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Emergent Pedagogy

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain,  Education, Mental Health

During the summer of 2009, Paul Grobstein, Wil Franklin, Brie Stark, and Emily Lovejoy will be thinking about science education, education, the brain, and mental health and trying out ideas in a summer institute program with K-12 teachers. These pages (see updated list) are a place for ongoing thinking by the four of them, and any one else interested. To contribute your thoughts, use the forum entry form at the bottom of this and other pages. Postings will be checked to prevent spam and so may be delayed in appearing.



Background reading for the first conversation:

"Emergent Pedagogy: Learning to Enjoy the Uncontrollable and Make it Productive" (pdf)

Some initial reactions:

Further discussion on on-line forum below ...


Paul Grobstein's picture

emergent pedagogy, further considerations

Nice challenge to the emergent pedagogy rhetoric, and some rich responses in the exchanges following it.  Some threads that seem to me worth pulling out and adding to an earlier effort to draw some lessons from the conversation ....

There is no such thing as a "neutral classroom"

An emergent classsroom is not neutral; it is structured in a way that may be more appealing to some students and less so to others.  The same is true of a "traditional" classroom.   Accordingly, one ought not to try and make arguments for emergent pedagogy based on what is fair or appealing to a diverse student population.  Nor ought one to try and make arguments for traditional pedagogy in those terms. "Just the facts" or "what experts agree on" or "all perspectives that I know about" is not "neutral" either in relation to student preferences or intellectually.

Good teaching of all kinds avoids presenting or giving the impression of presenting "truth."

This is achievable in either a traditional or an emergent mode.  It may, however, be somewhat easier to achieve in the emergent mode, where students are encouraged to themselves contribute to the range of things being presented and evaluated (as per "open-ended transactional inquiry") rather than being offered only the opportunity to evaluate a fixed set of given alternatives. 

The primary objective of an emergent classroom is to create an environment in which students enhance their skills as inquirers by engaging in active inquiry as it is most effectively done in all contexts, by a mutually supportive interaction of individual and collaborative exploration/creation/evaluation cycles.  

"it is focused on the individual in a way which does not conflict with the deep social nature of education, for the way the individual can best be open to new paths and so think about herself from new perspectives is by engaging in open and transformative relations with others"

By its very nature, a teacher can't force "emergent pedagogy" on a class.  The participants need to become persuaded of its usefulness in their own lives, present and future.  How can that be achieved locally?  institutionally?  What would it take to assure "a classroom full of students that buy into the idea of learning"?

"If students gain the capacity to think for themselves and the ability to work well in interactive groups, it seems like those traits l....  will allow for the student to have a better chance at excelling in her profession, and in turn having the financial means to support her family."

"What better way to prepare her for the real world of emergence than through an educational system of emergence?"

Maybe its a matter not only of practical outcomes in the near and long term but also of the sheer enjoyment (or lack thereof) in the short term?  And of a more general change in what we all expect of the educational process?



Bharath Vallabha's picture

Emergence and Values: A Conflict?

I am sympathetic to emergent pedagogy and I like that the discussion here takes seriously the obstacles or further issues it still has to work out. I wonder what people who favor an emergent pedagogy might say to the following argument, which seems to me particularly strong.

1. A good classroom should not force values (or modes of life) upon the students. In this sense, a classroom or the teacher should aim to be value-neutral, so that the values of any student are not thwarted or implicitly rejected by the format of the class.

