So this morning it’s David Weinberger that’s got me thinking. No doubt, David has been one of my favorite Web philosophers for a long time, someone who almost always seems to open the window just a bit more for me. Today, it’s this:
…we knew all along that atoms were never up to the job. We knew that the world doesnâ€™t boil down to even the best of newspapers, that it doesnâ€™t fit into 65,000 articles in a printed encyclopedia, that there was more disagreement than the old channels let through. (What they called noise, we called the the world.) We knew that the crap pushed through the radio wasnâ€™t really all that we cared about, or that we all cared about the same things within three tv channels of difference. The old institutions were the best fictions we could come up with given that atoms are way too big.
And I’m wondering, deep down, have we known all along that this idea of an “education” was really a fiction, something we created out of necessity with the implicit understanding that in a world limited by atoms, it was never really the end all, be all, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances? And if we didn’t know that, can we admit that now?
The circumstances have changed. We’re no longer constrained by atoms. For 125 years we’ve been making the learning world small, and now the world is all of a sudden big…huge. All of a sudden, the walls have been obliterated. Learning is unbound, and “an education” is next.
The work now is in making the transition happen in ways that don’t hurt the kids or teachers currently in our schools. In ways that prepare our kids for a learning world where atoms still matter, but for very different reasons. Â A peaceful revolution of sorts that starts…where?
Lisa Parisi says
Where does it start? With the teacher who is willing to connect and collaborate in the classroom. With the principal who says, “Let’s skype in a scientist to talk about what’s happening in Japan.” With a parent who trusts that, when the teacher opens the world, it will be with respect, care, and safety. And, mostly, with a government who believes that opening the world is more important and beneficial than testing the students on a finite amount of information.
While this realisation bears down on us with ever more cogency, many of us are lumbered with supervision that insists on focusing more narrowly on preparing students for specific jobs one the basis of an assembly-line model of intellectual cost-benefit analysis.
Leonard Klein says
So why do we have an education system if not to prepare students for what comes next in their lives? It would be wonderful if one did not have to have a job, did not need to be prepared for anything. I grant you that following ones passion is a wonderful thing if you know what that is. What if you have no clue, how do you prepare students for the rest of their lives?
Will Richardson says
Not sure why those two goals, being prepared for life and following your passions in school are mutually exclusive. There are lots of schools that are doing just that with great “success” as measured by the traditional expectations.
Leonard Klein says
Please tell me of these schools, I would like to learn more about them and how to be more like them. If it is being done that is wonderful.
Will Richardson says
The Big Picture Schools are one great example. Dennis Littky is the driving force behind it and now he’s moving into the college arena as well with College Unbound.
Leonard Klein says
I wonder where you are going to start. Do we still teach kids to read and write and then move out into the world? Do we need to somehow provide a context of where is Japan when we want to find out what is going on in Japan? How little do we “teach” before the kids are allowed to explore? It seems that there is a min. that folks might need to have before the great exploration begins. The question is what is that min. and how do we choose it?
Brian C. Smith says
Leonard, I’m reading your comment to still be a linear approach to learning. The minimum you mention is different for any one student. I believe learning is best when there’s an approach that goes back and forth between exploring and being taught a minimum. Designing interesting, engaging and empowering experiences for learners is severely limited by the massive (and narrowing) curriculum.
Regarding your Japan question, I’m beginning to think we don’t necessarily need to “teach” where Japan is. Too much time in school is spent on memorizing locations. However, by posing interesting problems, questions or designing experiences that pique interest in learning more about Japan, inevitably, one will want to know/learn where it is. If they don’t, we ask another question.
Leonard Klein says
In order to ask interesting questions the student must be interested. If the student is not interested in Japan they will never find out where it is, I believe that knowing this is useful and important.
Also how can you thing about interesting questions with no knowledge? There is a base that one needs to start from, I realize that I do not know what that base is, but it includes reading and writing ( however writing looks). Personally I would not have known about chemistry if I had not been exposed to it. I found I really enjoy it and that is good.
At some point if one is to become good at something you must work at it. School provides a place for that to happen. The question is how do you find what you want to become good at?
Will Richardson says
I don’t disagree that a large part of school should be to help students find their passions. To that end, I think elementary schools should be a place of discovery and play that give kids a wide swath of experiences AND help them learn the basic skills and literacies they need to be informed, inquisitive, discerning, passionate learners. Kids, just like adults, will work hard at the things they love.
Gary Stager says
It’s weird playing the role of the conservative, but isn’t there a hell of a lot we (all) can do to make schools more productive contexts for learning? Can’t we teach interesting things in meaningful ways? Can’t we develop genuine expertise and share it with our peers and the next generation? Can’t we be receptive to the intentions of young people and learn from them – if not skills and facts, perhaps intensity?
