Learning from Elders: mature people in communities of practice (and books)

Learning from Elders:  mature people in communities of practice (and books)

A thought prompting piece in Four Parts.

————————Part One

“In Western Civilization, our elders are books.” ― Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild: Essays

“One of the things I enjoy about being young is learning from my elders without them giving direct advice.” – Unarine Ramaru

“Treasure the wisdom of old age. Learn from elder people and be wise.” – Lailah Gifty Akita

“Oh [my father] knew what any decent educationalist knows …….Education is finding out. Education is what the child does in order to discover so when I produced a fossil and I said to my father look at what I found and he said “Ah, that’s extraordinary, absolutely. What is it?” And I said, “Well I don’t know what it is.” And he said, “Well you could find out what it is. Well why do you suppose you find it in the middle of England when it’s obviously a sea creature there?” “Well I don’t know.” “Well you better find out. I mean you know you could go to the university, you could go to the museum to find out what it’s name is and I’ve heard of some books that would tell you this that…” And so I found out so I knew and then I went to him and said, “Father, I’ve found this out” and he said, “Amazing.” Tibunithenum turbinatum….. what an extraordinary name.” You know, that sort of stuff”. – Sir David Attenborough [http://tinyurl.com/pycsy4v]

—————————Part Two

What are the traits of a wise person?

  • Empathic, reflective [M. Csikszentmihalyi and K. Rathunde].
  • Overall competence, good judgment, communication skills, sees things in large framework, exceptional understanding [M. Chandler].
  • Probes knowledge, seeks truth, welcomes ambiguity, resists automatization [R. Sternberg].
  • Good judge, realizes ‘knowing’ is uncertain, sensitive to contexts [K. Kitchener and H. Brenner].
  • Solves own problems, advises others, manages social institutions [D. Kramer].

————————-Part Three

From “Some Features of Integrative Thinking” adapted from Botkin, J. et al. No Limits to Learning, Bridging the Human Gap. Oxford: Pergamon Press Ltd., 1979.http://tinyurl.com/qhhnfco

“Many people believe that wisdom is related to knowledge and life experiences. While this is true, the development of wisdom also depends on the frameworks for thinking that we use to consciously perceive, raise questions about, and give meaning to the various knowledge systems and life experiences we participate in. If we are concerned with promoting wise living, our education system must move beyond narrow notions of literacy, or simplistic competencies, and begin to nurture diverse and complex (meta)-cognitive frameworks in every learner.”

“Jude Collins, Professor of Teacher Training in Northern Ireland, describes that “The problem with competency-based curriculums is that learning becomes a matter of being able to perform certain tasks efficiently (and so does teaching). And the importance of looking at a wider horizon — the relationship between what’s being taught and social matters, political matters, matters of value and worth — become not just beside the point, but not even thought about.”

“Consider the following features of integrated and holistic thinking. To what extent, does factory-schooling value or develop such decision-making frameworks in our children?”

“Evaluation of long term future consequences of present decisions;

  • Consideration of second-order consequences (side-effects or surprise effects);
  • Ability to make creative plans and strategies for the future, to monitor and modify plans (“rolling planning”), and to conduct evaluations to detect early warning signs of possible problems;
  • Skill in “systemic” thinking (capacity to see the whole as well as its parts, micro and macro contexts, and multiple rather than single causes and effects);
  • Capacity to detect inter-relationships and to assess their importance, which is often greater than that of the individual elements they inter-link.”

————————–Part Four

“Susanne Schnuttgen is an Education Specialist with UNESCO. While located in Burkina Faso, she attended the 1998 meeting of the Council of the Wise.”

“She shares her personal thoughts on the implications of the Academy of Wisdom for those working in education:”

“Wisdom cannot be acquired like knowledge. It is not solely a cognitive process, but one that involves all senses and a “readiness” (whether conscious or unconscious) on the part of the learner to get involved in discovery and struggle. The Council of the Wise reflected on the question of how we could help facilitate this unfolding of wisdom in society today. There was a consensus that an understanding of the principles underlying wisdom would be helpful in this process. It was also felt that there is a need to conceptualize and create learning spaces and events where the elaboration of these principles can take place. Reflection and (guided) interaction were identified as being important in this process. The Council of the Wise entrusted the Academy of Wisdom to continue the reflection, and “prepare” and “re-work” the principles underlying wisdom in such a way that they can be used in concrete learning contexts and educational activities.”

“One example discussed at the Council of the Wise was the principle of harmony. It was underlined that today’s world, and particularly the world of education, is strongly knowledge oriented. Whether in formal schooling through tests, in games, or in the work place, the modern world is a knowledge-based society. There is plenty of knowledge available, but all too often it is not serving humankind in a fruitful way because the knowledge — unlike in most traditional cultures — is separated from its meaning.”

“The modern world has become so analytic, rational, pragmatic. . . . Many people adhering to its principles have lost a sense of the whole, a larger sense of meaning or purpose. It seems that our present education systems are largely promoting the “meaningless” accumulation of facts. They also tend to overemphasize the acquisition of disconnected skills, which are all too often applied in non-constructive ways. Furthermore, our education systems largely ignore the creative and spiritual dimensions that allow us to deal with the inherent uncertainty and messiness of life (and death). Not everything can be concrete, categorized, or explained. Today’s dominant educational culture often nurtures feelings of discontent, loss and emptiness, fear, not being “good enough”, or not “succeeding”. Moreover there are increasing numbers of people who are not able to trust others, to feel deeply, and to take risks. Many of our children do not learn to discover and develop their specific creative potential and, more importantly, they do not learn how to use it to contribute to the good of society.”

“The idea here is not to condemn the concern with knowledge, analysis, the rational, and the visible, but to create an awareness for the limitations of accepting and following these concepts while ignoring those complementary to them. Knowledge without meaning and ethics; the visible without the invisible; and analysis without synthesis have all resulted in imbalances that have been destructive to people, to nature, and to the world at large. These have disrupted or prevented us from moving towards principles of harmony, which are conducive to wisdom revealing itself in its various manifestations. A real understanding of harmony is essential to developing learning processes and spaces that genuinely contribute to the well-being of people and nature.”

“Only when people start believing that a grain of wisdom exists in every one of us — and that we must respect and value this wisdom in ourselves, our learners and our learning institutions — will be able to (re-)integrate and (re-)cultivate wisdom in our cultures.”


Oh, for the respect of wisdom.


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