In memory of Christopher Alexander: 1. The importance of Life Center to Self-Directed Education

Christopher Alexander passed away last month, following John Taylor Gatto in 2018 and Daniel Greenberg in 2021. It is saddening to see the loss of yet another giant of thought. Some things require the effort of several generations. Can we, as the current generation, take up the torch from those who came before us and continue to illuminate the path ahead?

Christopher Alexander (1936-2022)
In 2004, listening to John Taylor Gatto’s three-hour lecture in our college town, Gatto’s stripped-down analysis of the history of modern education made us no longer need to spend so much time researching the ins and outs of this history ourselves, and made me feel like I had found an ally when I was extremely disappointed with the Internet education research in academia and industry, and the Sudbury Valley School he highly recommended let me know that the school I always dreamed of already existed.
School or Factory?
Daniel Greenberg, the founder of Sudbury Valley School, has proven the feasibility and superiority of Self-Directed Education and that it is suitable for everyone.
Sudbury Valley School
The work that remains is how to promote Self-Directed Education throughout society, not just for a select few. This work, in addition to continuing to build more Sudbury Valley schools or similar Self-Directed Education communities, will work on two levels: One is to put forward the theoretical framework of the new educational paradigm, establish a new educational theory, and explain the rich practice and methodology of the Self-Directed Education community with a very simple framework, and can dialogue with the old modern education theory, and face the old modern education theory instead of avoiding it. This new theory of education should become the basis of all knowledge, rather than borrowing many concepts from other disciplines to explain itself like the old modern theory of education did. One is to realize the true digital representation of real knowledge, the correct digitization of learning, and truly tap the potential of the Internet in education. Both of these aspects can benefit greatly from the ideas of Christopher Alexander, a great architect. Instead of immersing ourselves in the sadness of the passing of this great thinker in human history, it is better to continue to share and exchange ideas as he did. Christopher Alexander repeatedly emphasized in his writings and lectures that the modernization process has made us mechanized and has taken us away from experiencing life, leading to many serious problems in modern human society. He proposed the concept of “life centers,” which constitute our appreciation of beauty in nature as well as the appreciation of beauty in human works, how to build beautiful living buildings through the perception of life center. I extended the concept of life centers to all areas of human experience, including human knowledge, because all experiences are experiences of life. I believe Christopher Alexander would agree with this approach, and it may even have been his intention. Therefore, based on life or life centers, we construct understanding of the new educational paradigm and develop a new educational theoretical framework. Traditional education is linear and step-by-step “learning,” but true learning, like life, should be interactive and iterative. How to turn linear learning and education into interactive ones involves having interactive centers. Life centers are such centers. So what does this new educational paradigm include? First, playing/learning/creating, a trinity of life activities that allow learners to gain significant experiences from rich life activities. Second, ubiquitous and equal life conversation based on these
significant experiences. Third, creating our own life knowledge based on these significant experiences. Knowledge is alive, organic, and must be centered around significant experiences. Currently, the global situation of Self-Directed Education is doing well on life activities and life conversations, even achieving some degree of scalability and maturity. However, there is still much room for improvement concerning life knowledge, including popular project-based learning in innovative education. Everyone’s attention is still mainly on breaking old things, thinking that the problem of traditional school education is knowledge learning, so many innovative education subconsciously have a tendency to deny knowledge. In fact, if we recognize that knowledge is living knowledge, organic knowledge based on significant experiences, then this living knowledge is completely integrated with the practice of Self-Directed Education, and it is what we want learners to strive to create through Self-Directed Education. Many innovative education approaches are still lacking in terms of recognizing knowledge as alive and organic, based on significant experiences. This creates difficulties in dialogue with traditional school education (or old education paradigms) since the latter criticize these innovative educations for not producing visible educational results, unlike the subject examinations in schools, which have grades and degrees. Parents also find it difficult to embrace Self-Directed Education. And that’s where we need software. Only software that correctly digitizes knowledge can truly realize the potential of the Internet and promote Self-Directed Education to the whole society. Life Activity, Life Conversation, and Life Knowledge constitute the three pillars of the new educational paradigm that I understand. Or we can say that Playground, Conversation, and Knowledge constitute the three elements of the new educational paradigm. In the following articles of this series, I will explain each of these three elements and discuss how believing in and being close to Life can help us better design and build local Self-Directed Education environments from an implementation perspective.
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