On Ants and Education: Part 2

On Ants and Education first discussed the industrialized aspect of education.  Knowledge workers are no longer needed in the future.  Thomas Friedman successfully argues that the internet revolution leveled the playing field.  Upon contemplation it rings true and is frightening.  What are we to do?

E. O. Wilson is the most influential biologist currently alive.  By trade he is a biologist whose primary focus is ants.  Luckily for humanity, this incredible thinker didn’t stop there.  He has addressed the controversial biology of social behavior and biology of human nature.   He is a conservation biologist, philosopher, and general lover of the earth. The Theory of Island Biogeography was first inscribed by his pen.  He also theorizes in the social, cooperative aspect of organisms and the unification of knowledge.  In short and as my grandmother would say: “he is one smart cookie.”

Daniel Pink is a prolific thinker in his own right.  His considered a productivity expert and career advice specialist.  He thinks about how to “change the world of work” and the qualities that successful thinkers will embody in the future. 

“Grandma, what do you think of this guy?  His name is Daniel” 
“Oh well, isn’t he a cutie-pie!”

(Yes, I have read everything linked.  Please do the same)

What do the smart cookie and cutie-pie have in common?

They share the same vision of the future.  Wilson and Pink have a clear idea of what will make someone successful.  I believe them because they both swallow their own pill and they practice what they preach.  Together they are the cure to industrialized education.  Let’s take a look.

Our Students are able to cheat

The age of simply knowing a lot about one thing is over.  Those that are successful in the future need to know a lot about a lot.  Well, not really.  They need to know how to navigate the violent open-source information sea called the internet.  

The information revolution enables our students to cheat.  They can literally learn about anything in a matter of seconds.  The life’s work of an architect, scientist, or engineer can be summarized on a website and read in a matter of minutes. 

It is worth stating again, the successful individual of the future is not someone who accumulates a lot of knowledge about one thing.  Those that can solve the problems of the future are people who can synthesize new concepts by understanding how to collect what they need from existing information.  Synthesis requires combining different fields of understanding:  E. O. Wilson calls it Consilience.  He argues that we need to break down content discipline barriers to solve issues.  The solutions to problems will require individuals who can create novel concepts by combining existing areas of thought.

It sounds like a Right-Brain Left-Brain thing

The industrial distribution of sequential, bland, and strait-forward factoids is highly stimulating for our left-brain.  Picture it (and we have all seen this at the gym), the young male fitness expert with a massive, overdeveloped upper body, but with skinny, almost child-like legs.  It is clear the aspiring model focused on developing their beach muscles while neglecting their lower body. Our brain is not muscle tissue, but if it were we may observe the left side of our brain big and bulky while the right side small, weak.  The right side is under stimulated in the learning process.  (This comment IS NOT saying that we no longer utilize the right side of our brain and therefore it is weak. Many important executive functions reside on the right side of our brain.  For example the area of the brain that interprets emotions based on facial expressions is found there).  

What is being argued is this: industrial education stimulates one side of the brain, the left, and leaves the right side under utilized.  We even assess one side of the brain.  Standardized tests are assessments with only one correct answer.  Factoid in, factoid out; left-brain all day long.

Being right-brained isn’t the opposite of being left-brained.  Pink does a fantastic job describing the difference in A Whole NewMind.  Being right-brained is characterized by the different ways it addresses problem solving.  Right-brained problem solving is holistic, creative, colorful, and emotional.  Problems are attacked by understanding the issues as multi-dimensional.  Success is only accomplished by understanding the many parts of the whole.

On Ants and Education

Consilience is the unification of knowledge and right-brained thinking is loosely summarized as a holistic approach to thinking.  The combination of the two seems natural. Taken together, learners can synthesize new ideas by creatively linking existing concepts together.   Intelligence in the future will not be measured using a #2 pencil.  Intelligence will be measured by how WELL an individual can mesh and combine seemingly unrelated content areas.

What are we to do? An education is what is needed.  Give factoids but don’t stop there; follow by asking your learners to make creative connections.  Ask them to represent the same concept through a variety of lenses.  Combine every “ology” and ask them to analyze the situation from a cultural, social, financial, biological, psychological, and ethical point of view.

“But I already do that” you are undoubtedly thinking.  No you don’t, and neither do I, because it is hard. 

Teach your students how to learn, how to navigate the maze of online information, and assess them using real life problems. But to do all this, we need to learn how to learn, learn how to navigate the maze of online information, and solve real life problems by combing disciplines.

The change to consilience and right-brained problem solving is in us first.

Thanks for reading.

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