Education Ecology

Why Teaching, Testing, Textbooks, and Technology are Not Enough.

Bruce Lindgren has been writing a book of this title. The writing that follows and the ideas embedded have multiple origins from his life and experience as a biologist, educator, a life-long student and an awe-struck and critical observer of pre-K-20 schools. He is seriously considering making the book an open-source document with copy left protection. However until that consideration resolves, readers should respect the author's copyright. Anyone interested in participating should contact Bruce by email: bflind (at) cheqnet (dot) net. Please include paragraph (or more) identifying how you might contribute. Whether the eventual form of the book is open-source or a copyrighted work, contributions are welcome and will be gratefully acknowledged. Your review of the author's ideas will be treated thoughtfully and I hope your ideas are as provocative for me as my ideas are for you.

The book is an assessment of the current state of educational practice and attempts to create a new paradigm for critical analysis of educational practices. The essential element of the work is a holistic view of education that goes well beyond the narrow conception of school-based education. The author's experience with education includes a four decade involvement with the biological sciences. Perhaps inevitably this leads to consideration of: (PLEASE NOTE: The links that follow are not functional.)

The environment in which education happens includes at least the following domains that provide a framework for thinking about Education Ecology.

Ecology, as a biological science, is founded on principles of organic evolution and systems as functional entities in nature embracing feed back and feed forward controls. Darwinian evolution with its emphasis on competition and a struggle for survival provided a critically important foundation for the biological sciences. Almost a century and a half later, biologists are preparing to adopt and accept cooperation as an equally critical component of biological change with time.

Ecological thinking has stimulated emerging disciplines. Among these are systems and complexity. Accordingly discussions of or about education necessarily must, no mater how deeply one may attempt to drill down or reduce thinking, embrace systems thinking with full recognition of complexity. Models are accepted as approximations of reality; not reality, and functional only as a brick is a functional part of a wall. 

Education/learning begins before birth and continues until death. Institutionalized learning occurs in schools and, forgetting for the moment our institutions of higher education and their desperate attempts to transform into instructions of "life-long learning", is confined to the early years of life. Survival is a life-long challenge. Accordingly it is critically important to rethink education to embrace the entire life cycle. Education is a life process; not a school process.

Consider the passage of time and the accrual of wisdom. Find an example of where this occurs in school and then present a persuasive argument that it is divorced from education. What may emerge is a cluster of questions about what is the essence of "school"? While it convenient, quick and easy to say that education and schools are about "learning" it may be time to re-examine the very concept of learning. Even a cursory reflection reveals that learning is itself an extremely complex topic with differentiated levels that demand the attention of deep analysis.

Schools, of course, are systems of incredible complexity. Management of this complexity generates systems, often based on models, that simplify. Simplification can, of course, be a virtue but it also hides complexity. Embedded within this simplification are at least four elements or components. Three of these are long attached to schools: teachers, tests, and textbooks. Technology is, in some sense - certainly in the digital sense - a recent addition to the mix. Accordingly consideration of education ecology seems to demand at least four additional chapters:

The interaction and integration of teaching, testing, textbooks, and technology leads inevitably to schools, perhaps, because that is where they interact and where they are integrated. The operation of schools is an embedded social phenomenon that has generated conceptual classes that demand two chapters:

Finally some summation is essential. Final chapters will summarize and look to some of the future potential of the ideas embedded in the preceding chapters. At least one chapter will be entitled:

Join the venture. Contact me: bflind (at) cheqnet (dot) net . . .   . 

The physical domain includes buildings, people, books, and essentially any other physical element of the individual's existence. Because it is mostly impossible to ascertain the extent to which an element of the physical domain may influence an individual's perceptions, thoughts and actions, Educational Ecology must withhold judgment about whether and how such a physical element may or may not contribute to an individuals development. Yet evidence for the influence of elements of the physical domain on the life cycle of an individual is clearly unmistakable. more
Intellectual activity aimed at mastery of fundamental disciplines is not only a foundation of education, it is almost ubiquitously considered the sine qua non of education. The biggest single challenge of writing about Education Ecology is and will be to keep the Intellectual Domain in perspective. From the 3Rs to the PhD, intellectual development is independent and divorced from the personal and institutional arenas in which it occurs. Those charged with responsibility for our educational systems, almost universally focus on the intellectual domain; regarding spiritual issues as inappropriate, emotional issues as problems, and physical structures as, well, physical. Proponents of traditional IQ tests see the intellectual domain as a singular or general mental function while advocates of multiple intelligences spread the focus to anywhere from six to sixty mental functions. Both make mental activity a focus of school success. more
Emotions are not only a part of life; emotions are fundamental to survival. Emotions have long been a part of our study of psychology and were recognized by Darwin as a component of mammalian reproductive success. Contemporary neurological research increasingly links emotions to the fundamental functions of our minds. What is becoming increasingly clear is the linkage between emotions and life successes including but not limited to school success. more
Mixing religion and education has a long and tortured history. In attempting to deal with realities of the unknowable elements in human life, people everywhere have created stories and these stories have been codified in various religions. Perpetuation of these stories has supported power structures within human societies. A cultural outcome is a combination of formalizing religions and teaching the stories. As much as contemporary biologists espouse mechanistic explanations of life and life processes, embedded in life processes is a will to live that may defy mechanistic explanation. Until a better explanation emerges, spirit is fairly functional. A huge challenge is to articulate the place of spiritual considerations in education without becoming bogged down in religion or religiosity. Discussion of the spiritual domain is not a discussion of theology. more
A highly important aspect of Education Ecology is recognition of the evolutionary background for human existence. The Brain Sciences including neurology, psychology and The Social Sciences converge with Biological Sciences as a foundation. To paraphrase Dobzhansky: Nothing in education makes sense except in the light of contemporary neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Put another way, which is closer to our current concept; nothing in education makes sense except in the light of biology.

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