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  • Writer's pictureCassie Janisch

DESIGNING THE SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE

When I first decided that I wanted to start a school, I thought long and hard about the organisms called “human beings” and how we are designed to function.


Surely the most important consideration in designing any education approach or process is to consider who we are designing it for, and how they actually function?


Every human is born with the capacity to experience their world through their own completely unique combination of awareness (conscious, subconscious and superconscious), genetics and personality in combination with their body’s physical senses and nervous system. Just as every finger print is unique, so is every human. From the moment we are born, every single one of us begins the ongoing process of self-assembling as a completely unique individual through using our own unique combination of these basic human capacities to interact with and interpret the environment in which we live, adapting as it adapts.


Despite much about the design of our world that would suggest we believe that experts build us from the outside, our most important human design feature is that every single one of us is 100% self-assembled from within.  


We might call the process we follow to evolve through self-assembly “learning”. Humans are designed to learn continuously from the moment we are born to the moment we die. We could even say that to learn continuously is our basic human nature. But SELF-ASSEMBLY is the key learning method that we always apply. Nobody else can assemble us from outside – they can influence and guide us, but they cannot predict exactly what we will become, or how we will do it, because that is always and only our own unique process, influenced entirely by our own unique perceptions and interests.


If self-assembly is the learning method that 100% of humans use 100% of the time, then surely the learning environments that we create to educate humans should focus on supporting and enabling optimal individual self-assembly, rather than on teaching and measuring the learning of a fixed body of content the exact same way for everybody?


Interestingly, most of the education systems and approaches that we humans have designed to date ignore the fundamental fact that humans are designed to uniquely SELF-ASSEMBLE their understanding in response to their own UNIQUE awareness, perceptions and interpretations of everything (the people, relationships, places, events, models and things) in their environment (as well as how each of these things relate to and affect everything else in the environment, both individually and collectively, without end).


Even when we give every single human being the exact same inputs into their construction of understanding, they will interpret these inputs differently depending on who they are as unique individuals. This should be obvious to anyone who has ever tried to teach a specific subject to a class of children and hoped for the same learning to happen, to the same degree, at the same speed for everyone. It is obvious that a deaf person will not use sound as a key input in his construction of his own understanding, nor will a blind person use sight. Likewise, every single human being is uniquely programmed to interpret what they experience differently based on their own unique filters; including such factors as interest, intelligence, learning styles, personality, genetics and culture.


This is why a standardised set of inputs (a standardised curriculum) into learning makes absolutely no sense as the optimal learning tool for all of humanity. It is incredulous that we humans have continued to participate in this standardised education experiment for well over a century, despite it largely ignoring our KEY HUMAN DESIGN FEATURE of uniquely customised, self-assembled learning.


FUTURE SCHOOLS: SCHOOLS THAT FUNCTION AS ORGANIC ECOSYSTEMS FOCUSED ON OPTIMISING HUMAN SELF-ASSEMBLY


If every human being is unique, but following the same basic pattern of self-assembled learning to evolve, then surely education systems should be designed to focus on supporting optimal self-assembled learning, rather than on delivering a predetermined, largely standardised education product to every single learner, regardless of their unique interest or capacity?


Imagine if mother nature tried to design a one-size-fits-all, standardised and unchanging curriculum for the evolution of every single organism, rather than on enabling the emergence of infinite diversity by supporting and enabling each organism to evolve continuously and optimally according to its own unique nature? We have created a complex education monoculture that requires maximum intervention and effort to sustain it, when we could be implementing an organic pattern that sustains itself effortlessly, whilst ensuring optimal learning for every organism in the ecosystem.


Recently biologists have defined the process that natural organisms follow to evolve into increasingly complex organisms and ecosystems as Complex, Adaptive, Emergent Systems (CAES) or Fractal Systems. By biological definition, every human being is an emergent fractal system (a collection of cells) actively participating in the emergence of a greater fractal system that we call humanity. I would argue that the process of each individual self-assembling constantly (evolving) both as an individual, and as part of the greater collective of humanity, is what we humans are here on planet earth to experience.


So, if we are designed to emerge as increasingly complex and more capable self-assembled beings in response to our perception of, and interactions with, the ecosystem into which we are born; how does optimal self-assembly happen? Surely this question should be the key driver underlying the design of all human education systems and processes?


Over many years and much research and experimenting, I have defined what I believe to be the most important features of an enabling environment for optimal human self-assembly and call this my Blueprint for Organic Education, or Future Schools.


BLUEPRINT FOR FUTURE SCHOOLS


1.      AS A BASIC NECESSITY ALL CHILDREN NEED ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY FOOD AND SHELTER, AS WELL AS EMOTIONAL SUPPORT, CARE AND LOVE – these are the basic requirements for every human to self-assemble optimally. Children who are malnourished, or do not receive adequate love and emotional support, cannot evolve optimally. Traumatic childhood experiences will definitely negatively impact a child’s ability to self-assemble optimally. An enabling environment for optimal human self-assembly cannot ignore the foundational importance of these basic necessities in a child’s life, and the mitigation of all trauma through love and counselling.


2.      THE CHILD MUST BE RECOGNISED AS THE CENTRAL AGENT IN THEIR OWN LEARNING PROCESS: We have to recognise that the child is always the central agent in his or her self-construction of understanding (learning process), and everything else is just an input into that self-assembled construction of understanding. Adults can only ever facilitate this process in a supporting role – we are “not the main character” in any child’s learning process.


