Andrew Keen at the Britannica blog writes something so diametrically opposed to my own take on things that it’s startling and, frankly, amazing on some level (as well as ironic):
The only way to efficaciously fight back against the radical democratizers is by exposing Web 2.0 to serious public scutiny. People outside Silicon Valley get it when they are exposed to the Web 2.0 nonsense. Teachers, politicians, business leaders, editors, librarians, broadcasters, and, above all, parents are aware of Web 2.0â€™s destructive consequences…The intellectual life of our society is at stake. This is a critically serious debate that will determine the credibility and the very viability of our information economy. If we want our kids to be ignorant, then accept the fashionable inanities of Web 2.0. If not, join the cause. And fight against the flattening of our culture into a wasteland of collectivist nonsense.
Whoa. Talk about getting out of the echo chamber.
I do agree with one thing…this is a critically serious debate. And I can predict which of the people who frequently comment here will line up on which side, should they choose to engage it. And looking at Keen’s new book’s page on Amazon, it’s clear the game is on at some level. (Though at the moment I write this, my book is a couple notches ahead of his on Amazon’s sales rank…shameless self-promotion, I know.) But the interesting thing as you read through the Amazon blog post (oh, the irony!) of the myriad of interviews and debates that Keen has been doing, nowhere does it appear he’s meeting up with anyone representing education. It’s all business or technology or media types, which is pretty telling when it’s all about our “kids being ignorant.”
Which brings me back to what Tom Hoffman wrote the other day about the “Big Problems in Ed Tech:”
Utter chaos around privacy, safety and liability. The “practical” advice being promoted seems out of sync with empirical evidence, but much worse, there just doesn’t seem to be any doctrine to guide decision making. I have absolutely no clue how we work our way out of this mess, because ultimately, the problems are driven by anxious parents, who aren’t exactly rational actors.
My first thought was we don’t have a clue because we’re not in the right conversation on some level, and because who, on a large scale, acts rationally when it comes to education? At times like these when I’m pretty dour on things any way, I really wonder what systemic impact we can have by pushing at the education door. Yeah, we can impact individual teachers and subsequently lots of kids and that’s all good. But at the end of the day, the bigger conversation is about paying kids to get good grades and doing whatever it takes to get those state test scores up, the ones that don’t mean all that much anyway it seems. (Oh, and by the way, so much for Nebraska being an oasis of sanity in terms of testing.)
And I’ll say it again, our collective reach is still very small.
I’ve seen more posts of late that talk about simply scrapping the current system and starting over. And that may be the best route (or not,) and it may be the inevitable outcome of where this is all taking us (not just “Dangerously Irrelevant” but “Fatally Irrelevant.”) And speaking of Scott, (congrats, btw), did you see this post from his “Change Week” last week?
Our current system is . . . incapable of changing itself. Most people know â€“ even if they are loath to admit it â€“ that itâ€™s easier to start from scratch than to try to salvage whatâ€™s already there. We may wish otherwise, but we ought not to be wishful thinkers. Systemic, transformational change in public education can only happen if we are willing to start from scratch.
But I’m wondering if what rises from the ashes is much of a system at all as opposed to some type of free agent, personal learning process that looks more like the way things work once we leave school.
Of course, that’s my own fashionable inanity.
Let the screaming begin, and don’t forget to answer the poll.
Technorati Tags: Web20, education, keen, learning
George Siemens says
Hi Will, thanks for not stirring things :).
Like you, I think that this is an important conversation, and it was bound to come to a conflict. Think for a moment of the music, news, information, etc. companies. After decades of being able to control the message – as Rene Barsalo stated in our recent online conference, it has only been the last century where mass media took over personalization – these companies and individuals are reluctant to let go. Giving the end users, the “children” they have so long fed, control must seem unpalatable.
I’m undecided as to whether we need a complete redoing of our education systems. Even if it could be argued that we do need to redesign it from the ground up, the change presures are not significant enough for the majority of society to accept the turmoil that would ensue. At minimum, we do need dramatic and substantial change. Do we have the fortitude to do it from scratch?
I’m a bit concerned about the nature of the debate that’s unfolding – seems that we are moving into camps, rather than seeking to understand the positions being offered. I’ve read many solid rebukes of Keen’s work – probably justified. But the reality is that most of society thinks as Keen does. Our insular network of edtech is not reflective of the society as a whole. Even if we don’t see the message as valid, we do need to understand why it’s being expressed (for Keen, it’s to sell books, for parents, it’s about concern for their children’s future). I think we help the discussion most by understanding the “why’s” of the message from the anti-blog/read-write web camp…and the context in which their claims are accurate. I read journals and books. But I also use wikipedia. For entirely different knowledge needs. I blog, but I also engage in “scholarly publication/dialogue”. The unfortunate aspect of this conversation stems from the desire to force a friction between amateur and expert that doesn’t exist. We can have both – and the most sensible view to take is one where content/knowledge/conversation are seen as gradients, not points in conflict (I briefly tackled content gradients at my u of Manitoba blog: http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/wordpress/).
