Distilling core values for education from human history
A short, opinionated journey through human history, cherry-picking core educational values along the way.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Sir Isaac Newton, 1676
“The shoulders of giants”? This again? We hear it often enough, but what does it mean?
A possible interpretation is that it — very poetically — defines our species’ collective capability of assimilating, interpreting, sharing, questioning, combining, and repurposing knowledge of the world around us.
That’s a lot of gerunds, so let’s break it down…
In very simplistic terms, we began our collective advancement aeons ago, once we gained the ability to pass on critical, previously acquired knowledge to our offspring, in a shorter amount of time than it would take for that knowledge to be reacquired.
We’re not the only species out there to have achieved this, but we developed a way to effectively communicate through Language, which sped things up dramatically.
Over time, our definition of “critical” expanded and matured, as did our ability to synthesise, distill, and abstract. We taught ourselves to communicate better, and to apply communication towards teaching and learning from others, enabling better sharing of knowledge.
Every time we’ve expanded our ways to communicate — from speech, to pictographs, to printing, to electronic communication — our reach has increased, and our rate of advancement has accelerated.
Communication, Teaching and Learning, on their own, might have given us a comfortable perch on the evolutionary tree. But we’re also relentlessly curious!
Our curious minds have creatively formulated countless questions and found countless answers, but we’ve also been known to make countless mistakes — “to err is human”, after all.
Have you noticed the overabundance of second-person plurals up there? Great! Because that brings us to the next ingredient of this prosperity cocktail — Collaboration.
It’s a good thing that, all along, we had other humans, with incessantly curious minds of their own, asking us “are you sure?” enough times to motivate us in our quest for certainty.
“Are you sure?” is a powerful question, and it can be answered in kind, with “let’s find out!”.
But how do we find out? Believing that we’re right about something feels great, but it certainly doesn’t make it true — so, we need proof.
Proof that we’re either right or wrong, because both often provide value, different questions, and opportunities for advancement. And we’ll need a way to transmit that proof, in a way that is irrefutable.
But that’s hard work! What is it exactly what we are trying to prove? Which steps are we taking to prove it? Will demonstrating it once prove anything? Will others be able to duplicate it on their own? Have we thought about everything that might be affecting our experiments? So many questions!
Our enduring Tenacity certainly gave us an edge in our search for answers, through numerous iterations and varying hypothesis, a plethora of starting points, approaches, and experimentation practices. We could easily have become tied up in the complexities brought on by ever-greater challenges.
This is where our rational ability kicked in to give us a hand — we applied Method.
Method — It’s a loose enough word but, when applied, it can turn chaos into order, play into experimentation, hypotheses into facts, and apprentices into masters.
Communication. Teaching. Learning. Curiosity. Collaboration. Tenacity. Method.
Seven pillars of Humankind and seven pillars of Science which have helped propel us from tree branches into orbit, and beyond.
But there is an eighth. And it is so important that it deserves its own very special place in this text. That is Equal Opportunity.
History has shown us, time and time again, that we’re all better off when all of us are taken care of.
All of us — regardless of whatever physical and mental characteristics make us unique.
Our shared humanity gives us the ability to build on top of the other seven pillars, to stand on the shoulders of all the giants that came before us, and that exist all around us! Embracing uniqueness unlocks different ways of looking at things, of interpreting them, of explaining them to others, of unlocking paths to a future we might never otherwise contemplate, let alone experience, together.
Equality. Communication. Teaching. Learning. Curiosity. Collaboration. Tenacity. Method. The eight pillars of Education, and eight core values for any educational endeavour.