3.      FOCUS ON SUPPORTING THE LEARNING PROCESS, NOT OFFERING A PRODUCT: Obviously, some learning environments are better than others to support children to optimally construct their understanding. For a learning environment to be optimal, it needs to focus on supporting and enabling the process of each child’s customised learning journey, not defining exactly what a specific learning outcome must look like (especially not when this is one standardised product for all the individuals in that environment, regardless of their interest or capacity). The pattern we should follow is to support and respond to each child’s interests as a process, not a product.


4.      CREATE AND SUSTAIN AS BIODIVERSE A LEARNING ECOSYSTEM AS POSSIBLE: In nature it is obvious that a biodiverse ecosystem is healthier for the optimal growth of organisms than a monoculture. This is true for the human organism too. A biodiverse learning ecosystem is one that prioritises offering a wide diversity of inputs into learning – including people (peers, youngers, elders, specialists), relationships, things, models and events from which humans can construct as rich and multifaceted an understanding as possible. A diverse learning ecosystem is one that focuses on offering as wide a range of inputs into the construction of understanding, without being overly prescriptive about what the learner does with these inputs.


5.      SUPPORT THE OPTIMAL EMERGENCE OF THE WHOLE BEING (PHYSICAL, MENTAL, EMOTIONAL and SPIRITUAL) AND NOT JUST THE BRAIN: Humans are so much more than our intellect, and increasingly the differentiating factor between humans and machines (AI) is the fact that we are capable of complex physical, mental, emotional and spiritual processing and interrelationships, and not just complex thinking. By our complex and multi-faceted nature, humans are capable of originality and creativity that machines can only speak of (For example, a machine can speak of the concept of love, but it does not have a heart with which to love. Likewise, a machine can explain physical processes and relationships, but it does not have a complex physical body made up of trillions of cells and bacteria through which to experience the complexity of life on planet earth and make meaning). School should focus on enabling all aspects of human capacity to be optimised – especially the aspects that cannot be replicated or replaced by machines, as these are actually our most significant competitive advantage and gift as a species.


6.      CREATE A GOLDILOCKS ENVIRONMENT (CONTINUOUS MICRO-ADJUSTMENTS TO OFFER NOT TOO MUCH AND NOT TOO LITTLE OF ANYTHING): The story of Goldilocks beautifully illustrates the concept of an environment that is “not too hot, not too cold, not too hard, not too soft”. The optimal environment for the self-assembly of human understanding is one that Goldilocks would approve of – it needs to focus on constant micro-adjustments to offer just the right amount of beneficial adversity and struggle that a child grows as much as possible without being destroyed. Children will not grow optimally if every challenge or experience is managed for them by an adult, nor will they grow optimally if they are completely unsupported through big challenges… we much continuously strive to offer Goldilocks’s “Just Right” learning environment through continuous micro-adjustments (quick responses to feedback loops) to support the emergence of children’s optimal growth and development.


7.      OFFER JUST-IN-TIME LEARNING, RATHER THAN JUST-IN-CASE (HELP CHILDREN TO OPTIMISE THEIR LEARNING, RATHER THAN ATTEMPTING TO MAXIMISE IT): Natural ecosystems do not focus on maximising all knowledge (just in case) in order for the organisms within that system to evolve optimally. Likewise, a human learning ecosystem does not need to equip children with masses of just-in-case information that they may or may not need – rather it needs to teach children to find the information they need to reach the next step in their learning process (evolve) at the moment they need it. Natural organisms do this by responding to identified needs in the moment. For example, when there is a drought, organisms need to become more drought resistant, they do not also need to become more flood resistant at the same time (just in case, for the future) – they only need to know how to survive the drought. Children must be supported to do the same. Instead of us delivering a predetermined curriculum of every possible thing a child might ever need to know (99% of which is forgotten long before it is ever identified as useful), we need to teach them how to move to the next step to find the answers to their own burning questions (just enough information delivered, at just the right time, for them to get to the next step in their own ongoing self-assembly process). 


8.      OFFER CONTENT AS CURIOSITY CATALYSTS, NOT AS CURRICULUM:  If everyone is following their own unique self-assembly process, then we cannot know every single thing that every single child will need as inputs into their construction of understanding. However, the likelihood of children self-assembling optimally in a vacuum is very low. They will need inputs into their construction of understanding, and the richer the inputs the richer the construction of understanding is likely to be. However, outsiders cannot dictate exactly how children should use those inputs, or what meaning they should make with them. To optimise self-assembly the content cannot be too prescriptive – it must be focused on enabling an optimal self-assembly process through offering such things as loose parts, inputs, concepts to be applied, models to be interpreted, design processes, building processes, etcetera.


9.      ALWAYS WORK TO SUPPORT A CHILD’s ENTHUSIASM AND INTEREST: Enthusiasm is fertilizer for the human brain. The more interested a child is in a topic, the more likely he is to retain the information related to that topic, and to use it in his own self-assembly process. Learning facilitators should focus on supporting children to answer their own burning questions, not on cramming their brains with things they haven’t (yet) identified as interesting or important. Optimal learning will happen when children acquire the right information at the moment that they are most interested in knowing that information, and at no other time.


This is my Blueprint (the pattern to be followed) for an organic learning ecosystem that would truly support and enable the emergence of optimal human learning. Misty Meadows School is such a learning environment because it is modelled on this pattern to enable optimal self-assembly for all of the participants in the ecosystem. It functions as a Complex, Adaptive, Emergent (Fractal) Ecosystem that continuously evolves in response to the feedback loops





created by the actions and interactions of the participants in the ecosystem. Contact me if you are interested in knowing more about this blueprint … THIS IS THE SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE!


Written by Cassie Janisch, March 2024

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