Volume 3, Issue 2 2014

A Note from the Editor

Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists… Open thinking points beyond itself. Theodor Adorno (1998, pp. 291-292)

As Susan Adler notes in this issue, we’ve been hearing for some time now that we have to do school differently. But we still seem mired in traditional or outmoded school cultures, classroom practices, and ways of thinking about education and society. Sir Ken Robinson’s popular video on educational paradigms raises the notion that current systems of education remain grounded in Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution-era modes of thinking that still prioritize rationalization (classifying, categorizing, sorting, etc.), standardization, competition and consumption, hierarchical authority structures, and the supervision, monitoring and regulation of teachers and students. Robinson argues that this industrial model of education tends to lead to conformity, standardized curriculum and assessment, and an input-output model of teaching and learning. These ways of thinking and the educational structures and practices they seem to perpetuate may not help prepare young people for the 21st century, despite the best intentions of reform efforts.

Indeed, we live in a rapidly changing global society in which more information and technological solutions have done little to address persistent social, political, and economic problems, such as climate change, war, terrorism, and other forms of organized violence, or deep-rooted forms of inequality and injustice. What seems to be needed more than ever are new ways of thinking. As Grace Lee Boggs (1998) notes in Living for Change, “All over the world today we are obviously living in that in-between period of historical time when great numbers of people are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative.” Boggs sees this as an opportunity to look at ourselves and reorder our priorities. She believes people can develop grassroots or local strategies that have the potential to transform social practices, ways of thinking, and our sense of political and social responsibility to each other.

The articles in this issue call for new ways of thinking about educational practice and social issues. In their own way, each author suggests new ways of thinking that can transform social and educational practice. Susan Adler writes about the power of the “new old ideas” of John Dewey to help educators re-think the role of experience in learning and the need to help learners develop not just reflective thinking skills, but a “reflective attitude” characterized by being open-minded, whole-hearted, and responsible in deed and thought. Similarly, the sociologist You Yenn Teo helps us see the value of particular lenses and tools to help young people understand complex social issues as well as imagine viable alternatives. Like Adler, Teo highlights the need to see the social world and educational practice through new lenses that might open new possibilities. Diganta Das, a geographer, highlights the role particular concepts, such as liveability, occupancy urbanism, and urban informality, can play to help students better understand urban spaces. For Das, these concepts not only help students conduct fieldwork in urban settings, they also help students think more deeply about the relationships people have with their environments.

The historian, Rahil Ismail, also calls for a need to re-think and re-envision diversity through the lenses of social justice and global citizenship. For Ismail, envisioning a “new multiculturalism” must be done “in a new spirit” committed to social justice and interconnectedness that will fully affirm diversity and difference. Humanities educator Ang Hui Xia calls for the need to engage students with multiple perspectives and outlines a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) approach that she used with her secondary students. In this activity, structures were provided to help students consider whether or not Singapore’s efforts at racial and religious harmony have been successful. From students’ responses, we are able to see that students can tackle difficult issues and analyze and discuss them in productive ways. Ron Starker and Mark Baildon highlight three teachers who are boldly re-thinking their classrooms and experimenting with classroom design. They share design ideas that might support creatively re-imagining classroom learning environments.

Taken together, these articles suggest new lenses for seeing and thinking through educational and social problems. Hopefully, they encourage readers to not only imagine alternatives, but to begin the work of enacting those alternatives.


Adorno, T. (1998). Education after Auschwitz: Critical models, interventions and catchwords. New York: Columbia University Press.

Boggs, G. (1998). Living for change: An autobiography. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Mark Baildon
Editor, HSSE Online
November 2014

Old Ideas Made New Again

"I started teaching long ago. The air was full of new ideas about curriculum and teaching methods. In the United States and the United Kingdom we had the “New Social Studies,” “New Math,” exciting hands-on science projects, and the like. It was all about engaging learners in the “methods of the discipline,” in doing inquiry not just memorizing facts. This was a long time ago. Today we are hearing these old “new” ideas again."

Context, Interests, and Unintended Consequences: Lenses for Seeing, Comprehending and Engaging with the World

"The White Paper on Population created quite a firestorm when it was released in 2013. Many critiques were launched against it – ranging from big and obvious worries about the sheer number of people who are expected to live in this small city; to complaints about where these people would come from; to very nitty-gritty critiques about the details and tone of the White Paper – right down to how nurses are referred to as low-skilled workers in the footnotes."

From Classroom to the Field and Back: Understanding the Ways Fieldwork Empowers Geographic Learning

"Fieldwork is an integral part of learning Geography. Fieldwork has been widely used in both research and as pedagogic approaches as it provides a platform for students to understand their classroom content in a better way and help them to become real geographers. This article begins with understanding fieldwork in geography, touching its importance in contemporary human geography, and then describes the ways a one-day fieldwork was planned, prepared and performed in Singapore to understand human geography concepts. The fieldwork helped students experience concepts through everyday urban practices and apply geographic methods into practice. In the conclusion, students’ perspectives about what they learnt and the ways it complemented their classroom learning is discussed."

Structured Academic Controversy for Upper Secondary Social Studies

"This article will describe the use of Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) as a teaching strategy to help a class of Secondary Three Express students in Social Studies analyse issues from multiple perspectives and to strengthen their explanation, questioning and listening skills."

Designing Classrooms of the Future Now!

"Keywords: classroom design, innovation, learning environments In this article we showcase the work of three teachers in redesigning classroom learning environments to enhance student learning. Through short interview excerpts, a video, and classroom photos we feature ten design ideas they used to redesign their classrooms. In the article we also argue that despite lofty rhetoric espousing pedagogical innovation and 21st century learning, classroom design provides the most visible sign of what schools and educational leaders actually believe and value. We call for greater attention to the ways classroom spaces constrain and enable teaching and learning that can better support important 21st century educational outcomes. "

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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