Précis: A Critical Consideration of the New Pedagogy in its Relation to Modern Science

Dr. Montessori in the garden of the school at Via Giusti. Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Maria Montessori presents a critical consideration of the “New Pedagogy” (1912) by discussing the advent and implementation of the “scientific pedagogy” that took root in Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Montessori’s critique focuses on the shortcomings of scientific pedagogy to address the human subjects (and observers) involved in the study of teaching and learning.

In establishing her critique, Montessori finds fault with an overemphasis on the instrumentalization of pedagogy which comes at the expense of a more authentic manifestation of the spirit of learning. This spirit of learning is connected throughout her argument as part of the same pursuit of knowledge that has sustained human progress since the beginning of civilization. She cites examples of rigid student desks and behaviourist means of doling out rewards and punishments as elements of “scientific pedagogy” that run counter to the spirit of discovery that is central to learning.

For a new pedagogy to emerge within this context, Montessori argues that teachers ought to be prepared to engage the act of teaching as one oriented toward “a conquest of liberty” that provides an education in which pupils are seen as future agents of human regeneration. To this end, she proposes educationists elevate the study of pedagogy to that of its own scientific exploration: part of the larger narrative of human progress that is embedded within the histories of science, technology, and the broader humanities, and yet informed by its own unique contexts and possibilities.

Montessori, Maria George, Anne E. (Trans), (1912). The Montessori method: Scientific pedagogy as applied child education in “The Children’s Houses”, with additions and revisions by the author. , (pp. 1-27). New york, NY, US: Frederick A Stokes Company, xlii, 377 pp. doi: 10.1037/13054-001

Guest Post: Letter from a Colleague

We believe in Public Education

Melanie Stokes is a colleague of mine who forwarded me this letter that she submitted to the Vancouver Sun to share here. 

As teachers are now in their second week of full job action, it may be important to consider the reasons why this situation is happening now.  Over the last thirty years, society has undergone great changes and the role of education has expanded accordingly. The time has come for us to decide if we are able or want to support education with all the expectations of what it must deliver.

Thirty years ago, classes were often larger but were mostly a homogenous group of kids.  Schools had clear expectations about discipline and students were streamed according to academic ability.  Curriculum was focussed on basic literacy and numeracy skills and going into the work place rather than university was the norm after graduation.  Students with special needs were segregated. Schools were not expected to deliver individual education plans; neither were teachers required to meet all the learning needs of all the children in their classes. Teachers taught the whole class as a group and did their best to provide accelerated materials to the bright kids, and get the slower learners caught up.  That was pretty much it.  No one felt it necessary to feed children breakfast because they were too hungry to learn or had to learn how to deal with autistic, Downs Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, Oppositional Disorder students or large groups of children who spoke no English at all.

Over the last thirty years, education has been given the job of trying to fix all the problems of an increasingly complex society.  Teachers took it in their stride, believing that they could, and would be able to make positive changes for the children in their care.  They embraced the idea of integration for special needs students and never considered that at some point, the funding to for teacher support would be reduced to the point where classroom management would become almost impossible.  They have accepted children in their classes who have no idea how to function in a group setting, how to speak or comprehend English, children from poor, dysfunctional families with no social or financial resouces, refugee children from war torn countries with resulting psychological problems, learners with a myriad of challenges that teachers are expected to address.

Teachers did and still do go about their jobs every day believing they can make a positive impact on the social, emotional, and acedemic growth of the children in their care.  Despite the rhetoric of government and union, this fight is about the value of education and what we, as a society deem important.  Do we want a return to the “one size fits all” education practice of the past, or do we wish to continue with the education system we have grown to expect?  If so, then we should be prepared to pay for it.

Schools of today are successful because of the efforts of those who work within them.  If there is no will or not enough money to support educators to do the job we demand of them, then we should go back to the old school system and stop expecting teachers, principals, and support staff to do more and more for our children with unrealistic funding and less and less support.

If a good education for all children is considered important, and it should be, then let’s stop the erosion of services and demand that our government provide the necessary financial support to keep the education we expect for our children.

An Open Letter to BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender

Minister Fassbender visits the TALONS Classroom, October 2013

May 31st, 2014

Greetings, Minister Fassbender,

As a social studies teacher in the Coquitlam School District’s T.A.L.O.N.S. Program, my teaching partners and I work to support the learning outcomes of our course curricula by cultivating an experiential, interdisciplinary learning environment. In designing a program which meets the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, T.A.L.O.N.S. teachers strive to align the explicit purposes of schooling – to educate the younger generation in the concepts, skills and competencies required to construct their individual and collective futures – with the implicit messages about our shared democratic values as Canadians – that each voice in our society is valued within the system of laws and government we are handing down to young people.

As you may realize it is important to teach courses on the foundations and traditions of our democratic history within a context that is true to these ideals. To this end T.A.L.O.N.S. students are provided with opportunities to exercise agency and voice in the creation of their own learning, as my colleagues and I believe that teaching students about the principles of the Enlightenment in a classroom that does not honour collective expression and democratic principles would negate the lesson at hand before the bell had even rung. As Gert Biesta and other educationists have noted, “Young people learn at least as much about democracy and citizenship – including their own citizenship – through their participation in a range of different practices that make up their lives, as they learn from that which is officially prescribed and formally taught.”

