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Learning at its Best

Deep Education

Back in April I posted here about skimming surfaces in eduction and the imperative to go deeper.  I’m still thinking about the need for a shift towards depth in education:

diving deep

I go down.

Rung after rung

I go down…

I came to explore…

The thing I came for:

The wreck and not the story of the wreck

The thing itself and not the myth

This is the place and I am here

We circle silently

About the wreck

We dive into the hold

I am she: I am he

We are. I am, you are.

Adrienne Rich

As I said, I live on an island, and, after ten years, finally, with the encouragement of my teenage son, have purchased a small used sailboat.  Together we have been looking at our first nautical charts as we are trying to navigate through the waters of our new hobby.  Bodies of water on these charts are covered with numbers, depth of water, measured not in feet but fathoms.  The fathom seems such an odd and esoteric unit of measure, as well as a word with several meanings.  It turns out that the origins of the word fathom are from an Old English word meaning to embrace.  The unit of measure was derived from the distance a man could reach out and thus embrace (this later became standardized as a length of six feet.)  And the meaning of fathom: to understand, as in “I can’t fathom what you mean by that” also comes from this concept of knowing or understanding as an embrace of the subject.  Could we conceptualize a vision of education where the unfolding of the learner and the process coming into knowledge invokes both these meanings of fathom.  It is an embrace, and it does require depth of experience.

On my literal and simultaneously metaphoric island I have helped to found a small independent school for kids ranging in age from age 3-12 called Salmonberry School.  Over this decade of teaching and working to realize a humane and inspiring child-centered model of education, I have gradually evolved a personal pedagogy, which I have often called “holistic.”  But when I reflect now on what truly differentiates my practice in the classroom most from a mainstream approach, it is this quest for both embrace and depth.

I was in a meeting with a school principal last week and had the most surreal moment.  We were surrounded by so much that was familiar, new math books, school furniture, the language of the educational profession, but something was so off.  When the principal said, “we’re really all after the same goals, aren’t we?”  It reminded me of the planet, Camazots in A Wrinkle in Time, where everything is so normal, it’s somehow freakish and not right.  And, “No!” I want to scream, “we are not after the same goals at all!”  The feeling I have is is like that of realizing the façade here.  It is like lifting a thin veil which has been covering “it” (the evil brain-being in Wrinkle) and masquerading as education.

So what is “deep education?”  What would it look like if depth were a real goal in our work with learners?  I believe it would include an emphasis on Bloom’s higher level thinking skills as a starting point, with which many of you will be familiar.  However in many ways I believe in addition to “higher-level thinking” deep education would include “lower-level” feeling, experiencing and knowing.  Lower level in the sense that it is “radical” or at the roots of this education.  A deep education would include a sense of celebration at times, and a sense of despair at others. It would include laughter as well as tears.

Deep education would involve cognitive knowing, but it would importantly it would apply this knowledge to both a very personal sense of self, one acquired through experience and reflection, and to an insight into the universal.  So that cognitive knowing would be a window to connection to the cosmos.  Deep education would endeavor to encourage the learner to “see the world in a grain of sand.”  Like eating an artichoke, as depth educators we would patiently and diligently peel off the outer prickly leaves of living subjects as we move towards the tender and tasty heart, and in so doing we would also become ourselves.

Deep education would have much to learn from the deep ecology movement from the 1970’s: The phrase “deep ecology” was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss in 1973 who helped give it a theoretical foundation. Næss, was frustrated by eco-science which refused to and, he maintained, was in fact unable to answer ethical questions about how we should live, since it rested on the modernist premise of scientific detachment.  He launched a movement which reached not just towards ecological knowledge but rather ecological wisdom.  Deep ecology seeks to develop this by focusing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment. These constitute an interconnected system.  Each gives rise to and supports the other.  Similarly deep education would also be about deep questioning and deep commitment rooted in deep experience.  Like deep ecology, it would also be about being and acting as well as thinking, more interested in the goal of wisdom than the goal of knowledge.  And like deep ecology, deep education would have a strong ethical and moral point of view.  It would not only see accumulation and unbiased analysis of facts as the primary goal, but would encourage and nurture the capacity for realizing right ways of being and acting.

What do you think?  Could and should depth, measured in fathoms, or embraces, be a goal for education?  What could that look like?  And what conditions might support deep education?

