Monday, August 12, 2013

Resisting the urge to finish prematurely...

"When you are looking at becoming an inclusive society,
there really isn't a beginning or an end. It is all about
the process. It is all about becoming accepting and
becoming inclusive, and not reaching a finite goal." 
In the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, Scott Barry Kaufman. proposes the Theory of Personal Intelligence where intelligence is defined as "the dynamic interplay of engagement and abilities in pursuit of personal goals." He goes on to state that "any behaviour that narrows the distance between the starting state and the goal state of a person's personal goal counts as an intelligent behaviour" and then to say that "the formulation of multiple strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state is an incredibly important manifestation of human intelligence."

This definition shifts the focus from product to process and can only be realized through the lenses of presumed competence and a growth mindset.  It speaks to the recognition that each student comes to the classroom with their own unique set of personal characteristics and those characteristics can be leveraged and/or accommodated for in the process of overcoming the obstacles that would move a student from where he/she starts to the goal. 
This is one of those books that pulls pieces together.  It will take time to connect both the theory and practice to my personal context.  It is reflective of much of what is happening in the drive to reform, transform, or redesign education.  This quote speaks to that...    
The deep implication here is that there should be no external pressure to realize a goal at a particular rate. The comparison isn't with others: it's with your former and future selves. If we rid ourselves of the notion that any of us ever reach a state of "failure" then there's no problem whatsoever in encouraging people to engage with a domain. If anything, there's an abundance of evidence suggesting we should encourage all people with a love for a specific domain to engage in what they love.
Throughout this book, I've tried to illustrate the incredible transformation people can undergo when they are allowed to engage in a domain that is aligned with their self identity.  In some cases, such as people with Asperger's, when engaging in their area of special interest their "disabled" characteristics complete evaporate (see Chapter 11).  In Chapter 12 we also saw that a love for the domain was the single best predictor of lifelong creative achievement - both societal and personal - long after the effects of IQ and divergent thinking faded away. 
It's a myth that geniuses consistently produce great work. The output of most creators, including those we label "genius," tends to be highly uneven.  The key for expertise is consistency, but the key for greatness is quantity.  According to the "equal-odd rule," quality is a linear function of quantity: the more you create (regardless of the quality), the greater your chances of producing a masterpiece.
This suggests we should encourage children to dream the impossible, to think beyond the standard expectations, to dare to be unrealistic. Such encouragement promotes the importance  of perseverance and questioning the established order. What's more, this instills in all people a mindset of lifelong learning and growth. 
While some may consider the world I've described beyond our reach, I can already see glimpses of it today. Throughout this book, I've highlighted the many progressive educators who are promoting learning goals, emotional self-regulation, self-regulated learning strategies, self-expression, self-pacing, context, deliberate practice, grit, passion, persistence and play.  All of these fundamentally human characteristics are part of human intelligence, because they contribute to the adaptations of our species.  Without them, we wouldn't be here today to be able to use them to adapt our personal goals within our lives. 
One other critical component of this theory is that "engagement and ability are inseparable throughout human development, dynamically feeding off each other as we engage in the world." It is not a surprise really that engagement is critical to human development.  In reality, is more about how we bridge the knowing-doing gap around this idea.  How do we facilitate the personal connection and meaning that are at the heart of engagement?

Finally, I can get to the title and the starting video and quote of this post.  So often in our drive to be "effective and efficient" we are pulled by the urge to finish things prematurely rather than to engage in the messy and often frustrating process of exploration and learning.  These processes make us uncomfortable because they are rooted in knowledge creation that challenge the status quo that our entire system is based on.  Our system is based on knowledge dissemination, not knowledge creation and it's hard to imagine that advancement in society have actually ended up making that system irrelevant.  When we constantly look for the finish point or the product are we missing the point? 

The connection point for me is at the end of the quote above: "because they contribute to the adaptations of our species.We, and the world around us, are constantly evolving.  We can't avoid change.  We are always in a state of becoming and to be prepared for life we need to be comfortable with that.  Our brains are constantly changing... not just individually but they evolve from generation to generation.  When I think of the concept of "presumed competence" (which I do a lot particularly because of the student population I work with), I think about environments where we believe that we can dynamically work with students to figure out student-specific "strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state" and keep moving students along a path of learning agency.  In the classroom context this might mean personalized definitions of and current goals but the overall goal of education should be the same... to prepare students for a lifetime of learning. 

This leaves me with a lot of questions and none of them are simple.  None of them are black and white but sometimes it is worth thinking about where they sit on the continuum of black and white because the way we frame things matters.  How far can we push the edges?  Can we imagine students with the most complex of needs being lifelong learners? If we can't imagine this, are we saying that the purpose of school for this population is somehow different?  If this is the case, what impact does that have on the way we interact and the programs we create?  Are we generating a larger gap in the process of equipping some students to adapt, learn and grow and aiming for basic survival with others (aka segregated "life skills" programs)?  Have we created a system where we believe there is linearity to learning and our default to "problems" is remediation based on the track we believe should be followed rather than compensation based on individual student profile?  Does this feed in to a fixed mindset that our duo-track education system seems to be rooted in? Are we putting resources in to labeling, remediating, clustering and segregating rather than creating inclusive learning communities where our focus is to foster personalized learning by finding "strategies to overcome obstacles and reduce discrepancy between the starting state and the goal state"?
I believe we can push the edges further and I believe that involves thinking about having the same goal of life long learning for all students. Life long learning is rooted in our passions and dreams and increases a person's quality of life.  For some that means pursuing post-secondary school or entrepreneurship. Can we imagine this possibility for ALL students or do we get stuck in thinking about jobs of flowers, food or filth for a certain population regardless of whether that is what they desire or not?  Do we understand that authentic contribution is rooted in sharing our passions and strengths rather than in the completion of tasks that others label as important? What impact does the way we set up programs have on the doors that remain open for students beyond high school?  Do we resist the urge to take the path of falling back on repetitively having a student do what we believe the student to "be capable of doing" rather than pushing the edge to figure out how we can create the context for continued growth and learning?  Do we resist the urge to fall back on busy work or life skills when we get to that point of not knowing what to do to keep moving ahead?  If we do that, are we sending a fixed mindset message and have we put a limit on the student's learning?  Is this the equivalent of finishing prematurely?

Not simple questions but I believe they are ones worth thinking about given the current climate of education and adult services.  I have to throw in a few great examples of the continuation of learning beyond high school here...
It seems the only way to end this post is with Seth Godin's "Stop Stealing Dreams" Ted Talk...

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