The recorded presentation may be viewed here on YouTube (14:08) – the script for the presentation is included in the Notes field of the slides, and I have included it below for convenience.
Good afternoon from Guernsey. I regret that I am not able to join you in person and wish you a most productive Congress. Thank you to Ning and her colleagues from the Information Literacy Section who have made this event possible, and to our hosts at TU Delft.
By way of introduction, I highlight four things. Firstly, I have been a school librarian since 2003, and professionally qualified since 2006. For practically all of my time as a school librarian I have served on the National Committee of the CILIP School Libraries Group and/ or the Board of the UK School Library Association. Secondly, by 2011 I had developed FOSIL – which stands for Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning – and which is an instructional model of the inquiry process that is based on the work of Barbara Stripling as reflected in the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum. To more effectively support growing interest in FOSIL, both within the UK and beyond, I led the establishment of the FOSIL Group in 2019, whose membership, which is free, now represents more than 35 countries. Thirdly, Barbara Stripling developed her instructional model of the inquiry process in 2003, which is central to the ESIFC, and which was published along with a PreKindergarten to Grade12 continuum of inquiry skills in 2009, and then re-imagined in 2019. The ESIFC serves more than 3.2 million children in 4,236 schools in New York State alone, and has been widely adopted and adapted beyond New York State and the US. Fourthly, since early in 2020, Barbara and I have meeting weekly to collaborate on the ongoing development of both the ESIFC and FOSIL, which are two of the five models included in the recent IFLA book, Global Action for School Libraries: Models of Inquiry.
Jonathan Rauch is not alone in pointing out that our very real existential crisis is epistemological in nature, a breakdown of the knowledge-building process, which is the inquiry process.
The epistemological roots of this existential crisis reach far back. Dallas Willard – in his paper, The Unhinging of the American Mind–Derrida as Pretext – makes the point that already by 1984 Jean-Francois Lyotard was able to ‘report’ that knowledge and the knowledge-building/ inquiry process in the various academic disciplines had become suspect. Not only did this break the connection between knowledge and reality, it also broke the connection between knowledge and being educated that had held since Aristotle.
This weakening of the reality-based community of error-seeking inquirers who uphold and are upheld by the Constitution of Knowledge leaves us without he means to turn information into knowledge and argument into facts.
Consequently, we are increasingly vulnerable to those who merely know how to get their own way among a growing number of people who are unable to recognise and so call out bullshit, as Neil Postman so bluntly puts it in his timeless essay, Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection.
This establishes inquiry as an overarching imperative, which Charles Sanders Peirce articulates so powerfully in terms of both stance and process. If we are to achieve this in society, then we need school.
The reason for this, as Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner point out, is that “school…is the one institution in our society that is inflicted on everybody, and what happens in school makes a difference – for good or ill.”
Rauch makes no mention of schools in strengthening the reality-based community of error seeking inquirers, which is unsurprising to the extent that schools continue to turn out students who, as Bertrand Russell observed more than a century ago, for the most part are unable to weigh evidence or to form an independent opinion.
While perhaps unsurprising, it is, nevertheless, alarming, given the many years of schooling that the majority of children are subjected to, and doubly so given the educational promise of inquiry to school more than half a century ago. So how was this promise sapped of its potency?
By 1979, Postman had identified two debilitating tendencies that had sapped inquiry of its educational potency, from which we identified a third.
By 1996, Postman had identified a fourth debilitating tendency, which, if anything, has gained in its potency since then. Now, Postman makes no mention of school libraries and/ or school librarians in this history of inquiry, which is alarming and perplexing, because by 1996 the evolution from research process models to inquiry process models in and through the library was already underway, and because it reveals a disconnect between school librarianship and the larger education community, or a progressive element within it, that stretches back to at least the 1960s.
This persistent “disconnect” requires further investigation if its disastrous consequences for school librarians and the larger education community, especially our students, are to be reversed.