(For those who are interested I have been corresponding a bit with the one other author/educator who is writing about “deep education,”  Craig Chalquist at the California Institute for Integral Studies.  Here is an intro. to his work.)


About Paul Freedman

I am the founding Director of The Salmonberry School in Eastsound, WA. I have taught elementary school in public and private settings for the past 19 years. I serve as a contributing editor for Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice (Formerly the Holistic Education Review.) I also serve on the faculty of the Self Design Graduate Institute. I hold an MA in EDU from Goddard College.


22 thoughts on “Deep Education

  1. Paul, great to read you as always! I am so happy to hear that you got a boat, about time! Can’t wait to come up there again and sail with you all. What a great learning adventure for you and your son.

    I think your questions are very interesting, depth and embrace, both wonderful ways to talk about education. I also really appreciated your words on wisdom and I think in our definition of wisdom lies the key to your questions. I look as wisdom like this: Wisdom is not a disembodied intellectual concept. Nor is wisdom a rarefied set of honed skills, standards, or objective truths. Rather, wisdom is a whole being experience of self, spirit, and being.

    Wisdom is always inclusive of our emotions, body, brain, and heart along with the whole evolving history of our interpersonal relationships and personal development. Wisdom is built on and emerges from the foundation of self-knowledge—relational to any age and stage of growth.

    I really appreciate your comments about including the teacher as learner, which is one of the ways that we connect for sure. Qualities of adult wisdom involve integration of all aspects of self. Other qualities of adult wisdom involve individuation of the self in service of the wholeness of being while simultaneously being connected to the greater good. All of these factors together yield an experience of integrity and meaning that serves purpose.

    However, wisdom is not a perfectionist goal or rarefied awareness. Rather wisdom is available at any age of development when a person is able to access and act from their inherent developmental capacities available and within the boundaries of individual context.

    Wisdom-based relationship is not primarily cognitive; rather, it is visceral, empathic, and a kind of knowing that is a fundamental connection between I and thou (adult and child). The experience of wisdom in relationship lies in an open appreciation of the other which moves beyond personal interests. It is our ability to see and feel our children’s consciousness in ourselves and relate to our child in his or her language, meaning, and developmental moment.


    Posted by ambersk | September 21, 2011, 4:53 pm
  2. Thanks so much, Amber. Love your definition of wisdom. Beautiful, and quite attainable, I think.


    Posted by Paul Freedman | September 21, 2011, 8:32 pm
  3. I love the Camazotz reference, which just helped me learn that in the Popul Vuh, the bat-monster Camazotz take your head off if you stick it out too far.

    I think the deepest cultural lesson we have to learn – in order to embrace deep learning – is patience. Without it, we won’t see wisdom for what it is or forgive ourselves our mistakes or remember to learn from them.

    How would you help that principal build a culture of patience in her or his Camazotz school?


    PS – Someone clearly needs to contribute the “Reforming Camazotz” post.

    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 21, 2011, 9:36 pm
    • Thanks Chad,

      Hmm, That’s an interesting question. I sort of doubt that the Camazots school in question has the word patience in its Mission Statement. Standards,yes. Excellence, achievement, improvement, accountability, alignment etc, but not too much on patience, depth, passion, compassion, creativity. I agree that patience is critical. But where could it possibly fit? If the standardized test scores come back lower than last year’s, and funding cuts are threatened by the State Superintendent, or the District is put on probation, or individual teachers’ wages are cut, I don’t think the principal will be in much of a mood to talk about patience, you know?

      I am with you. Human unfoldment takes time. Wisdom takes time. Exploring self takes time. But this is a RACE, and it is a race TO THE TOP! Childhood may be a journey, but in Camazots, education ain’t no walk in the park (nor a deep sea exploration.)

      But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe I will head back over to the principal’s office and bring some green tea and see if he’d like to chat with me about building a culture of patience at his school. I’ll let you know what he says. (Want to place any bets ; – ))


      Posted by holisticdancingmonkey | September 22, 2011, 12:03 am
  4. Perhaps “education” is as “deep” as the culture/society in which it is located. If so, great depth may be obtained in a community that is itself “deep”, that is, shot through with meaningful existence as opposed to fearful running toward an ever-shifting “top” position through competition (largely motivated by fear of being or receiving less-than one’s peers). Insofar as I am able to ascertain, each life, whether yours’, your students’, my own or that of others around us are not zero-sum games to be played out according to rules largely based on this nation’s myths, but rather are unique existences to be experienced.

