To understand the identity globally associated with education, one needs to go no further than watching a group of children “play school.”  The power is dispersed.  The roles are assigned.  The environment is arranged, and the role-play begins.  The child, who has been designated as the teacher, takes place at the front of the makeshift classroom and issues the first of his demands of the pupils sitting below.  The students respond eagerly to the teacher’s request, engaging fully with the given assignment.  And on it goes until the idea of playing school exhausts itself and the next scenario is designed.  This scene depicts a powerful paradox about what education could be and what it is.  How education could be about the interactions and experiences we have with others while learning rather than meeting a set of standards and benchmarks dictated by the entity of education.

Until we are able to alter the identity of education as a society, it will be hard to create any real change from taking place.  In this era of movements, it is evident that people are willing to act on meaningful issues.  We therefore need to prioritize redefining education’s identity as one of these issues.  To help guide us in this pursuit, we should first consider the meaning of identity.  In the article “Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory,” Jan Stets and Peter Burke describe identity as being “the categorization of the self as an occupant of a role and the incorporation into the self, of the meanings and expectations associated with that role and its performance.  These expectations and meanings{then} form a set of standards that guide behavior.”By using this explanation of identity as a starting point, we can begin to consider the role in society school is going to occupy and subsequently the expectations we have of that role and the standards we will associate with it. 

To suggest a single identity for education is far too great a challenge, particularly when so much of identity depends on the values a specific society holds dear to its individual self.  However, if we assume that the role of education has been defined by society, using the values it esteems the most, we can then design expectations and standards of behavior that support the fulfillment of this new identity.  Currently, the standards that run through education focus primarily on learning specific content knowledge and concepts; however, we as a society seem to value this focus less and less as time goes on.  So, what is it that does matter most, and how can we help students experience this in a meaningful way?  To start we must move beyond content knowledge as the end and instead look at an individual’s disposition towards himself and towards learning as being key to this new identity.  We can then begin to think how the expectations and standards of behavior associated with being educated focus first and foremost on developing an individual’s many dispositions.

In his book Intellectual Character, Ron Ritchhart identifies eight cultural forces he suggests define the culture within a classroom to promote a culture of thinking.  When developing this culture of thinking, Ritchhart discusses the importance of fostering the growth of different dispositions via these cultural forces.  It is my belief that education can use these cultural forces to guide the creation of its new standards of behavior, where the design of learning focuses on dispositional experience and growth rather than grade level benchmarks.  Let’s consider how each of the eight cultural forces might help support the creation of this new standard of behavior in education’s new identity.

Expectations: What expectations does the community have for the learning and the learning experiences of individuals in the community?  How does the presence of flow fit into these expectations?

Opportunities: What opportunities do learners have to experience different situations where the primary purpose is dispositional development?

Modelling: Do teachers and administrators put themselves in situations where they demonstrate themselves as learners, and are these experiences visible to the community?

Language: How is it that the members of the community discuss learning?  How is language used to express the value and meaning of various dispositions?

Time:  How is time organized to allow the focus of learning to be on the experience learners have with learning and with one another?

Relationships & Interactions: How are relationships in the community used as a means to challenge and build one’s understanding of himself as an individual and as a learner? 

Routines & Structures: How are routines and structures used as a means to grow students understanding of different dispositions?

Physical Environment: How is the physical design of the learning space used to further an individual’s understanding of how he experiences learning in different spaces with different people?

By considering the way in which cultural forces can influence the identity of education, the behavior and appearance of schools is bound to change.  The balance of power will be recalibrated.  The roles will be redesigned.  The environment will be reorganized, and then students and teachers might be able to experience the same joy they did when playing school as a young child as they do, in their daily lives in the classroom, learning alongside one another.