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Higher Education i Meta-education ?

Transforming cognitive enabling processes increasingly unfit for purpose (Part #1)


Introduction
Images of education, learning and knowing
Education: "higher" vs "meta"
Metaphors through which to reframe education
Quest for hyperconnectivity
Reframing connectivity through metaphor
Imaginal education through mining civilizational knowledge
Mnemonic holding patterns for the dynamics of connectivity
Meta-education in practice
References

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Introduction

The current period is witness to severe inadequacies in response to humanitarian crisis (10 million threatened with starvation in Africa) and in governance of the global financial system (risk of imminent dollar and eurozone defaults). It is curiously significant that the potential dollar default is associated with the most powerful nation, recognized for the merit of its higher education system, whereas the most probable eurozone default is that of a far weaker nation from which understandings of higher education first originated. The debt of the former nation is far in excess of that of the latter -- with little said as to their relative competence in governance.

It is appropriate to ask whether, more fundamentally, this situation is a consequence of inadequacies in the education of those most influential in such matters. Is the evident incompetence a consequence of "higher education" as currently conceived? Is it a consequence of unexamined assumptions regarding the governability of the global system and the ability to achieve consensus to that end -- again deriving from inadequacies in higher education (Ungovernability of Sustainable Global Democracy? 2011; The Consensus Delusion, 2011)?

These inadequacies are compounded by the tragedy of unemployment with the associated personal despair, the relative sterility of conventional education with its focus on paper qualifications, and the questionable communication efficiencies of meetings for the development and exchange of ideas in response to such issues, including climate change. Ironically this complex of challenges is further highlighted by the amazing advances in electronic communication and the ever wider access to information of every kind -- in the sense that diminishing attention span becomes a consequence of information overload leading to underuse of vital information. The matter is further complicated by questionable patterns of peer review and intellectual copyright, both severely limiting access to knowledge and insight.

More evidently dramatic is the continuing challenge of "delivering" education, ideas and skill sets to areas which are either geographically remote, variously constrained by cultural circumstances, or subject to forms of impoverishment preventing any engagement with educational processes of a "higher" order. The situation is especially dramatic in conflict zones and in "temporary" refugee camps which become tragically permanent.

All these factors are a constraint on the fruitful development of the imagination -- so fundamental to all that is implied by education, especially in the lifelong form articulated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and by its Learning to Be: the world of education today and tomorrow (1972).

With respect to "higher education", the exploration here follows from the extensive critique by Antonio T. de Nicolas (Habits of Mind: an introduction to the philosophy of education, 1989). For him:

Habits of mind are identified as the whole range of mental operations people perform, and have performed in history, giving them an individual and social identity, to include cultural diversity and individual uniqueness.... These habits of mind are: the abstraction of images from objects already in the world, the forming of opinions, cognitive operations with their diverse levels of abstraction as exemplified in the operations of science and art and the whole range of imaginative operations for original creation without borrowing from the outside, by recollecting from the past those memories of images, and acts that represent the best of what is human and cultural. (p. xvii)

De Nicolas then argues that:

Plato proposed these plural habits of mind and their development as the curriculum and project of education. This project never took root in our educational system, but was discarded by those who came after him, who offered instead something more narrow in the name of certain ideological promissory notes to be cashed at a distant future date. We have thus developed certain habits of mind while burying others, using education to indoctrinate rather than to recall from the past those habits of mind that made us different and diverse, and which guaranteed our continuity as a species and as a multiplicity of cultures. (p. xviii)

Given the apparent current inadequacies of "higher education", it is curious that it has been primarily inspired by the Aristotelian model, with little capacity to reframe fruitfully any complementarity with the contrasting perspective offered by Plato. Hence an institutionalised inability to engage constructively with potentially valuable "alternatives".

The use of "meta-education" here endeavours to articulate the dynamics of engagement with Plato's plurality. Rather than emphasizing conventional disciplines requiring conventional styles of lengthy education to achieve competence, it seeks to focus on the rapid acquisition of the set of fundamental cognitive skills vital to human survival and thrival. Particular importance is attached to the way in which such a cognitive "toolkit" might be understood in order to enable effective use of its elements. The role of metaphor is seen to be vital in offering a degree of insight to many -- especially those in constrained circumstances, potentially characterized by metaphorical impoverishment inhibiting their imaginative development and ability to engage fruitfully with their environment (In Quest of Uncommon Ground: Beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words of power, 1997).

The reasons for the unusual typography in the title, used to challenge the sterile implications of binary logic, are discussed separately (¡¿ Defining the objective ∞ Refining the subjective ?! Explaining reality ∞ Embodying realization, 2011). This is consistent with a concern with the paradoxical nature of the challenges of the times, a degree of convergence on a "memetic singularity", and the obligation for many effectively to live "between worlds" (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009 ; Living as an Imaginal Bridge between Worlds: Global implications of "betwixt and between" and liminality, 2011).

The fundamental challenge for "meta-education"?
World Population to Reach 7 Billion on 31 October 2011
Estimate of the 2010 Revision of World Population Prospects, prepared by the Population Division
of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (3 May 2011)

Fifty years ago, when the WWF was founded, there were about three billion people on earth. Now there are almost seven billion. Over twice as many -- and every one of them needing space. Space for their homes, space to grow their food (or to get others to grow it for them), space to build schools and roads and airfields. Where could that come from? A little might be taken from land occupied by other people but most of it could only come from the land which, for millions of years, animals and plants had had to themselves - the natural world.

But the impact of these extra millions of people has spread even beyond the space they physically claimed. The spread of industrialisation has changed the chemical constituency of the atmosphere. The oceans that cover most of the surface of the planet have been polluted and increasingly acidified. And the earth is warming. We now realise that the disasters that continue increasingly to afflict the natural world have one element that connects them all -- the unprecedented increase in the number of human beings on the planet. (Sir David Attenborough, President's Lecture 2011: People and Planet, Royal Society of Arts, 10 March 2011)

Challenge engendered and sustained by "higher education"?
Institutionalised Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge (2008)
United Nations Overpopulation Denial Conference (2009)
Lipoproblems: Developing a Strategy Omitting a Key Problem (2009)
m>Lipoproblems: Developing a Strategy Omitting a Key Problem (2009)

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