    It is fascinating to see that winning “The Race” has become The goal of education, with winning based on metrics that have little to do with why one might ever conceive that “education” might, in the first instance, be reified as “a good thing”. It seems “education” is commonly conceived as a stepping-stone to a life involving prestige, money, security or otherwise having the knowledge necessary to “do things” and to survive.

    While an undergrad I never really got trigonometry (my grade was a ‘C’). I assisted in constructing an arbor that had thirteen uprights aligned at certain compass points this past summer, and when we finished, we were one degree off according to the iPhone* app we had available.

    Three well-educated (at least heavily ‘Credentialed’) men**, standing in a field in the middle of nowhere, set the arbor up by using a rope to mark the uprights’ positions. We had fun. We learned. We took our time. We talked about a great many things. We might have applied trigonometry to place the uprights more accurately in order to have the “perfect” arbor, but we were not trying to shoot a rocket off in order to land on the moon or on Mars.

    The arbor Was perfect for our four-day purpose. Our results were not perfect “by the numbers”, and I wonder what “grade” we would have gotten in a trig class. Perhaps our heads would have been removed for reasons known only by the gods…

    Paul, I wish you luck with the green tea.

    *Not an endorsement — it was available and we just wanted to see how accurate our manual efforts had been.

    ** Yes, “men”, for the three of us have XY chromosomes despite one being “Niizh manidoowag”.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 22, 2011, 8:03 am
    • Thanks Brent, for this comment and all your contributions at the Coop. I love the image of the “heavily credentialed men” trying to achieve something practical with all that “knowledge.” And I so agree with your first sentence. Wonder if it’s cause or effect, though I don’t suppose it matters really, eh?

      Posted by Paul Freedman | September 22, 2011, 7:26 pm
  5. Love the poem and perhaps we should take our cue from the depth of the poem. First, let us pitch the hierarchy of Bloom’s out the window. The deep learning you are talking about has little in common with the horrific serfdom of Bloom. I think you clearly identify with the deep learning that is more akin to the webs and networks of deep ecology. Learning is part of the brain’s ecology and as such that is where we should be looking–cognitive science, neurobiology, language magic, the science of emergence, presence, and chaotic complexity.

    As for fathoms, I think that points to the embodiment of learning in our bodies and in the world. Our learning is our reach, our depth is our capacity to surpass what our physical ‘fathom’. Language is a part of that depth, but there is more. Depth is just another metaphor. It has unfortunate connotations like in Bloom. Higher/lower=Better/worse=Harder/easier=Scarce/common=Valuable/cheap. That is a bad road to go down. I think our educational system is a perfect fit with that metaphor. Let’s change the metaphor to fit the world we live in and the learners who are making their way in that world.

    You are much more articulate about this. I agree with almost everything you say here. Just let Bloom lay on his ratty dog bed in the corner to enjoy undisturbed his elder years.

    Posted by Terry Elliott | September 22, 2011, 3:48 pm
  6. Hey Paul,

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I do get a sense of deep education and I find the embrace notion embracing. (Sorry, it just came out that way…)

    Your comments about cognitive knowing stimulated a question I have wrestled with often. You pair it with “a very personal sense of self, one acquired through experience and reflection, and to an insight into the universal.” When I first read this I wondered about the dynamics of the pairing. Then you said” “So that cognitive knowing would be a window to connection to the cosmos.” Earlier you talked about higher level thinking skills based on Bloom.

    So it seems to me that you are describing a way of knowing and that the window is skillful cognition which, combined with sense of self would be holistic education. I paraphrase so that you see my understanding. Then, if my quesiton is based on wrong understanding, you can correct it.

    The question has to do with the prominent place given to cognitive skills. These seems the assumption that such skills are to be achieved and are the most important for learning. However, these skills depend upon being fact-based, there is a hierarchy, and there is no mention of the pedagogical relationship as intrinsic to the learning. They have the three A’s of Piaget at their core: Assimilation, Accommodation, Adaptation. This may be the dynamics of cognition; I am not certain they are the dynamics of knowledge or creativity.

    Alas, I do not understand what is meant by creativity. The Bloom web site gives these descriptors to creativity: assemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, write.That does not describe my creative process. I can see where this type of cognition might, under fortuitous circumstances, allow a window into a comprehension of what the universe is about. but learning about something is not necessarily participating in it. And it can even get in the way when a person believes that know when they have only information about something.

