“Moments happen quickly, and changes come slowly.”

Summer school

The title of this post, and its contents are synthesis and reflection of my thoughts while reading James Nahachewsky and David Slomp’s book chapter “Sound and Fury: Studied Response(s) of Curriculum and Classroom in Digital Times,” originally published in Beyond ‘Presentism’: Re-Imagining the Historical, Personal, and Social Places of Curriculum (2009).

Similar to Borges‘ introduction, “like all men, he was given bad times in which to live,” we find ourselves in complex times that have yet undeniably coalesced into a present “moment” that might be described as a Digital Age. The arrival of these digital times has arrived with

“a shift in perspective that recently has thrown many modernist educational boundaries and underlying assumptions into doubt – including constructs of learner and teacher, and schooling itself (Gee, 2004; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007). This shift is due, in part to young people’s own fluid, de-territorialized meaning-making afforded by the consumption and, perhaps more importantly, the production of digital texts.”

Nahachewsky and Slomp present the problem of how confronting these new realities of the digital age reveals a contradiction in that “digital texts, as created by young people become sites of action and agency [while] Arguably, brick and mortar classrooms are not.” The language arts, the authors note, are uniquely situated to reveal the particular opportunities such times present the study of pedagogy, as new media arise, changing the relationships between students, teachers, and even broader educative communities beyond our institutions. Using the shift brought to text by the digital age as a corollary, the authors begin to outline a structural transformation that is beginning to be seen in literacy education.

“The spaces of classroom and educational digital texts create complex dialogic ‘contact zones’ (Bakhtin 1981), where we may witness the representation of learner, teacher, and curriculum in interesting, complex, and non-traditional ways.”

Highlighting the example of the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education, Nahachewsky and Slomp note that democratic governments have engaged the collision of the 21st century and its burgeoning technological revolution to provoke discussion around the revolutionizing of curriculum itself, though the section of the paper begins with a quote from Jerome Bruner’s Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986):

“Language- can never be neutral, it imposes a point of view not only about the world to which it refers, but toward the use of mind in respect of this world.”

Because while the governments of the western provinces strive toward a collaboratively determined common curriculum that will best prepare young Canadians for the digital and globalized 21st century, “The primary issue the Ministers [of education from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon and the North West Territories] identified in the agreement was the need to optimize the limited resources of the provinces in improving education [emphasis from the original].” The point of view “imposed,” and which frames the narrative of educational reform contextualizes the task as one of necessity rather than aspiration.

One needn’t suggest that fiscal responsibility shouldn’t constitute an aspect of educational discourse; but by beginning from this foundation, the “authors” of our curricular narratives – granted such voice by the democratic processes guiding public policy in Canada – limit the possible iterations of curriculum that might better contribute to education’s guiding purpose(s) than those created solely out of financial necessity. With the broad focus of literacy, the authors summarize the purpose of language learning expressed in the WNCP, which presents literacy as a tool:

“To facilitate thinking, define culture, develop personal identity, build interpersonal relationships, extend experience, facilitate reflection, contribute to a democratic society, construct and convey meanings, and facilitate metacognitive awareness.”

But while even optimists among us might appreciate these strokes of application that these democratic processes have sketched out on our collective behalf, the authors emphasize what is not included in this discussion of education’s future, what is not part of the narrative authored on society’s behalf: “the question, To what end?”

“…to what end do we use language to facilitate thinking or to construct meaning?”

In other words, what is understanding? And what is it for?

The affordances of new media in these digital times has further contributed to the disruption of the narrative of the singular author, a process that has been at work throughout the modernist period and which dates back to the Enlightenment period. Such philosophical movements are congruent with Bruner’s suggestion “that our use of language has a constitutive role in creative social reality and concepts of our selves.” 

To paraphrase Michael Wesch, our digital times present us with the opportunity to witness Marshall McLuhan‘s edict that “we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us,” in real time, largely through the critical study and experimentation with different forms of texts encountered in the language arts classroom. Indeed, Nahachewsky and Slomp point out that “this has important implications for the culture of education and the concepts of self that teachers and students co-construct.”

As the revolution of text online has challenged the notion of a single authorial rendering (even of an original work or act), so too might the digital age present the opportunity to consider the direction and construction of meaning to be a collaborative act between students who are guided in this process by a teacher. However well intended, our present schools are places where

“students are seen as participants who are given a role as ‘performing spectators who play out their canonical roles according to rule when appropriate cues appear.”

Bruner notes further than “this role causes the child to only identify himself as owner, as user, never as creator; he does not invent the world, he uses it.” However much this framing might offer a shift in perspective to today’s educators, it has been more than one hundred years since Maria Montessori lamented that while “it is true that some pedagogues, led by Rousseau, have given voice to the impracticable principles and vague aspirations for the liberty of the child […], the true concept of liberty is practically unknown to educators.” (Montessori 1912)

More than one hundred years ago, Montessori wished

“to direct the teacher to awaken in him[self], in connection with his own particular field, the school, that scientific spirit which opens the door for him to broader and bigger possibilities. In other words, we wish to awaken in the mind and heart of the educator an interest in natural phenomena to such an extent that, loving nature, he shall understand the anxious and expectant attitude of one who has prepared an experiment and who awaits a revelation from it.”

