Consider some of the words we use when we talk about educating: [Who is we? This is a bit overstated, and ignores the fact that this is a representation of one perspective only. I agree with the "intention" of the author, but this has to be framed somewhat differently. - EE]

Behind those words lies an assumption that has all but squeezed the life out of formal education - the assumption that there are "expert" sources of knowledge - the textbook, the teacher, the academic journal, the encyclopedia, the guest speaker, the internet - and the primary educational task is to move information from those sources into the minds and memories of students. [edit by M] At the individual level, the assumption is a major factor in kids' early disillusionment with formal schooling. At the system level, it lies at the heart of simplistic policies and procedures. At the societal level, the assumption is suicidal. [As per the previous comment, I’ll state the obvious fact that, although there may well be some validity to this assertion, it’s an overstated and oversimplification of an as yet unidentified problem. I’d like to know what that problem is specifically with some justification for the validity of the assertion. - EE]

That assumption: There are "expert" sources of knowledge - the textbook, the teacher, the academic journal, the encyclopedia, the guest speaker, the internet - and the primary educational task is to move information from those sources into the minds and memories of students. [The author is targeting the failings of the "transmission" perspective of teaching. I’ll admit that this perspective MAY be pervasive, but it isn’t the only perspective from which educators operate, regardless of context. This assertion is, again, presumptive and unsupported. - EE]

Information transfer has a role to play in educating, but it isn't how the young learned most of what they know, and it isn't the key to their continuing intellectual growth. [This is an epistemological assertion that needs clarification. How do "the young" learn by the way? - EE]

Perhaps in earlier times this wasn't true. When the world changed little from generation to generation, what the young most needed was already known by the elders - how to keep well, make the land produce, care for the animals, get along with the neighbors. Parents could pass along to their children solutions to problems, and the solutions worked because the world the children inherited differed little from their parents' world.

Educating was simple. Those who knew told those who didn't know. "Teaching" meant "telling." "Learning" meant "remembering." [Again , this statement is far too vigorous in its presentation. Aside from being unsupported, it completely ignores the fact that much education in "simpler" times was likely accomplished through some form of apprenticeship model or engagement in the tasks that needed doing. Learning, therefore, was probably not accomplished through remembering, but through participation in normal daily life. - EE]

Whether or not this view of education was ever adequate, it certainly isn't adequate now. The geometrically accelerating rate of social change has altered the challenge in fundamental ways. Once, the teacher could know all the answers. Now, the teacher can't know all the answers because the questions have yet to be asked. The old educational task was past oriented; the new task is to cope with an ever-changing present and an unknowable future. The learner's role used to be static; the new role is dynamic. [This assertion can’t be upheld. There are so many ways in which this can be challenged. It de-legitimizes all historical educational achievement which is obviously incorrect. From philosophy, to literature, to the arts, languages etc., knowledge is not a twentieth or twenty-first century phenomenon. Neither is forward thinking. - EE]

The old task was to push students to remember existing knowledge. The new task is to help them learn how to generate new knowledge. [I can’t buy this. - EE]

There's no mystery about the basic process by which new knowledge is created. It's primarily a matter of discovering a relationship between aspects of reality not previously thought to be related. The mystery, if there is one, lies in formal schooling's almost total preoccupation with knowledge transfer to the neglect of the process by which new knowledge is created.

Outside of school, every child is constantly constructing knowledge. The process is basic, and it begins at (or possibly even before) birth. For an infant, crying is an aspect of reality. Being picked up and held is an aspect of reality. Discovering a relationship between crying and being picked up involves, for the infant, the constructing of new knowledge.

There are, I think, two major reasons why the education establishment ignores this process. First, its importance simply isn't grasped. Perhaps the process is so simple and obvious it suffers from the problem suggested by the old saying that a fish would be the last to discover water.

Second is the educational establishment's blind, unquestioning faith in the adequacy of the academic disciplines. The familiar disciplines' unintegratable, circumscribed conceptual frameworks get in the way of our expecting students to mentally sweep across the whole of what they know to look for relationships. If, for example, mineral resources are studied in a class in earth science, and the distribution of wealth is studied in an economics class, it's less than likely that a possible relationship will be explored. If age distribution in populations is studied in a class in demographics, and institutional inflexibility is discussed in a sociology class, it's less than likely that a possible relationship will be explored. If artistic style is taught in art class, and intergenerational conflict is taught in a psychology class, it's less than likely that a possible relationship will be explored. [What is a "familiar" discipline? Although I will buy the argument that traditional ways of conceptualizing a specialized discipline may be artificial, there are many ways in which institutions are promoting cross-discipline approaches to education. - EE]

Study the disciplines? Certainly. We've created a society that can't function without specialized expertise. But also show students how the "mini" conceptual frameworks of the disciplines (and new disciplines yet to be developed) fit into their culturally imposed, "master" organizing conceptual framework. Only when everything the student knows is part of a single, comprehensive, systemically integrated conceptual framework does the potential for relationship exploration know no bounds.

