Sub-2: Closing the Praxis Gap

At ~04:15 EST on Saturday, 12 October, Eliud Kipchoge crossed the finish line of the Ineos 1:59 challenge in Vienna, having completed a marathon (26.2mi/42.2km) in less than two hours.

He is the only human ever to have done so.

This was no regular marathon. In fact, this was Kipchoge’s second attempt at sub-2 in a contrived environment in which all technical and tactical focus was directed at his effort to accomplish something that had never been done before. There are purists who will argue that such an elaborately orchestrated effort “doesn’t count,” and it is true that it doesn’t meet the course or pacing guidelines to be an official world record; however, it’s a remarkable feat, in or out of the record books.

I used to be a runner, My brain still thinks I am one, no matter how desperately my body tries to prove it wrong. So, after watching Kipchoge make a little history, baby, I wondered how to make it pedagogically relevant. What newfangled ed-tech was analogous to the EV that was both setting the pace for his effort and projecting a laser onto the ground to show his pacers where to run? How were the pacers themselves, spelling each other off in teams to surround him in a counter-intuitive reverse-vee phalanx (sorry, Mighty Ducks), representative of scaffolding, or collaboration, or the support systems we put in place for our students? How long until his $300+ sneakers become a metaphor for private-sector elitism?

Maybe the comparison is simpler than that. Maybe Kipchoge’s success—and how we can view it through a pedagogical lens—hinges upon the alignment of system with subject.

Until recently, few people believed that a sub-2 marathon could be run. When Kipchoge, his coaches, and the greater running community began to view it as a possibility, they recognized that the likelihood of success could be increased through the implementation of a controllable—but not limiting—system. Natural ability and training made Kipchoge an ideal runner for a sub-2 attempt, but he was supported by technology grounded in years of research, trial, and error. He had more than preparation and skill behind him, he had science, which is perpetually driven to innovate and iterate through its inherent fallibility. He had attempted this feat before, and fallen just short; the team behind him learned from previous failure, adapted the system, and tried again.

As teachers, we believe our students are capable of great things. Many of us spend countless hours on our own professional learning, considering our teaching philosophies and brushing up on theories that might enhance our practice. In terms of our own learning, we live in a pedagogical milieu that is both inspiring and—at times—overwhelming. The issue, I would argue, is that a significant source of this overwhelm stems from the fact that we think and work within a system that was fundamentally designed to support obedience, inculcation, and task-orientation. While we have certainly made some headway over time in the ways that we teach and empower our students, that’s not what the system was actually created to do:  in fact, an alarming number of the structural underpinnings of industrial-model conservativism have survived the last 200 years in our schools. Teachers are willing to innovate and iterate, but are—far too frequently—limited by the education system.

Students, as the subjects (and I use this term intentionally knowing it denotes control) of the education system, have little choice but to work within it. As much as we want to empower them, it is difficult to do so authentically within a framework that teaches them to play a particular game, with specific ends and outcomes in mind. Yes, this system—like Kipchoge’s—is controlled; however, unlike his, it is inherently limiting. The theory, and in many cases, the science, behind giving students freedom to harness their potential is out there, but we are so bogged down in the dregs of the industrial educational model that it is challenging, for many of us, to put this theory into practice in a meaningful way. We’ve fallen victim to a praxis gap.

How might we close this gap?  How might we break the cycle of viewing numbers as outcomes and outcomes as end points, and instead see them as natural byproducts of something greater?

The formal school system, far too often, becomes a ceiling that limits students’ potential. Compare that with the support system—founded in research, trial, and error—Kipchoge had in place when he ran 42.2km faster than any other human being ever has; a system which opened, for him as its subject, the gateway to success.

How might we make school a gateway?

12 Replies to “Sub-2: Closing the Praxis Gap”

  1. Happy Thanksgiving Jess and everyone called out bellow.
    I’m thankful for a lot these day at right now i’m thankful for this post and that we have created a community and platform where leaders like @jsheppard are able to express their perspectives and views on education for the betterment and benefit of everyone. I just finished watching Eliud Kipchoge incredible feat and then was treated to Jess’s artful perspective on the power of learning through failure, support ,scaffolding and brain science,

    Coaches and Facilitators – tag one, two or all members from your Action Group and bring them into this thread and conversation. Share your insights and if you have not done so already… watch the video. It’s amazing. Let’s see where this thread takes us. Happy thanksgiving! @egelleny can you bring in some of our alumni as well. I know @ddoucet @danielleganley @brenthurley @rutheichholtz would have some great ideas to share as well.

    So Cohort 21……………. “How might we make school a gateway?”

    @adamcaplan @ljensen @tjagdeo @lmcbeth @ckirsh @gnichols
    @lbettencourt @acampbellrogers @apetrolito @mmoore
    @gvogt @lmustard @swelbourn @jgravel @gnichols
    @nblair @jbairos @mwilcox @amacrae
    @tfaucher @ashaikh @ahughes @wdarby
    @edaigle @mbrims @tjagdeo @lmitchell

    1. @jmedved Thanks for the thoughtful response, and for looping folks into the conversation; I am excited to see where it takes us. I know this is a group with the desire to open these sorts of doors for our students, and I think—as a network—we have a great opportunity to do so!

