Situations like these are interesting because they force us to examine a practice (golf, football, etc.) and determine what the fundamental and cores aspects of the practice are. In short, how much can we change about a thing, be it sewing, driving, cooking or otherwise, before it is a different thing?
With the rapid pace at which education is advancing, developing, and evolving, those of us who care about learning will be faced with this question more and more. And, it seems to be at the very core of many of the debates being waged in education today from online/distance education (does it count as education if the students aren't all in the same classroom?) , to school vouchers (is it education if the government doesn't dictate what happens?), to teacher education (can someone who didn't go through a formal teacher training program really educate our children?).
Thinking about these and other similar questions seems important because it requires us to separate ancillary trappings from those core principles that define education as a meaningful process. And, it seems like a really useful way of keeping us focused on the part of education that really matters--human beings and what they are learning.
So, what is the essence of education? I'm not sure that it has anything to do with buildings, teachers, technology, or administrative structures. Those things can and generally are part of an educational environment and are likely to facilitate a number of pretty desirable of outcomes. So, what are the aspects of education that cannot be altered? Some things I would include on my list
- Environments and experiences that change those involved in fundamental ways. I don't just mean the acquiring of knowledge. What I'm talking about is a change in the identity of the participants (sometimes minor, sometimes major) and a parallel change in the community of practitioners. If this is true, a lot of what passes for education really isn't.
- Relationships, interaction, and joint participation around a common purpose. This doesn't mean that education always has to take place in the presence (virtual or face-to-face) of others. Sometimes the relationship is with someone's ideas (a book, recorded lecture, piece of art, etc.) or the interaction is with an artifact. But, education is inherently social because we interact and participate with people or things people have created or produced.
- Support and resources that facilitate the pursuit of individual goals for learning & growth. But, the individual goals should align with or flow from the common purpose shared across the community.
For me that's about it, which means that I see "education" happening in formal school settings, in businesses, on athletic teams, within musical ensembles, and lots of other places. In fact, those of us who are involved in more formal or traditional forms of education could learn something by examining the learning that goes on outside of our institutions.