A couple of weeks ago, I met a group of learner-centered leaders from Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the 23 Native Nations in that region at a convening hosted by the Bush Foundation.
At the event, we heard from Dr. Teresa Peterson, a 2011 Bush Leadership Fellow and champion for cultivating indigenous education. She shared the importance of young people not only finding their gifts and purpose but also contributing those gifts and purpose to the community. I was struck by how Western culture thinks about the individual as distinct from the community and how wonderful it was not to separate figuratively or literally the person from their community.
This thought has left me reflecting ever since. It’s not that I, the Education Reimagined team, or our learner-centered communities don’t understand the importance of community. But, so often in education conversations—whether they are school-centered or learner-centered—we focus on the performance of an individual when we think about outcomes. This means in the context of young learner success, contribution to our communities is often seen as a secondary benefit, not a primary one.
In the dominant education paradigm, we too often focus on deficiencies, rather than strengths, of individuals and communities. In learner-centered work, we seek to reverse this focus. But, often when it comes to assessing outcomes, we remain fixated on the individual, rather than the community. What if we thought about community contribution and connectedness as one of the outcomes of learner-centered models?
I love imagining an education system where the success of the individual and the success of the community are co-dependent. Teresa has a quote from Pablo Picasso at the bottom of her emails that sums up this view: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
We need now, more than ever, people and communities that can heal, care for one another, and unlock the gifts we each have that will make the world (our largest community) a better place. Education could be the instrument for unlocking those gifts.
As we continue our journey toward a learner-centered future, let’s be present to the gifts our native nations and diverse communities are. We might just discover what we are most in need of is there.
Enjoy our April 2019 Issue of Voyager,