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Integral Principle #4 – Learning Relationships are Mutually Chosen and Sustained


– by Brent Cameron

Learning relationships are optimal when they are like friendships that are mutually chosen and sustained. The paradigm of teaching is fraught with impositions. Neither teacher nor student in the education system get to choose to be in relationship together. Classrooms and subjects are assigned. Everyone is subject to the authority of the education system. What is learned and how much time is spent on learning, where and how things are learned and the politics and dynamics of the relationship between teacher and student are all defined and controlled by others.

The learner and the learning consultant choose each other

In SelfDesign®, both the learning consultant (new term for teacher) and the learner (new term for student) mutually choose to work together. In this relationship they collaborate on what is learned and how it is learned. The learning consultant is just that, a consultant to the learning of the learner. The consultant in effect comes alongside the learner and grows with and builds a relationship sustained on mutual ongoing agreements and by the consensual changes in those agreements.

Paradigm Shifting: from authoritarian education to authorship and authentic learning

The following terms illustrate that new names need to be applied to the entirely different roles and set of assumptions that these roles are based on. For example, we no longer refer to SelfDesign® educators as teachers because they do not teach; they are more mentors or guides and act as consultants to the learning process that is interdependently generated and sustained by the learner on his or her own terms.

New names needed for new roles

Old Education Paradigm:

  • teacher
  • student
  • school
  • class
  • grade
  • course
  • curriculum
  • expectations
  • marks
  • authoritarian

New SelfDesign® Paradigm:

  • learning consultant
  • learner
  • learning
  • community
  • learning circle
  • no grades
  • individualized
  • life-long learning
  • individual experience 
  • co-directed learning
  • introspective
  • living inquiry
  • opportunities
  • collaborative
  • evaluation portfolio
  • co-inspirational

I did not come to these new concepts overnight; they evolved over many years of experimenting and thinking about what was emerging from relational dynamics inclusive of emotionality and whole-person collaboratively motivated efforts to design a new learning paradigm.

My experiment in natural learning

My experiment in natural learning was influenced by my experience in business and the freedom of people to enter into relationships freely for mutual purposes. Over the next 25 years my venture attracted parents and young children who had become disenfranchised by public education and who were looking for something different. At the end of the first year I had attracted six children from six different families and had such a positive experiment in learning happening that I decided to form a non-profit society and seriously engage in creating a new learning model.

By September 1984, I had attracted 10 learners and had rented a house with a basement that was suitable to continue my work with these children. The learners and I were friends doing interesting things together. Each day we would come together and decide what we might want to learn and do that day, that week, that season. We hired mentors to work with us, and we decided together what would be interesting and worthwhile to do.

One of the fundamental conditions of SelfDesign® is that both mentors and learners mutually choose to work with each other. Sometimes the learner and learning consultant/mentor relationship breaks down, and we either work to mend it or we end it. Today we specifically train learning consultants to learn relational language, to learn negotiation strategies and to study the role of empowering and positive languaging to optimize the dynamic between them and the learner. Each consultant not only chooses how many learners to work with but also which families to work with.

Agreement to work together is sacred and part of the magic of our work.

Brent Cameron, the founder of SelfDesign®, completed a doctorate at the University of British Columbia in 2010, submitting a dissertation entitled “SelfDesign®: An Inquiry Into Authentic Learning And Co-Inspiration.” SelfDesign® is the precursor to Transformative Learning. 

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