However as we look to the educative narrative presented in Canada today, we might note the Federal Harper Government’s discussions of scientific discovery have similarly limited its scope to invest “scarce resources” in research that offers a practical return on investment, thus affirming the broader cultural narrative of perpetuating an infinite growth economy as our highest purpose.

As it is in education, the question To what end? is not included in the discussion of why we ought pursue scientific discovery (if not to achieve predicted economic outcomes), and the omission represents an abandoning of principles around which our cultural, social, artistic, political and moral traditions each originate and continue to revolve, those traditions which coalesced and were articulated during the dawn of the era of mass-printed texts.

Following the invention of the printing press, Europe witnessed the transformation of its public sphere(s) (Habermas 1991), with paradigmatic shifts visited upon religion, politics, science, philosophy and the arts. The ability of greater and greater numbers of people to encounter and freely share new ideas delivered a cataclysm upon the singular narratives of public affairs constructed with absolute power by monarchs and churches, and is the overarching arc of justice which guides foundational schools of western philosophical thought to this day. Broadening the base of authorship in the creation of a collective narrative led directly to the transformation of the existent structures of the preceding paradigm.

We might learn from these events, as the advent of our modern, digital technologies presents what may constitute an analogous ‘moment’ of cultural revolution where the discussion of what might be is at least as relevant for discussion as the prospects of what must be. In fact, we have learned much from those who sought to uphold the mantles of chalice and crown throughout the various Enlightenment revolutions employed various arguments to make their case, and should proceed skeptically with those who would tell us what “must be.” With the traditions of scholarship and tools we have acquired in the age of empiricism, the test to establish what “must”…

must be of the strictest rigor.

In the meantime, it is equally important that modern educationists explore and discover what can be, as it is central to the task of creating a fuller perception of nature and humankind which the traditions of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and political philosophy demand of us.

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

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters

Why Doodling Matters by Giulia Forsythe

One of the extra-special pieces of the Unplugd experience was not only being able to spend some time around an actual campfire with #Ds106Radio fire-mate Giulia Forsythe, but being able to collaborate with her in preparing the second chapter of the summit publication, “Why _______ Matters: Voices and Choices.” In addition to being tapped to collect the various chapters’ themes and stories in visual representations and sketches, Giulia’s own essay, “Why Doodling Matters,” took the shape of a visual essay that continued to develop over the course of an afternoon on the couch in the Edge’s Points North cabin (though, to be fair, I disappeared before Giulia delivered a lengthier treatise on the wonders of iPad file storage and transfer).

Giulia’s essay begins at Temple Grandin‘s notion – highlighted in an excellent TED Talk – of the world needing All kinds of Minds, and makes a powerful, visual argument for the necessity of thinking in doodles:

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds.” and some of those minds “think in pictures”. Doodling is a form of external thought that allows you to visualize the connections you are making while thinking. In the conscious mind, doodling can assist concentration and focus but even in the unconscious mind, while doodling and day dreaming connections are made. As Steven Johnson says, the “mind’s primordial soup” can lead to “serendipitous collisions of creative insight”. Doodling has allowed connections to be made between people and ideas, the magical space between. These aspects can lead to better problem solving. By sharing my thinking through visual means, my most important connections have been to people, by way of sharing my perceptions of their ideas, presentations and words back to them.

You can download Giulia and the rest of the Voices and Choices author group’s contribution to the Unplugd publication, as well as Giulia’s doodles that accompany the other chapters as they are published over the next month. Our group will also be participating in an author panel on #ds106radio this Thursday evening (6pm PST / 9pm EST), and discussing our individual threads in the chapter’s conversation. In addition to Giulia and myself, they are:

Why Choice Matters: A Story Shared by Kathy Cassidy from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Kim Gill – “Why the Tool Matters”

Why The Tools Matter: A Story Shared by Kim Gill from unplugd on Vimeo.

  • Rodd Lucier – “Why Irresistible Challenges Matter”

Why Irresistible Challenges Matter: A Story Shared by Rodd Lucier from unplugd on Vimeo.

Why Perspective Matters: A Story Shared by Andy McKiel from unplugd on Vimeo.

A Week without Technology

Telramen op de bank in de klas / Counting-frames in classroom

Essential classroom technology

A few weeks ago, I wrote:

I would also be interested in establishing a school learning community that values face-to-face dialogue, debate, and experiential, first-hand learning for students and teachers alike. If we are to ask that our students are committed to the present moment of their current learning, why shouldn’t we expect the same of one another?

Blog Post as Essay: Cell Phones in the Classroom
Wederopbouw: provisorisch schoollokaal / Improvised classroom, shortly after the War

How much has changed since this photo was taken?

