3 Progressive Thinkers in the World of Education

“I never wanted to go out of my comfort zone… so I restricted my world just to the things i knew i Was sure I could do well at.” ~ Carol Dweck

Education is changing. In our various corners of the globe; educators, psychologists, parents and above all, children, are leading the way in terms of a grassroot revolution which is changing the way we educate the next generation.

Although the old system still has its hooks in the many layers of human fear, a new paradigm has surfaced, spiraling up from our human consciousness to breathe a much-needed fresh air into learning.

And let’s face it, learning IS life. Spiritual learning and educative learning are actually synonymous. Why it got separated in the first place is anyone’s guess. The old system sold us an industrial model; churning out submissive workers designed to serve.

The new way; whether it has its roots in 20th Century models like Steiner and Montessori; or is reflective of the environment and needs of the community, like the diverse schools of NYC or Brighton UK; Or is a homeschooling or worldschooling situation, where religious and cultural diversity teams up with the physical challenges of traveling the world, or selecting groups to suit a child-led development of skills, the new way is certainly refreshing.

It’s not quite a situation where the baby is on your back while you work the field, older siblings helping with the work, or climbing trees in the distance. And it’s not quite following a curriculum either; no desperation to grasp at the dry snippets of learning, (think conjunctions and cubic centimetres scrounged from a website), the homeschooling parent often having no clue how to serve up what has the potential to be slices of wisdom.

The new way can be an exploration; a balance between role-modelling and guiding, parent-guiding child-and-child-guiding-parent, the parent allowing the child to pave their own way. It can be a healing of the scars of the old system, and those inner voices which have created a reality we feel is far from the world we wanted to create.

When we as parents get out of the way and give our children the tools to nurture their inner learning environment, learning becomes intrinsically motivated, and the environment becomes secondary.

These following thinkers – progressive thinkers in the world of education – offer us a deeper look at what is possible for educators and children alike. They show us what happens when we dissect the act of learning and turn it inside out. When we actually ask ourselves: What is it to learn?

Ken Robinson on Finding Your Passion

Ken Robinson is an educationalist and British author, who has some beautiful insights into the education system and passion. Probably his most famous TED talk is ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’, and there’s another interesting talk on educational paradigms of his below, complete with a fantastically inspiring and motivating animation.

But when it comes to Ken Robinson and his role in progressive thinking, there may be little point in going over the faults of the education system. I want to look primarily at his take on Passion, and how discovering your passion, for adults and children, is integral to creating a new paradigm in the field of education.

“THE element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion.” ~ Ken Robinson

Passion, according to Robinson, is essential to transcend the old educational paradigm, as it enables a child to hone in on their personal interests, something which will even transcend and overtake their interest in technology!

A passion, for example gaming, might morph into much creativity if a child utilises their passion for computer games to realise their abilities at coding and creating their own games. If a person finds their passion, they’re no longer bored, and most subjects can actually feed in to any passion.

By focusing on a child’s passion they become hungry learners, and will actually realise their calling, challenge themselves to the max, and generally steer and own their own learning. Ken Robinson has also championed divergent thinking, and how it strongly links to our innate genius.

If everyone is a genius, and is encouraged to be a divergent thinker with a strong passion and drive, imagine what an individual could create when collaborating with other divergent thinkers? And so, according to Robinson, therein lies the key: Discover Your Passion.

Read more on finding your passion, in Ken’s book: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Carol Dweck and Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck is a Stanford University Psychologist, and a world renowned author of Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. She looks at the two mindsets; fixed and growth. Fixed mindset is the belief that talent is innate. That you’re either smart or stupid, and that if you fail you’re generally a failure, and if you’re a winner, then you’re set up for life. It’s a negative belief which we can all relate to, agreed?

Growth mindset, Dweck explains, is the building of confidence and an understanding of oneself; a person’s limits, edges and skills, as well as their passions and what’s driving their exploration. She looks at how we sabotage our children by telling them they’re smart, or give them any other labels, and how that can lead to a fixed mindset.