Elizabeth Clark says
I don’t understand what Keen’s problem is. To me Web 2.0 is new tools. It’s how we use them, not the tools themselves, that matters.
As a writing instructor, I’m happy to see my students do almost anything–except probably IMing, text messaging, chatting–that allows them to practice and improve their writing skills.
The K-12 public education requires substantial improvement. That’s clear from the number of graduating high school students who have to take developmental reading, writing, and math classes in college.
Gary Stager says
I found your post interesting, but need to raise three issues.
1) Do we run the risk of elevating Keen’s celebrity? Todd Oppenheimer was an unknown stringer hired to write “The Computer Delusion” for the Atlantic. Members of the ed tech intelligensia went berserk and dragged Oppenheimer to debate on radio, tv and at conferences. The result? He got a book contract so he could spend another five years and several hundred pages unilaterally bagging us and our beliefs.
2) I find it particularly ironic that you raise the issue of Keen’s lack of expertise visa vis education. What do Tom Friedman, Daniel Pink, Don Tapscott, Malcolm Gladwell or David Weinberger know about education?
Yet, many educators slavishly hang on to every word they utter. It’s fine to integrate different perspectives into our work, but there are much more powerful ideas available within the education community that should be guiding our thinking.
3) There may, in fact, be substantial problems with Web 2,0 technology and the educational practice building upon it. I believe there is.
Three major issues keep me up at night:
a) The read/write web seems to mean “you” write and “I” read. The existing interfaces or attention spans of its readers makes real serious debate nearly impossible – or unread.
b) The familiarity of the blogosphere makes every blogger your warm dear close personal friend. Daring to disagree makes the dissenter look mean, crazy or uncivil.
c) There is not a whole lot of diversity represented in these discussions (just like at ed tech conferences). Does the Web 2.0 community “look like America?” (Much less the world?)
I’ll be writing a lot more about these and related issues in the near future. I also look forward to the f2f session we are doing together later this year!
Thanks for hosting the conversation.
smaller class sizes
one to one – take home, carts, ipods, palms,laptops?
principal instructional leaders
shared decision making
core curriuclum and achievement focus
more money and resources
higher teacher salaries
fast track new teachers from other professions
passion based learning
inquiry based learning
higher order thinking skills
21st century school to work
improved teacher prep programs
teacher and administrative mentors
student empowerment programs
new and re-written curriculum
pay for grades
scientifically endorsed learning programs
lobby the politicians
lobby the state education departments
lobby the school boards
lobby the public consciousness
tear it all down and start all over
Is it any wonder why our “reach is still very small”? We are all over the place…there is no clear vision to unite us, no consensus to rally to, and..and..it’s so easy to buy a few more Smartboards.
Will Richardson says
Gary: I wasn’t raising his lack of expertise re: education. Just trying to make the point that very few people REALLY care what the heck happens to education outside of gettin’ those scores up, and thus, this doesn’t even raise an eyebrow in that context. There’s no real debate going on “out there”, as much as there might be in our smallish circle.
And disagreement can be civil and helpful…it should be encouraged. Dissenters looking mean depend more on how they phrase the dissent, both online and in real life.
I totally agree about diversity, though.
Will Richardson says
Pete: A.M.E.N! And the fact is that as much as we can keep our heads above water with these ideas (barely) and in these spaces, the “real” world can’t enter the discussion at all. I agree…we need to focus, and we need to seriously rethink our approach if we want our ideas to be a part of the debate.
James O'Hagan says
Read the Tony Blair speech on the media in politics (I emailed you the link… or you can find the link on my blog). Cut through the British politics and you find a similar take on Web 2.0 technologies. The promise was a more open society with better communication, but now Blair contends there is more venom than ever.
Tom Hoffman says
This is a bit like having a critically serious debate about the weather. Some people prefer sun, some rain. Times change. You can’t stop Wikipedia. Old business models cease to work. New ones emerge. Some things get better; some things get worse. After a certain point, the genie can’t be put back in the bottle.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
It is modernity. Deal with it.
Tom Hoffman says
I agree with Gary, by the way, that it is a bad habit for K-12 teachers and consultants to hang so slavishly on the words of people who don’t know much about education, particularly K-12 education, particularly in the younger grades.
Tom Hoffman says
Clay Shirky has the definitive smackdown:
This, Gary, is how it is done, if you’re looking for a serious blogging role model.
Tom Hoffman says
This one from Clay is good too:
Mike Porter says
I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard the word “democratizers” before, and further, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any derivative of the word “democracy” ever used in such a negative context. (With the obvious exception of the word “Democrat” in certain circles!) So, if one is against “democratizing” information and knowledge, what are you for??
