21st Century Learning: Entrepreneurial Citizenship vs. Democracy

A very interesting talk given by Tobey Steeves Friday afternoon at the BCSSTA Conference in Vancouver that is well worth your time to explore both in the slides above, and the corresponding ‘pencast’ embedded below that captures the session’s audio, and my notes about the discussion of public education’s role in a democracy, and how this thinking could be applied to education policy’s current obsession with a vague notion of 21st Century Learning.

I have been thinking of the role of this type of critical inquiry into not only the terminology surrounding 21st Century Learning and the advent of technology in the modern classroom, but Learning (or Schooling) itself, similar questions being posed by Dave Cormier in a recent post entitled, Workers, Soldiers or Nomads:

The why of education should be the first question that we answer in any discussion in the field. The answer to the ‘why of education’ question should be debated, mulled and hammered, on and on, and be at the centre of the work that we do. Sadly, it seems to be very difficult to say anything about “what learning is” and “why we educate our children”. We tend to end up saying something like the following
 
  • We are preparing our students for the future
  • We need to get them ready for university
  • We are trying to make good citizens for our society
  • We are trying to instill cultural values
  • We are trying to teach them to learn
There are any number of ways to say this, and, by saying it, say nothing. These answers have content, maybe, for the people saying them, but there’s no way for me to know what you mean. What are the cultural values you’d like to pass on? Is it likely that a vast majority of people are going to want to pass on those particular values? What would a good citizen do in our society? Are they law abiding or do they fight injustice? I’d like to think that they are both, but it’s pretty tough to create a system that both trains people to do what they are told and to also critically assess their culture.

I think that last piece, the ability to ‘critically assess [one’s] culture,’ is essential if we are to realize this idea of Maslow‘s, brought to my attention this weekend by Canadian musician and activist Raffi Cavoukian:

So while we become human through being culturalized so that our mind, emotions, speech, and behavior is cultivated to the values of our parents and teachers, to develop to our full potential we have to simultaneously learn to wear our conventionality lightly so that we learn to choose what parts of the outer world to bring in and what to merely adapt to, and what to reject. If we conform blindly and unthinkingly to the cultural rules of family, religion, school, media, business, etc., we dull our individuality and avoid authenticity.  

From L. Michael Hall’s “Unleashing your Real Self

We talk a lot about individuality and authenticity in T.A.L.O.N.S. and how to live in such a way that we enable each of these in ourselves and one another. But isn’t what we’re really talking about also called subversion?

And what if we are talking about subversion?

Might that be (at least part of) the point of school?

Consensus in the Classroom

One of the interesting aspects of the #Occupy movement for me is the General Assembly driving the decision-making and ideology of the groups gathering in cities around the world. Modeled on non-violent means of protest as old as civil disobedience itself, the General Assembly operates on an egalitarian process of generating consensus that I can’t help but find eerily similar to the type of decision-making and values TALONS teachers strive to place at the center of our class’ learning on a daily basis.

I stumbled across the above video on Google+ yesterday, as did apparently Michael Kaechele, who posted the following questions in a post on Teach Paperless this morning:

  • What is actual democracy?
  • Is the current government of the United States a democracy?
  • Whose voice is most important in an democracy?
  • For PBL it is a great example of how student groups should function.
  • What are the weaknesses of this form of government?
  • Does this scale to a national level and what would that look like?
  • How can we make sure more opinions are heard and given a true seat at the table before decisions are made?
  • How can we implement the consensus model in schools?
  • How could the consensus model be used in your classroom?
  • How could the consensus model be used with students in curriculum planning and design?

These are questions that should be up for almost constant debate and discussion within a democracy, and surely within our classrooms, if we hope for them to be raising engaged and empowered citizens of our students.

Detractors of the #Occupy movement are quick to point out that it is “slow,” “messy,” or “unfocused,” seemingly without awareness of the fact that the most “efficient” form of government would be a dictatorship. Surely the process of representing the diverse voices of the most complex, interdependent global society the world has yet known will be a difficult and frustrating task to be realized (especially if it decides to eschew the soapboxes of traditional media and government), and I raise this point not to debate the validity of the protests or their root causes, but rather to hold up this idealized form of democracy-in-motion and ask, Is education up to the challenge?

#Unplugd11: Why Sharing Our Stories Matters

Why Sharing Our Stories Matters: Story by Bryan Jackson from unplugd on Vimeo.

