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Rethinking Education, The Blog...

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

Robert Blecher

December 12, 2022

This transcript is edited from a talk I gave earlier this year on what can and should be done about our current systems of education. My starting point is the clear failure of both public and private institutions of education in the U.S., and throughout the world. There’s not much left to reform, little in the present structures of education worth saving. The heart of our present system no longer beats. It's a heart that lies, now, beyond any real possibility of resuscitation. Thus, here I begin to rethink the concept of education itself, a process that, over time, will gradually lead to the creation of a system that serves the interests of parents, students, teachers, and communities. What’s at stake is nothing less than the future of society itself, and we all hold a stake in this endeavor. Please think of this talk as an open invitation, one that welcomes each one of us to take part in the creation of something new, to engage in a process of learning that will actually work for our children and the children of our children! If you would like to move beyond complaining about all the failures of our current system — beyond wasting more time and energy in futile attempts to revive a system that’s just plain dead — and play an active role in devising and implementing meaningful solutions for generations to come, please contact me at We all walk together, shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand, along the path of an ever-advancing civilization…

I am here to talk with you about the future of education, and I’m excited – very excited -- to be here! I’m excited to share with you a new approach to education, a way of thinking that can transform the lives of students, parents, and teachers, yes, everyone, an approach with power to constructively transform the whole fabric of society. Before I get too far into this overview, I should probably say a little about myself. My name is Robert Blecher. Please call me Bob. I spent close to the first 20 years of my professional life in the legal profession, as a lawyer. But because I reached the point where it became impossible for me to continue working within a system that’s fundamentally unjust, and because I have always cared deeply, very deeply, about children, I would end up spending the next 20-plus years of my professional life as a soccer coach and educator, teaching high school social studies. For the past few years, since my retirement, I’ve devoted more and more of my time learning how to contribute to the development of a system that can truly educate our children. A lot of people today, more and more, complain about the many deficiencies in both public and private schools. So many people are becoming increasingly aware – and vocal – about all the ways that school systems fail to meet the legitimate needs of students, families, and communities. Yet, so few seem able to move beyond the analysis of all that’s wrong with the present system. Very few move beyond an analysis of problems, forward, toward the genuine consideration of viable solutions. That’s why I am here, to share what I’ve been learning, and.... It’s all good: There ARE solutions, yes – solutions DO exist -- and this guidance is just waiting to be understood and translated into the life of our communities. I’m here, today, to introduce this conceptual framework for the creation of an entirely new system of education, one that, believe it or not, has been evolving since the 1970s by the “Foundation for the Application and Teaching of Sciences,” a non-governmental entity whose work in Colombia is based upon the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, the youngest of the world’s independent religions. It’s an educational system with enormous potential to empower us, all of us -- teachers, parents, and students -- with the capabilities necessary to achieve meaningful and lasting social change.

The Organizing Principle: Building Individual Capabilities…

To advance the process of social change, each one of us – children and adults, parents and teachers – must strive to cultivate our innate intellectual and spiritual capacities. We are all born with inherent capacities to know, love, and will. These capacities (plus so many others) must be actively nourished, however, before I can hope to contribute meaningfully to the progress of my life or the life of society. Here’s one simple and profound truth: We cannot give to others what we, ourselves, do not possess. Therefore, before I can help to better the world – that it becomes a place where more and more of humanity will live in prosperity -- I must first seek to better myself. This process of growth starts with the development of a system of education organized not upon the present structure of independent, fragmented academic content areas – English, Mathematics, Art, Music, Science, Foreign Language, and Social Studies – but, instead, upon the foundation of my own individual capabilities[1] to understand the nature of reality.

The Three Elements of this New Educational Framework…

With this organizing principle in mind, I can now share with you my present understanding of how these capabilities will be developed sequentially, logically, for teachers, parents, and students, within this new systemic conceptualization of the educational process.

I. Capabilities for Understanding. Every person is born with some capacity to understand reality. Yet, just because we’re born with some measure of this potential, not all of us will cultivate to its fullest the capacity of understanding. For example, huge differences exist between the simple memorization of information – what the present system considers to be knowledge – and genuine understanding. True understanding requires learning how to place information within larger and larger contexts, that we develop the ability to think in conceptual terms. Then, and only then, what we know can begin to make sense, become relevant, provide us with guidance, and be of genuine value in our lives. This capacity – to understand what is real, discerning between true and false – must therefore become the intellectual and spiritual underpinning for the growth of our abilities to enrich human life and help the whole of society to progress. This capability involves two components:

A. Reading … Teachers, parents, and students – all stakeholders in society’s future -- must learn first to comprehend text well, beyond memorization, at increasingly sophisticated levels of conceptual understanding … until each of us[2] can effectively translate into reality those qualities, intellectual and spiritual, that pull humanity together in unity. We must learn to think less (and less) around clear-cut (and dead-end) “yes or no” answers – the kind that, now, students typically encounter on worksheets and multiple-choice exams -- and think more (and more) in terms of active, independent conceptual inquiry… asking questions such as, “What does the word ‘knowledge’ actually mean?”, “How do I place information within larger and larger contexts, and in what ways will contextualization enhance my understanding?”, or “At what point does one cross the threshold of knowledge, from the assimilation of facts to genuine understanding?” Conceptual understanding is inherently open-ended, and, thus, such inquiries call for the endless progress of human knowledge…

