The Assumption of Linearity in Education

I was listening to a educational materials salesman talk about the “curricula” teachers want with the materials he’s selling. He kept going on about at what grade level kids should learn one thing or another, and that to repeat it again at another grade is a bad thing. My stomach was tying itself in knots. But, this is exactly what Standards do, as well. They lay out a sequence of concepts and facts to learn, to which no one will return.

It’s really too bad we see education as a linear process. This linearity appears in a number of terms: learning trajectory, scope and sequence, and so forth. No where in most public and private education does the idea of “recursiveness” appear. If we think of learning as a recursive process, then the idea of returning to concepts over and over again is fundamental characteristic that is of great importance. Think about some conceptual area you feel that you understand well. Now, try to remember how many times you spent learning about that conceptual area. I doubt very much that this was a one shot deal.

In recursive learning, we can revisit topics and go into further detail and extend the contexts of the topics. We can even start making connections to multiple other contexts. In each recursion, we can enrich the learning. This is a really good thing to do, especially if we hand over more control of the learning to the students. Follow their questions and curiosity. And, as teachers, we can suggest directions or connections students haven’t seen.

The linear approach is really a dead-end approach. You go down one alley and stop. Then, you get helicoptered to the next alley. It’s a nowhere approach. The end result is an uninformed and dumbed down citizenry, which is exactly what politicians want. An informed and intelligent citizenry can’t be so easily controlled. So, under the guise of increasing standards of learning and accountability, they are really just trying to dumb us down.


About Jeff Bloom

I'm a Researcher with and am on the Advisory Board of the International Bateson Institute and am a professor emeritus with the Department of Teaching & Learning, College of Education, Northern Arizona University.
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