On this Sunday, we have come to the end of my rather long article on education. I hope, though, that you will help me to continue this discussion by sharing your own thoughts and contemplations on the subject, especially, when it comes to the matter of the future of education. Not only in a location where we reside and work but rather through a borderless thought processing. Does each of us, if any at all, have responsibilities as far as at least providing an input to the designated teaching and learning systems? If so, what do we aim to accomplish, if anything at all? Why does this all matter; education, that is? To what extent should it matter, if it is vital in our lives at large? What does it mean to light the fire for anything? For education. Or for life.
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THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION: A SEMI-STRUCTURED SPECULATION
- Self-Determination Theory
The “theory of motivation,” known in the field of education as SDT has specific areas of concentration that can be summarized as in the following compact overview:
It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. SDT has been researched and practiced by a network of researchers around the world. The theory was initially developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, and has been elaborated and refined by scholars from many countries. Deci is currently a professor in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester, in Rochester NY, USA; Ryan, a clinical psychologist, and was recently appointed as Professor at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, Australia. Together and separately Deci and Ryan have promoted SDT through theory, research and their ongoing training of scholars (www.selfdeterminationtheory.org).
Non-theorist teachers of our century are known to have experimented with SDT at different levels of schooling in order to “kindle the gift of life” in their students, as Dr. Timothy A. Pychyl, professor of psychology at Carleton University reflects in his blog entry, “Education Is Not the Filling of a Pail, But the Lighting of a Fire.” Bringing the field-specific terminology to our times, Dr. Pychyl discusses SDT as the “fire triangle of motivation” on the basis of the theory established by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci:
Their theory is based on three fundamental human needs: competence, autonomy and relatedness. Their science (and there has been lots of it) has demonstrated how each need or component contributes to motivation. The art is in addressing each component as part of the curriculum and regulating them in the students’ environment to maximize interest and approach behaviors (Pychyl).
Pychyl has his own SDT-adjusted approach, adopted from Wilbert J. McKeachie, retired professor of psychology, for which he assumes “autonomy and relatedness together […] as an overall ‘Will’ component,” while he takes “competence as a ‘Skill’ component.” He arrives at the conclusion that the educator needs both constituents “to light a fire for learning.”
Professionals in the field will find a refreshingly different angle in Timothy A. Pychyl’s commentary: his belief that the “Will&Skill” attainment is not “simply the students’ responsibility,” as largely expected by the teachers. When students “lack the will for learning,” he deliberates, they won’t “come into the classroom on fire for learning.” At the same token, when they “lack skills,” they won’t “think they can succeed at a task” and therefore, “won’t feel very motivated to try.”
While in his reflections Dr. Pychyl doesn’t delve at all (not a goal for him) into the Academic philosophy I have been stressing for its crucial role in the service to humanity at large, they fill a gap the majority of today’s designated debates rules out. In exact line with this paper’s argument, he announces with conviction “that ultimately the student must be the fuel for the fire,” but he also makes sure to assign the other critical responsibility to the individuals with whom it belongs: “but that doesn’t mean that educators don’t have a role in lighting this fire. At the very least, we have to spark the students’ interest (Pychyl).”
How this educator suggests to shift the highly imbalanced attention given today to “cognitive activity” to the factor of emotional involvement by students in their own learning process, is yet another all-inclusive teaching trait shedding the field a much-needed “searchlight” (Chesterton) – and yes, not only with learners in mind but also teachers. For clarity: Dr. Pychyl – drawing his argument from that of Carroll Ellis Izard, author of The Pyschology of Emotions, identifies “interest as one of our primary emotions […]” and as such being important “motivational properties.” The question he raises resonates the core purpose of our travel from Ancient Greece to our times and spaces: “Where’s the fire here without that emotion of interest to ignite it? (Pychyl).”
In order to leave something for imagination, I choose not to elaborate on related questions at this point in time, though several come to mind. I suspect one cliffhanger to be awaiting us in the earlier presentations on the role and function of art in all of this. I will, however, bring this section to an end by providing us with a most meaningful quote from Dr. Pychyl’s text:
Tips, tricks and techniques are not at the heart of education – fire is. I mean finding light in the darkness, staying warm in the cold world, avoiding being burned if you can, and knowing what brings healing if you can cannot. That is the knowledge that our students really want, and that is the knowledge we owe them. Not merely the facts, not merely the theories, but a deep knowing of what it means to kindle the gift of life in ourselves, in others, and in the world (Palmer, p. x; Foreword to O’Reilley, 1998).
