Relational Path to Regenerative Education

The landscapes of knowledge and learning have shifted hugely in recent years, with the development of technology, digital media, and more importantly, the enlivened human consciousness of our connections with each other, and our relations with the planet. Yet, practices of public education largely remain fixed to a model of a century’s duration, unresponsive to the emerging conditions and perilous in terms of preparation for the future. If regenerative practices in education are imperative, what is the most promising direction for transformation?

As we have been deeply immersed in the exploration of regenerative education, we were invited to Humanity Rising Global Solutions Summit on 14th June to discuss the conceptual foundation for educational transformation, and how relational practices such as deep listening and dialogue might contribute to systemic change. Through this dialogue, we illustrated the potentials of a relational vision for regenerative education. Favoured by this vision is the thriving of innovation, co-inquiry, inclusion and collaboration for the global good.

Tony Wagner

What is the alternative to high stakes tests and top-down accountability measures that tell us very little about the quality of a student, teacher, or school? Gergen and Gill offer a provocative answer: relational accountability rooted in collaborative inquiry. Beyond the Tyranny of Testing  is full of exciting ideas that have the potential to transform education.

—Tony Wagner, best-selling author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators.

Xinping Zhang

The traditional approach to assessment in education relies on three basic mechanisms: the first is its focus on the authority of the assessors, assuming that they who make judgements of others are the wiser, more capable, and superior, while those who are being judged are ignorant, incompetent, and inferior; the second is its emphasis on an objective, scientific approach to evaluating performance, as if the more loyal the evaluation is to measurement-based evidence, the more accurate the conclusion; the third is its focus on the inadequacy of the persons being assessed, pointing out where they are at fault, and showing them their shortcomings. In Beyond the Tyranny of Testing, Gergen and Gill not only challenge all three mechanisms, and critique their dehumanising effects, but more importantly, they propose a relational orientation to evaluation that provides a truly transformative vision of education. By highlighting that education is fundamentally relational, Gergen and Gill convincingly argue that evaluation must accordingly be conceived as a relational process. This leads to their proposing relational evaluation as collaborative meaning-making, valuing, and co-inquiry. As they illustrate, such a relational orientation can profoundly transform classroom practices, teachers’ professional development, and whole school evaluation. Beyond the Tyranny of Testing thus has the potential to revolutionise education, and I am convinced that it is most timely for such a revolution to happen. In particular, this would replace hierarchy with collaboration and dialogue, measurement with the co-creation of meaning, and the deficit view of persons with an appreciation of multiplicity and difference. This book can heal the trauma suffered by learners and educators under the system of traditional assessment, and bring new hope to the world.

— Professor, Xinping Zhang, Dean, Nanjing Normal University, China

Sharon Todd

This is a most welcome and timely volume that succeeds in developing an alternative approach to assessment, one that is not based on narrow definitions of performance, but one that centres on relational qualities of collaboration that lie at the heart of all good education. Gergen and Gill ask essential questions about the real purpose of assessment that fundamentally challenge the climate of managerialism and measurement which currently haunts the global educational landscape. The book does not simply provide a critique, however, but proposes workable changes to assessment in ways that offer a much needed re-humanisation of classrooms and schools. This is a volume written from the heart as well as the mind.

— Sharon Todd, Professor of Education, Maynooth University, Ireland

Edmund W. Gordon

Gergen and Gill have provided us with a radically different way of thinking about education as a whole. Building on the idea that education is ultimately relational process, they redefine what education is , and develop a framework for educational evaluation from a relational perspective, with implications for pedagogical and curriculum transformation. The book offers an alternative to our traditional approach to assessment which views teaching and learning as a process of depositing knowledge and measuring what is retained. Such an alternative is grounded in illustrative and implementable evaluative practice in classrooms, of teachers’ learning, and about the whole school’s processes. A splendid book!

— Edmund W Gordon, Richard March Hoe Professor of Education and Psychology, Emeritus Teachers College, Columbia University; John M Musser Professor of Psychology, Emeritus Yale University

Peter Dahler-Larsen

In a world where testing has become a purpose of education in itself, Beyond the Tyranny of Testing argues in favour of a Copernican revolution in education: Social relations should be seen as central, not as a by-product of measurement regimes. With a focus on collaborative inquiry, this important, well-written and much-needed book proposes concrete evaluative practices for everyone in the educational system to see themselves as parts of this transformation.

