In November of last year, I shared a
list of seven
principles that our spaces for learning and development need to address in
order to create young people (and ultimately a society) with strong civic capabilities.
This is the first in a series of blog
posts that will explore each principle within the context of my work at JFF’s
Student-Centered Learning Research Collaborative. My ultimate goal is to integrate my thinking
around civic capabilities and student-centered
learning. Clearly, this is an effort to rationalize my day to day work more
Organizations and individuals
should be able to develop capacities to sustain
and grow themselves for long-term
All good learning environments should “grow”
leaners for “long-term success.” But what does long-term success mean and what
should one grow?
One marker of long-term success is
meaningful work. This suggests learning environments should allow individuals
to develop skills and knowledge that lend themselves to practical application in
work-oriented pursuits. To this end,
competency-based learning (one of the four student-centered learning tenants) and
by extension, learning that can happen anytime and anywhere (another
student-centered learning tenant) are well aligned with building work skill
mastery. In other words, learning should be experiential a la John Dewey.
Experiential learning is well suited
for the skills needed for successful work, what are often referred to as deeper
learning competencies, soft skills or 21st century skills. So what does growth for long-term success in
the work life have to do with civic capabilities? It is not hard to draw links between the
skills developed for work-oriented pursuits (e.g. communication, collaboration,
creative and critical thinking) and their applicability to civic-oriented
realms such as grassroots organizing, volunteering, or issue advocacy. Civic work is work. It is a type of social production with
different sorts of goods resulting, civic goods (e.g. collective action to
improve the environment, increased understanding of important issues, stronger
bonds between neighbors).
At the same time the idea of learners
sustaining and growing “themselves” suggests that there is an individual value to
learning. This leads easily into the
idea that learning is lifelong and never ending. Therefore, long-term success could be found
in any learning endeavor that is personally fulfilling. Here, personalization and ownership of
learning, or learner agency, are key student-centered learning ideas at play.
Personalized in that every person will have a unique set of learning
motivations and goals they will want to pursue.
Owned, because the motivation to engage comes from the individual who is
driven in pursuit of their learning own goals and objectives.
With this frame, one would want to “grow”
the ability of individuals to understand what interests them and how to choose
the correct action to take to maximize that interest. A constant assessment of whether or not one
is actually achieved one’s end goals in their learning pursuit would be
critical. So here, skills like critical
thinking, reflection, metacognition, problem-solving, decision-making, and host
of other executive order skills are demanded.
What does this framing of long-term
success have to do with civic capabilities?
To know one’s self and to act on one’s own interests is agentic. To have agency or to act in an agentic
manner, is core to civic action. But what is really important about the idea of
learners sustaining and growing “themselves” is the idea that learners “should
be able to develop” themselves. It is
the idea of having the ability that enforces the concept that learners
have agency. It is not that “individuals
must develop” (which is prescriptive) or we “must develop individuals” (which
is paternalistic). Rather, individuals “should be able to develop”, if they so
choose. They are not being forced to sustain and grow, they are simply being afforded
the opportunity to do so. And assumed in this principle is that ALL learners should
be afforded this opportunity.