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Education is Life Itself: Evolution, Unconscious and Reflective Processes, Change

by Paul Grobstein and Alice Lesnick


Schooling often rests uneasily on presumed dichotomies between coverage and inquiry, skill development and creativity. By drawing on the often under-recognized parallels between biological evolution and human learning, this essay argues that formal education need and ought not forego the unconscious exploratory processes of informal learning.  Rather than posit as natural the cultural story that formal schooling must prepare students to integrate with given cultures and foreknowable futures, the evolutionary perspective shows that education is better thought of as preparing students to create cultures and to change, and foster change, in relation to unknown futures. The properties that distinguish formal from informal learning -- conscious reflection and a degree of collective consensus about what constitutes knowledge at any given time – are, we argue, useful not as ends in themselves, but as tools for maximizing, sharing, and extending unconscious, evolutionary learning.  Working with them as such offers a way out of some of education’s persistent problems.  Two autobiographical case studies provide grounded examples of these evolutionary changes and indicate pathways of inquiry by which to pursue them.

Full Text Download available on Serendip, and in the Bryn Mawr College Repository.

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