    Finally, my question: What am I missing? So many good folks give cognition special status in education. I see this as a trap of the old paradigm. Is there fear that cognitive skills won’t develop unless we place them above other skills? Help! I don’t want to be left out…

    Last, on a different topic, I am intrigued by this personal sense of self. Can you say more about it? Can you offer more detail about reflection and insight?

    Please don’t take my questions about cognition to mean that I missed your comments about wisdom and deep ecology, or that I think you stopped at cognition. I didn’t; I found them enriching and another important step to appreciation of the connection between Mind and Nature (Bateson) and non-biased appreciation of the the nature of humans (and the greatness therein.) I enjoy this coincidence of wisdom consciousness that we share. Implicit in your comments about deep ecology is self inquiry as well, is it not? Just making sure…

    Coming to my neck of the woods at all? Sailing down the coast? Meet you in Astoria?

    Love to the family


    Posted by Ba Luvmour | September 22, 2011, 7:52 pm
    • Ba, have you ever served as an editor? You are such a careful and caring reader. One of your many gifts.

      I really didn’t mean to privilege cognitive knowing, though perhaps I did so inadvertently. And Bloom does not define my creative process either. See instead, Csíkszentmihályi, Maslow and Ken Robinson, for a few versions of the kind of creativity that I’m after.

      I would not say, given the chance to clarify here, that I am intending “skillful cognition” to represent my notion of deep education. Rather, perhaps I was trying to say that cognitive knowing is fine, but it is not nearly enough. Cognitive knowing, in fact, to me represents the surface/superficial (same etymological roots) realm that I am suggesting we need to move through towards “the depths”, in which I am much more interested.

      In regards to the “personal sense of self” (not sure this is the right phrase really) that can be available through presence, introspection, reflection and many other mindfulness practices and wisdom traditions, maybe it can be a subject of a future post. For now, I am thinking about some of Jack Miller’s work, Greg Cajete, Krishnamurti, etc.

      In regards to “insight,” did I use that word in my post? If so, I owe my understanding of this concept hugely to Douglas Sloan’s book, Insight-Imagination.

      Sorry to just list name-references rather than try to answer your provocations more fully, Ba, but this comment could quickly become a tome (I have to fight my inclination towards verbosity anyway, but here at the Co-op I am especially challenged – could never even imagine the Twitter thing – ugh!). I will be thinking about how to talk about these important things succinctly – again, maybe a subsequent post.

      Thanks sincerely for your feedback, my friend, for challenging me and for keeping me honest.


      Posted by Paul Freedman | September 22, 2011, 8:46 pm
  7. “Deep education would involve cognitive knowing, but it would importantly it would apply this knowledge to both a very personal sense of self, one acquired through experience and reflection, and to an insight into the universal.”

    Paul, is “deep” itself a somewhat counter-cultural impulse and notion at the moment? I just listened to outtakes of Rick Perry and Mitt Romney debating each other last night in Florida. What constitutes appropriate discourse now? What sorts of knowing are valued on the national stage? (Which does, of course, affect education…)

    Is going deep a lost value culturally at this moment?

    Wondering what you think,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 23, 2011, 6:48 am
    • Kirsten, thank you.

      Short answer: YES!

      I opened my previous post with “we are a culture of surfers. We cruise across surfaces, channel surfing, surfing the internet, crossing vast terrains without ever, or at best rarely, scratching these surfaces. Don’t know if it is cause or effect, chicken or egg, but schooling seems to either reflect this culture or else it is perhaps where we become acculturated to the game of surfing. We teachers are obsessed with surfaces, how much “ground” can we “cover,” before handing our charges off to the next leader who will continue on the quest. Fatser, faster, further, further.”

      I didn’t catch this debate – how many times can we hear these folks going through this same exercise? – but if it ran anything like previous debates, the very nature of the timed short response is antithetical to depth. The moderator is often clearing her throat or interrupting about time constraints within 10-15 seconds of posing the question. The format is only looking to produce sound bites (bytes?).

      I remember the first republican debate when they were asked a series of either-or questions: Coke or Pepsi? Spicy or Mild? Are you serious?? This is how we evaluate our world leaders?

      I was so hopeful that Obama would bring us toward appreciating complexity and depth, but I’ve become disillusioned.

