Before I take this weekend off to celebrate my wife’s 40th birthday (she’s dealing with it so well…) and do some offline writing, I wanted to dump down a few more thoughts on this whole idea that the Read/Write Web is empowering not only amateur journalists but students and teachers as well.
But first, back to my running book report on The Red Pencil by Theodore Sizer, which I think is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in what ails us. Much of Sizer’s thinking springs from Mortimer Adler’s “The Paideia Proposal” which was filled with pretty revolutionary ideas that were for all intents ignored by the education establishment.
“Or, more charitably, perhaps the establishment was fully, but quietly, aware of the implications of his manifesto. Much would have to change, especially the very way that educators defined teaching and learning. Such would require a revolution, not only in practice but also in the way a democracy views its duties toward its young. Such a move would, thereby, create disorder.”
A couple of words jump out at me in that passage: democracy and disorder. Adler argued that a true democracy would lift all of its citizens and educate them equally; not an easy task to be sure, and one that could be accomplished only by radically rethinking the system. The potential disruption was more than the purists could stomach at the time.
Now, I could be totally, totally wrong, but I just get the sense that the democratizing potential of blogs and the like will extend to education provided we work to get everyone connected to the Web. And in doing so, we as teachers will continue to cede control of the content and the tools to our students causing disruption that I think we’re already beginning to see. The difference is, merely ignoring it will not make it go away.
Think about schools just 20 (or fewer) years ago. Teachers owned the content. We delivered it through books and handouts and choice multimedia very little of which students could find outside of the classroom. And we had mastery over the tools we used to deliver that content because, frankly, they weren’t that hard to master. Books, filmstrips, dittos. (Remember those??? All those nasty chemicals??? God, I’m old.)
Fast forward, as they say, to today where a) there’s not too much in terms of content that can’t be found in some form out there on the Web which, of course, just continues to expand, and b) we no longer have mastery over the tools that our students expect us to use to deliver. (Generally, 40% of students say their teachers are unprepared to use technology in the classroom according to a survey company that we use at our school.) The implications are pretty mind-bending, to me at least.
Certainly, I’m as clueless as the next guy when it comes to predicting the future. But I just keep looking at my own learning and at this space. I own this content. I find it, I choose it, and I choose how to use it. I’m making my own curriculum and, most importantly, sharing it with anyone else who might want to take pieces of it for their own. I’m being taught by many, many educators, most of whom I’ve never met. Together, we are creating meaning by extending or pushing back or outright contesting the ideas that we share. The texts are rich and varied. The tools are new. No books. No paper. No pens. (Almost, at least.) And yet this is more meaningful learning than I’ve ever experienced. And it’s active construction and testing of that learning, to see if it measures up not to some standardized test (taken on paper with pencil) but to the community of which I find myself a part.
This is very different from what’s happening in our classrooms.