As such the context in which the learning occurs communicates a great deal about the meaning that is created in the democratic classroom. And I raise these foundations of the T.A.L.O.N.S. program to your attention in part to refresh your memory that you’ve actually visited us in action. Along with our local MLAs, Coquitlam Superintendent Tom Grant, and other educational dignitaries, you were brought to see a few of our district’s exemplary classrooms at Gleneagle Secondary last fall. You were only with us for a few minutes, enough time to tout your government’s dedication to providing more education in line with how our students introduced the program’s philosophy, but I feel it appropriate at this time to highlight how incongruous your handling of the British Columbia Education file has been with public education’s democratic ideals in the time since.

Your government has been found twice to have violated BC teachers’ Charter rights to collectively bargain. Additionally, the Supreme Court found the Liberal Government to have bargained in bad faith to provoke a strike that would allow you further infringements of the province’s public servants. In the ten years that this affront to justice has been allowed to continue – in duplicated legislation and dubious appeals – the children of the province have seen their futures stolen out from under them with unstaffed libraries, under-supplied learning centers, closed language labs and counseling offices ill-suited to address today’s (significant) student needs.  The defense your government has raised when judged categorically by the Supreme Court to have broken the law (twice) is that adhering to the law as written would be “too expensive” at this stage in the game.

You can be forgiven for your lack of history education. But as someone charged by the government to teach young people about our democracy, I find it difficult to reconcile the lessons in my prescribed government curriculum with the context created by your Liberal government’s disrespect for the country’s highest law. After being told in 2011 that Premier Clark’s own Bills 27/28  were unconstitutional, the Liberals did not appeal the decision and proposed nearly identical legislation that was rejected by the Supreme Court yet again in 2014. Rather than take this judgment at face value, or even oppose it on the merits of the case, your government has instead hired a private trial lawyer at taxpayer expense to argue before the Court of Appeal not that the ruling was flawed, or that your government did not in fact violate teachers’ Charter rights, but that obeying the law would be too expensive.

As a private citizen you might be entitled to such unique interpretations of the country’s laws. In fact, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was conceived so that individuals would not be so vulnerable to the lumbering power of the State. But as a representative of an elected government, your continued disregard for the law of the land, taken together with the subversion of its very intent by using the Court of Appeal to further abuse educators and students is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of Canadian democracy as it is taught in the province’s schools. It is a shame that when you visited our classroom you weren’t given the opportunity to explain why it is you and your government feel it is that you are above the law.

Our public school classrooms are intended to reflect democracy as an ideal, a point beyond the horizon toward which humanity is forever striving. And this ideal holds that each individual’s voice is granted respect and protection by a mutual agreement that no one is above the law, or able to exert their will upon the group by sheer force or inherent power.  In attempting to design a classroom where these lessons are taught on the pages of our textbooks and in the activities we undertake as a class, the T.A.L.O.N.S. teachers’ intentions are to provide learners with lived lessons in democratic functioning.

What have your actions, and those of your government, sought to teach young people in British Columbia about democracy? About the rule of law? About our collective responsibility to one another?

When you visited us, and in the press releases I have seen in the time since, your words have often seemed directly in line with the values at the heart of the public education system. But your actions have consistently negated whatever weight these words might have carried, and such incongruence demands either an explanation or a change of course.

I would be heartily pleased to see either of these, though your past actions haven’t made me hopeful.

Regards,

Bryan Jackson T.A.L.O.N.S. Program Teacher SD43

EDCI 335: Final Design Project

EDCI335 Final Design from Bryan Jackson on Vimeo.

You can read the full PDF of the paper here

Background Drawing identified-gifted learners from the Coquitlam School District, Gleneagle Secondary School’s TALONS (The Academy of Learning for Gifted Notable Students) Program offers Ministry-identified gifted learners interdisciplinary core curriculum (Social Studies, English, Math, and Science for grades 9 and 10, all at an honours level), as well as experiential opportunities to complete Planning 10, Leadership 11 and PE 11. TALONS learning is largely organized around inquiry-based projects that make use of outdoor education and community service elements to imbue learning objectives with a greater tangible relevance to students and their local, as well as global, communities. In addition to covering provincial Ministry of Education curricula in the above courses, the program is grounded in George Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model (Betts & Neihart, 1986), with an emphasis on metacognition and acquainting each member of the cohort with skills and habits uniquely tailored to their own social and emotional roles in cultivating interdependence and community.

This design project was conceived to align both the explicit and implicit foci of British Columbia’s Social Studies 9 curriculum (Social Studies 8 to 10 Integrated Resource Package 1997) with a larger narrative expressed in the personal and collective learning in the TALONS classroom. By bringing the “Hidden Curriculum” into the open in this manner, the learning design intends to conceive of means of engaging the course material which are congruent with its ends. 

Digital Environments, Emergent Knowledge & Citizenship Learning

Untitled

Mock trial of King Charles I

EDCI 335 Challenge 10: What are the strengths/affordances of the technology or learning environment you have chosen for your learning design that will promote or facilitate learning?

In preparing the TALONS socials units this semester, I have sought to align aspects of technology, assessment and unit planning within larger values of emergent epistemology and citizenship learning. By bringing these different elements of my teaching into congruence, it is my hope that the class’ individual and collective learning is enriched by uniting these various aspects of their experience into a coherent and transformative narrative that will build throughout the semester and beyond.