While theories for teaching attempt to meet the growing needs in our times for different conceptualizations of education than what we are being given, living anecdotes, such as those mentioned in the section above, manage to instill optimism in the observer, even in the active participant. Alternative thought processes, then, suggest a promise for the thorough fulfillment of the ultimately desired outcome, such as the teachings of an Indian guru: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
- Transcendental Consciousness
Born around 1918, died in 2008, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is claimed to have “achieved world renown as the Indian guru who inspired the Beatles and was said to have persuaded them to give up drugs (Malise Ruthven, “Obituary.Maharishi Mahesh Yogi”).” In his obituary text, Ruthven, an academic and writer, stresses “the highly successful empire” Mahesh created “out of selling the spiritual techniques practiced by yogis and Brahmins for millennia to companies as aids to stress management.” He continues to add, however that “he never abandoned his claim to be transforming humanity’s consciousness in the direction of universal harmony and peace (he was happy to claim credit for ending the cold war).”
What seems to be the conceptualization of education within the context of Mahesh’s “dynamic philosophy” was his “call to Transcendental Meditation” – a training intended to “inspire a disheartened man and strengthen a normal mind” in order to acquaint one’s self “with the inner divine consciousness (Ruthven).”
Maharishi Mahesh himself has been quoted as having asserted the following as the outcome of education as perceived by him:
Developing the full creative potential of consciousness makes the students masters of their life; they spontaneously command situations and circumstances. Their behavior is always nourishing to themselves and everyone around them. They have the natural ability to fulfill their own interests without jeopardizing the interests of others. Such ideal, enlightened individuals are the result of ideal education – Consciousness-Based Education (consciousnessbasededucation.org).
Two levels of consciousness are of focus in this context – both being representative of “the state of normal human consciousness”: Transcendental and Cosmic Consciousness. The first is defined as “a state of inner wakefulness with no object of thought or perception, just pure consciousness aware of its own unbounded nature. It is wholeness, aware of itself, devoid of differences, beyond the division of subject and object (consciousnessbasededucation.org).” The training for Cosmic Consciousness, then, is conducive to peacefulness:
The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss consciousness, nor can bliss consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self- sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself, fulfilled in eternal contentment.
It is a field of all possibilities, where all creative potentialities exist together, infinitely correlated but as yet unexpressed. It is a state of perfect order, the matrix from which all the laws of nature emerge, the source of creative intelligence (Global Country of World Peace).
At this final stage of the paper, one is reminded of Plutarch’s design of the ideal statesman in the face of Maharishi’s idea of world peace through consciousness-raising meditational teaching – with the inherent difference being the time- and space-dictated need of Ancient Greece: noble leaders with love for the works of virtue. Once again, any form of rigid estimation of the future of humanity within the realms of the future of education would be in vain. Would it be feasible to apply serious research on the ideas mentioned here that are still pending under the auspices of theory? Interest will tell.
The two components I have brought into daylight in this essay’s final section only constitute a mere angle into the possibilities humanity has as offerings to improve its present as well as its future through education of its children within a context that is capable of revolutionizing the stagnant teaching methodologies hiding among dead trees in a forest of brand new potentials. Whether theories, such as SDT, or the concept of schooling by Mahesh for the purpose of transcendental consciousness awaits the future of humanity in its improved state of being is impossible to estimate. For there are too many variables – outside ‘interest’ – that can’t thus far be incorporated into any known form of today’s educational systems as was possible for Plutarch to documentable degree. There is a constant, however, that has proven to surpass time and space – even in this essay’s illustration attempts alone. In the words of Plutarch, that component of humanity – or better yet, its aorta, has proven itself to be unchanging as much as we know history to have repeated itself:
Love, like ivy, is clever at attaching itself to any support (PL MOR 1 P241).
Let us not merely maintain love for personal support.
Let us ignite love’s fire to help us direct it to noble conduct and the works of virtue (Plutarch).
Let us turn education from its losing state of having turned against itself (Chesterton).
Let us instill in young individuals, in schools or not, their value as a harmonious personality, not as a specialist (Einstein).
Let us teach children, in schools or not, what they have inside of themselves: pearls waiting to be cultivated with ardor and persistence (Harris).
Let us show the youth that people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite (Mandela).
Let us light the fire for education, for life, for love.