  2. Ahhhhhhhh! I loved this post, Jess. I too watched his marathon and was so beyond excited to watch Kipchoge prove that no human is limited. I think that very idea of no human being limited is so very much part of my teaching philosophy too.

    To riff off of what you are writing, the whole idea that big research firms (like Nike) put so much money and research into such an “experiment” is exactly what is needed in education. If we are to get outside some of the industrial model of schooling, it will likely come from a source with LOTS of money and willingness to see how schools can also be unlimited. It’s very exciting to think about!

    Going to share this post out via Twitter!

    1. Thanks for the share @ckirsh! It is interesting to think about what big research firms might be interested enough in shaking up the education system to give that sort of thing a shot! And how it could be done in a way that is equitable and accessible. So much to ponder!

  3. What can I say Jester, you’ve spun gold here, and provided us with an incredible model in the process. Think about this: inspired by a moment, you returned to a passion for teaching and learning , building language and context in a way that has generated new (renewed?) excitement for you, for @jmedved @ckirsh and all of us. Unreal.

    Yes, we may be “limited by the education system”, but we are more likely limited by ourselves as products of a system we so desperately try to detract from. In some cases we are in fact limited, but what do we do in those moments when we are not? Do we seize the opportunity? Or do we hide behind the illusion of limitations? Perhaps what is most required is inspiring trail blazers who make it all seem possible (and then compose wickedly gripping blog posts to further entice!). I for one am thinking about what that moment might be for our students – the one that frees them from outcomes and numbers and university of choice – and unleashes genuine curiosity to be harnessed in a way that proves to them their greatness.

    Hey, could this be the 1st ever Cohort21 Blog Post with a Mighty Duck’s reference? Nice

    Thank you so much for this @jsheppard, really proud to call you colleague.

    Hey Birch Group, check out this post!
    @gmabin @mhoskins @psenior @sfazil @mtrelford @mhodal @fvillano @ltrought @lmustard @amoffatt @eoboyle @jgravel @swelbourn

    1. @gvogt D’aww: thanks, Jeeves! 🙂

      Totally agree that we’re also often self-limiting! That’s why I’m here; status-quo is easy, but there’s so much more we can do! Stoked to keep exploring this journey with everyone!

    2. If this is the first ever C21 blog post with a Mighty Ducks reference then I feel like I have failed. “Did you guys really QUACK at the principal??”
      Let me throw my props out to @jsheppard as well for a wonderful post. Lucky to know you, girl!

  4. Thank you @gnichols for the shout out! The sub 2 hour marathon was definitely an amazing moment. There has been some negative backlash on what shoes were worn and how much was about ability and how much was about the technology.

    This year, I was planning to implement some readings I had read about the sub 2 hour marathon. I teach grade 12 biology and the metabolic processes unit works perfectly with this! I read a book called Endure which talks about the human limits based on measure VO2. A scientist predicts the “true human limit” to the marathon to be 1:57. Relating what is a limit to the physiological “limits” and how we push that equilibrium is a big lesson I talk about. I also bring back this theme during the homeostasis unit where we talk about stressors and how to “expand our comfort zone” to change the limits of what stresses we can take! Look forward to hearing more of your ideas 🙂

    1. Thanks @gnichols for bringing other running-related Cohort posts into this thread. @maylu, I’ll be checking your post out for sure. Love that you’re tying these sorts of feats into your lessons; Endure is a fascinating read, and I’m sure fun to explore in deeper scientific detail.

      The tech argument will remain interesting for sure. The most recent episode of The Shakeout Podcast got into that a little bit; how much of a role did tech play, and is that okay? It certainly opens the door to larger discussions about the types of systems in place in all aspects of our lives, who has access to them and can benefit from them, etc.

      I suspect now that this barrier has been broken, we’ll see it in a race situation before too long: maybe in a Kipchoge–Bekele showdown!

  5. @jsheppard you kind of just blew my mind with this post! I was hooked immediately as too watched incredulous as Kipchoge entered the history books over the weekend … I was caught up too in the idea of the role of tech & the idea of legitimacy… this was a great read: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/10/kipchoges-sub-two-hour-marathon-how-legitimate-it/599974/
    But that aside, I love how you and @maylu are connecting these themes of discussion into the pedagogy of the classroom environment. The idea of access to systems that ‘unlock’ the gateway to student potential is certainly something to chew on in terms of equity … I often have these thoughts when watching any kind of ‘World Championship’ from debating to athletics … who has been left out? Who would be here if they had access ? So privilege comes into this for me too, how can those with privilege ensure equitable access to the gateway?
    Weigh in team! @jstrimas @acorbett @tredhead @mwoodly @lyorke @cmcinnes @epaul @ldickenson @mmurray @sletham

    1. Great article, @acampbellrogers! There’s a Mighty Ducks reference in there too: great minds…

      I love how you framed the privilege piece. There is definitely a cynic in me that sees these superengineered feats and immediately thinks: okay, so who got cut out? I like that you have framed the idea around the responsibility of those with the means/access to ensure that extends to others.

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