How do you solve a problem you've never seen before?
How do you solve a problem you’ve never seen before?
This was the dilemma facing the team from KIPP College Prep at the MLK Jr Day Weekend Expedition focused on “civil rights social entrepreneurship.” The KIPPsters were curious about the barriers to exercising civil rights that formerly incarcerated people face (e.g., fair access to jobs, housing, etc.).
They had never studied this problem. They had never taken a class on it.
So how do you solve a problem when you school hasn’t taught it to you? (After all, school is about solving known problems in known ways.)
Did they use a mashup of design thinking and lean startup methods? Yes. But… such problem-solving techniques are necessary but insufficient.
The real magic happens because of social learning.
A world of networks and increasing complexity requires social learning, as Harold Jarche describes in “Gaining Insight at Work”:
“Social learning is the process by which groups of people cooperate to learn with and from each other. The network era is creating a historic reversal of education, as discourse replaces institutions, and social learning in knowledge networks obsolesces many aspects of organizational training. It is as if Socrates  has come back to put Plato’s academy in its place, but this time the public agora is global. […]
“Seeking out expertise, making sense as we work, and sharing with colleagues is the new cycle of workplace learning.”
The KIPPsters engaged in social learning in four different ways:
Each member of the team was responsible for teaching others on the team and for learning from them.
The team sought out experts whom they could interview.
The team pitched multiple iterations of their prototype to other student teams and adult facilitators, who provided targeted feedback. (See photo at the top.)
On the last day of the Expedition, the team pitched v6 of their prototype to an executive panel, who provided additional ideas for them to consider.
To be sure, the KIPP team has not yet “solved” the problem of enabling formerly incarcerated people to act as full and equal citizens, but in just three days they learned an enormous amount about the nature of the problem and the beginnings of a solution.
In other words, for never having seen that problem before, the KIPP team learned a lot.
And they learned a lot because social learning powered their problem-framing and problem-solving.
When and where do your students have the chance to learn socially by working on problems they have never seen before?
 In an age of increasing complexity, Philosophy is more important than ever because it teaches:
the art of asking better and better questions (the ultimate skill in an age of complexity)
mental models of how the world works
Art, literature, and other forms of the Humanities do the same thing by different means.
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