2. An emergent pedagogy forces particular values (or modes of life) upon the students. For instance, suppose a student is motivated to learn and do well in a class. But suppose also that this student is in part motivated to do well because she wants to get good grades, do well in school and get a well paying job, which she wants to get so that she can help her family financially. How would such a student fare in an emergent classroom? It seems that she would not fare well, and that in order to accept emergent pedagogy, she would have to change somewhat significantly her mode of life. This is because for her education is a means to an end; this doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about learning or has bad motivations; she does care about learning, but she cares about something else even more (say, her family’s financial welfare) and so education is a means to that end. But, if I understand it correctly, an emergent pedagogy requires not having the classroom be the means to some other end, since having an end in view already is what inhibits emergence. So, perhaps the student will feel quite threatened in the emergent classroom and feel that to really participate in the class, she has to forgo the end (at least as far as the class is concerned) of caring for her family’s finances. Therefore she might feel guilty that to really participate in the class she has to care less about her family. If the student does feel like this, it seems that the emergence framework of the class will have a negative impact on her and what she values.


3. An emergent pedagogy will not make for a good classroom. It forces the value of having an emergence view to life, which some students might not favor. In this sense, a more subject oriented, standard class setting seems to do better; if the classroom focuses only on the texts and ideas of an already established disciplinary setting, it is silent about the modes of life of a student and so can accommodate a student with any values or mode of life. An emergent pedagogy might work only for those who already accept the mode of interactions and inquiry it values (Dalke, et al. note that emergence pedagogy works when the participants already trust each other and the emergence process). But if that is so, as a pedagogy perhaps it cannot be generally applied to all students or classrooms without thwarting students who don’t already accept its values.

Bob Calder's picture

forcing values

Science embraces a way of thinking in which values are embedded. Forcing students to think systematically will destroy poor thinking habits that have been inculcated by other systems that are not compatible. To put it shortly, ignorance is not a point of view.

This is why I think it's good to begin any curriculum with an introduction to critical thinking. What are typical misconceptions about this particular subject? Why do they happen? How does my thinking compare to what we talk about in class? That sort of thing.

elovejoy's picture

traits learned from emergent pedagogy

It was interesting to hear a different perspective on the emergent pedagogy and some other possible problems in its application.  But, I am a bit confused by your first argument, that "a good classroom should not force values (or modes of life) upon the students."  Is there ever such a thing as a value-neutral classroom?  In a discussion between Brie, Paul, and I, Brie pointed out that in a lecture style classroom, there is no discussion, and that the professor is just feeding information to his/her students.  How is that a value-neutral setting?  Shouldn't it be more important that education is more focused on what is best for the students, and is not based on the theory?  Even if they don't know it, an emergent classroom could give students what they actually need, instead of what they think that they want.

    In regards to your second argument, what are some other instances that we can use to exemplify how an emergent pedagogy forces a particular mode of life upon the students?  I think that the situation that bvallabha brings up is very applicable to positions that some students are in.  The student in his example wants to get good grades and do well so that she can get a job that will be able to financially support her family.  I think that it is entirely possible for her to still support her family after being exposed to an emergent pedagogy.  Many people feel that the purpose of an education is to prepare students for their future.  But, as Dalke et al. say, "Education serves a variety of functions.  We think none is more important that assuring that all humans have the capacity to think for themselves, in order to function effectively in the local, national, and world context that are themselves complex emergent systems."  If students gain the capacity to think for themselves and the ability to work well in interactive groups, it seems like those traits learned from an emergent pedagogy will allow for the student to have a better chance at excelling in her profession, and in turn having the financial means to support her family.

Bharath Vallabha's picture

Who Determines the Students' Needs?

 "Even if they don't know it, an emergent classroom could give to students what they actually need, instead of what they think they want."

This is a crucial point. "What the students actually need" -- Who gets to determine that? If we are just having a theoretical discussion, what matters is what we think is right; and if you think what students actually need is emergent education, I respect that (even more, I agree with you). But if we are talking about how to actually structure classrooms, then that brings with it issues of power and who is setting the agenda. 

If a teacher thinks, "I think students need emergent education, so I will do that", it seems like the teacher is simply imposing her desire on the classroom. Moreover, it is then unclear how this pedagogy is really different from the traditional one where the teacher dictates what happens and the students simply accept that.