Randy Rodgers says
“I find it particularly ironic that you raise the issue of Keenâ€™s lack of expertise visa vis education. What do Tom Friedman, Daniel Pink, Don Tapscott, Malcolm Gladwell or David Weinberger know about education?”
Certainly less than you or I. However, they have a good read on the pulse of society and where it is headed, at least in my view. An understanding of society as such is critical to improving education and making it suitable to the needs that society dictates. Educators all too often operate in a bubble that is formed by the requirements of standardized testing and accountability and traditional education theory. The real world is not constrained by such a bubble, and it is a disservice, I believe, to not adjust our educational practices and goals to give students the tools and ability to function successfully. A school in the 80s was largely tasked with preparing students to compete and succeed in an technologically-expanding society. That same technology has evolved to the point where it isn’t enough to have technical skills or to be proficient in math, science, writing, etc. Students who are going to be the most successful will be the ones who can effectively relate to others from diverse cultures, who can creatively apply new and emerging technology, who have the ability to critically dissect more available knowledge than ever before, and who have the ability to create objects whose beauty or aesthetics make them stand out. In other words, performing calculations and writing an outstanding 5-paragraph essay are valuable skills, but how will these make our future workers stand out and be successful?
I have begun reading the works of these types of authors only recently, but they have served as a challenge to me not because they offer brilliant insights into educational theory, but because they make me question my own practices and those of the teachers with whom I work.
Gary Stager says
Don’t you think that the intimacy of blogging makes disagreement seem meaner than the perception might be in a different context?
Gary Stager says
There are countless educators who have written books that blow my mind and challenge my practice. It’s too bad that they are undervalued, especially when compared to business writers.
I’m wondering if I should compile such a list?
Incidentally, which of the authors that I mentioned offer “brilliant insights into educational theory?” I’m genuinely curious.
All the best,
Chris Lehmann says
a) Re: Nebraska — AUUUUUUUUUUGH!
b) I think we do need a short set things that are the must haves in reform. I try to keep my list short… just means less to blog about. 🙂
Randy Rodgers says
I think I must have stated that in an unclear manner. I meant that they did not, in fact offer such insight. It is there insight into societal changes as a whole that I think are relevant. Sorry for being unclear.
I would say the writings of educators such as Will, David Warlick, Alan November, etc. are actually undervalued and under-read, at least with the teachers I work with on a day-to-day basis. I have also made some good connections with Web 2.0 technologies and the principals put forth by educators such as Schlecty, Schmoker, and Marzano, to name a few (none of which are technology experts). I’d like to read your list, if you have time!
Randy Rodgers says
That would be “their” insights and “principles.” Late night–fingers can’t spell very well! Oh, how I wish you could edit comments!
John Connell says
I’ve said it myself elsewhere, so I think Tom Hoffman makes a key point, that, “…this is a bit like having a critically serious debate about the weather.” The genie is absolutely out of the bottle.
My problem with Keen and Michael Gorman is that they seem to have lost all sense of balance in their arguments – of course there is still a place for ‘authenticity’ and for scholarly authority – but they need to be building alliances with those who can see the benefits both of what has gone before and of the new reality of Web 2.0. All they are doing at the moment is creating unnecessary division where none is needed.
Terry Elliott says
I think we assume that people aren’t already dealing with the failures of education. There are already so many informal tracks running parallel and perpendicular and obliquely to the dominant paradigm. Such has always been the case as folks have been self-taught, mentored, apprenticed, etc. These are parallel tracks much like we have in evolutionary theory. Institutional structures that begin to fail or which are in various stages of failure are selected against and die off like buggy whip factories while their secondary or tertiary tracks take up the slack. Just as there is no such critter as a “power vacuum”, there is no possibility of an “education vacuum”. Bad systems will eventually collapse of their own dead weight leaving behind other ways, other processes, other systems.
Oil props up the existing learning paradigm, just ask any transportation director in a rural school district. If they aren’t absolutely petrified by the inevitability oil death spiral (pun intended), then they have not been using their limited imaginations.
As Will points out our students are developing their own peer networks. Why? Because they can? Sure, but also because it scratches some human itch, some itch to know. Where will this lead? Will it be coopted by corporations just as the public school system was? Won’t know for awhile. And, if chaotic systems breed true, can’t know for sure.
My advice? Reread Candide, especially the last sentence: “Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.” I have some black raspberries in mine that I have got to freeze before the coons get to them.
Terry Elliott says
Also, Pete’s laundry list of what school’s need is proof positive that the school beast is foundering under the weight of its own extinction event. A healthy institution cannot glom all available resources to itself in the name of even the most admirable of ends. What would a school with all of these resources look like? Bentham’s Panopticon.
