Practice Eco-Reciprocity, Stand Up for Justice, Share with Solidarity, and Act with Kindness. Benjamin Freud on a Bio-Centric Approach to Learning.

Benjamin Freud, Thailand has some really inspirational ideas on how learning in the 21st century could be. Read what he has to say:

“Coconut Thinking creates learning experiences where learners have a common purpose; to contribute to the welfare of the bio-collective—any living thing, sentient or plant, that has an interest in the healthfulness of the planet. In our view, learning is not an end in itself. Learning happens when one experience changes behavior in a future experience, behavior that is expressed in the form of thinking and action. Learning is like potential energy that is converted to kinetic energy through thinking and action. We believe that this energy should be used to contribute to the welfare of the bio-collective.

We are interested in how we move beyond student-centered approaches to provide all learners with a common purpose. We think it’s time to get away as much as possible from the anthropocentric worldviews that perpetuate the big issues of our time: climate disruption, socio-economic injustice, and the precariousness of relations with other living things. We believe we need a more bio-centric approach. We would love to connect with anyone who is open to developing a fluid curriculum of for regeneration, one that opens us all to the futures we can imagine.

We imagine learning ecosystems that extend beyond physical and conceptual walls. They would be inter-generational and collaborative. Alongside future-ready skills, they would teach future-saving ethics such as “practice eco-reciprocity,” “stand up for justice,” “share with solidarity,” and “act with kindness.”

This would give learning a new purpose.

We are firm believers in creating curriculum based on conceptual understanding and providing learners with opportunities to demonstrate their growth through “junior,” real world projects that develop transferable and life-worthy learning. We believe that learning is meaningful and personal and happens through self-discovery, not through material that is imparted in one-size-fits-all fashion.

Why a coconut? Because a coconut is classified as both a seed and a fruit—the beginning and the end of the cycle of life, which continues onward. A coconut is difficult to open but provides a worthwhile reward inside. You just need a bit of persistence and creativity to crack it. Every coconut is unique, exotic (to us at least), and definitely not a low hanging fruit. We believe deeper learning is a lot like a coconut. 

We named one of our cats Coconut because the word resonates so clearly for us… she is the third stray we have picked up.

I was born and grew up in Paris, France and since 1989 have lived in the US, the UK, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and now Saudi Arabia. I started my career in consulting before moving into education, working with Internet start-ups in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, hired by people who were literally changing the world. I continued in consulting in London and Tokyo, expanding into FMCGs and Financial Services. This exposure gave me a unique insight into how schools can prepare learners to be successful in the world that lies beyond school. It also provided me the experience and confidence to innovate to meet learners’ individual needs.

Benjamin Freud, Coconut Thinking

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about the challenges we face: climate disaster, socio-economic injustice, an how we treat each other and all other living things. I am increasingly interested in post-humanism, specifically the framework that breaks the binaries of you/me, us/them, and humans/nature. I believe that the binary within ourselves is also false and that we cannot separate the cognitive from the affective, just like we cannot separate the self from the social. This is not a new age woo woo concept, this is the idea that we need to move beyond the humanist dualism if we are to embrace ways of thinking and action that serve all living things.

I believe we should move away from an anthropocentric worldview (where humans are at the center) to a bio-centric worldview (where life is at the center). This means that we should have a set of ethics and purpose that directs thinking and action to maximize the positive impact on the welfare of the bio-collective—all living things that have an interest in the healthfulness of the planet. Simply put, we need purpose to give our actions meaning and that purpose should be the bio-collective. Otherwise, we’re just doing more of the same.

I want to create and nurture ecosystems where school extends beyond its physical and conceptual walls, where all members of the learning community live the ethics that will re-direct the course of history away from ecological and socio-economic catastrophe. Alongside future-ready skills, we should teach future-saving ethics such as “practice eco-reciprocity,”  “stand up for justice,”  “share with solidarity,” and “act with kindness.’

My pedagogical philosophy rests on the belief that deeper learning can only occur when it is meaningful to the learner. This is a deceptively simple phrase, and is in practice a web of complex processes. Meaning, by definition, is personal. Meaning involves not only relevance to the learner, but also accessibility and interest based on the right level of challenge at the right time. It naturally encompasses purpose and joy. Learning takes place in solitary or social settings, and I believe that the role of a school community is to activate and nurture learning through the cultivation of curiosity, empowerment, and relationships.

I take a constructionist approach to learning, one that, in the words of Seymour Papert, believes that “the best way to learn is to build something tangible—outside of your head—that is personally meaningful” (Papert, 1990). Learning is the result of one’s interactions with the world and the opportunities to apply new competencies and knowledge to different contexts. Learners learn best when they operate independently, guided through sets of challenging and enriching experiences by a more seasoned individual (the teacher, who is just a more experienced learner). Such contexts provide learners with the opportunity to acquire learning and apply it at the (roughly) the same time, cementing understanding and making it transferrable to other contexts, which is evidence of learning. This is the apprenticeship model of learning.

Learning is best activated by a guide when learners engage in projects that explore questions that affect their lives. Schools should not just prepare students for the future, they should prepare them for the students’ present in order for there to be meaning. Open-ended questions, creative possibilities, public performances of outcomes… these are some of the ingredients for creating worthwhile learning experiences. It also speaks to what David Perkins describes as “junior versions of the whole game.” By engaging in authentic projects and activities that are pitched at the appropriate level of challenge, students develop and apply their core skills, work on their soft competencies, and discover and hone their interests, which is the fuel to even more sophisticated levels of learning.

This model can only flourish in a culture where respect, voice, choice, and collaboration. I am honored to have developed strong and deep relationships with students in every school in which I have worked. This has rewarded me by opening them up to learning with me, informed my planning and unit designs, and allowed me to support them when they found themselves in need to speak with someone. Inside and outside the classroom I aspire to cultivate these relationships, which are important if we are to be educators of the whole child.

As a professional and a human, I value kindness, collaboration, and pushing oneself to have new experiences and to grow. I believe leadership comes from modeling attitudes and actions. It should also create a safe environment for everyone to express themselves and take risks, without fear of condemnation. Lastly, everything in a school should be driven by the idea that we need to provide for the needs of each child, whatever these may be, at the right time, the right place, and at the right level of challenge.”

We can’t wait to have the Coconut Thinking team onboard on the Hackathon for Youth: The Future of Education is Now.

Thank you Benjamin for the inspiration!

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