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A tangent on education

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 | Posted by Christina Tran

This probably serves as a huge tangent as we discuss “Role and Responsibility” in the next couple of weeks, but I think education is a key factor in creating today’s and tomorrow’s consumers. It may even offer a way to break the consumptive cycles. At the very least, it’s one of the “levers and pulleys” operating on the system.

Sometimes I have a hard time talking about things I am passionate about such as design, such as education, such as sustainability. They are BIG, and they need to CHANGE. but I cannot yet talk passionately and authoritatively about how or why.

AC4D’s theory classes will be a kicking bootcamp for researching issues, formulating strong opinions, and practicing how to argue a point effectively. Part of it is just learning the language, learning more words in order to be able to think about things in new ways. Part of it is getting into the habit of following up research with synthesis into new ideas. I can read all the articles, blogs, and tweets I want, but if I continue to merely re-blog and re-tweet and re-summarize, I neither internalize what I am reading to remember it, nor can I formulate my own point of view, nor do I contribute anything new to the dialogue.

I do think I am a smart critical thinker, and I naturally try to connect ideas from various arenas, yet why do I feel so unconfident about presenting my views to a public audience? Shouldn’t this kind of thinking be taught and practiced and embedded into K-12 education, not to mention college? How can we leave university without having internalized the role of critical thinker?

I posit this is largely because today’s classrooms still propagate the “banking system” of education. That’s an idea made popular by Paolo Freire, and here is a quick simplified synopsis of that part of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In the “banking system,” teachers are still regarded as the experts with all the answers as well as all the questions, and the students are the empty vessels or accounts that need to be filled with deposits of information. This leads to passive (often lecture-style) one-way transmissions of information. Freire argues for a problem-posing process that includes dialogue between teacher-students and student-teachers as they communicate, create, and interact with the world around them to enable all the parties involved to learn.

  • How did you learn how to swim? Cook? Use email?
  • What things have you learned from a textbook? From a Powerpoint? From a lecture?
  • What ingredients or actions are necessary for you to truly learn and connect with new information?

Imagine the TRUST that would need to happen on all levels to break the habits of the current system! (Interestingly, the current system was heavily influenced by innovations in mass production—notably the assembly line model—when it was created.)

Then imagine the world if nearly everyone who went through our public education system had been given agency, critical thinking skills, voice, and the habit of constantly questioning their world in order to learn from it and shape it…

There are parallels between the design process and critical thinking. One could even argue that to go through the process of design is to think critically about a certain problem to arrive at a solution. It would even seem that teaching design thinking would be a way to teach critical thinking. Kids need these skills in addition to creative confidence—especially if we want them to be productive citizens who will constantly push for change and (gasp!) question authority instead of mindless consumers who accept and perpetuate the status quo.

During tonight’s class, we also discussed the similarities and differences between Art, Science, and Design. Some consider Design as a melding of Art and Science, but can it not also its own distinct liberal art? Why can’t it be taught as a foundation and earlier, in K-12 education?

One big problem is that the “banking system” is still so prevalent in public education, even if most education majors read Freire at some point in their training. You can’t teach design through lectures and textbooks, so we can’t fit design projects into the current curriculum.

Let’s flip that around. We need to teach design by having students “learn through doing,” so let’s have that shape how we teach. Maybe getting design thinking into classrooms would provide new models of education for the entire system.

2 Comments »
  • http://saranyan.com Saranyan

    Did you listen to Sir. Ken Robinson’s TED talk on how schools kill creativity? If you have not, you should. You’ll love it :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LelXa3U_I

  • http://www.sodelightful.com Christina Tran

    yup! it’s a good talk. i actually wrote a note about that same video when i was reading Papanek’s “Design for the Real World” when he talks about how we grow up learning to conform, which inhibits creativity. and the education system today is a major major culprit.