A narrative examination of learning philosophies
Stimulus, information, and knowledge permeates every moment of our existence, and it is only by constructing a system of meaning that we are able to negotiate our way in the world. Others help us build this system in our childhood, but as we become increasingly autonomous, our experiences and our changing communities push us to question this foundation, unlearning what we had learned previously, integrating new understanding and discarding that which is obsolete. This process of building and rebuilding a house of knowledge is the aim of the various types of adult education (academic, personal interest, and social change (Collins, 2006)), and if all human beings strive to be better than they are, its aim is a “hopeful antidote to the errors of greed, of ignorance and of life-threatening aggression that menace our civilization and our planet” (Anderson, 2008, p. 2). In short, this forms the basis of my views on education: it is a meaning-making pedagogical venture meant to personally lead students through a process of inquiry into the outer reaches of their ability or system of meaning with the aim of transitioning them to andragogy, and even into pedagogical endeavours of their own. How this is accomplished is highly debatable, though I hope the following metaphor will serve to illuminate an integrated approach.
One day, an individual, let’s call her Hestia[i], decides that her house is no longer suitable and must be taken apart. She begins with Derrida (1998) in mind and carefully evaluates keystone signifiers, removing them strategically to ensure the whole building doesn’t collapse. Thankfully Hestia has had a classical Greek upbringing. Her mind “is like a muscle that [has] been exercised” (Scott, 1998, p. 100) properly and armed with “virtues such as[…] fortitude, temperance and prudence” (Lange, 2006, p. 96), our heroine is more than ready for the heavy lifting ahead of her. Arguably her densest job will be evaluating the foundation laid by the “White, Western, upper-class men” (Lange, 2006, p. 96) who were largely responsible for building the house originally. While Hestia is somewhat attached to this childhood home, she recognizes that “emotional, spiritual and other intelligences” (Lange, 2006, p. 96) must be lain aside for the rational requirements of her changing world.
Constructing a house of knowledge
Having carefully taken apart her entire habitation, Hestia becomes excited at the prospect of building a home of her very own. She “play[s] and experiment[s]” (Lange, 2006, p. 97) with portions of the bedrock, appropriates materials she finds laying around and goes about the process of “solving [her own architectural] problems autonomously” (Lange, 2006, p. 97). Throwing aside the “pointless detail” (Scott, 1998, p. 100) of the previous design, Hestia goes about “restructuring [her] life [space]” (Scott, 1998, p. 101), garnering useful and beatifying design advice from her good friend Sara Svati.
As the ladies approach the final stages of construction, Gravitas wanders into the yard and heavily criticizes their audacious design. While Hestia tries in vain to hold her creation together, Gravitas cries “Your structure is fatally flawed! You believe that you can build anything, but you “are a product of [your] physical and social conditioning” (Lange, 2006, p. 98). You cannot move beyond “the [extensive] program[ing of] the environment” (Scott, 1998, p. 101).”
Hestia hangs her head, tears welling in her eyes as her hard work crumbles in her hands.
“Here,” says Gravitas, “let me help you.”
Watching Gravitas, Hestia begins to see patterns in the ways he assembles the fragments of her house of knowledge. He balances them gracefully, though his aesthetic sense is far too similar to the historical house she had just deconstructed. Realizing that she could employ his very tools of self-discipline to complete her project, Hestia thanks Gravitas for his time and sends him on his way.
As Gravitas departs, Hestia’s good friend Athena approaches and the two sit down in the shade to contemplate the type of house Hestia will build. Looking at the materials she inherited, the history preserved in various artifacts, and the surrounding landscape (Lange, 2006), Hestia begins to imagine her new home as an extension of her “existing knowledge, values and emotions” (Lange, 2006, p. 100). She begins to cobble together the beginning of her foundation, calling out for slabs of rock, lengths of timber and fragments of glass. Athena offers her assistance and makes gentle observations and encouraging remarks as the house rises.