To reflect these principles, technology has contributed a means of collecting and sharing class knowledge: aggregating and vetting various resources for study in our prescribed unit, presenting and synthesizing different aspects of the learning at hand, and providing a venue for assessment and reflecting on the course of study thus far. As we proceed (after spring break) the process will then recur to provide the goals, direction and implementation of future units of study as prior knowledge is re-organized, reconstituted and re-contextualized within new course content and experience.

As I’ve written about the class’ collaborative unit planning, I want to use this challenge post to collect and point toward a few specific examples of technology at work in TALONS Socials this semester.

At the outset, the class began by taking the prescribed learning outcomes specific to the English Civil War Unit in Social Studies 9, and employed an embedded Google Form in the class’ Wikispaces site for participant/learners to submit potential study materials. The selected materials were then rated according to our interpretation of the CRAAP Test, and the form was edited to highlight different resources that were either “Good to Go” (green), “Acceptable” (yellow), or “Extra” (red).

This exercise was an important place to begin for me as it placed the onus of research and curation on the class – rather than a teacher or the textbook. The debate about which sources were best suited to our purposes put the relevance and context of the unit in the class’ hands to be then planned and executed within our timeframe (before spring break). It was also my hope that such a discussion would lead organically into an inquiry of what meaning we are (each) to make of the English Civil War and its historical importance, and provide a context within which our individual understanding would emerge as the process unfolded.

Building on the questions and themes arising from the assembled resources and materials, the class then set about employing media and technology in synthesizing and sharing their learning on a variety of topics associated with the unit. There were adaptations of popular songs written to narrate the lives of Oliver Cromwell and his son, Prezi’s made to illustrate the historical timelines of James and Charles I’s reigns, and documentary films made about the trial of the King, to name a few. And in addition to being shared in class – in mini lessons, presentations, mock-trials and other demonstrations meant to share discovered knowledge with the immediate community – digital artifacts of the projects were/are being collected on the class site (alongside past years’ collected work and resources on the same unit).

The class Wikispaces site has long-been a valuable addition to the class’ study of socials, collecting a variety of different resources and media both created by past TALONS as well as useful materials existing on the wider web. It is an online accompaniment and ongoing assemblage of knowledge pathways which navigate the Socials 9/10 curriculum in British Columbia; but beyond serving to complement the TALONS’ own studies, the wiki’s existence as a repository of class work goes on to have a life as an open educational resource that serves a global community of learners. For example, the site’s statistics show that only 1/5 (22%) of the wiki’s traffic is even Canadian, and that the United States is responsible for more than half of more of the site’s 100 unique visitors per day

Whatever value it has beyond our own purposes, however, the course wiki represents an ever-unfinished and imperfect project, constantly in need of a structure which organizes knowledge in an accessible manner reflecting such an exponentially complex process of discovery.  And while the class has yet to meaningfully undertake a significant renovation or reorganization of the site, I am inspired at the prospect such a project might represent as an opportunity for the class’ unique perspectives to shape and engage in the creation of course knowledge itself.

Where each of these first two opportunities have presented means by which technology has influenced and (hopefully) supported the TALONS collective learning, the unit’s individual assessment has incorporated technology as a means of creating and sharing personal reflections and synthesis of learning across the class cohorts. The morning group opted to submit more anonymous reflections (corresponding to their student number for my reference) by way of a Google Form that, upon completion, shares the assembled responses with respondents, while the afternoon class decided to answer similar questions in the form of a post on their individual blogs.

The individual assessment asks TALONS to reflect on their process, habits and contributions to their individual study of the unit, their group’s project, as well as the larger classroom learning. Each is asked to highlight examples of their own or others lessons, or discussions which informed their thinking on the topics covered, as well as to expand on themes and questions raised during the course of the unit. Additionally, there are questions about the organization and implementation of the unit itself, and opportunities to influence future studies that will begin to shape our very next topic, completing the cycle of critical praxis for a first time.

Next week we will be taking up Socials 9’s next revolution in Europe and making use of each of these threads of learning, as we continue to:

  • shape the lessons of the class’ emerging understanding of the course content in individual voices and meanings, and
  • reevaluate and reconstitute the means by which that understanding is created to best serve our unique community of learners.

Continually seeking ways by which the class might be more consistently and actively engaged with these processes is central to both my epistemological and social-political beliefs about teaching social studies. And in these and other experiments yet to be undertaken this semester, technology plays a vital role in creating the opportunity to realize these lessons’ practical application.

Assessment for Critical Literacy

This semester’s Socials 9 curriculum was conceived with an intention to cultivate critical literacy, which I have come to define more and more as an ability to develop a praxis of reflection and action to continually discover and define meaning in an increasingly complex system. In learning from curricula, relationships or experience, individuals and societies alike are tasked with reinventing and transforming their reality as necessity and changing circumstances may dictate.

As I have attempted to re-imagine social studies as a venue for citizenship education, each of the TALONS classes have begun the semester with experiments in collaborative assignment and unit planning from the start. In considering our study of the English Civil War, there has been discussion of several questions:

What do we need to know? 

The class began by considering course outcomes and evaluating text and online materials to help guide the discovery of the unit’s main ideas, events and historical personages. Then set about generating criteria, a schedule and daily means by which the agreed-upon content could be learned.

In collecting, distributing and summarizing a range of primary and secondary sources on early 1600s England, What do we need to know was joined by What is there to be known about the topic? And as the readings’ various themes and ideas were identified and organized, the discussion shifted to consider What is important to know about these topics? As well as What do I think about all of this? 

