Developing Collective and Cultural Metacognition…?

[700 words]

One of the learning approaches that I think needs to be developed a bit more broadly is the human capacity for metacognition. There needs to be more critical thinking about our own thinking, not just on an individual level, but also collectively. Indeed, it is something that ought to be inculcated as a fundamental value across all cultures. One way to do this would be through teaching, learning and mentoring.

To a significant degree, human cognition, both conscious and unconscious cognition, together with the human behaviors that result from that part of human nature are deeply flawed. Or, to put it more neutrally and more precisely, our cognitive processes and our behaviors can, at times, be nonsensical, counterproductive, and destructive. They can lead us into situations that undermine our health and safety, generate unproductive interpersonal conflicts, provoke ignoble and harmful emotions or ingrain self-destructive habits of body and mind.  Generally speaking, much of what human beings do collectively works against our own individual thriving and our collective survival. There are ways in which we incarnate an evolutionary paradox.  (Click here for an interesting, compelling and somewhat flawed reflection by John Scales Avery on this state of affairs, where Homo sapiens, ostensibly the most advanced and most adaptable organism at the apex of evolutionary processes, seems bent not on survival and persistence, but on planet-wide mass murder-suicide.) Human beings are destroying biodiversity, increasing global warming, poisoning water and air, destabilizing and disrupting the planetary systems that underlie and assure our thriving and our persistence as a species. Why do we do this? Because as a species, we follow our fiercest and most alluring impulses, with little regard for the long term, with disdain for other species and for the planet, our home, out space ship, our habitat.  Our emotional instability and puerility and our biased, erratic and error-prone thinking induce us to persist in following evolutionarily undesirable pathways.

Developing a process of collective metacognition or a way to inculcate deep and self-critical reflection in all human beings, across cultures, so that we become aware of the ways in which our emotions and our mental character undermine the conditions that will help assure our long-term survival. Indeed, let’s figure a way to teach all students to use metacognitive strategies themselves to gain some critical distance on the evolutionarily programmed flaws in our thinking and emotional lives. But also, let’s  teach them to teach others. Let’s teach them to cultivate their own influence, so that they can teach metacognition to others and teach them to develop predispositions and behaviors at a proper critical distance from flawed ways of thinking and acting.

Individually and collectively, we need to be more fully aware of the ways in which the disjunctures between our biological evolution and our social evolution as gregarious, culturally-programmed, status-conscious creatures lead us astray. We need to realize the ways in which our unconscious and automatic reactions or behaviors arise from a mismatch between our biological past and our socio-cultural present. It would be helpful, as we try to construct and manage rational, deliberative, cooperative social arrangements for ourselves and as we function as integral parts of the planet’s complex of ecosystems, if we were to be deeply thoughtful and critically self-aware, if we assured that we were not sliding down slopes of compulsion, bias and disproportionate, massively destructive appetites. We need to develop individual and collective metacognition, to be aware of our our thinking and feelings may be leading us into erroneous and self-destructive choices.

How, though, does one develop and encourage this kind of growth in wisdom and self-mastery through metacognition? How does one inculcate this way of proceeding as a cultural norm? How does one scale up and propagate both the learning and the teaching of metacognitive approaches? Indeed, why haven’t we already come to a universal consensus about the desirability of not giving in to our most foolhardy evolutionary weaknesses? Why don’t we collectively value and teach self-mastery and emotional maturity? Why don’t we act like wise apes, instead of like vicious, greedy, self-serving, bloodthirsty ones who happen to possess and control nuclear weapons and vast economies that pollute, destroy habitats and mechanically drive species to extinction?

Indeed.

Seeking Wisdom in the Anthropocene?

[500 words]

If one thinks of learning as it fits certain formal notions of education (learning chemistry, learning math, learning to speak French, learning to write), it seems ludicrous to talk about the “future of learning” given our current circumstances, when our planetary home is burning to the ground, so to speak. Humankind is foolishly, some might say suicidally, destabilizing planetary systems and disrupting the web of life to a catastrophic degree. Under these conditions, what good does it do to memorize verb declensions or to solve polynomial equations or earn diplomas that certify that we can do those things?

On the other hand, if we think about learning as being focused on developing a capacity to discern and address the problems of the Anthropocene, it may be worth thinking about and pursuing. If learning is about developing the capacity to collaborate, developing effective problem-solving strategies, and building consensus around sustainable and stabilizing approaches to our interactions with the world and with each other, it might be worthwhile. If “the future of learning” is about seeking to achieve a sufficient level of collective wisdom, where we face our responsibilities maturely and do what is necessary to assure the survival and thriving of not only all humans currently alive, but also other species and, indeed, the entire web of life, then it could be extremely helpful.

In this blog, I probably ought to focus “the future of learning” in the second sense, where learning increases collaboration, develops critical and complex thinking, encourages learners to seek broad-based, iterative, and practical solutions to wicked problems. I might add that the kind of learning that I believe we need in this troubled time is learning that promotes “deliberative democracy,” where citizens seriously and responsibly consider good and true information, debate potential solutions with the greater good in mind, and come to a productive consensus based on broadly shared values that include respect for truth and goodness, the survival of humanity, the protection of our collective safety, and concern for everyone’s ability to live decently. Of course, these results ought to be the true goal of any democratic process, but as we all know, alas, it is not. Democracy in post-truth America seems to be more about oneupmanship, scoring points dishonestly, making one’s enemies look like fools, serving extremist ideologies, and serving one’s own interests and/or paying off debts to lobbyists and sponsors by corruptly using the power of the state, with reckless disregard for the common good.

If I can focus on learning that not only teaches individuals how to learn for themselves, how to think critically, how to discern what is important, but also how to get others to do the same, then it will be worthwhile.

So, for the foreseeable future, that will be one of the principal goals of this blog. The future of learning IN THE ANTHROPOCENE, which includes inculcating true wisdom, tolerance, deliberative democracy in the best sense of that term… That’s what I’ll be shooting to elucidate and flesh out.