It was a great honour to be able to share the story above with members of my #Unplugd11 group – Rodd, Kim, Giulia, Kathy, and Andy – and be a part of the inspiring collaborative editing and writing process of the collectively-authored second chapter of the Summit publication, Why ______ Matters: Choices & Voices (pdf). As Giulia noted, it was amazing to work in a group where:

we negotiated meaning through shared understanding. We dug deep to determine ‘the point’. The main ideas were mined, refined, expanded and sculpted. The group was so considerate but challenging too. It was the perfect mix of choice and voice, modeled perfectly- as teachers, editors, learners, colleagues and friends.
Rodd's Group

Voices & Choices author group

As my invitation to the Unplugd Educational Summit arrived during the beginning of the unit(s) mentioned in my canoe story – which turned out to be perhaps the most fulfilling and relevant of the year – it seemed a logical focus for my essay and supporting anecdote around the topic: “Why ______ Matters.”

The conversation around Truth with respect to the emerging developments in 2011’s Arab Spring movement are seen beginning to take shape in a post highlighting many of the #Talons‘ thoughts from that first week. Megan made for a particularly inspiring synthesis to the class’ thinking:

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into. So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet. But I guess you might say this: I know that it actually matters now. I am a participant in this age of information.

The conversation continued across posts about events in the Middle East, discussions of Canadian history and Louis Riel, and provided powerful inspiration for the class’ This I Believe personal essays, that are the inspiration and support for my Unplugd thesis, “Why Sharing Our Stories Matters.”

Download the preface and first two chapters, as well as the upcoming sections of the Unplugd11 e-book as they are published here, and be sure  to tune into the emerging weekly author panel discussions on #DS106Radio: chapter two authors Giulia Forsythe, Rodd Lucier, Kim Gill, Kathy Cassidy, Andy McKiel and myself will be talking about Voices and Choices this Thursday evening, 9pm (EST), 6pm on the west coast (to tune into #DS106Radio, this link should open a streaming playlist in iTunes or other media players: http://www.bit.ly/ds106radio4life).

Conversations I'm following

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Photo from Al Jazeera English on Flickr

As the Talons class moves forward with its discussion of ongoing media coverage and context behind recent events in Egypt and across the Middle East, the conversation has ranged from an investigation of the realities of an emerging media landscape, to the nature of Truth, violence, and power. Views have been researched, expressed, challenged, and adapted. And we’re just getting started.

Here are four branches of the conversation I’m following:

Mahalia on Sara’s post:

“…residential camps consisted of young native children that had been forced to leave their homes, were not allowed to speak their language and were treated very cruelly( they were beaten). And Canada SHOULD be ashamed of what happened but they can’t just hide these facts from us. Being a little bit native myself I already knew about residential camps, I was so shocked when almost all our class had never heard of this. I noticed that in textbooks they make it seem like Europeans and Natives were “working together”. Not really. It seems that the textbooks given to us in school are trying to create the image of Canada where things are peaceful and always have been.”

Richard on Kelsey’s post:

The United States is flip-flopping between its support for Mubarak and its support for the Egyptian people. This is primarily caused by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will most likely take power of Egypt if Hosni Mubarak steps down from the presidency. According to many Egyptian people, the Muslim Brotherhood is an extremist group who are very much opposing the U.S. influence in Egypt. Due to the geographical location of Egypt in relation to other countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. is most likely afraid that these countries will eventually ally against them. This provides a major threat to the U.S., and the government there is unsure of which side to support. It is true that they have given a lot of funding towards Hosni Mubarak and have been in a political relationship with his government for many years now. This has been one of the main reasons why Mubarak has stayed in power for so long, fulfilling the United States’ goal to maintain Egypt as an ally. However, the strength of the people in Egypt is growing in these riots that have been occurring, while that also shows that a new leader needs to step into place very soon. Despite this, having Egypt in the control of the Muslim Brotherhood is not a very good idea, so a new party with different representatives is the key in Egypt. However, Egypt’s first true democratic election in almost thirty years will obviously be decided by its people, who will now have the right to elect anyone. The rioting in Egypt will end as soon as Mubarak steps down, but the problems created from this crisis on a national (for Egypt) and global scale are unlikely to end stop soon. As for what will happen to the bond between Egypt and the United States, it will most likely be severed if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power.

