Thoughts for a Preface

June and July have seen an effort to complete a draft of a book on education. Hence no essays posted to this blog since May. The draft was put to bed on July 31. My intent for the month of August is to make an intense effort to revise the draft. The paragraphs below tell somethings about the book and what may emerge as its preface.


What would happen if suddenly there were no schools? Would education still happen? Of course it would! Schooling is a powerful paradigm for education; yet schools support only a small slice of life. The paradigm of schooling can and must be replaced with new frameworks for education across a lifetime because education happens through the whole span of life. This book reflects on how education would not only survive, but also on how it would thrive with a new paradigm. Schools won’t disappear precipitously, but education will evolve and schools will fade from their current place of dominance in education.

The book is not about what I have figured out; it is about what needs to be figured out. It speaks not from hubris intending to call forth a mighty force for education reform or to do away with schools as a social means and mechanism for education but from a deep sense that we can do better; certainly for children, but for all of humankind, our democracy and out planet.

Essays that were precursors for this book grew out of a weekly writing effort that extended every Friday for over 10 years as a newsletter called TGIF – Taking Great Ideas Forward. Those essays were related at the intersection of education, environment and economics. While writing those essays, I was living in rural northwestern Wisconsin, near the shore of Lake Supreior, and finding new directions after 31 combined years teaching biological sciences at two institutions of higher education. For the last of those years I had been deeply engaged in a large project to infuse technology into teaching and to encourage participation by my colleagues.

I was well aware of the shortcomings of my role as a lecturer and designer of laboratory instruction; the limits of every test I knew how to produce, administer and score to grade the achievements, or lack thereof, for my students; and I was acutely aware of the overwhelming power of publishers to direct the conduct of classes by teachers at the same time the authors and publishers of textbooks carried tunnel vision surrounded by markets and marketing. Yet I was convinced that the emerging digital technology held great promise for new futures for education. I began to envision what I called New World Learning. Frustrations with the environment I worked in led to a quick decision to leave my identiy as a teacher behind and find new directions.

The new directions led to engagement with politics, economic development, workforce development and two decades of intense, collaborative education with wonderful people deeply concerned about application of environmental values related to protection and restoration of the Great Lakes.

The title, Education Ecology: Why Teaching, Testing, Textbooks and Technology are Not Enough, began to form from reading a compelling and complicated 1997 book by Thomas Davenport; Information Ecology; Why Technology is Not Enough. Reading the book, I kept waiting for the author to open windows and doors about information technology in education and explain why education must look beyond technology. Not a word about education was found between the covers. That began a quest of my own to find, discover, explore with a new framework, my own relationships with education.

The relationships involve education as a social function, social equity and social justice, ecological systems and thinking, economics as a social subsidiary of the environment, ethics extending across all human relationships, energy for all essential and non-essential life processes, and evolution as a fact of life at all levels of organization. I was never far from my roots with biology and science.

Along the way, I encountered the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes; “Every so often a mind is stretched by a new idea and it never returns to its original dimensions.” I am going to present some new ideas in this book that I expect will stretch your mind. At the end you will realize that schools are not necessary for education; teachers — you and I and everyone — can and must continue to contribute to community as innovators and relationship builders; the biological sciences will help you and I and everyone make sense of education; there is plenty of room for spirituality in education without the burden of formal religion; our world is changing rapidly and fostering a huge change in the complex environments in which new systems for learning can and must take place; and because we live on a planet that is a risk. All that said I will end with an optimistic note about the potential futures for education. You don’t want to miss what lies ahead because your mind will be stretched and you will never be quite the same.

The book advances seven arguments. These arguments:

  • support an  evolutionary discontinuation of schools as a paradigm for education within society;
  • revise the role of teachers as classroom managers to facilitators of scholarship and leadership; 
  • emphasize that our  biology is fundamental to maki sense of education, including consciousness, behavior, parenting, evolution, development and neuroscience;
  • establish a bona fide role for spirituality in education that is distinct from religion;
  • place testing, textbooks and technology in a new perspective;
  • recognize education as a place for profound practice of systems science; and
  • insist that only a global integration of a planetary perspective will support human survival.

All of these are on going without enough tangible awareness. It is an important part of the scope of this book to compel conversations about change by raising questions that support learning. As a new and important journey begins, my hope is that readers of the book will keep in touch. Nothing will happen from a single effort like this book. Many other books will be written with greater elegance and more powerful persuasion. Yet if this book can start conversations, no matter how small and obscure, and I believe there is hope for the future of our planet through a new paradigm and imperative. While it may not be possible for everyone to be a leader through charismatic personality and eloquent rhetoric, it is possible for everyone to be an active listener, ask probative questions and lead quietly from behind.

I hope this book contributes to listening, probing and questioning.