I am not saying that we should strive for a value-neutral classroom. But I do think that whatever values are guiding a class should be acceptable to every person in the class; something that each person, after a little bit of reflection, can accept. My point is that it is not clear at the moment emergent pedagogy meets this standard (that is, students like the one in my original example wouldn't accept it).

If emergent pedagogy is to work, it can't be enfored by the teacher or some students in a classroom. It has to come from all the participants of the class. And what I am unclear about is: How is that kind of group synchonicity going to come about given that students might come to a classroom with very different conceptions of what they want out of it (some might want the class to be very traditional, some not traditional at all)?

Brie Stark's picture

Focus on Individualism

I believe that these are, indeed, obstacles that must be addressed when discussing emergent pedagogy.  B. Vallabha brings up the point that, if a case study were made where a child was pursuing an education for motives such as financial help for her family, that emergent education wouldn’t perhaps be the best option.  However, I do not believe that it is the concept of emergent education that we’re dealing with in this case study – rather, I think we’re dealing with a failed concept of individualism and lack of ability to be esteemed as an individual in order to make progress.  This concept relates back to the fact that standardized tests are a crucial key to acceptance into college, which is ultimately what this case study aims for: to receive an honorable college degree in order to ensure financial dependence following college.  Or, even more, good individual high school grades can lead to a better job in the workforce immediately following high school.  Therefore, I honestly don’t believe that emergent pedagogy is the culprit here – it seems that our concentration on standardized testing and focus on individual progress without group interaction – is what drives this argument. 

Now, say there was a way developed by enthusiasts of emergent pedagogy for a student, such as the case study, to be evaluated at a group and individual level without the usage of grades or standardized tests—whereas these evaluations would be equal to the tests and grades and be looked upon with as much credit by the workforce and college.  Would this not conclude that emergent pedagogy has little to do with this scenario, but rather that our world is focused on rewarding individual achievement with grades and judging this individual achievement by subjective testing?  I would think this more of a problem than emergent pedagogy, itself.

I stated before that working and education is dependent upon group dynamics.  If this case study wants to ‘make it big,’ there is probably a greater chance of achieving this if she has been encouraged to perfect her group relationship skills throughout school rather than being encouraged to perfect her individual knowledge.  If she were only encouraged to perfect her individual knowledge, this knowledge would be sorely limited by ignorance to the outside world—she’d have no other viewpoints except her own and far less experience relating in groups (than she would have had with emergence); in today’s society, it seems that progress is being made tenfold faster with group dynamics than with individual progress.

While I do believe B. Vallabha brings up a good point, I believe this point can be addressed from a viewpoint that is a consequence of our educational system based on individualism, not on the encouragement of an educational system of emergence.  Emergence breeds success in both the social realm and educational realm.  As we have discussed before, education does not and should not end at school’s end—rather, life is a period of growing and development.  Even if this case study’s motives are for financial success, won’t she have to learn how to achieve that financial success over time?  Gaining financial success won't simply appear because she received great individual grades during school.  What better way to prepare her for the real world of emergence than through an educational system of emergence?  The only possible obstacles in her way have been mentioned above, and I believe that, in the future, these obstacles will become lesser as we begin to understand the value of emergent pedagogy.


You mention that emergent education forces values upon an individual.  I think this can be argued several ways.  The concept of education today is to sit in a lecture-style classroom, having ideas thrust upon you, with the intention of you believing and learning them.  In an emergent classroom, I believe that there is a buffer for this seemingly-value-pushing 'modern' education: you have the ability to force an opposite opinion, of which you could not have ordinarily done in the 'modern' education environment.

I would also argue that there is no value-neutral classroom because achieving a value-neutral system is nearly impossible---there are too many facets to cover in a class in order to present every  opinion and be truly value  neutral.  We discussed, in the previous posts, that for an emergent style classroom to be effective, the teacher must present arguments/articles from differing viewpoints in order to spark an opinion or a new idea.  This is probably the closest to value-neutral we'll ever get.