Liam on Nick’s post:

It may seem an odd thing, considering that Egypt and Israel have fought four wars since 1948, their people are generally opposed to each other, and until the Camp David Accords, Egypt did not recognize Israel’s right to exist. But the flow of American money is meant to stabilize Egypt and that it has – for thirty years Egypt has fought no war, and indeed has not even had a regime change. As Mubarak, a former military man, receives all this monetary aid, he has channeled the money into the military, which certainly contributed to stability. But how did it do this? Money can create stability in two ways: through investment in the economy and social programs to keep the people happy and self-sufficient, or through investment in the military and other security forces to keep order for a discontented people. There are times when the second option is preferable – like, say, Israel in 1948 – but generally, the first option is the best thing to do. Egypt was not really particularly threatened by any of its neighbours, and even Israel, the most controversial power in the region, is very unlikely to attack a major Arab power, for obvious reasons. So the question then must be asked, should the American aid go to buy tear gas canisters, used only to suppress protesters, or should it go to create jobs and a livelihood for thousands of people? What do you think?

Jen on Sepehr’s post:

I just don’t understand your views about how the Egyptian government “is fair and righteous”. As Mr.J pointed out, Amnesty International says “The most pressing human rights concerns that Amnesty International has documented are the use of emergency legislation to arrest and detain people without charge or trial; the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment; grossly unfair trials of civilians before military and emergency courts; restrictions on the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly…” An article in The New York Times states “The government [of Egypt] has maintained what it calls an Emergency Law, passed first in 1981 to combat terrorism after the assassination of Mr. Sadat. The law allows police to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.” Next, the police, who you said “are present to stop the people from blowing themselves up or setting each other on fire in anger; they are not Mubarak’s bloody torturers.”, are torturing and raping people all over the place. You have Mr.J’s example from Amnesty International “In addition, government security forces have harassed and intimidated people engaged in public displays of support for victims of the bombing.” You also have a variety of examples of police brutality from The New York Times, “The Egyptian police have a long and notorious track record of torture and cruelty to average citizens. One case that drew widespread international condemnation involved a cellphone video of the police sodomizing a driver with a broomstick. In June 2010, Alexandria erupted in protests over the fatal beating by police of beating Khaled Said, 28. The authorities said he died choking on a clump of marijuana, until a photograph emerged of his bloodied face. In December 2010, a suspect being questioned in connection with a bombing was beaten to death while in police custody.”

Participants in the Age of Information

Jonathan’s political cartoon

This week semester two began with the class’ study of Manitoba’s Red River Rebellion, Louis Riel, and the explosion of Egypt’s political upheaval. On the edge of a new unit, and the coming onset of spring, the Talons have set out to uncover the truth behind media and political interpretation of both history and recent current events. Seeking the more basic truth of individual experience and expression in a record of social bookmarks and blogpostsnot to mention comments the class is attempting to answer personal questions about the goings on in Egypt and Middle East that were identified as relevant topics on the class wiki this week:

  • What are the conditions that have created the anti-government sentiment in Egypt?
  • Where else do such conditions exist?
  • What are the specific goals of the protesters? Who is emerging as their leader / spokesperson?
  • What is important to know about Egyptian history or culture to better understand these recent developments?
  • What has the Western (European, American, Canadian) response to developments in the Middle East been?
  • What conditions or factors influence the West’s decisions regarding these countries’ fates?
  • Who and what is the Muslim Brotherhood? What do they want?
  • What emotions factor in journalism?
  • What does ______ have to gain by influencing different outcomes?
  • What is the media’s responsibility: to tell its audience what it is expecting to hear? To challenge people’s existing views or opinions? To objectively present information?
  • Are there viewpoints or perspectives missing from coverage of events in the Middle East?

Along with the collection, and discussion of many different brands of media’s coverage of the recent struggles for freedom across the Middle East, the Talons took to the blogs last night, and haven’t looked back. They began by seeking out the untold stories, the truth behind the media, even only in as much as they could interpret their own response to them.

Megan found this to be no small task:

I have read so much about these protests, it’s all I can do but to try and imagine what it is like, standing side by side with so many others, all fighting for freedom. I wish I could say that I have done something like that, made a change. Who I am, and what I do, is hardly history textbook worthy. I am a child, a child in a never-ending world which stretches on forever in any possible direction.