      As I think about my brother-in-law lawyer billing clients literally in 3 minute increments, or my last hurried doctor’s appointment, or the cooking shows on television: “you have ten minutes to create a gourmet meal from an avocado, Captain Crunch cereal, and marshmallows: The timer starts now, GO!” or even my son’s last parent-teacher conference where we had a fixed time and place, but his teachers came in and out as they hurried between simultaneous conferences (bizarre) – where’s the depth?

      Is there any segment of our culture that seems to be moving towards greater depth? Anyone?

      My more hopeful self is thinking about how this lack of depth might be an unforeseen consequence of transitioning into a post-modern consciousness. Maybe multiplicity is leaving us ungrounded unfocused and somewhat adrift, scurrying through the postmodern miasma. Perhaps we’ll settle down at some point – sown and down. Food for another post?

      Posted by Paul Freedman | September 23, 2011, 9:27 am
      • I suppose it’s bad form to comment on your own comment…sorry, but:

        The cooking show thing made me think about the slow food movement – still big where I live, but I live in a pretty weird place Does Slow Food still have a respectable following in the rest of America? I guess it just makes for poor television – not enough images/second, etc.

        Then I remembered the work of Maurice Holt (the other Holt.) Does anyone remember his Kappan article on Slow Schools that was reprinted in Stone et al’s Ecological Literacy? Back in the early 90’s, riding the wave of the slow movement, and tying it into Eco-literacy, Holt launched the concept of Slow Schools and Slow Education. Seems like it had little traction – wonder why. (It is a RACE, after all.) I want to look back at this work, seems like it may have a lot of resonance with Deep Education.

        Posted by Paul Freedman | September 23, 2011, 10:35 am
        • I think there is a transition coming Paul. I highly recommend picking up the latest issue of YES! magazine. While us kids don’t often get credit for much “deep” thinking or “slow” living… there is a lot of people my age, who understand we need a balance. This is a great time of transition. Maybe we will look back in 20 years and see this as the turning point or tuning period… right now things are changing at light speed (a story today, said that might not be all that fast 🙂 ) and one of those thing is the a way of life. We do need to transition form our needs or want to accrue, consume, and own everything, this includes knowledge… but i do see the transition coming…

          also see the Slow food movement… it is a national organization… not just a island thing… 🙂 and by the way… while the cooking show Chopped or Iron Chef or Top Chef (one of my favorites) are probably not part of the transition, they do provide us with contrast. I also like America’s Test Kitchen, New Scandinavian Cooking (so perfect) and Hubert Keller: Secrets of a Chef, Lidia’s Italy, Mexico – One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless ( all on Create Tv, which sadly Eugene stopped broadcasting 😦 ) they offer a more nuance slower style of cooking.

          Since life is education and education is life…. we just need to help curative this type of life style….

          On a side note, depth is not always depth… I am thinking about people who go so deep into something that they get tunnel vision, or obsessed. They lose track of anything or anyone outside their “deep” world… I see much of academia this way…

          Along with deep education I see it as a search for balance.

          as you know I am someone who likes to surf the world, but I also catch waves of passion that take me deep into areas of study and life…. I have been accused of not focusing one thing… or having one passion, or one talent, that I practice over and over and over again… maybe I ADHD or maybe there are just different ways to learn… right now most schools don’t give any space for deep learning or project based learning… it is not either/ or… so maybe it is about finding balance….

          I personally am seekinga balanced passion based understanding consciousness connected education

          or BPBUCC education…



          Posted by dloitz | September 23, 2011, 2:35 pm
  8. Hey David,

    Maybe you do represent an interesting kind of learner, the “deep surfer.” What would be the appropriate analogy? But look, you clearly are a man of passion and depth, and when you choose to engage, you like, take a leadership position within a national organization. You are not the prototypical kind of surfer I am bemoaning. Look at that pile of books you’re leaning on for goodness sake! I have known many kids with ADHD who certainly have the capacity for the kind of depth of learning I’m talking about too. So maybe I’m not explaining myself very well, or else maybe I need to reflect some more on what I mean by depth here. Anyone else want to jump in on my behalf?

    And in terms of balance, I guess we are so so very far at one end of the pool, that I am advocating simply a move towards the other (deeper) end. When we find ourselves much much closer to the middle we can start talking about balance. Balance in everything, I agree, both/and, but in this ultra-quick-take, surface-skimming, cover-the-field, and Race-to-the-Top educational culture, let’s just keep it simple – slow down, go deep. BPBUCC Education will have its time.

