The first two posts of 2019 focused on one of my favorite stories from 2018, Hazim Hardeman’s journey from North Philly to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. As with so many people, his path to success has involved failure.
I’ve never been to Oxford, let alone studied there, but I have attended the two Philadelphia institutions of higher education where Hardeman studied, Community College of Philadelphia and Temple University. I counseled and taught at CCP for nearly four decades, and my “retirement” involves writing about teaching and learning. Failure has accompanied me at every step of the way.
As a college teacher who wanted to improve, I studied how learning works. Educators today speak about the “learning sciences,” the various academic disciplines that contribute to what we know about learning. Of course, this includes psychology. Collaborative teaching with my colleague from the psych department changed everything for me. But that’s too broad and deep a subject for today.
Armed with principles about learning we’d gained from psychology, my students and I became change rangers, combing through stories (including our own) to identify moments that mattered because something changed.
Theorists and researchers like Lev Vygotsky, Albert Bandura, and Temple’s Laurence Steinberg give us ways to explain what happened along the way in one’s education—in both formal and informal settings. It’s complicated because life, not being a controlled laboratory project, involves multiple influences. But I bet that if my students heard Hazim Hardeman explain that he is “a product of the opportunities I’ve been given,” they would look closely for moments that mattered in his story.
His mother’s falsifying the family’s address enabled young Hazim to attend a better elementary school in a different neighborhood. What happened?
- Bandura’s concept of reciprocal determinism would point to the change in environment as influencing the young Hazim’s views about himself and about education, in turn affecting his student behaviors for the better.
- In that new school, being challenged by assignments continually adjusted to be in what Vygotsky calls his zone of proximal development (initially difficult to do without help, with assistance decreased as he acquired mastery), Hazim’s efforts gained traction.
- In high school, Hazim’s academic engagement reverted to its former state, likely reflecting the powerful influence of peers, which Steinberg tells us can occur even in the absence of personal relationships with one’s “crowd.”
- The good news is that he became an engaged high school student when his mother returned from a long absence, a change that sends us to Bandura, Steinberg and others for explanation.
It’s valuable to dig deeper into the opportunities that Hardeman credits in his amazing story. We can learn much from the turns in his life and in our own, especially when viewed in the light of the learning sciences.
One important opportunity that Hardeman cites is his experience as a student in the honors curriculum at Community College of Philadelphia, a program in which I taught but before his enrollment. (one of our Honors classes pictured above) I wrote about those linked psych and writing classes in OPEN ADMISSIONS, and since the book’s publication, I have talked with learners, including educators, about all that we can learn from turning points.
In my post-retirement work with nonprofit organizations, I’ve seen how those lessons apply to learning in all areas of life, making a difference for people who live in distant lands or right next-door, from high-achieving scientists and artists, and from people recovering from substance use disorder to formerly incarcerated individuals, and even elected officials.
I look forward to another year of sharing news about learning and change. Thank you for joining the conversation!
Next week: As is evident in the third bulleted item, the learning sciences can make as much good use of accounts of failure as success stories. It’s about explaining change. Next week, another thoughtful article about learning by Susan Snyder of the Philadelphia Inquirer.