The Implications of Breaking Through Our Factory Learning Culture
Newsflash! We no longer live in the era of the one room schoolhouse. In 2015 Americans send their children to what can only be described as an education factory-- as if this model was the only way to serve and prepare the young to participate in a mass-populated, global world. If we can’t do better than this, the future will look dim and dimmer.
The Education Problem brings to mind the challenge that plagued sailing ships during the Age of Discovery. The invention of a practical maritime clock to measure longitude took 300 years to solve. Not unlike those ships at sea without real navigation, our Education ships are at risk, adrift, clinging to old ideas--and technology is just another tool on board the ship. It is not an instrument of navigation. Everybody wants to solve the Education Problem, but our entrenched systems of schooling will never be the source of a creative solution or a solid direction.. If the learning culture is in dysfunctional lockdown, sweeping transformation must become the order of the day. If your country runs a clunky old-school ‘ship,’ a new model must be grown inside the old one--crafted while the sails are up and the ship is at sea. In other words, innovation must come now and quickly, before more storms sink our great ship of state.
Who hasn’t entertained dreams of a different kind of education? Ideas, though, are a dime a dozen. Good ideas based on what? And how? Not only is the system old and misguided, but it is also in lockdown--owned and operated by union bureaucrats, politicos, ideologues, and big business interests--like publishers of tests and textbooks. How on Earth do you move these mutineers off the backs of our children, let alone transform the ship?
World-moving ideas are called for. World-moving tools and systems. World-moving science and economic organizing principles which derive from and are rooted in the human beings that a learning culture is supposedly designed to serve---its children. In mind, body and spirit, children must be declared the only true defining, divining, and driving force of the learning culture. Our learning culture must be aligned with, and rooted in, the young.
Based on children!, you say. Saying that we should base a new culture of learning on children probably sounds like vague, new-age elevator music. After all, isn’t school supposed to be hard? Teachers challenging? We must keep TESTING! If American education is going to get down to the real business of teaching the young, school is supposed to be all-controlling and authoritarian, or so most of us think. But we’ve tried all that. We’ve passed laws to make schools and teachers accountable. We’ve tried zero-tolerance and done tough love. It’s time to allow nature into the equation. It’s time to look at universal principles that can help guide us out of this trap.
Interestingly, there is a widely trusted principle of learning that is rooted deeply and irrefutably in the core of childhood experience and in the lives and minds of children of all ages. But we don’t take it very seriously; it’s reserved mostly for young children. We are, of course, talking about Play here. But as an organizing principle and a quality of thinking adopted by some of history’s greatest minds (and modern brain science), Play is a part of life that eagerly crashes through the rickety scaffolding of our academically top-heavy schooling model--and stands on its own two feet. We just haven’t applied Play deeply and intentionally enough to see its true value.
Play is a force waiting to be tapped. A force that naturally jumpstarts the lives of kids. A force that can propel kids into life as a generational economic force to be reckoned with. A force that can foster generational innovation. A force that can promote social cohesion and civility, and individual resilience and receptivity to learning...A force built right into the spirit and strength of children that can sow the seeds of transformation and reshape America’s learning culture in their own image--in the image of the young.
As a practical teaching and learning methodology, Play carries the seeds that can grow our teaching factories into thriving habitats for learning. This will of course sound pie in the sky to professional education experts, and that, of course, is the part of the problem--they are institutionally blind. But inherent in Play will come the fruits of a learning culture equipped to empower young people with vision, economic smarts, life navigation agility, and minds that are open and creative. If we want a world-class economy, if we want to reclaim our position as world-leader not merely in name but in terms of real value, then our education culture must become the mother of all engines--the engine that countries around the globe will want to use and emulate to educate, lift, and propel their own people forward economically and spiritually.