Not long after the finishing touches are complete, the ladies sit beside a warm fire and share a glass of wine. Sara Svati and Gravitas join the pair and the four discuss the coziness of the cottage, the flexibility of its design, and the fine job Hestia had done. It’s not long before the discussion turns to Margo, a friend who lives on the outskirts of town, and how much she and her community could benefit from a house of knowledge of their own. While the group debate for quite some time on how to approach the community (as one could imagine), the central tenet of the building endeavour includes a “process of liberation where people [of the community are] set free to be critical and creative producers” (Lange, 2006, p. 101) of their own homes. In line with the group’s philosophy, each plans to share a stone from their own habitation for appropriation at will.
Hestia watches her community grow and change around her. Periodically individuals renovate their homes, trading building materials and design ideas, and soon the collaboration reaches a pitch. New materials are being produced constantly and the trading, sharing and appropriating of knowledge components becomes so pervasive that houses seem to build themselves! Overwhelmed, Hestia retreats into her home and locks down the windows and doors. This state of affairs does not persist for long, however, as her friend Ellegua comes to knock on her door.
“Hestia,” he cries, “come out and learn!”
“But I’m afraid,” she confesses. “I don’t know how to learn in this world where “intelligent agents […] are being built into devices and appliances” (Anderson, 2008, p. 35), where “others in [my] network [are] continually changing information” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34), and the “rapid increase of information available from a variety of sources means that some information is not as important or genuine as other information” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34). I’m staying in here. I’m fine with my house as it is!” she declares and turns from the window.
Ellegua persists: “Hestia, don’t you remember when you built this house? You had to “unlearn old information and mental models” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34) in order to learn new ones. You wanted to be an “autonomous and independent learner [in order to] acquire current information to build a valid and accurate knowledge base” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34). You built this house of knowledge by using the same skills everyone is using out there. The only difference is that now “learners [can] connect with others around the world to examine others’ opinions and to share their thinking” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34). “Education [is] a global classroom” (Anderson, 2008, p. 34), and “because of innovation and our increasing use of technology, learning is becoming more multidisciplinary” (Anderson, 2008, p. 35). Hestia, you love learning! All these changes mean that there is more to explore, and that the best way to do it is with others.”
Ellegua’s invitation incites Hestia to open the door of her house of knowledge, and together they step into the future of learning.
Hestia’s house of knowledge integrates the best practices of each learning theory, and hints at the challenges and opportunities of 21st century connectivist learning. While each of these theories compete with each other on philosophical grounds, the basic components, learner, teacher, and knowledge find modes to interact with one another to create a meaningful experience. What’s more, it is Hestia’s story itself that epitomizes my views on education. As we must each ultimately live within our own house of knowledge, “the learner [must be] the primary impetus for and initiator of the learning process” (Collins, 1998, p. 50). The role of the educator is flexible, though in the end, one would hope to sit beside the fire and enjoy the sensation of coming home.
Anderson, T. (2008). Theory and practice of online learning. Edmonton: AU Press. Retrieved from http://cde.athabascau.ca/online_book/pdf/TPOL_book.pdf
Collins, M. (1998). Critical returns: From andragogy to lifelong education. In Scott, S., Spencer, B. & Thomas, A. (Eds.), Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education (pp. 46-58). Toronto: Thompson.
Collins, M. (2006). The critical legacy: Adult education against the claims of capital. In Fenwick, T., Nesbit, T., & Spencer, B. (Eds.), Contexts of adult education: Canadian perspectives (pp. 118-127). Toronto: Thompson.
Derrida, J. (1998). Différance. In Rivkin, J. and Ryan, M. (Eds.), Literary theory: an anthology (pp. 385-407). Malden: Blackwell.
Lange, E. (2006). Challenging social philosophobia. In Fenwick, T., Nesbit, T., & Spencer, B. (Eds.), Contexts of adult education: Canadian perspectives (pp. 92-104). Toronto: Thompson.
Scott, S. (1998). Philosophies in action. In Scott, S., Spencer, B. & Thomas, A. (Eds.), Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education (pp. 98-106). Toronto: Thompson.
[i] To facilitate clarity, the etymology of the character names is listed here:
Hestia – Greek goddess of the hearth and home
Sarasvati – Hindu goddess of learning and creativity
Gravitas – From Latin for gravity meaning weight and seriousness
Athena – Greek goddess of learning, especially of mentoring Odysseus
Margo – From Latin for margin or edge
Ellegua – Santerian god responsible for opening ways