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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The Future of School and Why I Choose to be Naive

I once stumbled across an idea in the writings of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur that there are essentially three stages to human development.

In stage one, the Mythic Literal phase, we discover the power of stories to bring pattern and meaning to our lives. In this phase, he argues, we embrace the fairy tales that we hear as children and accept everything to be an exact and literal representation of how life is.

A photograph of a young girl in a pretty coat and hat crouching down in the forest
Re-imagining school is a call to return to children dreams.

In stage two, the cracks begin to appear. We stop believing in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. We throw away the story book in favor of textbooks that claim to deal with the more substantial world of fact. According to Ricoeur, this is the stage of Broken Myth. We start to consider stories as childish and immature.

During the Enlightenment, there were many who argued that this is the highest expression of human consciousness and that, only by moving from the world of story to the more "reliable" foundation of critical reason, can we be fully human.

Ricoeur, however, disagreed. He argued that there is a subsequent stage that he called Second Naivete. In this stage, also known as "willed naivete", we choose to return to the stories and beliefs of our childhood. We carry with us our fully developed critical faculties and the knowledge that these stories may not be literally true, but at the same time we playfully embrace them as rich patterns of human life.

So what has all this to do with the future of school?

Sitting amongst colleagues this week, engaging in my first Twitter Chat on the subject of What Should School Be For? I found myself reading dozens of hope-filled expressions about the schools we need and our students deserve.

To some, I have no doubt that this kind of envisioning will be written off as the Litany of the Naive. They will be countered, looked down upon, and ignored by those who believe themselves to be more logical, pragmatic, and mature.

Maybe this kind of re-imagining, however, is something different. Just maybe, it is the willingness to choose to restate a set of ideals, even though we know that it's complicated and messy. Even though we know that school will never quite be the stuff of fairy stories.

According to Ricoeur, there is a moment when we can choose to return to the Myth, play with the possibilities, and absorb its magic.

As educators, we can choose this too.

Or we can stay where we are, paralysed by all of the reasons why its better not to dream.


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