Will Richardson says
Gary wrote: Donâ€™t you think that the intimacy of blogging makes disagreement seem meaner than the perception might be in a different context?
Interesting twist on intimacy, don’t you think, especially if that different context you refer to is f2f. I think disagreement in blogging is more complex for the same reasons we sometimes tick people off in an e-mail without meaning to do so. The physical cues and context are missing. That being said, I do think some people like to stir the pot, and, on some level, feel it’s effective in moving the conversation. And I also think that we can frame our disagreement civilly if we are empathic to the realities of those we’re disagreeing with. I think Clay Shirky’s response that Tom pointed to is a great example.
It’s mostly about money. Sales are slipping. Web 2.0 creations such as Wikipedia, Citizendium, Curriki, etc are eating away the bottom line. Of course they hate Web 2.0 – they, and other few, used to be the ‘info dealers’ and get paid nicely for it. It’s not just them, other publishers are unhappy as well. They can’t sell you information when it’s free and they haven’t adapted to making their information more valuable.
Charlene Croft says
Does anyone else find it extremely ironic that Keen is using Web 2.0, to criticize it’s use?
I suppose if the arguement is that even the most absurd of arguements can be used and potentially legitimized through its use… then he’s proven it on a meta-level.
I agree with Mike Porter, in that the negative tone of voice associated with democratization was disturbing, particularly coming from someone representing the Encyclopedia Britannica…
I suspect that Britannica is feeling the heat of Web 2.0, it must be difficult to be an encyclopedia salesperson these days…
…Hi I’m Charlene 🙂
Mike Curtin says
Re: disagreement in the blogosphere – Since the early 70’s, our culture has had a pronounced bias against reasoned debate and dissent. Blame it on whatever you like – broadcast media, political demagoguery, whatever. I think people’s capability to respectfully disagree has atrophied to the point where when someone says, “I’d like to play devil’s advocate for a second,” those words sound more like, “you’re a know-nothing louse.” A habit that my superintendent has that I’ve come to admire since I started working for her a year ago is stating her position and then telling the group, “OK, let’s talk this through.” We then look at both alternatives and discuss pros, cons, implications. She wants to be educated on what “the other side” believes.
In the blogosphere, this kind of reasoned debate is absent. I think it’s because we suddenly have these new tools that connect us so intimately with one another and after having played the role of the passive recipients of information for so long, we don’t know what to do. It’s like someone turned on the lights in a dark room and you suddenly find yourself eyeball-to-eyeball with a host of people who don’t look, talk, think, act like you do. I guess some people close their eyes and pretend they’re not there, some raise their fists, and maybe a few look around, take a deep breath, and engage their neighbors. I think one of our tasks as educators in the 21st century is to help students take this latter course of action with confidence.
Bill Fitzgerald says
Hello, Will, et al,
Coming late to the party, but I need to re-emphasize a point made by Gary Stager earlier on — feeding the pagerank of Andrew Keen only raises his credibility —
Andrew Keen is attempting to remain relevant by using inflammatory language to mask a dearth of real substance. He also has a book out, and publicity of any sort can boost sales.
Linking to him only gives him an audience. Seriously. The guy uses phrases like “radical democratizers” — what exactly is that? And I love how Keen attempts to portray himself as outside of Silicon Valley — his own bio on his site firmly establishes his Silicon Valley creds, yet in his posts he lauds the common sense that exists outside the Valley.
In a way, it reminds me of George Bush, privileged son, attempting to demonstrate that he has the common touch.
Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the person railing against the world 2.0 is doing so via a blog on the internet? Where’s a good quill – or chisel – when you need it!
Sorry, Charlene, didn’t catch your comment the first time through. Perhaps Mr. Keen will give me some hints on how to teach current events in rural upstate New York without using internet sources.
Harold Jarche says
I read the whole dang post and them 35 comments and I realized that it’s just the same shit, different day (sorry for the language, folks, but that’s how I feel).
Either you believe in democracy, and all of the messiness that it entails, or you believe in order and “Dieu et mon droit”. Like the International Brigades of the 1930’s, I believe in the freedom of the individual – citizen, learner, whatever.
As Winnie said, “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.”
Web 2.0 (the two-way web) democratizes. It’s messy, it’s scary and them folks who want to stay in charge don’t like it. Tough. IMHO
Miguel Guhlin says
Abolish schools as they are, institutions that blunt minds, dull creativity, stigmatize diversity, and normalize mediocrity.
Affirm schools as they are, organizations that engage minds, stir creativity, encourage diversity, and nurture children.
Which is the stronger?
I just realized Mr. Keel will be a keynotes speaker at a conference I am attending in September about Web 2.0, again, for someone who is against it… he certainly does benefit from it. I’ll have to ask him what he means by the phrase “radical democratizer”