Hi Michael, thank you for sharing your story and connecting with me. So much of vertical learning theory is based on my own experiences, it’s been very helpful to see vertical learning through someone else’s lens.
I suspect I used the word “proof” incorrectly, and I might instead have been trying to explain your concept of vertical learning. What I was referring to is that sometimes you can “know” something without having to go through the process of formally learning it.
I think I understand what you mean here. A few years ago, I wanted to know whether the electrons in an electric circuit travel in one direction or randomly in all directions. I know that water molecules flowing through a pipe are still moving randomly in all directions even though there is a net flow in one direction. And I know enough about electrons, electric circuits, and particle motion to be 99% sure that electrons in an electric circuit still move randomly in all directions. I have a small bit of doubt because, unlike water molecules in a pipe, there is an electric field in an electric circuit which affects electron motion—but I believe that electric field is generated locally by neighboring electrons.
I would still like confirmation to erase my small doubts, but I have strong confidence in my belief that electrons in an electric circuit are still moving randomly in all directions because that belief is supported by numerous other theories that have been confirmed and are concrete and intuitive for me.
In some ways, this is a bit like the search for the Higgs boson, which I have written about several times. The Standard Model predicts the existence of a subatomic particle no one has detected before. As confidence in the theory grew, so did confidence that we would eventually find the Higgs boson. To particle physicists, this wasn’t a matter of faith. They were equally prepared to discover that the Higgs boson did not exist. But the Standard Model had held up under repeated testing, and if the Standard Model is accurate, then the Higgs boson exists.
That’s a pretty accurate account of what I’ve experienced, but the funny thing is none of this happened (and still happens) consciously. I certainly didn’t set out on any journey — at least intentionally. I’m also not sure I “actively tried to make sense of things.” I’m pleased with the outcome, but — at least until discovering your work — I wasn’t sure whether any of this could be “bottled” and taught to another.
Right. A key part of my theory is that it doesn’t involve any sort of planning, at least until the vertical learner reaches the strategic stage. You made sense of things because you recognized when things didn’t make sense—and it bugged you when things didn’t make sense. That started you down the path of self-realization because, as you got better at sense-making, things started to make sense! You started to put more and more pieces together, leading to more powerful paradigm shifts and new epiphanies.
This is the bit that most excites me. I want my now 3yo daughter to learn this stuff much quicker than I did. I’m guessing it might be a little too early to start now, but I’ll be following your work with interest. I’ve also just been appointed to the board of a non-profit in South Africa where we’re aiming to improve the country’s education system, without changing the curriculum — no mean feat. It will be interesting to explore whether the results of your work can be implemented in our grass-roots solution.
In the U.S., we have state standards which document what students are expected to learn by the end of the year in different subjects at each grade level. Some states have adopted the Common Core standards as their state standards. It’s challenging but entirely possible to design a curriculum that meets state standards and also cultivates vertical learning. That’s pretty much what I did through my fifteen-year career as a classroom teacher. If the curriculum itself is set (meaning you have to follow a certain sequence and pacing throughout the year), then it’s going to be next to impossible to cultivate vertical learning. You have to be able to design the curriculum so that sense-making pays off in a big way, which means developing skills and concepts in an effective sequence is critical.
I have a really clear vision of what that world looks like (with obviously a few bits that need polishing), thanks to vertical learning. I’ve never shared this vision before, basically because I have no credibility/authority — who am I to think there is a solution to all the world’s challenges? Well, I think vertical learning is the answer, and your feedback has given me the confidence to get something out there.
I developed my understanding of vertical learning during my twenty-year career in education. As a lowly classroom teacher, I also lacked credibility and authority. I’ve thought about going back and getting a doctorate just to beef up my credentials, not because I thought I would learn anything useful. I was basically in the same boat as you. I had a clear vision of how children can learn vertically. I had gone so far as to test my theories in the real world and the results were very promising if mostly anecdotal. But I couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to me.
It wasn’t until I consciously acknowledged vertical learning as my golden thread that I felt courageous enough to work on it full-time. Given my age, I’m not sure how far I’ll be able to take things in the next couple of decades, but I was determined to start documenting my work so someone else can pick up where I left off and stand on my shoulders. It means a lot to know that I’ve left enough breadcrumbs for you to find me. Best of luck! :)