The "super" conceptual framework encompassing all academic disciplines, all knowledge, all thought, has just five basic elements. All descriptions and analyses of all phenomena are but elaborations of the individual conceptual frameworks for time, environment, actors, patterns of action, and societal premises. A conceptual framework encompassing these five systemically integrated aspects of reality allows the mind to move unhindered by disciplinary boundaries across the whole expanse of human knowledge in search of possible relationships. [This assertion, although it may be valid, is unsupported. If that’s the author’s own framework for defining reality, then it needs to be presented as such, not as the de facto truth represented here. - EE]

For example, a sub-concept of environment is "tools." A sub-concept of patterns of action is "patterns for socializing." Juxtaposing the two, the question can be asked, "What is the relationship between tools and patterns for socializing?"

This is, admittedly, a broad question. Better, perhaps, to ask about specific tools and specific patterns for socializing. ("What is the relationship between the assembly line as a tool and reinforcement of social class lines?" "What is the relationship between weapon type and complexity and army platoon solidarity?") However, I'm primarily interested in simply raising the educational establishment's awareness of relationship exploration as the primary process by which new knowledge is generated, and too narrow a focus may result in a preoccupation with the trees and a failure to see the forest. I will, then, try to make my point using rather broad sub- concepts of time, environment, actors, patterns of action, and societal premises - the five major concepts which together encompass our perceptions of reality. [The examples given are interesting, but certainly not unprecedented. Edward De Bono had used similar approaches to encouraging ‘lateral thinking" without the use of an electronic presentation tool. - EE]

These sub-concepts—total of about 55—can be made to appear in hundreds of different combinations in the two windows below. Clicking on the "UP" and "DOWN" buttons above and below the windows will change the combination.

Some of the juxtapositionings will be laughably obvious. Others will be so subtle or so indirect as to defy understanding. It should be apparent, however, that relationship exploration is the basic process by means of which new knowledge is constructed, and that it deserves, at the very least, as much of the educational establishment's attention as is now directed to processes involving mere information transfer.


(If you can't see a button-gizmo above, press here to try an older, JavaScript version of The Device.)


A few minutes play with the above device may make several matters apparent: First, it should be clear that students engaged in this kind of work are utilizing every known cognitive process, and doing so in an entirely natural rather than in an artificially contrived way. Second, it should underline the importance of calls for instruction that integrate rather than fragment knowledge. Third, it automatically adapts to whatever level of ability the student brings to the activity. Fourth, it quickly disposes of the destructive notion that it's possible to "cover the material." Fifth, it opens to investigation areas of knowledge now neglected because they're not part of an academic discipline. Sixth, it familiarizes students with their culture's five-part conceptual framework for organizing thought, allowing them to make daily, deliberate use of it. Seventh, it eliminates the charge of curriculum irrelevance.

Perhaps most important of all, it discloses the inherent complexity of the process of educating.

Until we move beyond the notion that teaching means telling and learning means remembering, educating the young will be in the hands of the standardized testers, the politicians, the policy makers and otherswhose simplistic assumptions now trivialize educating and set artificiallimits on what students can do. Only by adopting an approach to instruction that takes proper account of human nature and how the mind constructs new knowledge are we going to significantly improve student performance. [Whoa – I’m not sure how the tool can meet the mandate given above. As a point of discussion, it may be useful, but as a complete method of instruction? Uh-uh. - EE]


Critical Reviews


I like this article as far as describing a different approach to education. His simple java applet conveys a very powerful message too. However, since our mission is to reveal new ways to use technology in educational settings, I think he needs to provide examples of ways to use such applets in classroom "brainstorming" sessions or "exploration" sessions in more detail to bring more of a technology focus into the piece.


Publishable … needs extensive revisions, even though it is a commentary.

The article offers some information about the current state of public education, yet the observations are only circumstantial and related to some form of legend about education. There is a need for literature and research support in the article in general.

The theoretical framework, as it relates to the history of education, should be included in this article. Again, some form of support should be added to substantiate the observations and assertions of the «old schooling system» versus the «new way» in education.

As well, «how the mind construct new knowledge» should have a research context and literature support.

The «super» conceptual framework … has just five elements ? Please explain and provide the research data and framework that supports this assertion.

Finally, the exercises using the dyads in the windows should be described in some details and not left to the reader to interpret if they are «laughably obvious».