How Theories in Emergence Shape my Practices as an Educator.
“Do you already know that your existence--who and how you are--is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?"
― Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds*
I am writing this post to give lineage to the term Emergent Education in which I use to describe my educational ethos. It is a call to action to others in the education community to explore the concept of emergence in relation to education.
Today's world needs systems in education that have yet to come into being. What would it look like for educators to apply the concept of emergence or "the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions"** to change-making in education?
In Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, Adrienne Maree Brown describes emergent strategy as "emphasiz[ing] critical connections over critical mass, building authentic relationships, listening with all the senses of the body and mind." She provides a framework for social-justice oriented change in which we begin to embody emergence by mirroring patterns from the natural world.
Inspired by the work of Andrienne Maree Brown, I believe that using strategies of emergence is the only way we can transform the educational crisis of our time.
"The crisis is everywhere, massive, massive, massive.
And we are small.
But emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies. Emergence is our inheritance as a part of this universe; it is how we change. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated world we long for."
-Adrienne Maree Brown
There is a lot to this and no doubt I will be digging deeper into how Adrienne Maree Brown’s framework is applicable in understanding the growth/learning process (from a human development perspective) as well as in movement work for educational justice.
But now to pivot slightly to another source of emergence…
In 2013, as a graduate student at the University of Virginia, I was introduced to the Emergent Theory of Learning which consists of the constructivist theories of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and John Dewey. The Emergent Theory of Learning asserts that children develop their own knowledge, intelligence, and morality through a series of developmental stages and in collaboration with each other.
I interpret this work as evidence that education structures are more effective when they give children agency over their learning, a chance to learn at their own pace, and an environment that is responsive to social and emotional needs.
For many years I have been exploring the practical implications of this theory by using the Emergent Curriculum*** as a guide in my classroom teaching and curriculum design work.
Both Adrienne Maree Brown and the Emergent Learning Theory emphasize a natural pace of learning and growth that is disregarded by the public education system. Emergent education honors the natural intelligence of the body and recognizes the ways in which child development drives learning (and not the other way around). It recognizes that the "standards-aligned instruction and testing model" that defines the public education system is a construction of capitalism. For too long, we have internalized mainstream performance expectations at the expense of our children and their childhood. Emergent education calls us to release our ideas of academic performance and instead look to our children and see what wants to emerge. We can study their expressions of passions, creativity, and strengths and support them to develop at the rate determined by the intelligence of their body.
*Andrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (A.K. Press, 2017)
**Nick Obolenksy, Complex Adaptive Leadership: Embracing Paradox and Uncertainty
(Burlington, VT: Gower, 2014)
***The emergent curriculum is a process where educators plan activities and projects based on the specific student they are working with, taking into the developmental needs, talents, and passions of the child.
Elizabeth Jones and John Nimmo, Emergent Curriculum (National Association for the Education of the Young, 1994).