There's nothing so dangerous as an idea. They topple kingdoms, provoke genocides, create technologies to kill, exploit, shut out.
An idea can bring blessing too - an insight or invention that feeds the hungry, protects an ecosystem, facilitates justice, gives voice to the marginalised.
Ideas operate at a higher scale than individuals. They are parasites and viruses. They hatch in our minds but rapidly transcend - sometimes sweeping in epidemics through the collective consciousness of connected society. We are simply the substrate. Together our billions of minds create a neuro-ecosystem where idea-animals roam, feed, breed like rabbits, metamorphise.
Do ideas care whether they bring destruction or benediction?
Information technologies provide the links between families, tribes, subcultures, cultures, meta-cultures that make the idea-substrate possible at a speed and critical mass previously impossible. You have to rewind to the development of speech or even earlier to trace the beginnings.
It came in bunny hops: the invention of writing (Socrates warned it was the end of us!), the printing press (cite Gessner in 1565 panicking about the 'confusing and harmful abundance of books), TV, radio, internet.
We have spawned a derivative universe. It is a Wild Wild West - no law and order to restrain. And, it is subject to feedback loops with no discernible upper limits.
Socrates was right to sound the alarm. The advent of writing was the birth of a derivative universe.
Ideas come in bundles, with centres of gravity formed by a myriad of likely shared presuppositions, favoured explanations, scripts, definitions and buzzwords. Picture overlapping orbits around a galactic centre, with the more likely utterances in the centre, and increasingly marginilised or rare utterances in progressively outlying orbits.
The central, likely bundles might be more likely because they are wiser. Or, because they are better at exploiting our push-buttons: fear of rejection, desire for acceptance, love, lust, hunger, appetite for beauty, appetite for watching others fail...
The collective noun for these meme-complexes is 'discourse'.
Would we have any hesitation in identifying some of the edu-animals in the edu-zoo?
- schools kill creativity (proposition)
- industrial paradigm vs 21st century learning
- Flipped Learning
- Reggio Emilia
- Direct Instruction
- Visible Thinking
- Blended Learning
- Personalised Learning
These are not discrete ideas but gravity-wells in themselves, with their own peculiar sets of orbits, clichés, insights, blind spots, contradictions, aspirations, filters within filters.
Picture the globe, then picture a pinprick representing each person infected with one of these gravity-wells. We are colonised by contagions. These contagions are complex complexes, but you can meaningfully discern their existence and movement.
Crucially, they transcend context.
Ideas versus Context
I am an ideas-junkie. I crave them, I swim in them, and I've been obsessed with finding better insights better maps. I really dig Karl Popper - the quest for better explanations of a baffling world.
And you see, I want to heal the world, and ideas hold out this promise, since they scale up a level of existence I can only glimpse. Ideas are the 'One Ring' that seduces me.
It's in that very transcendent property of ideas that they become tyrannical, that they cause scaled-up damage. An idea cares nothing of context. It just wants to exist in a brain, in any brain, by being labelled 'good' or 'true' or some other payoff.
We all want 'answers' - all the more so in complex situations where no clear path forward presents itself. For example, umm.... er.... schools! Oh then must we be wary, cautious!
In the same way a machine gun does not care what side it is being used on, neither does an idea.
Context is everything. An idea is only proved functional, beneficial, to us, its host, in the pragmatics of the situation in all its non-transcendent specificity.
This is why lesson plans are a grain of salt, syllabuses an oppressive fantasy, and the timetable a prison. They may have a function, they may be necessary, in the transcendent. In the actual they may help or hinder learning. It really depends, like, you know, on the situation.
Context is everything.
Context is everything.
Context re-creates the text over and over. The transcendent idea is another beast altogether in its individual manifestations. This is true of biological systems too: look at how a cell operates! Transcendent, higher order emerges, but when you drill it down to components you have molecules slamming into each other all over the place in a blaze of randomness: everything is local and idiosyncratic.
The lesson of this story: rise up against these tyrannous idea-overlords, and embrace locality - the moment, the context, as the primary domain.
Be suspicious of ideology.
Experiment. Innovate. Intuit. Improvise.
By what map, then? If maps are not to be trusted?
Ideas vs People
Remember, if ideas live in an ecosystem of which we make up the substrate... WE ARE the substrate.
So bring your attention back to people. To yourself as a person.
What is right in front of your eyes? Who?
Let all ideas dissolve. All preconceptions. Who is there, in the space, with you?
How are they? Where are they seeking to go?
Look, now, at the teacher in a classroom, with students. Look again - there is no teacher, no classroom, no students. There were only ever people. The rest were ideas, and since context is everything, all ideas are fiction. The words we inherited betrayed us. Allegiance
I badge myself as an idea-junkie. More than anything else, this is a warning to myself.
Give me the choice between a beautiful, gracious person who cares profoundly and authentically for others, but has never heard of or embraced the edu-memes that sweep through cyberspace, and some of which I promote quite enthusiastically...
...a choice between that teacher and another, earnestly implementing a personalised, tech-savvy strategy, but doesn't genuinely care... watch her/him, checking email in the corner while the kids are hypnotised by the glow of the screens.
Which would I choose?
The best of both worlds, of course. Great new ideas, applied contextually, insightfully, and always subservient to a deep connectedness and commitment to community and wellbeing.
But if I had to choose?
This idea-junkie would choose people over ideas every time. If you notice me behaving otherwise, oh strange blog-reader, please be a friend:
slap me, call an intervention, and book me in for detoxing, for I have lost myself to my drug.
A Centre of Gravity in Scale
We exist across three worlds.
Downstream, the micro-world makes up our bodies and minds, and can malfunction and make us sick at any time. It is our substrate and if it fails, we fail. The mysterious molecules have their own billions of agendas, yet we emerge from them. They exist at a time-scale much shorter than...
...the world we live in, made up of our loved ones, communities - those we exist to serve, and who serve us, and who we depend on and are dependable for. I do not know who I am, apart from these people, who have made me and who I in turn make, in my words and actions. Fragile, I'm in your hands. Fragile, you are in mine. That's a classroom, that's a school. We just get blinded by concepts drilled down from...
...further upstream, lies an alien world. It used to exist at a slower-timescale to ours, but it has sped up and overtaken us, drilling back down into the movement of electrons through copper and photons through cable. It can only exist while we flourish, for we maintain its nervous system of wires and electricity, and hemoglobin of paper and ink.
It has an agenda that terrifies me. It is the Tower of Babel, the Borg, the Other, even though it is made out of us. It sends drones with missiles to destroy 'randoms'. It locks out 'refugees'. It invokes narratives and seductive fictions, making the world feel safer and simpler, populated by heroes and villains. It turns us against each other for its own agenda.
It can't exist without us, and we can't exist without it. It provides us with language to speak, and as we speak we become the mechanism for its perpetuation.
The warning is: even as we exist in these three worlds, to remember our home, our centre.
In the moment, there is me, and you, in a space together,