Sure, America once produced and exported things of value. But it’s a different world now. America has much more to offer the world than the goal of returning to compete in the manufacture of consumable goods and products . We should remember that America, in the eyes of the world, is still a grand experiment of Hope and Opportunity. As a great, bold idea, America is still, even in the midst of crisis, a land of many people who tackle challenges and grow; owing to the courage and resilience to embrace progressive principles of justice and fairness. An education that can successfully liberate our own young will be in high demand by educators worldwide. Educational products should evolve out of the culture; not be imposed from the top down to squelch, dominate, and define it for commercial benefit.
Only that kind of education can truly be called ‘world class’. We may be losing the Education race right now, but there is still plenty of opportunity to create a learning culture that could be life-saving to the coming generations. If we don’t, then we deserve to live with the consequences.
Play is more than a learning modality. It is the fundamental force of self-determination. That’s why the first thing that the Taliban banned was Play. Through Play we learn to self-regulate, self-navigate, self-promote, and self-emote. Play is education driven and fueled by emotions. In that case one might ask, is play weak and right-brained? No. In brain processing, the emotions always precede the exercise of thought and cognition. Play warms the brain’s engines. This is a fact of brain science that is true for brains of all ages, but especially true for young brains.
Young brains live to Play. Play is the birthright of the young. An Education that ignores this basic fact of brain science and child life cannot possibly reach young minds where they live. In so doing, old-school practice continues to starve young minds, cut children off from themselves, and deny generation after generation key nutrients and neurologic intelligence that puts youth at risk. Play-deprived learning is an institutional form of brain-starvation that we force our children to undergo. In the name of education, we turn learning--and life-- into a moral hazard..
Play is also nature’s catalyst. Jokester. Gadfly. Magic Morpher. Play takes things and turns them around and upside down--and runs with them. Need a little change in your classroom or school system. Inject a little play, and things take on a life of their own. And “A Life of Their Own” is just what the doctor ordered for kids whose lives have been hijacked by a school culture that has been incapable of humanizing itself and enriching their lives.
Want a form of energy that can bring a little ‘creative disruption’ to bear on a lackluster, lock-down learning culture? Play is the way.
Want teachers to discover where kids really live so that they can really care and catch the vast majority of students, instead of the academically groomed minority? Expose them to the Play bug.
Want a learning culture that fosters tolerance and creativity? Want a learning culture that promotes innovation and independent thinking? Want a learning culture that flowers and flourishes, rather than closes and clamps down children’s minds?
Want a learning culture that provides a powerful engine capable of driving the nation’s economic life into the future, priming kids’ minds for learning, exploration, and purpose. then breathe play into their lungs, make play the language of learning to grow curiosity and passion for science, math, and belief in their own ideas.
The alternative is to simply maintain what we’ve had for the last 50 years. Mediocrity is what we tolerate. We know what our kids are capable of. We know that our kids deserve better. We know that America can do better by its kids. What’s lacking is both vision and the will to see ourselves through to the task of reaching for it. What is lacking is courage on the part of adults to guide appropriately, and get out the way.
There is a wave of renewal in things we make---we’re using science and nature as a guide to create and produce things cleaner, smaller, stronger, smarter, as a series of Nova documentaries declares. Some of these things are based on nature’s atomic structure. Man-made spider silk, for example, will soon allow us to manufacture suspension bridge cables ¼ inch thick. As we look to nature as the key to engineering new products, there is enormous promise for robotics and nanotechnology to revitalize some of our manufacturing capability. The same holds true for education. Nature and brain science hold the key to sweeping revolution and transformation in the way we work with the young.
Play forces us to re-think and rebuild our vision of learning from the bottom up. Play stands education on its head. Play puts kids as the driving force of change and vitality in the local soil of the learning culture. Play is solar. It warms. It provides light and vibrant energy. In a play-based learning culture, adults support the process, and allow for growth that comes from Play’s dynamic of social interaction, cohesion, resilience, and empowering influence on young and old in shared experience. Play allows us to build a learning culture in the image of the young--not based on some abstract principle but on the natural birthright young people embody and embrace as an irrepressible gift of life.
Jeffrey L. Peyton, Founder
The Play Tectonics Movement