For the past week, this is all I have been able to think about. But then, just this night, something occurred to me. The cause of the Egypt rebellions was from a push; a movement from the people of Egypt, but more specifically, the youth. Whenever an article on this is written, you can bet that it usually at least mentions social media as one of the causes. Does the “Facebook Revolution” sound familiar? Or maybe Twitter? These were the means by which the word was spread, the dissatisfaction in the government and the voice they felt they didn’t have, and the realization that something could be done about it.

Donya finds a connection to a young man whose death may have sparked a rise to action:

In this article , it is thought that Khaled Saeed’s death was one of the many factors in the start of the Egyptian protests. On the news, there was some footage of demonstrators holding up pictures of his face and shouting “Khaled Said!” with passionate anger.

Khaled’s brutal death was one of the events that pushed the Egyptians to voice their anger, but was it worth his torture for the sake of his country’s change?

Do you think that if he was alive today, that he would endure immeasurable amounts of pain to have the same outcome? Would you do that for your country and for future generations?

It sounds as if I’m bordering on sacrifice here, but that’s what this is isn’t it?

Only a small percent of people can actually say whatever comes to mind and publish it for whoever to see without having to sleep with one eye open.

The other percent are faced with the possible death of what they believe, who they love and even themselves if they share what they think.

And they do it anyways.

It seems as though Khaled was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and happened to be given a glimpse of how twisted everything really is.The people who were trained to protect and provide an example, were instead exploiting their power in order to get a quick fix.

I think Khaled’s death was one caused to uphold an image, but then later on turned into ammunition for millions of people who were wronged on a daily basis.

I don’t know this man, nor will I ever get a chance to meet him, but the fact that he chose (unknowingly, perhaps) knowledge instead of his own life, made me admire him anyways.

And that is what Khaled said.

And Lexi wonders if she – and perhaps the rest of her classmates – might be onto something bigger:

It’s like I’ve started pulling at a thread that doesn’t end. And maybe that’s the thing about truth. Maybe truth cannot be absolute, irrevocable, and undisputed.

Indeed, Stephanie’s post proposes truth in this case to be an illusion altogether, alluding to the Al Jazeera’s dubbing of recent events:

Egypt’s rebellion will be known as the “Revolution of Dreams”.  This vision is where thousands of men and women work together to fulfill.  Leonardo DiCaprio once quoted in the movie Inception “Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate.”  As a result, the Egyptians voiced out, allowing the world to make known of their words.  And through this movement, we come to understand that when “people power” unites, it will ultimately conquer the government.

But Richard, in a comment-turned-blogpost on Iris’ post, gets to the heart of the matter:

Raw facts, especially numbers are the truth, however when it is being reported, it become opinion. So, really a report is like myth.

At the heart of every myth there is a grain of truth.

I think, as I told Richard in a comment I posted tonight, that this grain of truth is the essence of our study of history through communication:

The socials curriculum is weaved out of stories of exactly this sort of political instability and unrest:

  • we study the revolutions of England, France, and in America
  • we reenact the Confederation of Canada
  • we are introduced to rebellious figures such as Louis Riel (who in his own time was a fugitive of Canada – teaching highs school in Montana – before being hanged for treason)

These lessons, and a continually rigorous interpretation of current events are the basis of a responsible participation in democracy, but also the pursuit of illusory truths that are the telling, and retelling, defining of human history, starting with a record and discussion of the present moment.

Which brings us right back to Megan, who writes perhaps some of the most inspiring words yet rendered on the class blogs:

And then you come back to me. Still sitting in front of her computer, and still on the opposite side of the world. I am a child, in this age of information. But I am also part of the age of information. I have just as much say in what occurs as everyone.

If what happened in Egypt is any indicator as to what can be accomplished through communication, I think that maybe, I need to realize, or maybe we (and I’m talking to all my fellow youth out there) need to realize that if we organize we can accomplish something big. People may say that children and youth are better seen, and not heard. But you know what? We are the new generation, and we should have a say about what sort of world we are growing up into.

So hey, there’s my two cents. Just tossing it out in the world of the internet.

But I guess you might say this:

I know that it actually matters now.

I am a participant in this age of information.

The class will be engaged in a process of exploring a diversity of opinions across these topics in the coming terms, and invite your input in our discussion, if you, too, are possessed of an opinion about the way of the world, at this unique moment in time.

You can check in with the discussion on the embedded blogposts and bookmarks on the Talons Socials Wiki, as well as Blog and Comment feeds in RSS if you would like to subscribe.