B. Expression … Children and adults, both, must also engage in the process of learning how to articulate their own thoughts and ideas. Knowing includes the cultivation of our inherent capacities to effectively express – verbally and in writing – the contexts and concepts that we come to understand. Indeed, learning how to make sense of reality, to know rather than just memorize, has power that motivates each of us – students, parents, and teachers -- to take responsibility for our own learning, nourish our ability and confidence to investigate what is true for ourselves, and to see – within the depths of our hearts -- the immensely transformative power of language. There can be no question, none, that conscientiously attending to the discipline of nourishing this capability -- the power of words to create – is absolutely essential for social action to be effective.

II. The Capability to Describe Reality. Closely related to understanding is our capability to more (and more) accurately describe social reality. It’s one thing to read well, even to express knowledge well, but this ability must be accompanied, as soon as possible in the learning process, with practical experience – outside the classroom, in the world -- that will release our powers to investigate what is true for ourselves … and better perceive and explain the realities of our social relationships, neighborhoods, and communities. This is where the methods of science assist in the development of our capabilities to achieve meaningful social change. The scientific method constitutes a tool which, applied properly in every content area – including Literature, History, Theology, Philosophy, Language, Art and Music – can enhance our abilities for discernment and motivate our hearts to act upon what we know, certainly, to be true. Through logically sequenced scientific activities – observation, measurement, experimentation, identification of patterns and relationships, elaboration of models and theories – we can learn to more (and more) precisely describe social reality and collaborate well with others based upon what, in fact, is true. Being able to understand and describe the realities of our world, accurately, is absolutely required if our efforts to transform society are to bear fruit.

III. Capabilities for Moral Action. It is one thing to know and describe social reality. It’s quite another, however, to decide what must be done – how to act -- for meaningful and lasting social progress to be achieved. To improve our abilities to make wise decisions – choices that move humanity forward, toward unity – we must be directed by the force of morality. Within this new paradigm of education, therefore, sufficient time and space must be devoted at every level to the cultivation of our ability to act morally, to do what’s best for others, to love and sacrifice. When words and deeds are not guided by the moral force of “good,” knowledge can oppress and exploit -- even destroy -- as easily as it can serve to benefit humanity. Reflect, please, on how many millions of lives were tragically lost in the twentieth century, alone, because of advanced weaponry and the ideology of nationalism. Pause, if just for a moment, to consider the immensely destructive consequences of free-market capitalism today on the world’s ecosystems. What’s most important to understand, here, is that moral values are not mere human inventions, social constructions devised to serve those who currently hold wealth, status, and power. No… Moral values express eternal forces that exist within each one of us, inner forces that operate within the spiritual realm of every human being. Education, then, must be directly and explicitly concerned with the reality of these forces, as the powers of the human spirit – forces that naturally attract our souls to beauty, truth, and what is good – provide the only source of motivation strong enough to compel moral action no matter what, the only source resilient enough to overcome the challenges we will inevitably face in our efforts to advance communities and societies, indeed, civilization itself … toward the highest summit of existence in this world, the unity of the entire human race.

Next Up? Joining, in the Mode of Learning, to Advance this System Toward Reality…

The conceptual framework for a new paradigm of education is evolving here, now. This, of course, is great news! What we must do, today – teachers, parents, and students – is to sit humbly before this guidance in the posture of learning as, together, we strive to better (and better) understand this new conception and translate this framework for action into the reality of our lives and the lives of our families, neighborhoods, and communities. We must become partners in this singular endeavor as we do whatever may become possible to develop ourselves and accompany others who, like us, would like nothing better than to participate in the creation new structures for education that will allow our children and countless future generations to flourish -- developing their intellectual and spiritual capacities to the fullest while, at the same time, engaging actively in the processes of meaningful social change … sustaining moral action that, over time, will transform this world from its present condition of separation, division and conflict toward one world civilization that will gradually come to live, united, within the perpetual state of material prosperity and spiritual peace.

[1] Human capabilities live at the heart of education’s true purpose. The purpose of human life, in the Baha’i perspective, is two-fold: We are to take charge of our own intellectual and spiritual growth while, at the same time, we are to contribute in meaningful ways to the transformation of society. Within a truly educational system each student will grow as an individual while, at the same time, she will develop her capacities to contribute to meaningful and lasting social change. In a just society, the system of education will align with, and further, the purpose of human life. [2] When it comes to social action, the question of “who” is fundamental. Who, exactly, will bring about the changes that must occur if the institutions of the world are to begin serving the best interests of humanity? Every human being! Each one of us must work diligently and relentlessly, urgently, with whatever our present capacities allow, to help lay the foundations of a world civilization within which all of humanity will gradually become united into one extended family. The magnitude of the changes required at this unprecedented moment in history – where, in fits and starts, humanity continues to approach the threshold of its collective maturity into adulthood – calls for nothing less than universal participation. In the drama of world history that lives today, we must all become protagonists.

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