During a small discussion, Paul brought up the notion that emergent classrooms could be considered as indoctrinating.  However, I honestly think that every style of class can be considered indoctrinating--'modern' class-style being the most indoctrinating.  As I stated above, the modern class thrusts knowledge  upon an individual and argues that the knowledge is truth and must be understood as such.  In an emergent classroom, ideas are explored from differing perspectives and the indoctrinating aspect is lessened by the impact of opinion and argument.

Bharath Vallabha's picture

Traditional and Emergent Approaches: A Clarification

 I agree with your first point that the individualism of our general society has a problematic effect on education. Point taken. Though I think this still leaves open the issue about emergent education.

You say: "for an emergent style classroom to be effective, the teacher must present arguments/articles from differing viewpoints in order to spark an opinion or a new idea"; "the modern class thrusts knowledge  upon an individual and argues that the knowledge is truth and must be understood as such". The thrust of your point, as I understand it, is that emergent classrooms can foster differing viewpoints, whereas traditional classrooms indoctronate by presenting claims simply as the truth.

It seems to me that the distinction you draw is not really between emergent and traditional classrooms, but just between good and bad classrooms. I assume that everyone agrees, no matter what their pedagogical philosophy, that a teacher who presents views as the truth and expects students to just accept them is not a good teacher. And that moreover, a teacher who can put differing views on the table and help students evaluate them is a good teacher.

As I am understanding it, the issue between traditional and emergent pedagogy isn't about whether teachers should foster discussion and different viewpoints. As I say, I think everyone should agree that that is what good teachers do. But the issue is about how to structure the classroom: for example, about whether classes should basically be driven by aims such as, "cover the well known views in a field" or "teach the accepted facts in the discipline". Thus the disagreement (as I understand it) is about whether classrooms should be treated as spaces where disciplines which are treated as set in stone are introduced to students, or as spaces where the disciplines are only the background for the students' growth as a class, whereever that might lead.

This is why, though I am symphathetic to the emergent pedagogy, it is not obvious to me that it is best way to go. For there can be good teachers teaching in a traditional way. And what to do about the students who come to the class wanting a traditional introduction to the discipline and not seeking the kind of growth the emergence perspective offers? One can say: "the kind of growth emergence pedagogy offers is exactly the kind of growth all students should want and which is best for them." That is a very substantial claim. What is the reason to believe that? What if saying that is just a way of bull dozing over students who have more traditional expections of a classroom?

Brie Stark's picture

I think you bring up a very

I think you bring up a very good point: there is a difference between good and bad teachers, and thus, good and 'bad' classrooms.  I'm not meaning to argue that the traditional classroom harbors 'bad' teachers, and thus a bad environment--but rather than emergence can offer a more socially-applicable stance on education that seems to be a bit more successful, in that it applies the values of society early in life.  I honestly believe that, if students do want an introduction to a discipline, an emergent classroom offers just as successful a style as the 'traditional' way, if not more successful in that it both presents facts and fosters discussion about those facts.  By traditional, I am assuming that you mean a lecture style classroom.  It is true that one can receive the facts very straight-forward in a lecture style classroom.  It is also true, however, that facts can be presented to an emergent-style classroom -- when a discussion follows, taking these facts into account, the emergent classroom is more successful.  In a traditional classroom, the facts are received; in an emergent classroom, the facts are received, discussed, debated.

I think it is also worth mentioning that 'facts,' in the sense that they are concrete and truthful, is not an approach particularly fostered by emergent education.  Facts are always liable to be questioned, because 'concrete truth' is not often applicable in differing situations -- that is, a truth may apply to one situation, but not to others.  I think an emergent classroom takes this more into account, and treats facts as a means of growing more knowledgable, though still asking questions.

(You bring up great points about traditional vs. emergent education--they've made me think!  Thanks for engaging in this discussion with me!)