It seems to me that the “blow up the past,” “extinguish everything that brought us here (good and bad)” stuff is really a cheap parlor trick – pure rhetoric.
Kids may discover how to play with a cello on the Web, but they’ll never become a cellist that way. We see how well factual knowledge is obtained when half of America is sympathetic to birtherism. We live in a society where most Caucasians don’t know someone of a different race, yet we embrace the “diversity of the blogosphere,” which is less diverse than a public bus. How does culture sustain itself and progress? Democracy?
So many questions…
Why do we congratulate ourselves for using Skype? Why do we limit children’s computing to keyboarding instruction, Internet research or burping into VoiceThread?
Why do we so lack the capacity for self-correction. Why is it safer and more comfortable to behave in a way contrary to the interests of ourselves and the kids we are supposed to serve? Why has the slightest act of disobedience against the curriculum or administrative edict taken on biblical significance? What’s wrong with US?
Who can we trust to invent a future when so few of us have the courage to teach as well as we were taught the first night of teacher-ed? The only reason for despair is if we are truly “the change we’ve been waiting for.”
Gary Stager says
I expanded upon these comments in my own blog post – http://bit.ly/kuzBYR
Thanks for the inspiration!
Will Richardson says
Thanks for these important thoughts, Gary, and the expanded version on your site.
First, I’m not sure “blowing up the past” is the suggestion; I’m reading another book that I hope to blog about soon that makes the exact same point you make, that the “nothing has changed” rhetoric that I myself am sometimes guilty of is really not true. A lot has changed. But I guess that framed against the context of the moment and the Web, I can’t help but continue to wonder what else needs to change now.
Whose fault is it that half the country is sympathetic to birtherism? Whose fault is it that most people can’t wrap their brains around health care or the warming of the planet because it’s too complex and sound bites are just easier. (It’s a tl:dr world.) Whose fault is it that we’ve learned the name of the capitol of New Jersey but very few have any clue as to the abject poverty and depression that reside there? I think it’s fair to ask, are we really “educated” as a society, or are we just prepared for the test?
I agree that facile implementations of Skype and Glogster in classrooms changes nothing. But I disagree that implemented well as a part of a thoughtful constructivist classroom they can’t move us toward the ends we desire, helping our kids be creative, intense, self-directed, passionate learners. That takes a culture of learning, however, that I’ve not seen in many of the places I’ve gone.
You ask “why”, and I think you know the answer. It’s because we have made everything about learning fit into a false construct, one that is motivated by a false economic argument and all sorts of other false premises. (See this for more on that.) I get it; we can’t just have the Web and we can’t just have the great face to face, hands-on learning that the Web-less world provided. We need to have both. And I think we can have both. But not with the current conversation that’s being promoted around education.
Gary Stager says
David Weinberger is an “OMG everything is different guy.” You and I can list LOTS of popular edu-speakers telling audiences that we need to blow-up schools. It always amazes me, because I’m the one labeled unrealistic when I actually get my hands dirty and make schools better places for kids and teachers.
We agree more than we disagree. I don’t think Skype is bad or even unimportant in the classroom. I said that we should stop congratulating ourselves for using electricity. It matters to me that the edtech has come to mean nothing and stand for even less. 20-25 years ago, really smart people were using computers to make real changes in the intellectual diet of children. Now we collect apps and see if we can figure out what to do with them.
I can’t help but observe that despite all of the talk of community, I find myself less and less “at home” in what has become the community of edtech advocates and enthusiasts. Much of what is proposed by well-meaning educators is frankly dopey while corporations and politicians embrace a vision of computing one might call Skinner 2.0.
The Shock Doctrine is indeed alive and well. No question about it.
That doesn’t contradict my central thesis that none of us is doing enough to make the world a better place for kids. Frankly, I’m bored with he future.
Greg Thompson says
Speaking of blowing up the current idea of “school” . . . http://constructingmeaning.com/2008/05/23/what-if-your-school-blew-up-the-little-becky-approach-to-school-reform/
Patti Grayson says
What will it mean now to be “educated”? It used to be that we could tell an “educated” person from someone without a degree. Now there are fewer and fewer jobs to be had without a degree.
The world is too big now to try to develop “well-rounded” individuals. Learning is unlimited. Does this mean specialization will become more valued? Do we concentrate on fostering curiousity and exploration in the early grades with a smattering of basic literacy and math skills and help students define their passions and interests earlier?
Any time we threaten to “blow things up” or “throw the baby out with the bath water” we are speaking in ridiculous extremes that stop change in its tracks. We know change is gradual and painful. I think the first step is to look at what core skills must be taught, and at how best to “open the world” to our students in a way that will ignite and energize them to seek their own learning.
Thank you for this post. It makes us think about education problems.
You can go on http://educentral.co.uk for other information about education
Will Richardson says
Interesting response from David Weinberger to Gary’s extended thoughts on this post.