But this was only one aspect of identification and collaboration to engage an agreed-upon problem. This is merely the deconstruction – the breaking into a million little pieces that could then be assembled into coherence anew through each learner/investigator’s reflection and action.

And it introduced a new question (and it’s a mouthful):

How do we know that we know what we’re now supposed to know (now)? 

In terms of reconstructing that knowledge, effective learning should also address the question How do we assess the learning that has taken place? But in considering critical literacy and consciousness, it becomes important that this question in particular is asked in such a way that it continues to be driven by the collaborative acumen and expertise of the group itself, just as the unit has been planned and carried out thus far.

This aspect of assessment is traditionally a means of learning owned and operated by the teacher. But the crux of this type of collaboratively-designed learning, and of the development of a continual praxis of behaviour, teacher and student are each challenged to engage their critical literacy, which may also be described as a kind of empathetic design research.

In their paper, Rethinking Design Thinking: Empathy Supporting InnovationMcDonagh and Thomas describe a process during which,

“as designers use empathy to support their research, ‘design moments’ emerge which provide them with more design-relevant data and supports product innovation.”

Here we see the designer’s role shift to that of a co-investigator, where

“the designer and user engage as collaborators, and together develop knowledge and understanding in order to generate appropriate solutions for real needs.

“Empathetic design research relies on the user being an active and participating partner within the information creation and designing process.”

Design’s quest for innovation begins to find itself within an emerging confluence of educational philosophy. Isn’t this innovation what Gregory Bateson might have described as transformative learning, or what Paulo Freire deemed a ‘limit situation‘?  This “simplicity of cause” comes as an affirmation of the ongoing praxis of co-investigation and co-creation that we might conceive of as critical literacy.

In looking toward assessing the English Civil War unit learning, the critical element arising out of the classes’ progress is the need for learners to acquire habits of mind and relation that make this continual praxis possible. For the TALONS (including myself), we may have found ourselves stalled and struggling to define and enact the required action for the moment. But while it may appear so on the surface, this moment of negative momentum is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. Indeed, it is the moment of tension in which true critical intelligences are asserted.

Critical Literacy in Assessment Methods

So we are confronted with the question, How do we know that we know what we’re supposed to know? It is a question of assessment, and one which is traditionally held at the end of units and courses of study as the sole dominion of the teacher. But such are the assumptions which bind both teachers and students to outdated pedagogies that may have fallen out of step with our stated intentions for learning: the apparent impossibility of imagining another way stops us from even considering it.

For my own part, even in projects and courses during which I have taken pains to co-investigate and instruct alongside my students as much as possible, the means of the learning still arrive at a point where my own voice is heard alone.

I arrive at a mark, and distribute feedback based on rubrics, course standards and report card criteria. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t still a place for this within institutionalized learning; indeed our competency and necessity as learning professionals is in many ways bound to our ability to evaluate and assess student learning.

But without obliterating the role of the teacher altogether, it is still possible to re-imagine the role of teachers in helping students direct not only the initial aspects of a project or course of study, but the means of assessment as well. To adopt the praxis of Freire’s critical consciousness is to confront the inherent difficulty of creating learning institutions where

“knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

While the teacher’s profession still involves the adjudication of academic or institutional success, the creation of a critical consciousness in schools still faces us with what Freire called “the teacher-student contradiction.” However, with the introduction of Russian philosopher Mikhail Bathkin‘s idea of polyphony, Alexander M. Sidorkin cultivates a third path between the ‘either or’:

“Bakhtin’s principle of polyphony offers a radically new way of conciliation of power imbalance within mutuality of relation. According to Bakhtin, an author of the polyphonic novel creates heroes that are fully independent of their creator. The problem of authority imbalance may be misstated; it is the specific kind of monological authority that eliminates mutuality, not authority itself. The polyphonic authority creates mutuality, and only this kind of authority should be used in education.”

On Knowledge

Screen shot 2014-01-27 at 3.54.00 PM

It’s a great thing to receive invites like this one from Manitoba civics teacher extraordinaire Matt Henderson, and be prompted to a discussion of knowledge spanning two continents and including some of my favourite edu-thinkers in a single Tweet. A huge admirer of GNA Garcia, Zoe Branigan-Pipe, and Thomas Steele-Maley for their influence on my thinking about teaching and learning already, I’m excited at the introduction to @gmbchomichuk and Jock Martin, as well as the folks Matt is cavorting with in South America (nice timing, considering Manitoba has recently recorded temperatures colder than Mars). 

Matt followed up with a note to those of us who jumped at the opportunity to connect:

On Tuesday, we are workshopping (did I just say that?) the idea of knowledge acquisition: How do people acquire knowledge and how can teachers facilitate this process effectively?
As you all are expert/master teachers in my eyes (whom I adore), could you provide me with an explanation of how you personally acquire knowledge and how you as a teacher foster acquisition in your learning environments?


Envious of the ability he has to say it so well, I think Thomas has already articulated many perspectives on knowledge that guide my own personal development and conception of pedagogy.

I love this:

I see my learning broadly as a theory, design, and praxis cycle. I yearn to theorize the world around me, design learning environments for myself and others that intervene in the confluent and ever changing learning process. I then actively test those designs through mentorship, facilitation, teaching and learning.  Thus, I acquire knowledge through qualitative, quantitative and distributed modalities:

      • I read, write and cipher daily and have done more than my fair share of institutional learning (schools-universities).
      • I  am connected and those connections can grow, focus, change, and enhance my experiences and those of others acquiring knowledge.

