“The era when isolation and separation were necessary to define the learning environments for our children has passed”, really?

I admire Dirk Van Damme from the OECD a lot. One of the best lectures I ever attended was by him. But I’m not really on the same line with what he writes in this new blog post or rather: I’m at the other side of probably the same coin.

It is one specific paragraph that triggers this reply:

Innovative schools challenge the boundaries – in time, space, and also in curricula and learning processes – that tradition seems to impose on schools today. They often have different approaches to the learning process and especially how its pedagogical core is organised. It is true that deep learning sometimes requires concentration, silencing the noise from the surrounding environment. And a networking world can be a very noisy world. But the era when isolation and separation were necessary to define the learning environments for our children has passed. Schools are at a crossroads of innovation: they are becoming partners and actors in processes of innovation in the surrounding economy and society, and taking benefit of the world around them to innovate their own existence.

This all sounds great, but is it? Let’s take a look at the etymological origins of school, it stems from the Greek word skhole “spare time, leisure, rest ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;” This may sound a bit strange, but understand school to be a place where you are free from economic pressure. Take the example of the hair salon in my own institute (yes, we have one to train teacher trainers who will teach hair dressers). If you visit this salon you have to know 2 things: it will take much more time and it will cost you much less than in a regular hair salon. Why, the emphasis is not on economic profit, but on learning. And what is typical for learning: it takes a lot of effort and time.

Is this an example of isolation or an example of being partners in society? I want to argue rather the first than the latter, but they are not exclusive to each other. I think isolation and separation are still necessary for learning and organizing learning while interaction with the surrounding world is as important too. And it’s also important for schools – if they need to be a partner – to also have time of their own. Some private time is good in any relation, I think.

Rather than describing the acceptance of these boundaries as a tradition, I would like to argue that for the past couple of decades discussing these boundaries have been a central discussion in thinking about education, even dating back to Rousseau, Dewey and educational thinkers alike and that for the past few years educational scientists are rather bringing back the focus on the importance and need for schools to be something separate once and a while.

4 thoughts on ““The era when isolation and separation were necessary to define the learning environments for our children has passed”, really?

  1. Hannah Arendt would say this is the epitome of a thoughtless society–she argues in a number of her writings that thinking only happens in a state of solitude, where the “2 in 1” person can have an internal dialogue with the self. Thoughtless societies have done very bad things…

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