Bharath Vallabha's picture

Emergent Pedagogy Incorporating Individualism


I agree with you that one of merits of emergent education is that it "applies the values of society early in life". Instead of assuming that society needs "experts" in an individualistic way, emergent education tries to develop in the students the modes of reflection and social interaction in a classroom which mimic real life interactions much more, and so can prepare students better for after college. In fact, pressing your point, it seems to me that a real advantage of emergent education is that it avoids the feeling, common in contemporary colleges, that college experiences are not really a part of "the real world". By having the students and the teachers engage with each other in an open-ended forum, emergent education actually makes the educational context itself more like job situations or grad schools, etc.

So as I understand it, here is a response motivated by your point to my imagined student who attends classes to have financial security later on. The point of education shouldn’t be to just inculcate students to ways of life which are already prevalent in society; so it isn’t just a mechanical process of gaining some skills. Rather, in addition to learning skills and facts, education should also be a space for them to think about what kind of an adult they would like to be and what kind of a society they would like to be a part of. In this sense, education can be a space for reflection rather than just inculcation when the students can experience new paths and new ways they can live, and they can be open to and choose which paths express them. The trouble with my imagined student is that she is not really leaving any room for reflection or openness; because she is so concerned that she has to get to point B (financial security), deep reflection on her life or openness to new ways of life is not possible for her. And in this sense, she is not really challenging herself, and if an educational system doesn’t push or challenge her, to that extent the system is failing her.

As I think about this now, I very much agree with this response to the student. Thanks for the exchanges, which helped me understand it better.

One point about the above response seems to me important to emphasize. The response is in a sense deeply individualistic in that it takes the student’s own self-reflection and potentials for transformation as the main basic feature of education. But it is focused on the individual in a way which does not conflict with the deep social nature of education, for the way the individual can best be open to new paths and so think about herself from new perspectives is by engaging in open and transformative relations with others—which is what emergent education makes possible.

So even though there is a certain bad individualism in society and traditional education, it seems to me that the response to this shouldn’t be to discard individualism altogether. For the power of emergent education comes from its focus on the growth and flourishing of each individual in the class. To that extent emergent pedagogy has to be constantly open to posssible challenges and questions from each individual in the class concerning its justification.

Bob Calder's picture

good versus bad teachers

When we discuss the overall quality of teachers, I think we first need to move the language to "effective versus ineffective." Second, we need to see teachers as a more or less random distribution of human performance. There will be an intransigent group near the bottom of the effectiveness distribution that will not move easily. As many as one quarter of the student population will be in a classroom with one of them at any given time. If you move into banking, IT, or retail, the reality of human performance has to be dealt with honestly to be successful. Refusing to acknowledge ignorance has consequences that we see in the current economic crisis.

There are also other issues. Let's say you or I have a classroom full of children who display a pathology that we are not equiped to cope with. We have that classroom full of children for at least a year, maybe more. When someone chooses to observe us during that class time, it will produce a predictably poor result.

At any rate, I agree wholeheartedly with you about keeping an environment of inquiry alive and allowing students to follow their natural curiosity with guided questioning for the teacher. The Harkness Method was used in my own schooling and I try to bring my students into my version of it as often as possible. Of course it helps to have a classroom full of students that buy into the idea of learning. ;-)

Brie Stark's picture

I am perfectly fine with

I am perfectly fine with adapting my language to "effective vs. ineffective," but I think the point that B. Vallabha & I were trying to make doesn't really revolve around the terminology.  Honestly, I think that if we are to look at teachers as a random distribution of human performance and be contented that some, as you say, are near the bottom of the effectiveness distribution, than we have a far greater problem.  I think it goes against the graining of "life as a learning process" to simply accept that some teachers are ineffective.  Teachers, to be effective, have to accept that learning doesn't just revolve around concrete lesson plans.