Connor Banks says
Dear Will Richardson,
In you article â€œWhat Weâ€™ve Known About Educationâ€, I agree with you that it seems like education nowadays is getting more and more important. Because of the struggling economy and poverty rates, having and education is a must for kids around the world. This affects me because I am a high school student and with the increase in need of getting a good education, I need to make the most out of my learning so that I will be ready for my future in this world when I graduate from college. This means I will need to do whatever it takes to take my learning to the fullest and I will need all the help I can from my school and teachers so I will have a brighter future.
Adrian Watts says
My feeling is that this quiet revolution has already started in many schools. I work in an international school in Thailand and we are asking the same questions as you. The difference from the fairly recent past is we can read, follow and learn from each other whilst sat at our interfaces with the www wherever we might be working. Just look at the diverse range of responses that a simple thought provoking post starts these days. A dialogue that in the past was limited to your personal environment and the quality of thought that this provided. It is obvious that through your personal learning networks and connectivity you can harness a wealth of knowledge beyond anything that was even imaginable in earlier generations. Yet I believe there will always be a need for education, it is just that the nature of that education will have to change to deal with the immense potential for acquiring information that exists today. Good education will still be about inquiry and learning but the pedagogy used by teachers will be very different. Education will no longer be just finding or being given information to learn, it will be about locating the “best” information, asking good questions to the â€œrightâ€ people, synthesizing the response and sharing your work with others. I suppose you might say collaboration on a global scale. Students today need schools to educate them about these processes in order to acquire the skills necessary to maximize the potential of connectivity. It is the role that the teacher and the classroom play in education that will change. I believe that given time all schools will change, just as they have in the past, when there were comparable change factors. That is why it is wrong to be critical of the way we used to do things because I would like to think that for the most part schools and teachers have tried to do what they believed was best for their students given the constraints of their resources. This is such an exciting and empowering time to be in education because if we open our minds and efficiently use the unlimited access to information that is at our fingertips we can positively transform the dynamics of learning for both the teacher and the student and with it our understanding of education.
Mariah Trentacosti says
I am in a district that in in the process of implementing a 21st Century Tech School. Our vision is to create one-to-one and Project-Based classrooms in each of our three buildings. While this vision is forward thinking, you are right to say that our tools for assessment have not kept pace. I do not have access, nor does our state acknowledge, the need for assessing students on what is really being taught in today’s schools.
I struggle daily between moving forward and being scared to death that my students wont pass the end of the year assessment. I’m expected to differentiate my teaching to the needs of every student, while they provide me with one test that is not differentiated in any way. We are asked to teach 21st Century skills, but they are going to assess us with 20th Century tests. When will they catch up? When it’s too late?
If you haven’t read Stanley Aronowitz’s “False Promises,” it should be the next book you hunt down and devour. His premise is essentially that our educational system (when he wrote the book a few decades ago, and still true today) essentially serves the purpose of advocating myths about the American Dream while actually preparing children for factory work (here’s a quick example: teachers = foremen (authority figures need to be obeyed); recess = break time (you can’t go play any time you want to)). If you’ve been in factories and many schools (especially those in districts without the money to rebuild or remodel) they LOOK like factories — tile walls and ugly floors…
Now that manufacturing is no longer the primary place our nation’s children end up as adults, the model doesn’t fit. It further doesn’t fit because of all the other things that factor into today’s dynamics.
Understanding how we got here can help, and nobody has said it better (at least in my view) than Aronowitz.
Mich Gagne says
This is some really fascinating and fundamental questions that need to be addressed systematically in order to progress. I’ve been thinking about it lately and have started to put my thought down in my blog. http://teachtech2011.blogspot.com/
I’d love to hear some of your thought about it.
I found out about this blog through the TLLP Discussion board.
Great work keep it up.
home education says
What we think about education is just within the scope of school.But based on the life long education concept, learning can be both in school and after school in the society.
Thanks for the thought provoking post. I am a new teacher (2nd year in) and find myself asking these types of questions a lot. What did education used to look like, what does it look like now, and what can it look like in the future? Through all of this I hope that I can find a way to make education more world-wide, all encompassing, passion driven and open up the world to my students.
Dear Mr. Richardson,
In your post â€œWhat Weâ€™ve Always Known About Educationâ€ it made me think about the concept of education. It seems that we can never achieve a perfect educational system because there are too many ways in which students learn. I feel that we have always known that education was too hard of a goal to achieve but the idea of a more intelligent society sounded so great that no one wants to give up on it. As a student myself I believe that education is important and that it is a students responsibility to pursue education. A student should figure out how to learn best for themselves by themselves and teachers should be in the process to guide the students.
Jan Seiter says
I appreciate all the comments…
Could it be that today, more than ever, we need TEACHERS, but not SCHOOLS…?