February 2, 2016
A resilient natural system, say an old-growth forest for example, is so because it is highly diverse. A wide range of individual lifeforms have been able to thrive there—allowed to do what they do best as complex, mutually beneficial relationships are formed and perpetually evolved.
As a whole we’ve come around to recognize this link between resilience and diversity, but its application in modern human systems—at least in a mainstream sense—is largely superficial. Advertisements meeting ethnic quotas with global, multi-cultural tones mask a persistent pattern of mono-cultural industrialism. In the name of diversity, it serves only to absorb those unique patterns and conform them to a system designed for the concentration of power and influence.
Two glaring examples of this are found in agriculture and education. In this article we will touch on the former and look more closely at the latter, exploring how the theory of multiple intelligences might provide guidance for alternatives.
The vast (vast, vast) majority of the food we consume on a daily basis is produced as mono-crops—in fields with one singular type of plant. Completely lacking diversity and therefore resilience, these systems are propped up by chemicals and artificial fertilizers that in time destroy themselves. Abundant forest systems are transformed into deserts. Water is wasted and polluted. Animals are displaced and die in massive numbers.
Where is our demand for diversity there?
In education the mainstream movement has been toward standardization. Curricula are designed to prepare all students for the same test, by which their value to society and their fate is largely decided. A minority do well in such an environment, while most never develop the unique abilities that lead them to the fulfillment of their potential. They end up spending the majority of their time and energy doing something arbitrary to make a living, working for those that did better on the test.
Some might have you believe that a school following this standardized model of education, if filled with students of different skin colors and cultural backgrounds, is diverse. I will argue here that it is the exact opposite of that—it is destroying diversity just as the developer who clear cuts an old-growth forest to plant soybeans does.
One consequence of this is stifled creativity (and therefore problem-solving skills), making us as an entire species less adaptable. The faster things change, the more we struggle to keep up and the more our problems linger unsolved. As these problems become ever more dire and even threatening to our survival, the more we need individuals capable of challenging existing paradigms and forming unique perspectives.
If we are to truly value diversity as not just a superficial fad but as a scientifically sound characteristic of a resilient and sustainable (adaptable) system, we must create alternative systems that reflect that value.
In agriculture we can look to movements like Permaculture for fresh thinking.
In education we might take a look at the theory of multiple intelligences—coined by developmental psychologist Howard Gardner with his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Rather than seeing “intelligence” as a singular phenomenon, he maps a range of distinct types of intelligences. According to Gardner, everyone possesses a unique blend of each:
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What would a system of education look like that supported learners to embrace their unique balance of natural intelligences? The question is bigger than any existing answer—this is our challenge that we must face together.
One institution that I have drawn much inspiration from—and through which I have evolved my own thinking considerably I believe—is Gaia University, whose mission is to do just that. There is no doubt that organizational leaders, educators (and self-educators) around the world can learn much from them about how to support learners in their unique journey to discovering their natural intelligence and passion—and transforming their energy into what they refer to as “right livelihood.”
In other words doing what you love, what you’re good at, and what the rest of us need you to do more than anything else.
A few characteristics of Gaia U to consider for developing your—or supporting others others to develop their— natural (unique blend of multiple) intelligences:
– Supporting learners to design and develop their own pathways
– Project/solution based approach (action oriented)
– Encouraging experimentation, learning from failure not fearing it
– Blurring the line between student and professional — learning based around real-life experiences in the real world
– “Guide on the Side” over “Sage on the Stage”
– Encouraging journaling throughout the process and creating opportunities for reflection
– Creating opportunities for self-reviews and peer-reviews of work
– Learning at your own pace / flexible structures that develop self-management skills
– Learners are supported to choose much of the content & materials / develop independent research skills
– Learning is documented and arranged creatively in a portfolio
– Emphasis on worldviews, systems thinking, design thinking, leadership and critical thinking
– A developed sense of responsibility for sharing learning and co-creating the knowledge commons
There are probably other characteristics I could add to this list, but you start to get a picture of something very different from the model of standardization so commonly found today in mainstream education. What is the result?
From my experience interacting with this type of approach as both a student and administrator, the result is very inspiring. Many of the most interesting, authentic, passionate, creative, and naturally intelligent people I have known in this life have carved out their niches in such a support system.
Not to mention it is a way of learning that doesn’t stop at graduation. These patterns of development only evolve with time and are taken into any environment—the workplace, the home, relationships, travels, new challenges.
At the end of the day we are not meant to be stalks in a cornfield. We are meant to be big trees in an old growth forest, unique in the ways we reach up for the light, wiser every year as we give to and take from the lifeforms around us.
It’s probably for the best if we cast off the notion that we have achieved some level of diversity in our culture as a whole. Most of it is superficial, or even counter to real diversity. Real diversity is not just about skin color or socioeconomic background—it is about allowing everyone to grow into the one-of-a-kind individual that they truly are. To embrace the gift in whichever unique form it has taken within, and to use it well.
Check out the Gaia University site here.
For more on the theory of multiple intelligences, click here.