Thursday, February 11, 2010

Learning Cities

You see what you look for. Since the past post on universities as cities, and because our campus theme next year is City, I've been looking for examples of work at the connection of learning and cities.

Today I came across Udaipur as a Learning City, a project led by Shikshantar: The People's Institute for Rethinking Education and Development, an NGO in India, to create learning spaces in the city, and by so doing, bring freedom, relevance, and joy to education.

The Udaipur project has many aspects--city-wide learning communities, projects to create learning in parks, movie-making about learning outside of school, and citizen discussions among them. All of the projects aim to take the power and complexity of city life, and turn it into learning. Running in the background are the ideas of Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi, EF Schumaker, and Ivan Illich. But the projects don't carry the stigma of intellectualism. They are instead locally grown efforts to learn all the time.

Udaipur got me thinking anew about a series of workshops that local community activists and Westminster have been hosting. Called the Sugar House Forum, the bi-monthly meetings aim to create conversations about healthy communities, and then out of those conversations to promote on-going projects and develop new leaders. We have hosted three to date: one on food, one on history, and one on shopping locally. Our next, on place-making, is coming up on Feb. 27.

I wonder, then, what would happen if we thought of communities as schools. How would our neighborhoods and towns be different if one of their goals was learning? How would our schools be different if they were only responsible for those portions of learning that could not be accomplished through everyday life, punctuated with conversation, work, and contemplation?

(I've done a bit of writing about these questions in my chapter, "Making Moral Systems of Education" in Education and the Making of a Democratic People, fwiw.)


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I also wonder about what would happen if we thought of communities as schools. In addition to how our neighborhoods and cities/towns would be different if one of the goals was learning, I wonder how that learning would be different if one of the goals (of the learning) was the health and well-being of the students?

I was in court a couple of days ago for a speeding ticket. (Driving far too fast on a wide open northern Utah road...)

Anyway, five young men (19 years old) were appearing on charges for drug possession and underage drinking.

The judge randomly selected three of the five for a drug test during the hearing. They all tested positive. And they were all taken away in handcuffs.

During the questioning, the judge asked them all the same question. "Why did you do it?" They all gave the same answer. "Because it was there."

He kept pushing them for why they did it, why they would make those choices, why they would willfully choose to break the law, why they would come to their hearing "dirty". The young men couldn't answer the questions.

The judge said, "You're not learning a thing."

But I couldn't help but feel at the time that they hadn't learned because our systems had failed them. Community systems, school systems, church systems, family systems...

I wonder if students could actually answer questions about why they do things if we were paying enough time/attention to be able to help them understand why they do? If their learning had something to do with their well-being?

I wondered after reading this post about how those systems might look differently if one of the goals of learning (in any of those systems) was to promote whole well-being. People learn better when they feel better.

The idea of learning outside of school appeals to me. I also like the idea of schools becoming places where a broad section of learning can happen. Or where these places (schools, churches, etc.) that hold groups of people in a community (or system) can serve to support/foster/enhance the health and well-being--mentally, psychologically, physically, and socially--of the people in that community.

Just a thought.