Playing or learning, and other false dichotomies

I am reminded this morning of the false dichotomy between playing and learning by an article on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme about nursery education in the UK this morning and the claim that nurseries are failing to prepare children for school.
Of course, in order for the media to do something with this report they over simplify and sensationalise it. It’s somewhat disappointing to hear the Today programme do this – clearly the relationship between learning and playing is complex, and certainly not trivial.
The role of nursery education as a dimension of schooling is beyond the scope of this reflective piece. My thoughts turn to false dichotomies and how they can permeate and damage education.
I have been writing a paper for several years that relates to this! Clearly I should have thrown it away and moved on, but I couldn’t let go and, instead of writing this, I had intended to give it a final proof read this morning. But another day or so won’t hurt in the scheme of things. It had a more particular focus, but essentially it is about innovation in higher education.
Somehow an innovator (whatever that means, but for this article read that as meaning someone who finds insight and changes their practice) usually sees the world differently to the people within their proximity. Probably in a small way, but they will find themselves having arrived at a point on an open road, or a blind alley, usually before their peers. If their peers are there too they are out of vision for the moment.
The innovator, new to their realisation, is alone for a moment. They are faced with the question of whether they should proceed alone or share their insight with their peers. Or not proceed at all. The challenge is about communication at this point: to validate thinking; to share thinking; to foster thinking.
However, sudden clarity comes from ‘jumping the tracks’, perhaps realising that:

  • the direction of travel need not be the only way;

  • current assumptions are wrong;

  • new experience and knowledge creates new possibilities;

  • etc.

‘Jumping the tracks’ or disrupted thinking is not a random accident; it has a personal history. This explains why you, rather than everyone, has the idea and realises its fit. It also explains why it now creates a problem for you because there is a personal logic that you may not be able to articulate without recounting your whole life story.
I met someone yesterday and we talked for hours. It was really nice to have the space for a decent conversation. I think we realised we had a lot in common, personal histories and logics that have a good degree of commonality. Amongst other matters this problem of recurring false dichotomies came up, and how frustrating they can be and how, sometimes you can’t take the time to explain your logic to people who you need to influence and how this means whole careers can be peppered by repeated thinking: Groundhog Days. You just want to say “Trust me. I am experienced. I have thought this through (many times). At least… It can be no worse than the stasis we have!” But usually, certainly in higher education academic development, that ‘trust me’ option is not really an option at all.
Think about those moments when you’ve thought “but this is not a matter of “either/or”. Let’s list a few of these false dichotomies (but you’re going to have to trust me as it’s very likely you won’t recognise my dichotomies!). :

  • Playing – learning

  • Active – Reflective learning modes

  • Group learning – Independent learning

  • Summative – Formative

  • Explaining – Knowing (think about the act of academic writing or presenting here. What actually are the purposes of such activities? Why are they rich?)

  • Qualitative – Quantitative (is there no qualitative dimension to the personal analysis of numerical data, for example ?- or do we just take quants at face value?!

Well, each one of these could be expanded and explained further but I suspect you have your own ideas.
My point is, whatever your list, between us we are aware of false ‘truths’ that really get in the way of our independent and collective thinking; that really hold us back. This requires all of us to be open to each other as innovators and to bring a healthy dose of trust.
And try and take a bit of time every now and then for some healthy conversation!

About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
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