the purpose of education is to delight (#purposedu #500words)

Learning begins in delight and ends in wisdom – Gardner Campbell

With its simplicity and panache, the purpose of delight is offered in a similar spirit to those so far: hope, independence, curiosity, magical experience, connection, confidence, enthusiasm, optimism, preparation … and to the seemingly over-arching theme of  helping people become what they are capable of becoming.

However this made me wonder how education actually supports a journey from delight to wisdom; a seemingly different journey than that from the classroom to the exam hall.

An education provider, as social institution, implies a certain structure of time and space and creates its own social system of relationships – perhaps most commonly being one of categorisation:

  • Categorisation of learning providers through league tables;
  • Categorisation of learning through curriculum;
  • Categorisation of learners through standardised testing.

For Foucault such classifications operate a disciplinary function that constitutes the individual as effect and object of power (pouvoir) and knowledge (connaissance). This produces the individual ‘case’ – learner as UCAS points, bachelor, master, drop-out, failure – the examination fixing individual differences and the commonality of potential.

Such systems may well suggest that the end of education is the dawn of learning.

An alternative to categorisation is sense-making, a process based on exploration rather than exploitation. In other words education must shift from instruction to discovery; from boring to building. Taking this further, McLuhan suggests that anyone who makes a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either. This should shift interest to the territory of knowledge (saviour) to be explored rather than domains of  knowledge (connaissance) being imposed.

Following Deleuze & Guattari this introduces an alternative concept of power (puissance) as a range of potential or ‘capacity for existence’.  This power resides with the learner – the power to be, so beautifully presented already as burning brightly, building minds, or the magical key to unlocking potential.

For me delight is the interest that can spark a connection with the world. Interest-driven learning or rhizomatic learning provide examples where there aren’t ‘things people should know’ but rather ‘new connections to be made’. The purpose of education and importance of teachers becomes to help learners follow their delights and make new connections; the community becomes the curriculum

As a technologist my interest has been in understanding how personalised learning might see systems adapt to the learner rather than learners to systems. One need only look at the impact of the long tail or the social network as ways of piquing personal interest and connecting people with shared interests.

While possibilities exist for improving learning, technology itself cannot act as an isolated catalyst for these changes which is why debates like this are so important. The classification model of education will resist such changes: rather than allow learners to explore through technology, a computer curriculum was developed … before the computer could change School, School changed the computer.

To reverse this, the purpose of delight seeks to help learners perceive education as something they’re participants in rather than recipients of.