However, if you arguing that teachers will seem ineffective to some and effective to others, I would agree.   If we are trying to please the entire continuum of students in the education system, we are sorely mislead.  Basically, we just want to foster the idea of 'developmental learning,' whereas the student sees school as a stepping stone into learning more as he enters life without 'proper' education.  I think that, if a teacher does foster this initiative and breeds discussion (as we have argued is quite beneficial, seeing as our society operates on a more or less emergent social system), than he or she is ultimately as effective as can be.

We have to rely on goals that are set by our own understanding of developmental learning rather than being judged by others.  If, as Bob says, we have a classroom of children we cannot 'deal' with, we therefore must also adapt--just as emergent education suggests--and try new methods.  I hardly think that any one teacher can fail, if they understand the concept of always learning.

Paul Grobstein's picture

emergent pedagogy, con.

Very rich discussion, as per Emily's and Brie's post conversation thoughts below.  Several things that struck me particularly included

  • the importance in an emergent classroom of doing things in a way that offers potential engagements for everyone's interests and capabilities, not as an issue of "fairness" but rather as a necessity to get a good interactive mix of perspectives
  • the importance in an emergent classroom of doing things in a way that offsets students' fears of contributing their own thoughts
  • the importance in an emergent classroom, given the above, of setting a context in which the unconscious is free to express itself, and is open to being affected by its own expressions, those of other people, the conflcts that result, and the reflective considerations those in turn give rise to
  • the notion of dealing with "discipline"/disinterest problems by finding ways to make the material engaging, rather than in ways that encourage a continuing reliance on respect for authority (doing what the teacher wants, what is needed to pass/get good grade/etc)
  • the pervasiveness of an individualistic mentality in contemporary educational practice and assessment, the degree to which an emergent approach presents a serious challenge to that, and the existence of other models/programs that do so as well
elovejoy's picture

emergence CAN work


    During our discussion, we touched upon the concerns that both Brie and I had with emergence after reading the article.  Brie’s main concern was about the focus of individual progress to measure a student’s “talent.”  I can see this as a major concern because so many students and parents put so much effort into doing well because tests like the SAT and ACT create the standards for college admission.  My main concern dealt with the issue of discipline in an emergent classroom.  During our discussion on discipline, we focused mainly on the idea of the amount of effort students put in to a class.  Most students want to feel that all of their peers are putting in equal amounts of effort.  But in most classrooms, there are some students who are completely disengaged and some students that are overly engaged.  This brings an interesting point to light that discussions in emergent courses are extremely sensitive to the students in the class.  It is not always the teacher’s fault if the class does not have a dynamic discussion, and it is useful for teachers to know that the blame can not be put entirely on them, as the students will control a lot of the dynamics.  Paul, Brie, and I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do in an emergent class is to set up a situation in which students forget that they are scared to participate so that more voices can be heard.  This can be done by using different types of readings that will promote some kind of conflict, and in turn will generate feelings in the students that they will want to share.

    Some people may think that teaching in an emergent fashion in a contemporary context is not feasible, but there are plenty of real life examples of when emergence has been proven to work.  Brie and I mentioned that we both participated in Odyssey of the Mind when we were younger, which is an educational program in which students are put into groups to solve problems using their creativity.  Then, the groups compete on the local, state, and world level.  Odyssey of the Mind allows students to take different paths to reach many different answers.  There never is one right answer.  This hands-on program allows for students to think in different ways and have group interactions.  You can learn more about Odyssey of the Mind here:  Personally, I thought that Odyssey of the Mind was a great emergent system of learning.  Every individual in the group had to contribute equally; the score in the competition was in part based on equal amounts of contribution from all participants.  The program allowed for us to think outside of the box and do activities that most children would never do on their own.

    Another example of emergence in the real world can be found in the way that NASA assembles their flight crews (  Paul mentioned to us that they look at group dynamics when assembling their teams, instead of who performs the best on an aptitude test.  I explored the topic a little further:  Although technical competence is also a factor, the final component in assembling a crew has to do with the astronaut's ability to work well in small groups.  Nick Kansas conducted a study in 1971 for NASA that stressed the importance of selecting crew members that were compatible so that during their long journeys, there wasn’t as many social and psychological stressors.  They found that aptitude, sensitivity, and motivation were equally important in selecting astronauts for a team.  I thought this was a really interesting example of a way that emergence has been used as an effective way to assess people.

