that I have decided to spend my time in hopes that my research will enable people to be a part of the expanding world of education. I believe that education is expanding because connecting education to the entire world is, from my perspective, more about changing education than it is about changing the world. In order to examine this belief we should start with a definition of education. A definition that would be appropriate to express this viewpoint is from Dewey’s pedagogic creed.
If we operate from the viewpoint that education is a process of living then by extension world education is a form of world living. As I close my eyes and reach for a sense of world living I have limited experience to help me make sense of what this transformation will bring. From my limited experience I can attempt to bridge my experience to the future of education. While Open World Learning has painstakingly selected the word learning over education the purpose of this writing will be limited to the scope to exploring global education. As I walk through my past there are many aspects that speak to models of global living. I live through fantastic cultural tensions and appreciate what they can tell me about global living. This appreciation can perhaps inspire thoughts on global education.
Native American Reservations – Nations within Nations
You may have not heard of the Lummi Nation. It is in fact a nation within a nation. You can find it just north of Seattle in the pacific northwest. Since the 1855 Point Elliott treaty the Lummi have continued with cultural traditions that have a connection with the pacific northwest since before it was called Washington state.
I consider myself lucky to have a father from this tribe and a childhood that included participating in those traditions. This is one way of global living. You exist in your own sphere in an almost parallel world. There are decisions that effect your culture from the outside nation. When looking across all native american reservations and the united states the connection between the outside culture of America to the inside culture on the reservation has not been historically successful in terms of higher education. There are many fantastic initiatives that are attempting to address these gaps such as tribal colleges such as the Northwest Indian College. As we reach to make better connections between these nations I am sure that it will take a variety of strategies to build bridges.
While America and the UK start down isolation pathways what I see is a retraction from the global context that will produce inequalities. These inequalities will inevitably require some form of bridge building. I am not sure that this retraction is a direction that I would recommend though I can sympathize with the desire to protect national identity in the face of dramatic change. I just hope that those making these decisions review other places where similar decisions were made and evaluate the likely long term effects of this approach.
Hawaii – Aloha
In my youth I lived on Maui which provided another kind of global cultural experience. You may have a positive image of Hawaii as a form of paradise or you may look at it as a tourist destination. In living on Maui a different perception forms. You feel a strange juxtaposition between the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty in stark contrast with the generations of mistreatment of those who call Hawaii home.
Families moving away from the islands seeking more affordable living while wealthy purchase lands for their own sanctuaries. While there is one island that maintains the isolated sphere like a nation within a nation it does so in a unique way. The majority of Hawaii has been more of a melting pot. Even if that melting pot narrative is a half-truth. There has been tensions between the melting pot mentality and the protection that Hawaii gets for its own identity. Recently a question was raised in asking if Hawaii would be better off as a Nation within a Nation and be recognized in a similar way that native american tribes have been recognized. Again I can sympathize with the intent to protect the identity of Hawaii though I am not sure that this direction will produce the desired effect.
What I like about the half-truth of the melting pot was a sense that you could be Hapa and belong. In Hawaii Hapa means mixed ethnic heritage. You got a free pass in this melting pot if you were Hapa. It is nice, as a person who considers himself Hapa in this context, to know that there is a place in the world where these blends across culture are embraced. I also respect and understand that for the people of Hawaii that going down a path towards tribal recognition may be desired. I do have a concern that this is another example of retracting away from the emerging global context. I am pretty sure that no matter what governance structure there is in Hawaii there will still be a place that embraces mixed heritage as a residual effect of the melting pot mentality.
The United States – a familiar trap
The United States itself offers a model of a collection of different systems. While living in the Pacific Northwest, my wife (fiance at the time) was living on the east coast pursuing her masters degree. This bi-coastal living brought with it a brief exploration of the east coast. In a road trip we went to Maine. What was so striking to me about Maine is how similar this place was to where I grew up on the west coast.
