Learning environments: stoves full of butterflies

Let me try to elucidate that metaphor.

The 12/21-12/28 New Yorker has a fascinating story on stoves. Stoves, it turns out, are of the utmost importance for reasons of public health and climate change. The stoves in question are chiefly the wood-burning kind used in the Third World, that is, when stoves are used there at all. You’ll have to read the article to get the rest of the story. For now, I want to do three things: 1) register my amazement at this crucial piece of civilization infrastructure whose complexity and importance were entirely beyond me before I started the story, 2) register my wonder at the talents and commitment of the people involved in research, engineering, design, and organizational activity related to stoves for the Third World (many of those talented people are from the Island of Misfit Toys–even better), and c) quote a very striking moment early on in which the connections to education were too urgent to overlook:

Fire is a fickle, nonlinear thing, and seems to be affected by every millimetre of a stove’s design–the size of the opening, the shape and material of the chamber, the thickness of the grate–each variable amplifying the next and being amplified in turn, in a complex series of feedback loops. “You’ve heard of the butterfly effect?” one engineer told me. “Well, these stoves are full of butterflies.”

Substitute “learning” for “fire,” and substitute “learning environment” for “stove,” and you can take it from there. Sadly, most of the time our schools and their learning environments (read: classrooms) seem more like feedlots (or holding pens) than stoves.

Small wonder the sparks don’t fly and the fires go out.

3 thoughts on “Learning environments: stoves full of butterflies

  1. Mmm, love this metaphor (you do have a way with metaphors my friend), it rings so true with my experience (and what I have heard from other students). No two stoves are quite alike either, thus producing a different flame, and so it goes in the classroom. While this can be frustrating in a world of standardization, there is a certain beauty to it all once we get past this feedlot ideal. The flickering of fire shifts and and morphs in an unpredictable pattern. It is this growing and waning of the flame, the randomness that I love (and I think most people love about watching a fire) and what I love so much about learning too.

  2. @Shannon Thanks, and thanks too for building on that metaphor so beautifully. Your last sentence in particular is very moving. Sometimes we even see faces in the fire, yes?

  3. Pingback: Late Night Learning LIVE! « Doctorgee’s Blog

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