Sensing Bigger Possibilities for Universities. Education Transformation Interview.

 During the pandemic Hilary Bradbury was interviewed by Dr. Daniel Gortz who leads the Metamodern community. He’s wanting to re-imagine education for a future world in which we can live more sustainably. Here’s the YouTube link. A synopsis is offered below.

As Daniel is compiling a list of provocative ideas for the transformation of education to be used as input for a summit of global ministers of education meeting in 2021, he wondered:

What can action researchers add to ideas for the transformation of education?

I am not sure action research ideas are provocative. I do know that they are not mainstream (yet!) So we talk about extending education – opening the doors and windows of the Ivory tower (thanks Aliki Nicolaides for this formulation!) to the ‘real world,’ and also to our internal worlds. 

Transformation won’t be easy.  Our notion of education is still largely shaped by medieval academic practices, at the core of which is a reward system which enshrines analysis and theory making. It’s all supported by a system of fear (or so I argue!) Worse, this very system may be even contributing  – or certainly not preventing – the suicide epidemic among our young people. Consider that a leading cause of adolescent death is suicide. 

But’s be constructive, actionable. What will the creative experiments that transform education look like?  At AR+ we believe – and practice – that new experiments include turning the camera around. Reflexivity and our own development is vital, and so too is a dialogic /stakeholder orientation that makes rooms for the arts. We want educator to involve their own students, not just “teach” them; so too the teachers themselves, perhaps even the parents and the local mayors need to become involved in reimagining and implementing new experiments.

Still, even if we add these new dimensions (not easy!) – the institution of education won’t transform without having a cadre of people who themselves are agents of transformation, AKA ARTIsts. They make credible connection between university worlds and the larger eco-social learning systems. It is through these systems that society is reimagined and re-created. AR+ lives in this “riparian zone” between university and real worlds. We’d like more of us to work together!

A synopsis is offered not least because the “pandemic aesthetic” of the video is a bit scary 🙂


After a few minutes warm-up with sharing some background Daniel poses several big questions.

A. Where is the education system today? What direction should it go?

  • Current educational system is rooted in the Medieval university’s emphasis on speculation. This is a bit old; it doesn’t light up most students.
  • We’re frustrated if we don’t get to manifest – in action – what we know; Thinking finds its fruition in action.
  • Capacity for introspection is super important so we are not just replicating our inherited ideas.
  • Life of the mind becomes too easily a life of rumination – how do we move into dialogue with reality?
  • Action research is successfully practices from kindergarten through professional graduate schools.
  • Action researchers want all stakeholders (students, teachers etc) to value their own experience (not that experience supplants the need to learn math and other basic content. Of course it doesn’t!)
  • Innovation is happening in the primary school system where it’s more experiential. It’s least developed at University level…which is a really important catalyst for social change.

B. Basic elements to cultivate in any learning space?

  • Three domains: 1.Personal development/reflexivity of students and faculty; 2.Capacity for dialogue and relational orientation; 3. Systems thinking.
  • Then you put it all together by activating creative experiments for better lives…simple! Just not easy.

C. What do you concretely do to activate students?

  • Be aware of developmental stage when designing learning spaces.
  • Have students attune more to their own experience and identify their own intentions/delights.
  • Clarify what would stretch each and scaffold learning that will naturally happen once the learner is engaged.

D. What would you advise a Minister of Education?

  • Funny you should ask – I prepared for a couple such meetings.
  • Ministers – i.e., leaders of change at the highest levels – will want to show good examples of a transformation initiatives. They’ll want to address the concerns of  parents and tax payers who are deeply worried that schools today – those factory modeled schools – are not a fit for our children’s future.
  • It can’t be top down.
  • Honor the educators – find even a handful of good ones in a handful of schools – say principals and teachers to start – and have them in turn start to convene stakeholders in their schools who can transform things by making step wise experiments. 
  • Relevant stakeholders to be included are colleague teachers, union leaders, students, administrators but also parents, and politicians such as city mayors who are in touch with business needs and general citizenry. Maybe it’s a town hall meeting kick off, maybe you get going first and then have a town hall…these are details each community must decide given their relative experience with change.
  • Foster/use/encourage participative methods that allow people come to voice, e.g., photovoice. Even 6 year olds can be part of the conversation that way.
  • Get some creative experiments underway sooner rather than later with the basic elements we’ve mentioned. Don’t get paralyzed with analysis as things change.  Clarify intention and make conversation platforms available so findings can be shared. 
  • Treat experiments as experiments. There is no bad data, just learning!
  • Expect to go slow to go fast.
  • There is an example I love to institutional change like this happening in the Swedish healthcare system. That can be a good example – not too close to education, but equally complex. Meds and Eds have a lot in common.

D. What prevents these shifts – what’s the deep code error?

  • Fear. Fear is the dominant characteristic of our current system. It holds tenure systems in place; it suppresses students. It’s horrible and it’s not really noticed until you ask a lot of educators and put their answers together. I was part of a study led by 3 Horizons with hundreds of educators on this very issue. People were asked to name the impediments to education transformation. When all was said and done, it was fear.
  • We must learn to support moves from our monologic feudal system of fear to more a dialogue of engagement with people, with life.
  • Of course this is not just in education. We’re sleepwalking through these death centered institutions.  We long for transformation.

E. The action orientation you speak of requires…

  • Change the reward system for educators. At least open it up to include but go beyond the emphasis on talking and theory building.
  • We can also notice that we -educators – likely fear appearing less clever when we give up emphasis on clever concepts and get more human centric.
  • Reality is simple enough with its feedback. It’s working, not working.  it’s engaging, not engaging. Can we listen, be responsive?

F. Let’s be realistic. If we are careful not to be too wild, then what? Aren’t ART ideas too beyond most people in a much more dynamic view of the world?

  • A truly developmental process honors where a person is, meets them where they are. So it’s not wild, it’s appropriate to the person, designed with and for the people. It’s with, not for, those involved.
  • Well, OK. Maybe it appears a bit radical. But that’s because we’ve been suppressed by Cartesian thinking for a few hundred years! 
  • We have to update our scientific thinking. Newton and Descartes would be proud of us. We’re following in their innovative steps.

G. To conclude?

  • Create more action oriented teacher training.
  • Encouraging more activation among student participants
  • Higher teacher autonomy
  • Measurements – like in business – are shared as desired goals. However people get there is fine! UN SDG may be part of that measurement system.
  • Mindfulness in schools.
  • Experimentation for transformations includes and goes beyond “top down.” We’re figuring out how to move our social systems from ‘power over’ to ‘power with.’ It must be practiced at all levels of the system. And it’s new. So we have to go easy with ourselves.

Here’s the YouTube link.