— Professor Peter Dahler-Larsen, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, author of The Evaluation Society

Hanan A. Alexander

Humanistic educators have very often been satisfied to articulate educational aims and pedagogies without addressing how to evaluate the impact of their creative ideas. Equally often, this becomes the downfall of these innovations, when their outcomes are compared to those of other orientations according to standardised tests of student achievement. In the spirit of Elliot Eisner’s educational connoisseurship and educational criticism, Psychologist Kenneth Gergen’s and Philosopher Scherto Gill’s timely new book masterfully addresses this challenge with what they call a “relational” conception of educational evaluation. Following Gergen’s cutting-edge research on the “relational self” and Gill’s highly-regarded writings on the ethics of caring in schools, they offer a devastating critique of measurement and assessment in education and the neoliberal assumptions in which it is grounded, pointing especially to the deleterious effects of these practices and presuppositions on the wellbeing of students and teachers. Gergen and Gill recognise that centring evaluation on the affirmation of value in learning and teaching, rather than on the measurement of “objective” standards, offers a window into the entire educational process. They take the reader on an engaging journey through what life inside and outside of schools could be like, were classrooms to focus on relationships, among teachers and students, teachers and their colleagues, students and their peers, students and the curriculum, and more. From the evaluation of pupil learning in primary and secondary schools, to the review of teaching personnel and school programmes, the authors provide a detailed map of practical strategies illustrated by way of concrete cases from across the globe to illuminate how relational evaluation can transform education by “enhancing the process of learning,” “inspiring sustained engagement,” and “enriching human relationships.” Beautifully written in non-technical language accessible to a wide audience, this ground-breaking volume offers a compelling alternative at a time when the very “factory metaphor” of schooling served by testing is under extraordinary pressure. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on education around the world has created an opportunity to reimage schools as communities of leaners and teachers dedicated to the co-construction of meaning assisted by advances in communications technologies. This volume is a must read for anyone interested in addressing this crisis through a relational vision that places human flourishing at the heart of evaluating learning and teaching.

— Hanan A. Alexander (PhD), Professor of Philosophy of Education, University of Haifa; President, Religious Education Association; author of Reimagining Liberal Education: Affiliation and Inquiry in Democratic Schooling (Bloomsbury, 2015)

John (Jack) Miller

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><em>Beyond the Tyranny of Testing demonstrates how evaluation of students, teachers, and schools can be done in an inclusive and relational manner that engages all members of the school community. It is filled with concrete examples of how this approach to evaluation can be carried out.  It is a most timely book as educators are seeking alternatives to mechanistic and standardized forms of evaluation.</em>Beyond the Tyranny of Testing demonstrates how evaluation of students, teachers, and schools can be done in an inclusive and relational manner that engages all members of the school community. It is filled with concrete examples of how this approach to evaluation can be carried out.  It is a most timely book as educators are seeking alternatives to mechanistic and standardized forms of evaluation.

— John (Jack) Miller, Professor of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto; author of The Holistic Curriculum

Colleen McLaughlin

This is a most timely and important book. Timely because we now recognise the damage done to our educational vision and practice by the recent obsession with testing and accountability measures. This book is a justification for a different lens and one which does not polarise learning and relating but shows the deep connection between them and how they enhance each other. It also embeds the argument in strong illustrative evidence. Very important!

— Professor Colleen McLaughlin, Director of Educational Innovation, University of Cambridge, author of Implementing Educational Reform: Cases and Challenges (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

Stanton Wortham

The disruptions of the pandemic have given educators, policymakers, and the public space to reflect on what is really important about education. We have realized more urgently that the well-being of students as whole people is central to the educational enterprise. We have realized that the accumulation of decontextualized knowledge and skills is not a sufficient educational end. This timely book by Gergen and Gill provides an approach that can guide education forward, given these realizations. They bring together insights from a range of traditions, developing a new vision of education as relational. The book is broad in its scope and also concrete in its illustrations of educational practice. It uses educational evaluation as an entry point for re-imagining the whole educational enterprise. This bold reconceptualization of education will be of interest to scholars, practitioners, and policymakers alike.

— Stanton E. F. Wortham, Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean, Boston College,