Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Autonomous learning again - Apr 05

From Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lyddie has just found a magnifying glass. "What is it?" she asked. I said, "It's a magnifying glass. It makes things bigger and smaller. Look. if we put it on your Teletubbies book, it makes them smaller [I put it right up to the page] and bigger [I moved it towards her eyes]. You can use it to look at spiders and flowers and any little things that you want to see bigger." She's run off with it now, to find some spiders.

Blog Patrol told me that someone had found my blog from a Google search for 'autonomous learning'. I Googled it myself and there were 677000 results of which my blog was the 780th. There are some interesting links amongst the other 777 that I went through, including several to Mike's site of course.

I have a theory about the reasons why autonomous learning is such a pertinent issue just now, for it to generate 677000 search results. I think our species is going through an evolutionary phase, which is shifting us up a gear from the tribal, herd mentality to a position that calls for more independent ways of thinking. I think this is why we're moving away from authoritative systems into autonomous ones. The old, previously useful and accepted practice of controlling those 'below' us and being controlled by those 'above' is no longer effective. It has outlived its usefulness. It is obsolete. Self-control and self-direction is where the power now is. The problems we face are because we're fledging autonomous people struggling to live within obsolete authoritative systems of power. So the school system is failing, the criminal justice system is failing, the health systems are failing and so are any other hierarchical authority-based systems in which people have no room for self-direction.

Authority and autonomy are mutually exclusive positions. Like opposing poles of a magnet they don't go together. You can't have both, or a bit of one and a bit of the other. I think you have to choose: the old way or the new way.

The panic reaction of people in positions within structured organisations when they feel their power ebbing away is to clutch onto it all the more tightly, to try to stop it from escaping. I think this backlash is the reason for the recent spate of restrictive legislation and the rise in popularity of fundamentalist ideologies. But they can't hold back the tide for ever. Control-of-self is the only power with any real strength now. Control-of-others is a waning kind of power.

A lot of the websites that came up in the Google search linked to research by universities into the phenomena of autonomous learning. Most of them seem to be seeking answers as to how best to respond to the growing problem of student apathy. It must be painfully apparent to anyone who makes their living by standing in front of a class, giving unsolicited instruction all day. Nobody wants to be told what to do any more. Nobody wants to be told what to learn, or how to learn it. Everyone wants to decide for themselves, and find out for themselves. This is nothing, in my opinion, to be scared of.

From chapter 4 (Meng) of the I Ching, which talks about learning and teaching:

"It is not I who seeks the young fool. The young fool seeks me." - the student should find the teacher and ask to be taught. The teacher should wait to be asked and not provide unsolicited information. This is how learning works best, in my experience.

We've had the trailblazers: Gandhi, Holt, Illich, Gatto et al. The guidance is there, should we want it. It's OK to wait to be asked, even if it seems like a long wait.

posted by Gill at 4:29 PM 2 comments


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