WE THE ETERNAL LEARNERS are people in the common pursuit of an understanding of ourselves…..
In the past, we have not learned for noble purposes. We have been entrenched in restrictive environments that do not allow us to achieve our full potentials….
WE ARE ALL LEARNERS. Names like student, teacher, mentor, graduate, adult, these are all learners at different stages in their lives with different passions, different degrees of passion, and different goals.
WE ARE ALL LEARNING. LEARNING is DOING. LEARNING is DISCUSSING. LEARNING is SYNTHESIZING. LEARNING is REFLECTING. LEARNING, thus, IS A CONSTANT PROCESS.
If we are all learning, we cannot help but ask why? And this questioning lays at the heart of why we learn. We learn because we are curious. We learn for the personal pursuit of a passion. We learn for happiness, for fun. We learn because we can’t help but NOT learn. We learn because it makes us and helps us to discover who we are.
By learning for the discovery of ourselves, we learn who we are and what kind of influence we may have. Often, this is framed as the idea that we learn to make a difference in the world. HOW and WHY we desire to make a difference is both in the act of self-interest, and in the act of empathy – to contribute to a larger community.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE is in its essence, about PASSION for something, POWER to exercise that passion, and a BELIEF in the ability to have a passion and to have power. We define this as AGENCY, the idea that with learning, we can find self-empowerment and self-determination – with learning, we can find an identity, both individual and collective. With agency, we as individuals, have the belief that we have the power to shape our own lives, and with agency, we as a collective, have the belief that we have the power to shape the future of our society.
Every learner has the ability to be the agent of his or her own change. But for most, these abilities lay dormant, waiting to be nurtured to fruition. It is the function of learning to provoke and nurture these attributes. Therefore:
- Learning stems from a sense of curiosity. Therefore learning must continue to promote and allow curiosity.
- Learning is controlled chaos.
- Learning happens through experimentation.
- Learning also happens through failure. Therefore failure must be rendered acceptable and even promoted.
- As one experiments and as one fails, one discovers new things. It is the act of discovery that enables growth.
- Developing a sense of play can create enriching, valuable experiences that can make learning effective.
- Experimentation, and play, and curiosity, all must be promoted, because they allow one to discover what one is PASSIONATE about and thus, the fundamental reason for why one LEARNS and WANTS TO LEARN.
- Learning should promote critical thinking. Critical thinking reinforces autonomy, interpretation, questioning, and intellectual growth, all necessary in AGENCY.
Valuing individual learning in this way results in:
And an awareness outside of oneself, as a member of a community.
A community is a group of learners, but is also, collectively a single learner and thus also has the ability to be the agent of its own change. Learning, just as it does for the individual, must also for the community, incite and nurture certain traits for the exercise of society’s full potential.
- Above all, the most important aspect in the development of community and the ability to learn is safety. Safety is both physical and social. Physical safety is the literal protection from bodily harm. Social safety is a feeling of security among peers. Both are necessary in the action of agency and of learning.
- Safety is necessary to achieve comfort. Students learn effectively in comfortable environments. Comfort in how one feels in a space, with furniture, and in expressing oneself.
- Learning must be democratic. Various people have various perspectives, insights, and ways of learning. Learning happens best when these diverse interests are considered. Thus there must be a sense of egalitarianism and equality among learners.
- Following this, learners MUST be empathetic. They must understand one another and where one another comes from.
- Members of a community must have a sense of responsibility to one another, to know one another, to help one another, and to feel comfortable around one another.
- A community must be a support system for learners and learning
- In order to establish this democratic learning, we must dissolve the hierarchy that exists between, for example, different grades and between teacher and student, as functionally necessary. In this way a student can feel comfortable around a teacher. A teacher must talk with his or her students, not talk AT. Cross-communication is key.
These values result in:
- Free exchange of ideas
- Ownership of ideas, and collective ownership
Citizens are members of a community – citizens each have a role to play within a community. It is a goal to learning to create a sense of citizenship among students.
The Learning Environment
How we manifest these ideas of learning happens through space – through learning environments. These environments….
- …must allow for the display of work. This is central to the idea of value and empowerment. Learners need to be able to physically manifest their thoughts – whether through sound (acoustic design) or through visual media (space for display) – this allows for a sense that one’s ideas and oneself are valuable.
- …must provide options and opportunities. Not only should learners have different options of expressing their work, but essentially, they must have different options of expressing themselves. With opportunity, they have the ability to discover passion and exercise agency and spatially, opportunity provides this ability for a wide range of people.
- …must be transparent. First, transparency is symbolic of democracy. Secondly, transparency, seeing/hearing/sensing others learning, makes learning exciting.
- …must be various in scale and implication. A variety of learning environments tailors to a variety of learners and stimulates new ways of learning. A variety of experiences creates more memorable learning and allows for different activities. There are spaces for independent learning and spaces for social learning and gathering.
- …must be flexible, to a degree. Flexibility allows for opportunity and spatial variety. For all the reasons above, flexibility is necessary. But – flexibility is also necessary because the ways students learn (though not why they learn) is prone to change.
- …must have some kind of structure. It must have some permanent elements that imply kinds of action and allow flexibility to then happen around them. Learning, as said earlier, is a controlled chaos.
- …must be open. In order to be flexible, there must be space for flexion. Open environments- less confined environments – give a sense of autonomy and freedom. This requires large amounts of daylight and sufficient room for air circulation. They inspire learning.
- …must be connected to the outdoors. This way learners are aware of what’s around them, it provides a connection to the larger community, and it gives space for play. In enclosed space, there is autonomy, but structured autonomy. In open, outdoor spaces, there is the space for play, or unstructured autonomy, and therefore the freedom to discover, to make mistakes, and to experiment.
- …must be universally accessible. In order to establish egalitarianism among learners, there should be a universal freedom to move and use spaces where one chooses.
…must be domestic. A sense of home creates spatial attachment, spatial identity, comfort, belonging, a sense of place, and reinforces an idea of community (as family).
The construction of the manifesto was first really a brainstorming of values – overarching ideas of learning and ideas of what learning should build. From these core values, we set definitions for the preamble: defining who learners are, what learning is, and specifically why learners seek to learn. These are the basic questions that we believe are important in this entire discussion. This was all conducted through a vomiting of ideas on post-it notes, together.
When Randy from VDT came in, he helped us to direct our various ideas into a central idea of what learning is. He asked us, “How can learning create something extraordinary?” What’s so innovative? We responded with the idea that learning ultimately should create a sense of agency – of empowerment, of identity, of autonomy, of self-determination, of the belief that a student can shape his or her own education and life. With his help, we were able to organize our various post-it ideas into related groups, eventually distinguishing them as individual values, communal values, individual results of those values and communal results of those values. Everything kind of built off one another, but we determined that beneath it all was this core idea of agency. And so, it became that the sense of agency was the wheel that kept everything turning (creates results from values, connects all).