Recognizing that schools bear an institutional responsibility to reproduce the subjectivities that lead to the successful aspects of society or civilization, I try to co-create educational experiences that reflect this messier authenticity at the heart of transformative, enlightenment education, which Michel Foucault characterized as something that should:

“…be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it has to be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment with the possibility of going beyond them.”

This view of learning relies on an emergent epistemology, or view of knowledge “that does not exist except in participatory actions.”

I am indebted to Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta for helping visualize an emergent pedagogy, where:

The meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Philosophical TraditionsThese postmodern conceptions of knowledge might strike some as too abstract or high-minded to bear any practical application to modern schooling; but it bears pointing out that the traditions that underpin this type of emergent knowledge creation are inextricably tied to modern philosophical traditions alive since the seventeen hundreds. In discussing what constitutes scientific or political truth, or how to designate a consensus of public opinion, or what is entailed in living a ‘good life’ (as well as what that ‘good life’ is, and who gets to live it), we are asking philosophical questions that represent the emancipatory ideals of modern learning as conceived during the Enlightenment period.

To be free to pursue one’s own mind and potential is irrevocably connected to one’s freedom from political tyranny: it is thus that we see that the continental revolutions in science, art and religion followed directly by political, technological and economic upheaval across the known world.

Intrigued by the interdisciplinary ethos running throughout this tradition, I spent a lot of time this semester thinking about how they might be brought into my classrooms, and found a likely opportunity to realize emergence in my Philosophy 12 course during our Metaphysics unit.

On the class site, I introduced a unit plan wherein:

Our task, in general terms, will be to encounter the lives and ideas of metaphysicians. And, in asking of ourselves what we can interpret of their essential guiding questions, to engage in the study of our own metaphysical thoughts and conceptions. This will happen in exposition on the class blog, connections made through comments and conversation, and inquiry through reflection and dialogue.

As the participants’ individual conceptions of reality, experience and knowledge were beginning to be shaped by the reading and inquiry they were conducting into the lives and ideas of various metaphysicians, I was considering the shift in thinking Osberg and Biesta described in emergent pedagogy.

I shared these ideas with the class as we began to conceive of what the summative reflection of the unit’s learning might become:

“The meaning of any new knowledge [which] ‘emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

We had, in Freirian terms, begun an investigation into the group’s generative themes, the guiding metaphors and narratives at the heart of our unique collected cultural experience, and brainstormed the ways in which we might realize the aims of his brand of emancipatory learning:

“To investigate the generative theme is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality an people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

And so one Thursday, after two weeks in which each member of the class had delved into the life and metaphysical question of some of the greatest thinkers in history, and spent time outside of school (as part of a long weekend ‘individual field trip‘ assignment) considering those questions, the class met to construct its Discussable Object (here is a link to the expanded photoset).

Here’s how I described it at the time:

The group engaged one another in a discussion that left a recorded physical ‘tail‘ that could be seen, and held onto.

Indeed, it was an ‘object‘ that came into being only by virtue of being suspended between the class’ interrelated ideas, and whose creation facilitated a synthesis of collecting thinking and learning.

In a reflection written shortly after the creation of the Discussable Object, I asked participants about their experience with this type of socially-constructed knowledge, where many returned to the idea of knowledge existing in those “participatory actions”:

Education is always in a participatory manner. The act of learning is to gain foreign information. The only source of foreign information is gained from other sources. Whether you’re reading a book, blog, or looking at a painting, you’re having a discussion, the basic form of exchanging knowledge. Discussions or conversation is the exchange of ideas. You require two parties. It is regardless if the other party is a person, a painting or a blogpost. The exchange is happening. Knowledge cannot be shared, used, or exist if it is not participating in active thought. 

Asked to reflect on the unit’s essential opportunities, several highlighted the open-endedness of the unit’s planning and structure:

I would keep the idea of “Phil’s day off” and the final class discussion. To me, I highly enjoyed the freedom we had to go about this unit and the opportunity to basically act like our own philosophers when thinking about certain questions.

Phil’s Day Off and the whole concept of the object. I thought that this made the assignment personal and gave us all a chance to really reflect and be creative. I would not have done Phil’s Day Off had it not been for homework simply because I’m lazy. Making it homework made it necessary and ultimately I’m glad I had that experience.

Group discussion was excellent. It facilitated a deeper understanding of themes and objectives. I think doing a #philsdayoff with out groups included and maybe even mixing up groups would’ve made it interesting.

I think the freedom aspect of Phil’s Day Off really helped the class think more about the conversation that we had the following week. It’s really fresh to have such freedom in a class, and it kept me engaged in my topic. 

I really enjoyed the group discussion because it was very enlightening and approached the topic in a different way that was more engaging than just writing about it in the blog.

The whole experience was quite something to behold, as is I believe this opportunity to share and discuss these various views of knowledge and learning. I think anytime people are making meaning together, we’re delivering on those promises of the Enlightenment, and that our cultural potential and possibility lies in our ability to cultivate greater and greater reservoirs of the human experience.

I’m grateful to participate in that anytime. But especially when it’s in classrooms and conversations with people like those included here. Thanks for the invite to connect, our future conversations, and for the learning from here on out.

