Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Social Constructedness of Learning

Two events I attended this past weekend reminded me of a point made by C.A. Bowers in his 1995 book titled Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence and Other Modern Orthodoxies.  (Yep, I'll bet you're wondering why in the world someone would read a book with that kind of title).

Bowers asserts in the book that there is no such thing as individual intelligence, that all intelligence is housed in a collective of the folks with whom you interact and engage.  In effect, intelligence is a social construct.  One analogy that might help explain this is to think of your social network as a big brain, each person in it representing a neuron.  Each time you interact with those in your network, it's like synapses firing and strengthening those associations.  It's sort of like CrossFit for the brain.

I attended the 10th anniversary of Hendrickson High School (HHS) in Pflugerville, Texas, last Friday.  I was honored to serve as the principal of HHS a few years back.  At Friday's event I was able to visit with numerous folks in my network, powerful thinkers and skillful educators who stretched me daily as we worked together to serve the HHS students.  Seeing so many of the people who helped "shape" me was a powerful reminder of Bowers' belief that our intelligence is not bounded within our own skull.

The very next morning I served as a facilitator at the annual Leadership in Action event for the UT Austin Principalship Program (UTAPP).  I have been honored to serve as a professor in that program for almost a decade now.  The 15 students who were finishing up their program at UTAPP were presenting their action research projects which serve as the capstone of their programming.  Spending the morning with those amazing thinkers and the other professors and coaches who craft the learning experiences for the students in the program was again an emphatic reminder to me that what I know and what I can do, my LEARNING, is not something that is owned by me, nor is it bounded by my physical being.  It is, in fact, embedded in the connections I have with others.

All that said, I am a man blessed beyond measure for having gotten to know, to think with, and to serve with these wonderful people (in both groups), most of whom have dedicated their lives to making better futures for young people.