Weeds can can emerge from just about any piece of ground where their roots can crack the earth, but producing a bountiful harvest of nutritious plants requires careful attention to and cultivation of the soil.
Similarly, human beings are wired to learn, even under the harshest of circumstances, but some environments, some contexts are much better than others for supporting learning. Fertile learning contexts are (in no particular order):
They allow for an open exchange of ideas – all ideas – and insist on the responsibility that accompanies this freedom.
They resist complacency and passivity, continually stimulating the learner to think and act in new, different, and better ways.
They allow us to see the results of our our actions and the actions of others – and, because they are free, to react and respond appropriately.
They are not fixed or static in their nature or in the aims with which they are associated. They are changing and changeable.
As Dewey noted, “only diversity makes change and progress.” Fertile learning contexts manifest diversity in all its diverse meanings.
They recognize the inherent social value of learning and foster learning through social interaction.
We tend to focus a lot on content when we talk about learning, but learning emerges from experience, which requires both content and context.
We must seek, cultivate, and consciously orchestrate fertile contexts for our own learning. And we must do the same for those we teach, those we parent, those we lead.