After writing that post, I thought about the possibilities of setting up this ultimately face-to-face school environment that would not only challenge those of us who rely on futuristic technologies – iPhones, laptops, projectors, etc – to rethink our jobs as facilitators of classroom learning, but also give those who would ban cellphones in their classroom a greater context to appreciate the current, rampant rate of technological progress.

I thought that a week without technology – without email, photocopiers, announcements and overhead projectors – would be a bounding step forward in establishing a truly local school community, and a rallying point for digital natives, and immigrants.

  • Why not turn such a week into a fundraiser, a way to promote awareness about our dependence on technology, and question our relationship with our digital (as well as other) tools?

As he has a habit of doing, Ira Socol is a few steps ahead of me:

Let’s try a week without clocks and bells. Few technologies interrupt the learning process more, and limit learning to “the shallows” more, than the school timetable. And few things belittle students more – or expose our hypocrisies more – than bells. They are not just Pavlovian, they are unfairly so. Kids are “late” when the bell rings, but teachers often insist that they get dismissal power, meaning bells are only significant when they can punish students. So take a week. Cancel the start time and the finish time. Abandon the class schedule. Let students pick which of their classrooms they want to be in – and when. Let kids spend a day working on one thing, or five minutes, whichever they need and want. Let them eat when they want, use the toilet when they want, debate Shakespeare when they want. See what happens. Our school schedule was invented by Henry Barnard to train kids for industrial shift work. Is that what are schools are still designed to do?
Speelplaats van een Rooms-Katholieke school / Schoolyard of a Roman Catholic school

How it could be.

Let’s try a week without desks and chairs. Pile them all up in the corner and ignore them. Let kids bring what they need to make themselves comfortable. As I asked one school district: “Do any of you have furniture like this at home?” The chair and desk, that contribution of William Alcott in the 1830s, might have made sense then. But we have central heating now, and carpets are available everywhere. And pillows are cheap at Ikea – so are lapdesks. And kids would rather be comfortable. And… teachers might find themselves worrying a whole lot less about controlling how kids sit in their chairs. Let’s try a week without books and paper. We know how many of our kids struggle with reading and writing – the physical acts. The word decoding, the holding of the pen, the traditional keyboarding – these things are our primary creators of disability. So let’s get “Socratic” for a week. Lets get fully digital (adaptable text, speech recognition) or simply verbal/audio. Let’s talk and listen. Let’s think out loud and work on auditory memory. We might see a whole new set of student skills rise to the top with those “Gutenberg technologies” stripped from our kids’ lives. We might see a whole new kind of learning.

KAPOW: Sir Ken Robinson Blows Donya's Mind

After watching Sir Ken Robinson‘s latest incarnation as the subject of an RSA Animation, Donya was compelled to commit herself to bringing about an education revolution:
I believe this is what I want to be when I grow up… if that makes any sense. I want to be a meaningful part of this education revolution! EVERYONE (not just the students in the TALONS class) possesses the skill and capacity to achieve. The current education system doesn’t promote that anymore. A lot of the students “learning” in a “run of the mill” education system are not reaping the benefits that they rightfully deserve. If technology and other aspects in our life have changed so much, why didn’t education?

Read more of Donya’s musings on the future of her own education on her blog Sunday Morning Revelations

Ten Big Questions for Education

Crowds.Brian Kuhn has shared an opportunity with me that offers another means of our class – and others who might find this post – entering into the discourse on shaping the future of education. To echo Andrew B. Watt’s call for students to enter the EduBlogosphere and tell us how we’re doing, this project – which began yesterday – could find the TALONS engaging in a truly global endeavor!

A well known educator / traveling speaker Will Richardson has crowd sourced the 10 big questions for education.  If you’re not familiar with crowd sourcing, it’s a recent phenomenon made possible by social networking tools on the Internet like Twitter.  Will asked people in his professional network to post what they felt the most important questions are for education today.  Basically people in his network spread the message to their networks and the crowd grew as the message spread around the world, literally.  Then Will asked “the crowd” to vote on the questions so that he could come up with a top 10 list.  To facilitate a mass collaborative write for these questions, Will has created a wiki and offered people the opportunity to collaboratively write / share their thoughts and ideas for each question. The end goal I believe, is to produce a free online resource, perhaps a free published “e” book, from this work. This is a great opportunity for you to participate in a global shared writing project.  I have volunteered to moderate and promote question #1 “What is the purpose of school?”  Please click through to this question if you would like to contribute your ideas or to read others ideas. Here are the 10 questions; you can click on the link for a question you’re interested in to go to the separate page for editing.
1. What is the purpose of school? 2. What is the changing role of the teacher, and how do we support that new role? 3. How do we help students discover their passions? 4. What is the essential learning that schools impart to students? 5. How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using? 6. What does an educated person look like today? 7. How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning? 8. What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school? 9. How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity? 10. How do we evaluate and validate the informal, self-directed learning that happens outside of school?

Welcome to the crowd!