On 21st Century Schools

As I’ve explored at some length here, I think of schools today as guided by our mission statements and legal mandates to pursue an ageless ideal of education along the lines of how John Dewey characterized schooling as the act of “preparing students for the adult vocations needed for society to continue to exist.”

The question of whether our current schools / teachers / curriculum are preparing students for the 21st century involves an analysis of the implicit messages communicated by schools about education and whether they are in line with the values of enlightenment and learning: an investigation of what we might call the Hidden Curriculum 

José García and Noah De Lissovoy introduce the idea that “school curriculum at any given point in time can be marked by the cultural, political and economic structure of that particular society.” Building from this premise, they set about defining the momentary economic need addressed by 21st century school curricula:

“Capitalism in its current stage is marked by structural changes in the process of production along with the rise of a global neoliberal political order. This stage is characterized by the transition to a post-Fordist process of production along with the rise of a neoliberal political project to establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites through the crafting of specific political and ideological structures and understandings (Harvey 2005; Wacquant 2012). The school, as an institution within the state, serves to produce the subjects that are required for the novel social conditions of the neoliberal era.”

Garcia and De Lissovoy frame their analysis within a context of precarious employment and financial instability – especially among young people – and “the carceral 1 turn in Neoliberalism.”

“Building from Michael Hardt’s notion of ‘prison time,’ we propose a notion of school time which links preparation and demoralization, as the subjectivity of students is organized as much for exclusion as for incorporation into familiar spaces of labor and citizenship.”

In doing so, they present a hidden curriculum which “lays the groundwork for an orientation of servility in relationship to authority and a condition of precarity in relation to work.”

Driving this evolution of the hidden curriculum, the authors suggest, is the advent of a “post-Fordist regime of production,” wherein labour are:

      • Flexible, mobile and precarious;
      • Highly adaptable to constant innovations in production;
      • Willing to move frequently between jobs;
      • Accepting of the fact that long-term employment is not guaranteed;
      • And able to merge the communicative processes with those formally thought as “production,” or instrumental tasks.

Part of the larger neoliberal political project, the evolution of post-Fordist capitalism has been nurtured by the cultivation of “discourses of efficiency, consumerism, choice and accountability in place of sense of collective responsibility.”

Under neoliberalism,

“Spheres of social activity organized on the basis of notions of the public good or social solidarity are branded as inefficient from this perspective, and neoliberalism demands that they be reorganized according to the bottom-line logic of the market (Klein 2007). The school has been one of the crucial sites of the broad neoliberalism of society (Hursh 2005; Saltman 2005).”

The authors incorporate Michael Hardt‘s (1997) idea of “prison time‘ into the school’s hidden curriculum in considering the course of a school day:

“In [school], the planning ahead of how time will be used, controlled and regimented by power signifies the domination over an individual‘s control of his or her time, and thus his or her freedom and sense of agency. Furthermore, the control and regimentation of time eliminates possibilities for improvisation in daily experiences; nothing is unforeseeable.”

If the schools of the Fordist era of capitalism can be seen adopting the narrative motifs of the factory – with the student the symbolic factory worker – we glimpse a hidden curriculum preparing labour to receive an altogether different induction into the “real world,” one where one’s publicly available education could ensure a stable career and income, mortgage payments and a pension.

As in the unionized factory where the symbolic ‘worker’ will take up his life’s profession, through the hidden curriculum the student is taught to contribute his skills and working life to the larger project of labour as a respected part of capitalistic society.

Compared to the worker being groomed in the schools of the 21st century, we might forgive the many failings of 1950s institutions – racism, sexism, or violence against those outside the white mainstream – for their ability to maintain the intellectual ideals that would create the space for the civil rights movements that fought to create greater human freedom across the capitalistic experience. Today’s students are prepared to enter a world of labour created by the post-Fordist, neoliberal era where, for Hardt, Garcia and De Lissovoy, the societal metaphor at work in schools’ Hidden Curriculum has evolved in kind: “society is no longer a factory, it is a prison.”

“…in neoliberalism, freedom is understood as choice […]. The choices are already prescribed and we express our freedom by choosing from the given options. Life even outside prison has thus become regimented and void of meaning, for we no longer have autonomy to decide what and how to use our time beyond exercising our freedom to consume.”

Gregory Bateson defines the type of learning within such a set of choices as Learning I, where development is achieved through a “correction of errors of choice within a set of alternatives.” 

From Learning 0 to Learning IV, Bateson introduces a Hierarchy of Learning in his book, Steps to an Ecology of MindLearning II, Bateson says, would exist as corrective change in the set of alternatives from which choice is made.”

In Learning II, there might still be a test, or a report card; but participants are invited to be engaged in the process.

“Within this seemingly inescapable reality of domination,” Garcia and De Lissovoy concede, “there are nevertheless moments in which inmates and those outside prison resist the drive of power to control time, in authentic encounters with others and the relationships that arise from such encounters.”

Indeed.

As Bateson’s hierarchy moves to Learning III, we see a glimpse of schooling which encourages a corrective change in the system of sets of alternatives from which choice is made, a truly transformative act of learning that schools are also charged with providing. For the act of learning, and of schooling, is not merely to prepare the required labour for the dictates of an all-powerful market society; it is to prepare the minds and citizenry capable of creating a society, economy and culture that honours the best of what the Project of Enlightenment promises, and critiques the status quo, imagines what could be alongside the asking why things are the way they are, and has the skills to create a meaningful tomorrow.

