Everybody Learns

It's not the most Edupunk of musical reference points (more on that later), but I woke up this morning thinking about the video to REM's 'Everybody Hurts'. You remember the one: gridlocked traffic on the interstate, the camera panning across silent faces stuck in cars, subtitles captioning their unspoken grievances...

When I speak to friends who work in the British education system, what I hear often sounds like a description of gridlock. Secondary school teachers struggle to motivate (or even control) teenagers who are stuck in a classroom the way you or I might find ourselves stuck in traffic. College staff are frustrated with kids who turn up simply to collect their Education Maintenance Allowance. University lecturers grow disillusioned with students who have been encouraged to treat learning solely as a means to an end, fuel for their career journey, rather than an activity which might also have some intrinsic value.

The turning point in the video comes when people start to leave their cars and their interior monologues, and get out and walk. What struck me thinking about it, though, was the role played by the captions in the video. For us watching, they make visible the interior worlds of the characters, their desires and despairs, the things they have no one to share with. And this reminded me of the internet.

Much of the social impact of the internet revolves around making visible what might previously have been kept to yourself. For better or for worse, we are increasingly reading each other's minds! (Or, at least, each other's diaries...)

So how might this apply to education? Within (and beyond) the gridlock of our education system are individuals with desires and things to share. Institutional structures which, by their nature, deal better with sameness than difference, tend to be poorly equipped to register or respond to these desires. Nor can this be solved by increasing the range of choice available on the shelves of an educational supermarket - that way of treating education only reinforces people's isolation and dependence on the system.

What I hope that School of Everything can contribute to is a situation where people are able to share both their desires and their hidden skills with their neighbours, and where this becomes the basis for a renewal of education. For us, the purpose of this site has never been simply as a platform for "teachers" to market themselves: the next step will be to enable everyone to list their interests and the things they're looking to learn, and find others near them to meet up and learn with. In the process, we'll be starting to map skills and curiosity within communities and organisations, and making that information available to everyone.

Part of me wonders whether, just maybe, if we get it right, that process of making skills and desires visible might have a similar effect to being able to read each other's captions. Could it create enough of a sense of not being alone, to contribute to the educational equivalent of getting out of our cars and walking?