As Ruth Ann Davies points out, “the library…program and the educational program are interdependent and inseparable. … Therefore, perspective in viewing the function and role of the school library…program begins logically by building a historical understanding of education itself.” An essential first step is for school librarians to recognise that they are specialist teachers whose subject is, as Douglas Knight observes, the learning process itself, which is fundamentally the inquiry process.
An important tool in the work of recovering the educational promise of inquiry is the second edition of the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015), which draws together more than 50 years of international research into effective school libraries. The Guidelines establish an educational and moral purpose for school libraries, which is the only reason why school libraries exist, and a keynote address at the UK School Library Association Conference in 2021 gave Barbara Stripling and me the opportunity to argue that inquiry is the means to this educational and moral end.
The means through which the library achieves this educational and moral end is through its instructional program, which is a planned comprehensive offering of teaching and learning activities.
The Guidelines identify five core instructional activities, central to which is inquiry. We argued, and have gone on to demonstrate, that an inquiry-centred instructional program both encompasses all of the librarian’s core instructional activities and ensures a balanced instructional program. Also, and of particular relevance to the chapter under discussion, while MIL can be approached as a discrete instructional activity, the Guidelines strongly advocate for the development of MIL skills and strategies within an inquiry-based approach to learning and teaching.
An outstanding feature of FOSIL, which also makes it unique, is the highly detailed continuum of MIL and other skills within a sound instructional model of the inquiry learning process. This continuum of PreKindergarten to Grade12 inquiry skills – metacognitive, cognitive, emotional, social and cultural – was first developed in 2009, and re-imagined in 2019 in large part to take into account the increasingly digital nature of the inquiry environment.
Some of these inquiry skills are IT-dependent by definition – for example, reading laterally in the digital environment in Grades 6-8 – and some are so in use – for example, citing and referencing.
Another outstanding feature of FOSIL, is the systematic grouping of these discrete skills, developed progressively over time, into functional skill sets…
…that are located logically within the stages of the inquiry learning process: Connect -> Wonder -> Investigate -> Construct -> Express -> Reflect.
While no model can fully describe the reality it represents, another outstanding feature of FOSIL is how simply it describes the inquiry process without the resulting model losing any of its explanatory power.
In Empowering Students to Inquire in a Digital Environment (2017), Barbara directly addresses two of the debilitating tendencies that sap inquiry of its educational potency, namely, (1) divorcing inquiry as a dynamic process and/ or skills from learning important content, and (3) divorcing inquiry from both a spirit of wonder and puzzlement and a dynamic process, thereby reducing it to a thoughtless fact-finding activity.
Our keynote at the UK School Library Association Conference in 2021 gave Barbara and me the opportunity to develop a shared definition of inquiry, which directly addresses the debilitating tendency to (2) reduce inquiry to a mechanical process by divorcing it from a spirit of wonder and puzzlement. Our definition is rooted in and enlarges the definition developed by the Galileo Educational Network from 1999-2022. The outstanding work of the GEN is itself rooted in the equally outstanding work of the Developing Inquiring Communities in Education Project, which was led by Gordon Wells from 1991-2001. It is worth noting here Wells’ concluding reflection on the work of DICEPS: “the force that drives the enacted curriculum must be a pervasive spirit of inquiry, and the dominant purpose of all activities must be an increase in understanding … teacher and students together must become a community of inquiry with respect to all aspects of the life of the classroom and all areas of the curriculum” (p. 7).
Finally, the development of the Portrait of an Engaged and Empowered Inquirer at Grade 12 [and Grade 8, Grade 5 and Grade 2] – which inquiry has as its end, and which is the means to this end – enables us to begin addressing the fourth, and arguably most, debilitating tendency, which is the “engineering of learning”. The Portraits do so by enlarging this reductionist, and harmful, view of what it means to be educated.
This identifies a vital role for schools, and school librarians as integral to this educational process within schools, in equipping their students for their vital role in strengthening the reality-based community of error-seeking inquirers upon whom our liberal democracy depends. The question is, do we embrace it?