Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Serendipity Lost

Let’s just see what happens…

I knew something was irking me, but it has taken ages for it to crystalise into an actual thought that I can put words to. Here’s the thought:

I think that purposefulness has become so revered by society that we have lost serendipity. This is tragic and needs redressed.

And I think it will naturally be redressed. Maybe we are at the nadir of the purposefulness slough. Here’s hoping…

Or maybe it’s just me.

First of all, I have to confess that I used to be guilty of not valuing serendipity. Many blog posts ago, I was moaning about the pointlessness of the space shuttle programme and one of my readers, Cat, pointed out that without space travel, we may never have stumbled upon various completely useful inventions. Tin foil, for example. And many other things.

Necessity, as we know, is the mother of invention. But if we stay within ‘safe’ and ‘known’ things, then there is no necessity, therefore there is no invention.

What drives me nuts is this:

In education, we plan what we learn. We literally have ‘learning intentions’. We know what we hope to learn. Before we even begin we can have ‘success criteria’; we know what things will ‘look like’ when we have learned a thing.

There’s the irony.

If we know what it is we hope to learn, there is an assumption somewhere in there that elements of the learning have already been done by someone – perhaps the teacher, perhaps the experts. The rest of us, the “learners” are simply following the pioneers through to join them at the end of learning.

What about the learning that can’t be planned? Is it even getting done any more?

How often in the past were great ideas born about of nothing other than randomness? When the floating soap or the plummeting apple were picked up and a thought found an articulation – these moments were not planned. But we learned.

When we set off to the Deerstalker, someone remarked something along the lines of, “It won’t be long now until we know what the stories will be from this trip!” How exciting for us to know that there was no way we could know what would happen to any one of us, but that by going on the trip, we would find out – something – we would learn things – but we wouldn’t know what we would learn until we had learned it.

Perhaps the best learning intention is to simply to intend to learn. Maybe not even that – maybe the best learning intention is to try out random stuff and see what happens.

To decide in advance what kind of learning you want to undertake and what success in that field would ‘look like’ is not only dull and derivative, it shuts down openness and even “luck”; it precludes valuable byproducts crystalising at the periphery.

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9 thoughts on “Serendipity Lost

  1. Scotstig on said:

    Lots of really good ideas here Sandra but lots of big words that wouldn’t win any prizes with the crystal clear English campaign 😀 Just hung on though! 😜

    I think what you are saying is that we are so reliant on plans and planning than we don’t factor in and embrace the unexpected. (Cue music from Tales of The Unexpected, but I digress!) I agree that different learning styles and pathways work for different people. Optimum learning is as unique to an individual as a fingerprint.

    For some learning is about recalling things by wrote and for others it is about trial and error like play. I think understanding is the end to learning’s means. Education is more important than learning i.e. There should be enough learning to facilitate thought leading to understanding.

    Serendipity is a bit of a minefield for me! If God is the creator of all then He is the creator of all serendipity and coincidence…….. If serendipity is a combination of human freewill and God’s work then to what extent are we chained or emancipated from God?

    • Thanks for the comment Scotstig. I’ll leave the free will debate and concentrate on the educational theory for now. My brain can only take so much!

  2. This is why I couldn’t see the point of doing science at school. I was good at it, apart from circuit boards, but I couldn’t see the point of doing experiments that had been done by generations of children before us to whom the answer was very much known and in the public domain. I couldn’t see past that. This was despite the fact that my grandfather was a geologist. The hoops were too boring. Was it the way I was taught? We had a super zany biology teacher but that didn’t help really. I think maybe I just liked language, humanities and their inherent instant creativity so much more?

    • P.S. I am very glad that other people got excited by science at school for many reasons!! Medicine, transport, tech, food etc. etc. etc.

      • I liked science but had trouble understanding electrons. As you noted – in physics they go round and round a circuit … but in Chemistry they went round and round a nucleus. And I thought… …eh? and did Advanced History and English instead. 🙂

  3. Learning for learning sakes is a pretty nice thing, I’m a huge fan. 😀

  4. My great opinions have been referenced in a blog, woo hoo, tick another ambition off the list!

    I wholeheartedly agree. This kind of thinking makes it harder and harder to acquire funding for “Blue Sky” scientific proposals. There’s a great clip of Prof Brian Cox arguing with David King about this on Newsnight (http://youtu.be/shGI-kpnMgY). Of course we wouldn’t even be having this discussion on this format if it wasn’t for CERN. Who would have predicted the World Wide Web when they were tunnelling under Geneva to build the LHC?

    When it comes to education learned helplessness is a big problem. Learning intentions are supposed to alleviate this but I wonder if they can unwittingly chain you to specific objectives. You’ve got to be able to embrace the “I don’t know…”: “I don’t know, let’s find out”; “I don’t know, can we find a better way to do this?”; “I don’t know, what other ideas and opinions are out there?”.

    As educators I think we need to demonstrate that learning is an on-going process that is never complete and that we all have things to teach each other.

    Making mistakes is also important, both as a route to learning and as the backbone of creativity. However, everyone is so caught up with achieving objectives, levels, targets and so on that there seems to be no space or time to investigate and explore.

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