Breakfast Speech on Learning, May 6, 2006 (Emily Carr Institute Graduation)
“Most people believe that it is education that will save us. But this bland, sweeping, and unexamined assertion reduces us into continuing to uncritically support and tinker with the current story of schooling. It is education that will save us, but not any kind of education—only education of a certain kind: only education that is generative and life-affirming, that invites, engages, and integrates the fullness of our children’s capacities and ways of knowing, and that nurtures the creation of integral minds committed to the creation of a truly just and wise global civilization. Only education that develops our capacity to become more fully human is truly worthy of the human spirit. Only education that invites deep learning and reconnects us to life will light and sustain the fire within?
(Stephanie Pace Marshall)
Learning is a complex and challenging subject. The learning experience both within schools and outside of them has been an area of debate and contention for centuries and we still do not know that much about the optimum conditions for learning or even how humans internalize information and process knowledge. In this context, post-secondary and K-12 institutions are struggling to respond to sometimes-excessive expectations on the part of students and their communities, trying at one and the same time to create value and be valuable.
Stephanie Marshall quotes Mary Catherine Bateson: “You can’t prepare the child for the job market that will exist 20 years from now. So how can you build a curriculum that will shape an individual to be a pioneer in an unknown land — because that’s what the future is? (Stephanie Pace Marshall, “[The Learning Story of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy? ](http://www.learndev.org) The future cannot be known and we do our children a great disservice when we suggest to them that getting a degree, for example, should be connected in a linear way to their future employment. This means that a creative student exploring their often profound and sometimes confusing desire to craft or produce a work of art is has to struggle to explain both the value of their creative process and the outcomes of their creative engagement in the context of an employment picture that may not produce a simple fit. A philosophy student or even a learner with a philosophical outlook will judge speculative thought to be less than useful, largely because it cannot be connected to a clear and discernable outcome. To me, learning is as much about the practice of engaging with materials and ideas as it is about speculative thinking that cannot and should not be translated into a concrete form.
It is interesting to note that the present model for most universities is and has been a contested one. Notions of original research and inquiry only took hold in the late 19th century. Public education as we know it is relatively young with some of the biggest growth coming in the 1960’s. The idea of teaching the liberal arts in a university only reached some critical mass in the late 19th century, while in the 1930’s, research and graduate teaching were prioritized over undergraduate teaching and public service. It was only in the 1960’s that Clark Kerr proposed that a single institution “could perform multiple missions to benefit society.��? (John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformation,��? Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 77, No1 (Jan-Feb 2006) p. 3.) These different positions span the history of post-secondary education and learning and remain in place today with institutions bearing the weight of trying to distinguish among strategies and choices that are not well understood either by the public or by government.
Have you ever wondered why educators continue to rely so heavily on lecture formats within classrooms? In medieval times, before the printing press was invented, before it was possible to disseminate ideas to a broader populace, teachers, who were generally clerics, spoke to students, read from the bible and from other available material. They read and spoke very slowly so that the students could take notes, which was the only way for learners to reproduce the ideas and information for their own personal use. The teachers of the 12th century gained great authority from this teaching strategy. It was the beginning of a process of institutionalization, which to this day remains central to the practice of teaching. But does it remain central to the practice to learning? How do we bring new insights into our understanding of learning? Have we reached the point where our institutions, their rules, regulations, policies and practices are not able to optimize the conditions within which learning can take place?
It is within the context of this discussion that I am so very pleased to introduce Chris Kelly to you. Chris’s biography is rich and varied having been the Superintendent of Schools and Chief Executive Officer for the Richmond School Board for nine years and completing his third year as Superintendent of the Vancouver School Board. As an educator and administrator, Chris’s experience includes elementary and secondary teaching, Aboriginal education, special education, curriculum development, and professional and organizational development. He is presently the President of Canadian Education Association, is on the Advisory committee to the Deans of Education and Science at UBC and a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Global Ethics.
What I have described here only reflects a small portion of what Chris does, how he interweaves his passion for learning and education with the tremendous responsibilities of managing a large k-12 system, how he manages at the same time to play a public role as an advocate for our educational system, how beautifully and clearly he articulates his concerns for the quality of learning and the needs of students. Chris and I have known each other for some years now and every time we have met, our discussions have been rich and varied. So, it pleases me tremendously to announce to you today that we have agreed in principle to explore the possible creation of a specialized high school in Art and Design in Vancouver that would be supported by and developed with Emily Carr Institute. Chris will talk a little more about this, but you can be rest assured that we intend to follow through on this visionary project that we feel will ensure a place, a strong place for the creative arts in the curriculum of young learners.