Brie Stark's picture


Discussion on the Emergent Approach to Education
June 16, 2009

    There were several problems in emergent education that Paul, Emily and I discussed.  Emily noted that there could be disciplinary problems and I could definitely see this occurring in a K-12 setting more so in a higher education setting.  I noted that my parents both teach in a prison system, educating inmates toward an associates degree (after they graduate) and that my dad in particular often tries to instigate an emergent type of classroom.  However, the inmates are focused mostly on getting through the classes rather than on the material, and because of the confined space of the prison, are often prone to sparking inappropriate debates or saying crude comments.  It is therefore hard to enforce discipline when the setting of the prison is so charged with emotions like anger and frustration. 

    Another problem we discussed was the focus on individual progress and subsequent testing to find out ‘worth’ or ‘aptitude.’  It seems, in class, that the individual wants to stand out and receive grades based on their own attitude and work.  However, it seems particularly irrelevant to judge just an individual’s progress because, in today’s society, there are very few new ideas created by sole individuals.  New ideas are usually the result of cooperative groups.  Therefore, why does the education system stress individual performance and then send the individuals into a real world focused on collaboration to provide new, possibly better ideas?  We need, therefore, to design a program that is not focused on the testing of individual aptitude, but focused on the whole of the person’s attributes, such as group interaction.  Often, when given a test, an individual will strive for what the teacher wants or what she knows as the ‘right’ answer and not step outside of the box—the limitations of receiving a good grade on the test hold her back from pursuing new ideas. 

    In an emergent course, we also discussed how the course becomes sensitive to the people participating in the discussion.  Often, the discussion topics and information presented are the same from year to year, but the course’s success will fluctuate.  We discussed that this success may be dependent upon the interest of the participants.  I also think that the group dynamic of the individuals—how they meld and work on processing and creating new thoughts—has a lot to do with course success.  Sometimes, people simply do not function as well with another type of person, and I believe this could lead to a lack of new ideas.

    I discussed an experience from a hopeful-emergent-style classroom that did not go very well.  I thought that the course failed to spur any discussion because there was not a point to work off of.  Often, the instructor would ask a question of readings that were too open-ended, to the tune of, “how did this make you feel?”  Many individuals, I felt, didn’t have a connection to make to this question and were thus not intrigued enough to make the effort to say something.  I think, perhaps, a small goal is necessary for a discussion.  The goal doesn’t have to be ‘correct’ or even entirely relevant to where the discussion will end—it just needs to stimulate a discussion.  Perhaps, “how does this relate to the current world event of genocide, and what reasons do you disagree with?”  This question may cause a stir of feelings, either in agreement or disagreement, which are interesting enough to comment upon and facilitate a discussion.

    Working off of that idea, I think it is necessary to show as many sides of an issue as is possible.  When I read articles focused only on peace, for instance, I become disinterested.  If I read an article on why causing a war worked for one country, I would think to myself and decide whether or not I agreed or disagreed with this article, which would cause a stronger influence of feelings.  Since I would read both a pro-peace and pro-war piece, I could then better formulate my own opinion and categorize my feelings in order to participate.

    As discussed before, testing seems to put a damper on the emergent education philosophy.  An emergent environment is meant to stimulate new ideas, not to conform to old ideals.  If the classroom is preaching that there is no ‘right’ answer and encouraging discussion to culminate into a new idea, the subsequent giving of a test where a ‘right’ answer is encouraged will ultimately backfire upon the emergent classroom that once existed.  The students will resort back to pleasing the teacher and looking only for the right answer, rather than exploring options.  It seems to me that a better way of assessing progress could be done in several ways.

