I wrote earlier about the tension between The College and The Coffee-House - between formal and informal systems of education and knowledge sharing - and I intend to focus my attention on this in my work in 2018.
My thesis is simple: Most learning is experiential, contextual and situational; however, learning as a socially mandated function must have form, be broadly applicable and based around general principles. This tension is indeed central to the idea of knowledge, between the high ground of theory and field of practice, and it is a dialectical relationship. The societies value both, but often more one than the other, depending on economic and political situations of the time. Generally, stable societies privilege 'scribal' classes and formal learning, but breaking of times and paradigm shifts are generally brought about by ideas emerging out of practice; therefore, when times change, Coffee-houses play a crucial role.
In our own time, right now, we have privileged formal learning too much, putting an Educational-Industrial complex at the heart of our social structure. State-funded Education became all encompassing with the expansion of the welfare state, and when it retreated, Corporate forms of education quickly claimed the opportunity. Degrees became all important, and we arrogated ourselves into measuring every bit of knowledge (which essentially meant ignoring everything else that can not be measured) - shrinking the public sphere of knowledge sharing and learning as we incorporated much of it in the private sphere of 'work'.
This has proved inadequate. Learning has become too much about mastering the system, and lost touch with the reality, not just of technology but also of living. The 'signalling' value of schooling has become all important. For a society that treats innovation with awe, we now have too little of fundamental new thinking, Peter Druckers famously saying that the ATM may have been the last great one (which may be a hyperbole, but an effective one). Besides, our ability to deal with fundamental issues that ail us, which can potentially destroy all we have built, has become limited. Education, limited and technocratic, has failed us, by promoting a sort of technocratic myopia that limit our commitment to each other as well as to the future generations.
There is no panacea for these ills in Formal Learning, the College. Countries have charged ahead with goals to improve the Gross Enrolment Raios, to expand their Higher Education systems so that everyone has an opportunity to go to college. This has made things worse, as obviously not everyone has gone to college, but both the discrimination based on college degree has percolated down to levels previously untouched, and corporate education's now-found love with 'skills' has subverted the vocations and imposed a structure of privilege based on language and 'style', creating new hierarchies and exclusions. The mantra of 'Lifelong Learning' has actually encouraged the opposite - formalising learning through insistence on credentials and discouraging a 'learning attitude', the broader engagement with the world at large.
Now, if we have to make learning meaningful again, we shall need to ressurect the Coffee House, not in the formal Starbucks sense, but in its traditional chaotic form. We proudly tell the tale that Seventeenth century Coffee Houses perhaps sparked the enlightenment and some of them became great institutions (like Lloyd's or the London Stock Exchange), but to view their histories in a teleologic fashion is a mistake we ought to avoid. The innovation per se were brought about by people meeting people - they were not building Lloyd's on the back of the napkin - and they were indulging in pointless connections and what we would consider 'idle talk': Some were speaking business, indeed, but to define the purpose of the place on what came later would be to miss the lessons of how it came about.
Indeed, we already know the value of the 'Coffee House': We have discovered the value of the public sphere just as they retreat. We have sought to restore its essence now in the most unlikeliest of the places, corporate 'campuses', building them as 'free' assemblies of people where, to use Matt Ridley's term, 'ideas can have sex'. We have done this just as our Universities were turning into bureaucratic monstrosities, where an university administrator's job, as Clark Kerr saw it, consisted of only three concerns:'sex for students, parking for faculty and sports for alumni'. However, we have generally avoided importing Coffee House culture into the College, recognising, perhaps rightly, the antithetical nature of the two.
One of the key tasks of an education innovator, therefore, is to understand the competition between the forms of learning, and indeed the forms of knowledge, and seek the common ground. It is not so much importing the coffee house in the college, but to go the other way, recognising - not necessarily credentialling - the value of informal learning, and putting it at the heart of a learning society. It is about learning the 'values' of the coffee house, of idle talk and weak connections, and putting it alongside the more formal forms.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.