Jul 13, 2020

Life1A: Acting Fast and Thinking Slow

“The Department of Education (DepEd) is at a crucial junction in its history. Long used to deliver its services through face-to-face interactions in the classroom, the COVID-19 public health emergency has forced it to consider and deploy multiple learning delivery modalities including online distance learning in a very short period of time.”

In the introduction to the DepEd Commons Roadmap published May 20, 2020, two sentences succinctly take stock, the situation in our schools:

“The Department of Education (DepEd) is at a crucial junction in its history. Long used to deliver its services through face-to-face interactions in the classroom, the COVID-19 public health emergency has forced it to consider and deploy multiple learning delivery modalities including online distance learning in a very short period of time.”

Even prior to COVID-19, Education Departments around the planet are similarly pushed to undergo accelerated changes in their practice of teaching. The Philippine learning community sits at the edge of an extremely busy technological intersection, about to make a quantum leap from yesterday’s school buildings onto tomorrow’s virtual spaces.

The Paris OER Declaration in 2012 marked the democratisation of our global knowledge. Open Educational Resources (OER) are unrestricted learning resources made publicly accessible to all humans on Earth at no cost. Such a declaration is momentous, yet merely a formalisation of the internet’s inevitable gift to future generations: where knowledge in the past serve as a form of power wielded by a select few, information is equitably now a planetary commons, fast empowering populations across regional, economic and social divides.

In those places sharing the current Philippine context, COVID-19 is an adrenaline rush shot quick into the veins of education systems designed to resist abrupt changes.

Transitions in any gargantuan organization are usually expensive and inconvenient. The etymology of “institution” comes from the Latin, “to establish.” The established nature of School, in the essence of its being In+Statuo, makes it contradictorily antonymic to the very nature of its own transformations.

In step with the times, the learning community will have to act fast and think slow. A successful shift in the mediums of instruction (classroom to digital) is not a logistical problem only. It is difficult to enact new teaching modalities without a proper convergent set of theories that allows practitioners to dialogue with each other using shared frameworks pertinent to a difficult time.

The societal role of the school is to principally ensure that all specific life domains worthy of study – economics, agriculture, politics, etc – co-implicate each other on triage of Philosophy, Theory, and Practice.

There can be no long-term effective practice of Education, without guidance from a convergent set of Theories of Learning that also must emerge from a comprehensive Philosophy of Education, both locally aware and epistemologically global.

The tools to make the above an imaginable event is fairly recent. Decades prior to the invention of the internet, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan predicted: “the new electronic independence re-creates the world in the image of a global village.”

He goes on to describe what this Global Village ensues: “one of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with. When information overload occurs, pattern recognition is how to determine truth.”

What McLuhan offered since the 60s, the members of a fast-paced digital environment will develop a gestalt perception … a Big Picture Thinking.

An integral Philosophy of Education is assisted by the Cognitive Sciences. Beyond just the science of teaching curriculums, education today is an inter-disciplinary feedback system involving studies in anthropology (the human), linguistics (language), AI (information networks), psychology (mind), neuroscience (brain), and the Philosophy of Mind (worldviews across cultures and histories).

The future teacher is an inter-disciplinary humanist, able to trace a learning community’s mental architecture. In real-time, technology makes visible, previously hidden structures of language, mind, and brain, reflecting externally, those internal structures comprising the indigenous nature of human thought.

The internet in this light should not be construed as a mere tool for delivering a teacher’s lesson plans in a new way. The worldwide web signals our ironic return to our traditional learning styles, later polarised when writing technologies shifted our right-brained intelligence to logical left-brain thinking modes.

McLuhan’s foreshadowed – “we are all robots when uncritically involved with our technologies.”

In his book Thinking in Story, Richard Jensen writes, “the Western world is a world of the Eye. The Ear is no longer necessary for learning.” If once, tribal man used to hear truths, we were later trained to look for them.

McLuhan’s student, a Jesuit anthropologist named Walter One wrote the book Orality vs. Literacy, a seminal work that marks the long transitions between oral and writing traditions. Ong mentions, in tribal society, “learners are doers, not recipients.” For our ancestors, knowledge is always applied wisdom; our conscious actions reflect our indigenous understanding of life as an integrated whole.

McLuhan writes, “the tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which they return to us to the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood.” What digital educators intuitively realize, new media rebalances the gifts orality and literacy hold for each other, making hearing and reading, two complementary facets. This strange technological event, Ong contributes is our Secondary Orality, a recent all-pervasive era.

It is empathically understandable that schools have little choice but to move at interactive media’s present velocity, whilst taking advantage of how it extends our precious literacies. Knowledge portals like Wikipedia, Khan Academy for instance provide slow information abundance that go alongside our vulnerable youth’s fast attention spans.

COVID-19 brings about an extensive roadmapping for our Education networks. Rather than just a mere survival mechanism for an institution groping through a quick-paced race towards some unknown finish line, we might use this time to deeply reflect upon our paradoxical histories comprising global thought.

A philosophical is tantamount to identity. A culture that is self-aware of the nature of its own consciousness circles back to its ancient origins through fresh eyes, through knowing ears – and confidently moves forward guided by its own wisdom.

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