    First, I think that participation points could be a useful tool.  If the students are not told that participation points are awarded, I do not believe that students would purposefully try to say as much as possible in order to receive a better grade.  I also think that students’ assessment of others, when working in a group, is a helpful anchor to base grades upon—this fits in with what I mentioned earlier about gathering a new perspective.  However, participation points also has a downside: students may focus on just pleasing the teacher and conforming to what they believe the teacher wants to hear or the discussion is aiming toward, rather than letting themselves think outside of the box.

    Second, I believe that open-ended essays or papers can facilitate new ideas and help in the grading process.  While it is harder to come up with your own idea for a paper, I believe that this process could help to broaden a student’s interests and knowledge in the topic.  When reading the paper, the grade could be based upon how much the student has stepped outside of the box or has explored a new realm to an old question. 

    Third, we discussed that growth should be a component of grading.  It is necessary, through emergent teaching, for the developmental process to be the most important factor—not the end result.  For that reason, why shouldn’t we factor in that growth process into the grade?  While it is very hard to decide how to do this, I think this must be discussed and implemented in order to make the grade more comprehensive.

    Emergent education has a long way to go before it is accepted into the contemporary education mold.  First, because contemporary education stresses individual achievement and grades above group participation, new idea forming and developmental growth.  Second, because education is often tailored to tests where one answer is ‘correct’ and thus leaves no room for further exploration.  Finally, because emergent education would cause a great change in the education system, where new methods of deciding things like entrance into graduate school would have to be assessed.  Without having the GRE and a GPA, perhaps interviews, letters of recommendation and even group activities would become a forefront building block of admission. 

    We wondered, too, if emergent education did continue to grow and grades subsequently began to become irrelevant, if students would begin taking classes according to what they are interested in rather than what is required.  What change would this cause in teachers?  Would teachers become more passionate when teaching a class full of students who took the course because they genuinely enjoyed it?  How much would this change the educational system as we know it? 

    I think emergence definitely has a place in the educational system today.  It has been used in social society for a very long time and has been extremely effective.  The creation of new medicines, of stories, of movies and of many other things has been the result of collaborative, emergent thinking.  Education should reform itself in a way that students who are educated are subsequently prepared for the ‘real world’ after school—individualism is not the only factor in society, and therefore should not be the only factor in the education system.

Examples of Innovative Emergent Techniques

Odyssey of the Mind: “is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Kids apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics,” (  In the program, “students learn skills that will last a lifetime. They work in teams so they learn cooperation and respect for the ideas of others. They evaluate ideas and make decisions on their own, gaining greater self-confidence and increased self-esteem along the way. They work within a budget, so they learn to manage their money. They see that there’s often more than one way to solve a problem, and that sometimes the process is more important than the end result.”  Both Emily and I took part in this program in our grade-school years, and we found to be a particularly innovative way of introducing younger children exactly how society does function—it is geared toward group participation, equality of participation, formation of new ideas, rather than on individualism and self-achievement. 

University of Cincinnati Scholarship Program: A friend of mine participated in this activity and I thought it particularly interesting.  While people are selected to participate based on test grades and GPA, it is a program that is starting to evolve into a more emergent approach and has the potential to develop further.  “The Cincinnatus Scholarship Competition at the University of Cincinnati transforms the typical scholarship application process into a dynamic interactive event that celebrates student leadership, academic excellence, and personal growth. Rather than filling out tedious forms, the brightest and most promising prospective freshmen will be invited to accept a renewable scholarship award or compete on campus for more than $18 million in University of Cincinnati four-year scholarships” (  My friend described the process as being divided into groups, given a problem to solve and thus delving into a conversation with the other group members.  The officials would roam around the room observing group collaboration and noting individual performance in relation to problem-solving and group dynamics.  This approach, I feel, is one step toward involving an emergent philosophy into the college admission process that could possibly alleviate the individualism-oriented goals of the SAT or ACT.