    You knew the Food Channel reference was my attempt to call you out, didn’t you, Mr. Iron Chef?

    In all seriousness, thanks for the hopeful comment, David. So glad that the transition is coming. I catch glimpses of it sometimes in my little corner of the world as well.

    Posted by Paul Freedman | September 23, 2011, 10:11 pm
  9. Okay, this post is staying with me. I have such a passion for cooking and so I watch a lot of cooking shows… as I noted before. I think though my favorite non-cooking/cooking show is No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. The mix of food appreciation mixed with cultural appreciation mixed with a down to earth smugness is a perfect learning tool. Everyone of the episodes introduces parts of the culture that makes “real” food so good. (a lot of them on Netflix instant)

    yesterday and today I have watch two episodse that speak so much to this post, one was title, Cajun and the other Venice. Both places have a rich culture and slower way of life.

    One of my favorite lines from the Venice episodes comes from a Grandma and master cook. Bourdain asks her what bothers her when she goes to restaurants, and she says, “when the food has no passion” and then notes the other “P” that is important is “patience”… so what we’re talking about here is not new, but something we can cultivate in our classrooms. I think there is a place for passion and patience even within an American culture that is known for being busy and fast.

    Part of what I was talking about before, in terms of my generation, or the transition that is happening, is a reflection by us of what is missing. I think it has been some much a part of human history that we can feel it in our bones and we long for it. Again read the Yes! magazine from this month… all on-line also. See also the Occupy Wall St protest happening… look at their signs, they are not asking for more money to buy…they are looking for more humanity, more connection to life, more democracy.

    I added smugness because I do believe it is okay to feel like this is a better way of life, and not be shy about it.

    along with Depth, for me, it is about culture and connection and pace of life to relationships of shared love and passion. In Venice, time is slower, and people know each other…you can’t visit Venice truly in a day. It is not a place for day trips rushing to check off all the site in their travel guide. So maybe what Orcas Island has taught you is that you no longer what to be a day tripper as a teacher or as a educator or as a learner.

    anyway this is a rich conversation, thanks for having me over for it. Next time lets do it over a meal, that we have prepared together!


    Posted by dloitz | September 24, 2011, 3:39 pm
    • David,

      This is great. Thanks. Doesn’t Bourdain remind you of our mutual friend Gus L-P?

      I agree with so much of what you ‘re saying, but dude, stop saying, “maybe it isn’t depth” really, but something else. This is my post, and I want it to be about depth! Depth, measured in embraces, fathoms. “BPBUCC Education”, or “Culture, Connections and Pace of Life” Education and whatever else you fancy (all terrific stuff, mind you) can be the subject of your post. I’m sticking with depth…for now. 🙂

      I am definitely down with a shared meal sometime. All you Co-opsters are invited to join me at David’s house for a slow cooked Venice-inspired meal!!

      All in jest, my friend. You rock. I am also loving the conversation.

      Embraces all around.

      I will check out Yes!


      Posted by Paul Freedman | September 24, 2011, 6:57 pm
  10. I worry anytime we pose one “big” idea against another. Would deep learning work for all kids? Is it better than broad learning? I think the problem is what Tyack wisely labelled the search for “The One Best System.’ To me, the question isn’t depth vs breadth–both are important in different contexts and for different reasons (and for different learning styles). For me, the question is how we find balance where every child has the chance to learn in their comfort zone, whether that be deep or broad, and they are also stretched in areas less comfortable to him or her. When we set out “either-or” dichotomies, we set up barriers that may lead to reinforcing entrenched educational practices. Sure, deep learning is a great goal for some purposes–but would we really want all school graduates to have great depth but no breadth? I would love to enlist a discussion on Balanced Learning–what does this look like and what are all the things we wish to balance together to develop the whole child who can be a positive member of our communities?

    Posted by crazyedy | September 25, 2011, 12:57 pm
    • Hi Ed,

      I appreciate your comment. It seems in line with what David said earlier (see above.) I have often been one to advocate for balance as well. I do think I understand what you have in mind here.

      I guess, though, as Kirsten has said here and elsewhere previously, if we try to be everything to everyone, we risk becoming nothing to anyone. The postmodern move towards multiplicity and balance is a good place to start, but we also need to stay pointed and focused, right?