I believe this similarity explains how unsettling it was to experience. In Maine, with respect to the coastline the sun rose on the opposite side to my normal experience. The rocks that I saw in the landscape were a reminder that I was not home. However, the trees, the temperature, and smell of the ocean air, and even the sun felt like home to me. This was perhaps my first primary experience of the uncanny valley. When describing human experiences with robotics such as prosthetic hands as the robots got closer to human looking they were described as more familiar until they reached a point where it was so close to looking like a human that it became unfamiliar.
“In this case, there is no longer a sense of familiarity. It is uncanny. In mathematical terms, strangeness can be represented by negative familiarity” Masahiro Mori, 1970 translated by Karl F. MacDorman and Takashi Minato
I bring up the uncanny valley as an expressed hope that education does not seek to remain the same as it could become a negative familiarity. I predict that trying to stay the same in an age of global living would result in an uneasiness. I contest that trying to keep things the same may actually be more difficult than more radical alternatives. For example as we try to measure success of online learning as completion of a 12-week course we already question whether that is an appropriate measure for success in online learning.
Global Tourism – The adjacent possibilities
I have had the wonderful chance to take steps into a variety of different places in the world. Belize, Guatamala, Canada, Germany, Italy, France. Some basic tourism where I would see one city as a snapshot glimpse of another culture and another way of existence. As each of these places are clearly possible and in some ways adjacent to my existence in the United States I can see each of these systems as adjacent possibilities. In a way we may be driven to expand into diversity in order to maximize what can happen next. As Stuart Kauffman puts it:
“It just may be the case that biospheres on average keep expanding into the adjacent possible. By doing so they increase the diversity of what can happen next” The Adjacent Possible – A talk with Stuart A. Kauffman [11.9.03]
I think there are many people that look across the distinct possibilities and wonder how they can adopt what works in different contexts into their own communities. Just as a tourist cannot purchase a trinket that will capture the essence of the country, a curriculum will likely not be moved so easily between nations. It is however an adjacent possibility. The nation could put concerted effort into the culture shift that would make any of these existing systems something that would make sense in their own context. I believe that these forms of cultural shifts are difficult and part of what teachers do in their day to day lives. As they experiment (or are experimented upon) with new tools and pedagogies they are in one sense our cultural pioneers. If you want to know how hard that work can be then volunteer with a school and get a line of sight into the life of a teacher. Teachers are asked to make these kinds of changes in their classroom all the time. They pilot a new system, new classroom management strategy, new technology, new assessments. This is the tough work of cultural change and new approaches are tried every year. The adjacent possible is at times enviable and not easy to achieve.
Boston – Parallel Universe(ities)
My time in Boston was limited. I studied at Harvard for my masters of education and stayed in the area to participate in research into Universal Design for Learning at CAST.org. When asked what Boston is like my top level answer is that Boston is a demanding town. If you live in Boston you simply do a lot. It is an active and vibrant community of scholarship. I believe this is true in part because of the sheer number of universities there are in the area. Even when someone wants to dramatically change how higher education works they consider Boston the place to start something new.
On the positive side there are so many initiatives in the collegiate system here. I refer to Boston as an academically diverse place. You can have a conversation with just about any kind of expert you would like. However, even with all of these wonderful options in Boston and other similar cities in the states, I still think there is room for improving how people connect to higher education. A recent report outlined that some schools have more students from the top 1% of wealth in the nation than students in the bottom 60%. I have a hard time believing in a system that for whatever reasons continue to reinforce economic disparities will help provide changes for those disparities. If we want to change the course of the US as a nation away from its trajectory toward an economic-elite oligarchy, then I think we may want to start with more radical changes in Higher Education.
Which way forward – Open World Learning?
As I continue my global living (currently in the UK) I have developed the perspective that as we unpack what Open World Learning means that we need to engage with the emotional elements as much as we do with the cognitive elements. We are seeking an understanding about the very core of culture, identify, and community at a global scale and it will be important to understand more about emotional thought (the process that encompasses emotion and cognition). My question is informed from my life experience and there are already another 11 people that are researching Open World Learning that offer their perspectives on the work. The Open University is looking for another 6 people to explore questions that should be considered as a part of a large research framework seeking to understand what Open World Learning means. If you are at a point in life where you look at events shaping the world and you think that you would like to put energy and effort into a concept like Open World Learning than please consider joining our project.