Through such an education, 21st century schools might realize what Paulo Freire called the creation of:

a critical and dynamic view of the world, [which] strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people.

  1.  Latin: carcer – prison

Design Thinking as Critical Literacy

Untitled

TALONS Kinetic Art w/ Jay Bundy Johnson

“Design thinking asks students to become investigators in their world, attempt to solve problems, bridge gaps of knowledge independently, collaboratively, and resourcefully.”

So decrees Lee-Ann Gray of the ability of Design Thinking to “make school more like real life.” Gray positions her view of schooling’s purpose clearly in her opening paragraphs, where she notes that, “These are skills that are highly relevant in today’s job market.”

To cite a source explored in more depth on this blog recently, they might also be referred to as “what creative people in all disciplines have always done.”

Gray highlights a notion of Design Thinking which

“involves immersing students in what [Mary Cantwell, Design Thinking Coordinator and IT Faculty Support at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School] calls situations for discovery. Situations for discovery encourage a wide range of relevant and active learning. In them, students are prompted to consider the community, areas of need, the environment, or challenges they face. DT gives students ownership of their work, which is a hallmark in igniting the love of learning.”

Last semester much of my subsequent exploration of citizenship learning began with the discovery of critical literacy as a central piece of creating of “student ownership” of learning. The foundation for this thinking was shaped by the work of Paulo Freire, who talks about learning as a process of discovering our individual and collective “generative themes” and rehearsing the process of transcending them:

“To investigate the generative theme is to investigate the people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality, which is their praxis. For precisely this reason, the methodology proposed requires that the investigators and the people (who would normally be considered objects of that investigation) should act as co-investigators. The more active an attitude men and women take in regard to the exploration of their thematics, the more they deepen their critical awareness of reality and, in spelling out those thematics, take possession of that reality.”

In Design Thinking, Gray says, “the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, and students become active learners.” How facilitation differs from “teaching,” she doesn’t reveal; however, she does assert that this type of active learning leads to “higher and faster” information retention and skill development.

Presenting a similar “problem-based” dialectical approach, I found Freire more helpful in sketching out the role of the teacher:

“The program content of the problem-posing method – dialogical par excellence – is constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.

That Freire’s ideas have been a staple of progressive educational philosophy for more than thirty years casts Gray’s framing of “Design Thinking” as something of an overstatement:

“Design Thinking is […] a major game changer for teachers. Teachers have no preconceived idea about the direction DT projects will take. This model shifts the teacher’s role considerably, as the outcome and how students will reach it, are unknown at the outset. In DT, gone are the days when teachers have a plan of how it should all go. In my opinion, this represents a great shift in pedagogy.”

That all being said, Ian Grivois makes a compelling comparison in highlighting that the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein talked about

language being a ‘form of life‘ (Kindersley, 2011), meaning that it is intimately connected to the context in which it is spoken. Language is molded by the character of the speaker and meaning is recreated in the understanding of the listener.”

“Similarly,” Grivois says, “Design can be considered as an active language of practice, even if it is an especially visual language.” Here I think the tenants of Design Thinking in education align neatly with the aims of Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and Literacy. Grivois reveals design “as a process of discovery, learning, and addressing needs,” and that it “combines creativity, empathy and rational analysis to help realize successful outcomes.”

There is the familiar ring of Freire and the idea that education is the act of enabling a “critical perception,” which

“is embodied in action, [and where] a climate of hope and confidence devel­ops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations. As reality is transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts.”

The design process visualized by Stanford’s d.School  (Ratcliffe 2009).

The design process visualized by Stanford’s d.School
(Ratcliffe 2009).

Here we begin to see a meaningful congruence between the principles of design and the emancipatory endeavour of critical pedagogy. Other quotes from Grivois’ paper, On Design Thinking and Education that struck me as particularly Freireian: 

“Through questioning, research, observation and a playful discovery, a clear understanding of the needs and goals will often reveal a solution.”

“The collaborative relationship implies that there is development internally and externally – as an individual and as a community.”

“It works best when the designer and the user group are on equal terms as they explore the design and challenge together, a collaboration.”

Far from the novelty of 21st century “game-changer,” I am confident that one could find similar sentiments scattered throughout philosophical and educational texts going back to Socrates, which makes the question of the week, “Does Design Thinking Work in Education?” a particular challenge.

If this type of “thinking” isn’t appropriate for K12 learners – as Debbie Morrison argues in her post “Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education” –  when does it become appropriate, if ever?

Morrison asks:

Do K-12 students really have the education background to engage in Design Thinking?  I suggest that teaching this process to K-12 students is not only unfeasible, but unnecessary and limiting.  Rather than spending time teaching a structured, cookie-cutter problem-solving process, time might be better spent teaching, and facilitating learning in a breadth of subjects. Rather than give students more structure, they may benefit from less, yet more learning. To think outside of the box, to have multiple perspectives, students require an education grounded in the humanities.

I am confused by the idea that, “Rather than spending time teaching a structured, cookie-cutter problem-solving process, time might be better spent teaching, and facilitating learning in a breadth of subjects.”

Why must these aims be separate?

The problem solving method of Design Thinking as asserted by Grivois and Friere can hardly be described as “cookie-cutter,” or “structured.” Furthermore the implicit skills evoked through this type of discovery process are of vital societal necessity, and help create a context for learning about the value of the humanities, as well as the interdisciplinary nature of intellectual and democratic progress congruent with such enlightened goals.