      In my opinion, the mainstream educational paradigm has included at least a thirty year trend towards standardization, conformity and covering ever increasing breadth and content, with an explicit goal of proficiency. Gatto (may all our thoughts be with him) would refer to this process as “dumbing us down.” What this model lacks is the kind of depth that I believe is required to enable learners to see personal relevance to self and place and make connections between disciplines and to gain insights into understanding and feeling connected with the cosmos.

      I guess I would feel comfortable adjusting my position to say that I am not looking to privilege depth as a better way of knowing, but I do feel that greater depth should be included in many (every?) facets of learning. Maybe we need some specific examples to tease out what we’re talking about.

      I remember reading an essay by David Jardine in his book, Under the Tough Old Stars (incredible book!) In it he talks about the kids in a third grade class cutting up small slips of multiplication equations from endless reams of worksheets, which then were curled around a pencil and applied to form the beard on a cartoon face of Santa Claus. This was passing as an integrated thematic curriculum as math was brought in to seasonal study.

      My point is that this kind of practice in which kids’ behaviors and work products are completely dissociated from anything of relevance or meaning. It is twisted, belittling and wrongheaded. Let’s challenge ourselves to make sure that 6×4=24 has some connection to the kids’ real world experiences, to their head, heart and hands. (Does anyone know the website “Radical Math?” Just one example of this effort.)

      As I said to David, I will be thinking about another way to talk about this, as I feel like I’m not being as clear as I might.

      Anyway, thanks for the dialogue, Ed. And yes, balance in all things.


      Posted by Paul Freedman | September 25, 2011, 3:54 pm
  11. Hey Paul,

    I know recommended it before, but Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, seems like it might be ready for you, right now. It is one of my favorite books, and I would offer to reread it with you and who ever else might be interested and do some posts around it. Chad, and Kirsten have both read it on my suggestion and loved it… I could also invite Berger to join us… let me know if you are interested.. My version of the book is already marked from reading it twice…and have not really wrote about it here.

    Book cover


    Posted by dloitz | September 25, 2011, 4:02 pm
    • Hey David,

      I have seen Ron Berger’s You Tube videos, and I just read the intro. to An Ethic of Excellence. I’d be delighted to read along with you and whoever else – I have the book on order and expect it in a week or so. It reminds me, when I was doing my student teaching I was simultaneously in a full-time apprenticeship with a Welsh Windsor Chair maker using 18th century tool sand techniques to make heirloom quality furniture. In subsequent years I had the amazing good fortune to meet and work with some incredibly skilled wood craftsmen dedicated to the use of simple hand tools. One man, John Brown (not his birth name) wrote a brilliant book called Welsh Stick Chairs, about producing these stunning chairs in his electricity free candle-lit shop. He later wrote an article for Fine Woodworking called “Good Work.” It is a true gem about craftsmanship and what it means on a spiritual and existential level to do good work. I think his ideas are consistent with Berger’s.

      I later worked with a Swedish carver named Jogge Sundqvist. Jogge talked about some arcane rural Swedish farm vocabulary, one word was Sloyd, which translates to mean something like “farm smart.” it implies a combination of grace, efficiency, and beauty. And another word “Skamsa” which translates to “just so” implying again an attention to detail, and pride in workmanship – taking the time to delicately chamfer an edge, for example. Again, this kind of pride, attention and care seems very Berger-esque.

      So, I think I am predisposed to love Ron Berger’s work, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

      Posted by Paul Freedman | October 2, 2011, 10:20 pm
  12. Deep learning… balanced learning… both ideas resonate with me. We can use both/and thinking to re-envision learning. It is easy for me to consider deep learning as I walk through the woods, plan at home in my favorite thinking and writing nook, even as I drive to work through lush green scenery. And I can hold the image… until I walk into a building that doesn’t feel deep for me. As an educator, shouldn’t I be learning deeply and experientially? If I can imagine it, but can’t feel it/experience it, how do I deliver it deeply? I feel rushed, I feel chaotic, I feel pressure. But I know better. Instinctively I know slow and steady is the deep learning. I wish my professional learning took place with others on long walks outside, within the context of favorite nooks in the school building, engaging in think tank talks and questioning our practice.

    Nested systems of deep learning would change how this building breathes.

    Posted by Kristine | September 25, 2011, 6:45 pm

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