Education 1.0: Adopting a Collectivist Culture Through Remote Learning

The notion of schools opening up — safely — in the Fall is perhaps the most pressing issue for North American society due to the pandemic. However, before continuing that conversation, it would be mindful to do a healthy and honest audit of the status of the institutional ideas that are trying to be kept in this now burning schoolhouse.

Standardized testing is dead. Yeah, it will still be hanging around and be administered, but only for political and bureaucratic reasons. I mean, those were the only reasons they ever existed, but prior to the pandemic, it was easy to package them in something less offensive, quietly tying it to the whole idea of getting “educated”. Standardized testing is Weekend at Bernie’s. Trying to prop it up going forward is equivalent of making Weekend at Bernie’s 7 — yes, I didn’t even say “3”.

Testing in general, while not nearly as pernicious as government testing, is linked to grades, which doesn’t have a statistical leg to stand on — if you think there is a difference between 76 and 83, you might need to add a Stats refresher course to the pedagogical one to dislodge you from that false narrative.

Testing. Grades. Streaming. Accelerating. These are the gears that work in tireless unison to promote the individualistic ideas that lie at the heart of this engine. You know where this is going, right. The engine and the car that it resides in is just as dead as Bernie.

If the pandemic can be seen as one big flashing red light — to at the very least, STOP(if not turn around) — then there are thousands of people in violation. I can also tell you what the occupation of those people are NOT.

They are not teachers. They are not the front line workers who are already burnt out by the failed attempt at doing “pop-up” school through Zoom meetings, and trying to continue ideas of lessons, assignments, etc. through this less than ideal — less than human — medium.

It’s been a shit show. And, if we don’t take the implications of the pandemic seriously and the inflection point it has given us to drastically change the nature of education, we — students, teachers, and families — will be saddled with a slow social, emotional, and spiritual death.

Let’s start here.

This article is already going viral. “First” is mentioned twice. Before that number, there is zero. I honestly think that we should be thinking of everything in terms of that number — which signifies the beginning.

Whether you like it or not, we are at the beginning. We are at Education 1.0 for what learning and its purpose will look like for the rest of the century. We were already moving towards that in terms of a pedagogical reaction, but the pandemic just acted as a catalyst, lowering the energy of discussions needed to burn off antiquated and harmful ideas/mindsets that had no business exiting the last century.

Alfred North Whitehead, esteemed mathematician and writer, posed these views almost 100 years ago. We didn’t listen then, and we didn’t listen for the decades that followed. This is the last year to listen.

So, if we are in agreement that we are in need of a reset and reboot, then the big question becomes what do we pen on our blank paper? What kind of world do we want to commit to and see that will support all our students remotely, knowing that schools are not safe places for the time being?

If grace is our first lesson, then surely kindness/empathy should follow. SEL, which seemed like a peripheral and supportive idea in education over the last few years, now gets centre stage. All subject areas must move through that lens. Talking about fractions, world capitals, mitochondria, nutrition, periodic table, Shakespeare, etc. in isolation, without it being clearly tethered to a new mandate, is like wearing Bernie’s old clothes. They might be comfortable for us, but that is not what we should do.

We need to get uncomfortable with new ideas so that our students, who are trying to survive a pandemic — which will mark many for life — can be more comfortable, more amiable to learning. They need to trust us more than ever.

When I gave my keynote for PCTM(Storytelling: The Journey of Rehumanizing Mathematics for All), this was the opening slide.

Take out the word mathematics from that title. Every other word, including the picture, is saying “1.0”

In my keynote, I told two stories about the Agta people, the Hunter-Gatherer society in the Philippines.

One was about the Sun(man) and Moon(woman) having a dispute over who should illuminate the sky. They decided that the Sun should light the day and the moon at night. The purpose of this story was to convey gender equality.

The second story I told was about a wild pig and seacow that would race everyday, until one day the seacow hurt its legs.The wild pig picked up the seacow and took it to the ocean, where they continued to race. The wild pig on land and the seacow in the water. The purpose of this story is to promote friendship, cooperation, empathy, and an aversion to inequality.

The survival and happiness of these societies depends on having a collectivist mindset. Many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America tend to adopt this philosophy. Most countries in Europe and North America have lived off the idea of the individual. Again, whether we like it or not, we are staring into the abyss that the pandemic has left us. There is only one thing left in there that can save us, and anchor the future of education.

Our humanity.

Every idea like equality, equity, kindness, empathy, generosity, etc, is inextricably braided into that word. Which is why one of my final slides of my keynote was this:

Take out the word “mathematics” and just put in “education”.

That is why all our resources and energy should be about reimagining education through a collectivist mindset and, at least for the time being, to find ways to remotely communicate that to all our students. That we are here for them. That we need them. We will help you get through this time. To let them know that “they are not falling behind”. That the most important thing to do is to simply connect and give our humanness — warts and all — to each other.

As messy and fuzzy as this all sounds, this is what needs to get inked on our blank paper. Permanently.

In 1985, The Waterboys released a song called This Is The Sea. The lyrics in that song, unintentionally of course, spoke of a time when they might be needed most. The river has been our curriculum. Narrow in focus. Often rushing. Rivers also dry up.

Freedom has the quality of lightness. We must be light as we move forwards. We must start from the beginning. We must have a new promise to aspire to.

Next Article: Lessons/Ideas For Building Connection With Students Through Remote Learning

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Sunil Singh

Sunil Singh

Author, porous educator, audiophile.