Delivering on educational outcomes without engaging students in this critical process is something I think Gert Biesta would warn against, as he asserts:

“Young people learn at least as much about democracy and citizenship – including their own citizenship – through their participation in a range of different practices that make up their lives, as they learn from that which is officially prescribed and formally taught.”

“The context in which a thing is learned,” Gardner Campbell reminds us, “frames the nature and purpose of that learning.”

If Design Thinking in Education is truly to be a “game changer,” it needs to be aligned with the transformational values at the heart of cultivating a critical literacy in each member of society, and offer opportunities for learners to own and create the contexts and purposes of their own learning.

This year’s new Dylan: Design Thinking

Image by David Kernohan

I’ve quoted D’Arcy Norman’s MSc thesis here before. However, newly immersed in the introductory strides of Design Thinkingcourtesy of UVic and #TieGrad’s EDCI 335 course, I think the following bears on our emerging discussions:

…educational technology can be prone to cycles of hype and fetishism, where new tools and applications are rapidly adopted by individuals who are seen as innovators in the field, with little time for thorough or rigorous investigation of the pedagogical strategies that may be enabled by the affordances of these new tools.

Not explicitly a “technology,” per say,  a quick Google search reveals Design Thinking as a possible blank-filler in the educational Mad Lib of How ___________ will revolutionize education! Within this wider family network are pedagogical approaches: project-based, inquiry or experiential learning; tools: Twitter, Blogs, Skype in the Classroom; or the more nebulous -ifications: Gamification, MOOCification, Learnification… 

An Emerson quote I find myself falling back on in such moments of cynicism goes something like, “At the periphery there is infinite complexity, yet at the center, simplicity of cause.” In other words: might each of these various revolutionary manifestations be riffs on the same basic principles?

And might these principles be part of larger intellectual traditions that will provide us a better understanding of learning, society and education than venture-backed entrepreneurs?

As Bill Storage points out in a particularly scathing historical critique of the design movement,

“The term [design thinking] has been redefined to the point of absurdity. And its overworked referent has drifted from an attitude and guiding principle to yet another hackneyed process in a long line of bankrupt business improvement initiatives, passionately embraced by amnesic devotees for a few months until the next one comes along.”

Principles of Pedagogy

In my final presentation in our last course, Social Media & Personalized LearningI attempted to frame my views of learning and the potential of new media to continue to inspire the original tenants of the Project of Enlightenment. The basic underlying principles – which in turn created the elements of design in my courses and informal learning spaces – concerned themselves with the generations-old philosophical traditions of the enlightenment movement. These principles of pedagogy addressed concerns that were:

  • Epistemological
  • Metaphysical
  • Aesthetic
  • As well as Social-Political

Epistemologically speaking, my “design thinking” is rooted in an emergent view of knowledge whereby “knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next.” This is supplemented by the metaphysical premise that we know ourselves by knowing others, and that new ways of knowing others create new ways of knowing ourselves, which in turn becomes a question of human aesthetics as the search for new and evolving selves continues.

Each of these ideas culminates in the crowning achievement of the Enlightenment revolutions in Europe: the creation of the democratic public sphere:

…an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.

Douglas Kellner talks about how the advent of the bourgeois public sphere brought about the possibility of,

[f]or the first time in history, individuals and groups [shaping] public opinion, giving direct expression to their needs and interests while influencing political practice. The bourgeois public sphere made it possible to form a realm of public opinion that opposed state power and the powerful interests that were coming to shape bourgeois society.

Many of the different pieces we’ve been supplied as part of our reading on Design Thinking poises it as a revelatory challenge to the project of democracy and enlightenment birthed in the 1700s. Bruce Nussbaum wrote in 2009 about how

“… it is the evolution of design into Design (with or without the “Thinking” term) to redesign large-scale social systems in business and civic society that has folks moving to embrace it. In this era of melting models and flaming careers, of economic uncertainty and social volatility, Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.”

(Nussbaum has since called “Design Thinking” a “failed experiment.”)

Harvard’s Peter Rowe, who first introduced the concept of Design Thinking in 1987, characterized the phenomenon thus:

“Quite often references are made to objects already within the domain of architecture. On other occasions, however, an analogy is made with objects and  organizational concepts that are farther afield and outside of architecture. Sometimes these analogies serve a designer’s purpose for more than a single project and thus become incorporated as a central part of that individual’s design thinking.”

If this sounds familiar, Don Norman is quick to point out that “radical breakthrough ideas and creative thinking somehow managed to shape history before the advent of Design Thinking.” He continues by saying that, “‘Design Thinking’ is what creative people in all disciplines have always done.”

This raises a few questions for me:

First, what are these dispositions then, I wonder, that compose Design Thinking / Creativity / Interdisciplinary Learning / Project-Based? Aren’t collaboration, creativity, social responsibility, cultural understanding, communications, innovation, and critical thinking (all taken from the BC Ministry of Education’s Guide to 21st Century Learning) at the heart of John Dewey’s vision of learning? Immanuel Kant’s? Socrates’?

And secondly, from whence does the compulsion to endlessly repackage, repurpose and re-sell these ideas emerge? In this vein I wonder why we are so reluctant to acknowledge the longer traditions that these intellectual pursuits have enjoyed?

The question begged by these others, I think, is that of who benefits from presenting the nature of learning with such a historical myopia?