Learning as Global Community

Written by Drew McConnell.

In his book “The Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom”, Louis Cozolino highlights the origin of learning as a means of communal survival. In the days before modern society, learning was not a means of individual success or achievement, but a mutually beneficial process for members of a community. It was founded upon relational bonds. Elders created strong social bonds by caring for youths, and in turn youths imitated and learned from elders. Cozolino says, “In these naturally occurring, attachment-based apprenticeships, learning is interwoven with the behaviors and biochemistry of bonding. In tribal societies, teachers and students are bound together in affection, kinship, and mutual survival.” He goes on to describe the learning environment as a place where “students and teachers join together to gather food, solve physical and social problems, and defend the community against external attack.” In a tribal community, learning “curriculum” is based on “the practical tasks of daily life and the evolving needs of the community.”

This idea that learning is a means of communal development and not individual achievement is a profound idea for our modern-day multicultural society. Particularly in Western culture, we idealize individual achievement. We focus on individual skills and achievements at the expense of communal progress. If we buy into the idea that learning is rooted in social bonds for mutually beneficial goals, we must rethink how, what and why we teach. Education is not a means of achieving skills, but a means of learning to contribute to and meet the needs of society. We do not have the same day-to-day survival needs in our developed societies as the prehistoric tribes Cozolino refers to, but the cognitive structures that drive our learning remain virtually the same. We do not have to run from predators or scavenge for food. So what is required for our “mutual survival”, and who is included in our tribe?

In order to answer the first question, we must answer the second. Globalization is not a future possibility. Globalization is a present reality. We can connect with nearly anyone in the world anytime we choose. We have the ability to transport ourselves across the globe in a matter of hours. Our tribes are no longer bound by geographical proximities. Our “evolving needs” have crossed borders and transcended racial, economic, and national boundaries. We are a global species, and therefore we must identify ourselves as such.

So if our tribe includes the global human race, what is required for our “mutual survival?” What “physical and social problems” do we face? While ancient tribes faced external threats, our threats today are internal. Our global state is riddled with inequality, violence, hunger, disease and greed. Threats that are a result of tribal factions failing to identify with other factions. These issues threaten our tribe members every single day, and therefore the “mutual survival” of the entire tribe. These threats (along with many others) are the “evolving needs of the community”, and therefore should be our “curriculum.”

A community is based upon meaningful, interdependent relationships. Wise tribal members look out for vulnerable members, sharing resources and teaching them to contribute to the needs of the community. These are the “practical tasks of daily life.” Such tasks are not altruistic acts, but mutually beneficial ones taken on because of the bond between members. Yet our global community focuses on competition and independence, qualities inherently juxtapose to compassionate relationships. I propose that in order for the human race to survive, education must focus on facilitating relationships. Students must build relationships not only with teachers and other students, but people of other races, nations, cultures and socioeconomic classes. Only once we have begun to nurture diverse global relationships can we experience the compassion and interdependence that comes from identifying with a global tribe. And once we identify ourselves as a global tribe, we can begin to collaboratively work towards learning how to live, survive, and thrive likewise.

Cozolino, Louis (2013-01-07). The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom (The Norton Series on the Social Neuroscience of Education) (Kindle Locations 397-398). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.