Expectation + creating results = a fixed mindset. If children hear parents and teacher praise their outcome, then they’ll have an external motivation, and a desire to please the adult. Whereas if we praise the attempt and the fact they tried, we can turn their learning into a personal journey, and get to the heart of their USP, or Unique Success Point, without the needs and desires of any adults in their lives getting in the way.

So instead of conditioning children to think they’re talented, and that talent is innate and something you’re born with, the growth mindset model is to recognise that we create our own achievements through perseverance and a nurtured belief in ourselves.

‘Not yet’ is the mantra of Carol Dweck, and in her talks she looks at how a few simple reframes can revolutionise the way we educate children. Not yet indicates the goal hasn’t been reached yet, and so ‘I can’t do it’ and ‘I failed’, becomes ‘I didn’t do it yet’, which increases the chances of completing the task, as well as creating a positive and fun learning environment which nurtures their internal learning.

‘I’m really proud you read that book’ is also a no-no, Dweck explains that this implies the parent is taking ownership of the outcome, which will lead to a fixed mindset. Instead we can employ a certain curiosity, which enables children to feel we’re learning alongside the child, rather than that the child is learning for us and from us.

‘Tell me about that book you read,’ Dweck gives as an example of how we can reframe this simple achievement on the part of the child, and remove all expectation, ownership and pressure on the part of the parent.

Carol Dweck is also an advocate for making the neuroscience behind learning explicit, so children can understand why their brain feels like treacle when they’re learning something new. That it’s because their brain is working hard to build neural pathways, and they can come to recognise the different types of learning, where their edge, or their limit is, and to listen to the inner voice of mindset which speaks to all of us, in order to shift it and reframe negatives such as ‘I’m stupid’ into ‘I didn’t do it yet, but if I persevere, I will’.

Read more of Carol’s work in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Ron Berger and The Power of Drafts

Ron Berger is an educationalist, who like Ken Robinson and Carol Dweck, also believes in passion-driven education where the student is encouraged to nurture a growth mindset. But in his study ‘Austin’s Butterfly’, he looks at the power of drafts and how they can build on both passion and mindset.

‘An ethic of excellence’ is what Berger believes is essential to teach in the classroom, something which doing drafts of the same piece of work can help foster. In creating this culture of excellence, Berger believes you need five things:

To assign work that matters (think passion and real-world learning): To study examples of excellence (completed by other students): To build in a culture of -critique (which is helpful, specific and kind, and will help a child take their work up to the next level of excellence): To do multiple revisions (to take their work up to the highest level, which is actually never-ending, so knowing when to draw the line is also important): And to provide opportunities for public presentation, (so that children see their work received, preferably in a real-world context, where they can gain further feedback for the next project).

Here is Berger’s model in practice:

One criticism of Berger’s work, is that Austin’s Butterfly only applies to how to make a draft more scientifically accurate, or that it focuses on scientific accuracy, but critique can be applied to any practice.

It’s actually something we naturally do, and when framed in the right way (see Carol Dweck section), critique can be a catalyst for the creation of marketable work. Children can quickly accelerate into the real world of understanding audiences within the space of one or two years once the method of draft critique is practiced.

If a child is connected to their passion and has a developing growth mindset, then the power of drafts becomes exponential. Like learning, it consumes the child’s spirit, being, mind and soul to really connect with what they came here to do.

So having looked into the work of these influential thinkers, how does this change the face of education as we know it?

We’re already seeing children casting off the old educational paradigm, and even in countries where learning to read and write is a struggle due to poverty, conflict and culture, children are beginning to take ownership of their passions, and delving into the real world.

Children are recognising it’s time to just go for it, and be the person they came here to be. They are seeing they’re unique, and that with their friends they have a strength in collaboration, by putting their heads and their skills together. It’s becoming an evolution in education, and these progressive thinkers have been at the helm.

Image Sources:
Knowledge is Freedom by Vincenzo Stanislao

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