Read this and get yourselves to this creative space for skills exchange and learning that’s happening today and tomorrow in the Exchange, Dublin and organised by Open Learning Ireland
I hated school. You know the kid who sits sullenly at the back of class, doesn’t fit in with his classmates, and is always arguing with the teacher? That was me. Day after day we sat in airless dusty rooms at rotting brown desks, listening to uninteresting subjects taught by rote, by teachers whose primary motivation for the job was the holidays. By the time I’d reached the leaving certificate college seemed like an impossible dream – in the way was an exam system geared around rewarding kids who could silence their voices and absorb vast swathes of disconnected data.
I barely scraped a leaving certificate. I knew I was bright, but the education system didn’t fit me. Our education system doesn’t really fit anyone, but it’s especially inappropriate for kids who learn through doing and speaking, who need to engage with material to understand it. Kids who are active rather than passive, intellectual rather than obedient and creative rather than competent. In the years that followed, thanks to a supportive parent and a great FETAC course at the National College of Ireland I was eventually able to break into 3rd level education as a mature student. I found that in college I could learn at my own pace, in my own way, the things that interested me. I got to study my lifelong passion of psychology, and learn how poor our education system is at putting into effect what we have long known about learning and motivation.
Decades of research into how children and adults learn have demonstrated that different people – surprise surprise – learn differently, following varying developmental schedules, and though distinct modalities (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile). Some of us learn most effectively through reading, some through physically manipulating / building and making, others through creative processes like poetry, art and music. Our schools (and increasingly our colleges) are not set up to educate us – at best, they serve as factories for producing consumable workers for the knowledge economy. We pay lip service to ‘life long learning’, while in reality the cost of education is sky rocketing, while the target of education is shifting from the well rounded, autonomous adults; to the upskilled workers.
Two and a half years ago I became involved in a new organisation in Temple Bar. Exchange Dublin is a ‘collaborative, consensus driven art centre’, a creative performance space run by volunteers and organised at at weekly meeting where anyone can have their say. In participating in the Exchange Project, I’ve watched countless people of all ages transform from being hopeless, disenchanted and alienated to active, socially engaged and creatively empowered. As a society, we constantly bemoan our lack of civic engagement – but how can people be civically engaged when their voices are not part of two way conversation? How can we expect people to learn passively – when learning is a process that requires self determination? Two of the founders of Exchange Dublin come from a different kind of educational background – so called ‘Steiner’ or Waldorf schools.
Schools where art and music are at the center of an active curriculum where kids create their own textbooks with pencils and paints, and teachers are passionately engaged visual artists. All around the world folks are experimenting with alternative educational paradigms like the Steiner approach. In the UK, the Summerhill School lets kids set their own curriculum, and attend only the classes their interested in. The American Sudbury Valley schools go even further – they don’t have any classes at all – kids set their own agenda, learning individually or collaboratively whatever they are most passionate about. Educational spaces called ‘Unskools’ are popping up everywhere – learning centres where the traditional boundaries around subject area, learner and teacher disappear; and the only barrier to participation is interest. It’s time we did something similar in Dublin.
With that in mind, a small group of us have been meeting over the past few weeks. We call ourselves Open Learning Ireland, and our group is open to anyone – Ultimately we want to create a new space for learning in the city. A volunteer run, open, free, all ages space – where anyone, alone or in the company of others who share their interests can learn anything – from computational genomics to basic literacy, from music theory to circuit bending, from public speaking to uni-cycling.
As a test run for such a space, the Dublin Contemporary Exhibition have been kind enough to offer us a room in Earlsfort Court for two days this weekend (Saturday 15th, Sunday 16th October) — we’re going to stock it full of as many books and educational projects as we can throw together in the short time available. Confirmed so far, we have a drama workshop, storytelling workshop, electronic music workshop, circuitbending / hack table, guerrilla knitting / stitch and bitch, learning circle and art supplies / artist table. We have lots of tickets to give out – which also include access to the Dublin Contemporary Exhibition – normally 15 euro, so get in touch for tickets
See you over the weekend!
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