Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Did she say “revolution”?

March 28, 2009

Naomi Klein speaks at the National Conference on Media Reform:

Now I want to return to another moment of profound crisis, after the market crash of 1929, that was the moment that created the new deal. Now it didn’t happen because FDR was a great guy. It happen because people in this country were so radicalized, so determined, so organized that he was able to sell the New Deal to the elites as a compromise because the alternative was Revolution.

Matt Taibbi writes about the 2009 financial crisis:

And all this happened at the end of eight straight years devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society.

Then he says something interesting about democracy, education, and revolution as a two way street:

By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

…melts into air

March 13, 2009

Today I read this in Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now :

…the very web-like structure of the Web often makes it difficult to determine where texts end – or begin, for that matter. All the cutting and pasting, grafting and transplanting, internal and external linking involved means that the boundaries between the text and its surroundings, its material support, are blurred and can become almost impossible to determine online – just as the boundaries separating authors, editors, programmers, producers, consumers, users, and commentators/critics are blurred.(p.66)

The blurring of textual boundaries interests me. Especially in academic texts, where citing other texts, other legitimate texts, is the necessary foundation for the building of new texts.

Yesterday I went to an event at UBC.

The MisEducated Imagination: McLuhan’s Creativity The lasting legacy of Marshall McLuhan has everything to do with his creatively disruptive thought: art as an early warning system of major technological change, media theory as culture probes, words moving at light-speed, texts as worm holes to alternative futures, a festival of seductive paradoxes in writing, images, and aphorisms. With McLuhan, technology simultaneously stultifies and mobilizes the imagination, does violence to the human nervous system and creates electronic breakthroughs. Arthur Kroker is Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory & Professor of Political Science at the University of Victoria. Author of numerous books on technology and culture, including The Will to Technology, The Possessed Individual, The Postmodern Scene and Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis, McLuhan and Grant. With Marilouise Kroker, he has edited the field-defining anthology, Critical Digital Studies and the internationally acclaimed electronic journal, CTheory ( ).

One Code To Rule Them All… When all that has been solid melts into code, how do we rethink and re-make scholarly praxis — theory, research and pedagogy — built from and for a literate universe? Quality becomes quantity, arts and sciences are re-fused, media fluidly converge, and even the ontology of the body, this “too too solid flesh” of Hamlet’s distracted imaginings, becomes molten, as virtuality. This paper is part of a larger project which interweaves three strands of interdisciplinary scholarship: the conceptual work of forging a ‘digital epistemology,’ the technological challenge of developing a multimedia, multimodal research tool capable of taking the measure of the re-mediated subjects and objects of interdisciplinary study, and the pedagogical call for the resuscitation of ‘play’ as inseparable from and indispensable for teaching, learning and the advancement of knowledge under unprecedented conditions of uncertainty.  Suzanne de Castell is Professor and Dean pro-tem of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University( She’s interested in relations between media and epistemology, between ‘knowing’ and ‘tools of intellect’, in relation to print literacy, new media studies, and game-based educational technologies. Books include Literacy Society and Schooling (with Alan Luke and Kieran Egan), Language, Authority and Criticism (with Alan and Carmen Luke) Radical Interventions (with Mary Bryson) and Worlds in Play (with Jen Jenson). Her current work is on the ludic epistemologies of game-based learning, exemplified in several projects co-developed with Jenson: Contagion (, a compelling game about public health , Arundo Donax , (, a gripping engagement with Baroque music, and Epidemic, a social networking site where your ‘friends’ are contacts you manage to infect. She co-edits the Canadian Game Studies journal, Loading…(http:// )

Dr. Arthur Kroker gave a concealed radical talk. He was saying something under the academic babble, something about a new consciousness that was to come, a change in our miseducation. That the new digital consciousness, new digitized body that we take on. Taken as a whole, if only for a moment, it was worth the two hour bus trip to and from UBC. That ride in itself, and the fact that it was bodies with ears listening to Kroker read from a laser-printed paper, should be enough to dispute what Kroker was saying, of course there was a very radical undertone, to the talk. Suzanne de Castell talk was much more concrete with her explanation of an experiment to expose the social construction of meaning. The need for such thinking in society, the ability to reflect on our constructions, entered the question and answer part of the talk. A question was asked of Kroker, it was more an expression of disapproval than a question. It went something like “You say there is a new digital body, a new digital future, but does this change the way we eat or love?” The answer given by de Castell was great. She said that the confusion between eat and love, that one is a physical need and the other a social, or literary, construction. We’ve been colonized by the word. She told of the creation of romantic love by literature. I don’t think the questioner “got it” but it was a very good point. Our categories, boundaries, the narratives, and meaning attached to our bodies are not solid. These are the necessary errors, the solidity, that with new insights melt into air.

Critical Pedagogy Heritage

February 25, 2009

Norm Friesen’s “Heritage of Edupunk” February 2009

Gramsci says everyone:

contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought.


…the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character.


The answer does not lie in the rejection of the machine, but in the humanization of man.

Preface to The Wretched of the Earth

January 30, 2009

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote these bits in 1961:

The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western Culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.

We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.

critical thinking

August 24, 2008

In his introduction to Chomsky on miseducation, Donaldo Macedo writes, “As our society allows the corporate cultures to reduce the priorities of education to the pragmatic requirements of the market, whereby students are trained to become “compliant workers, spectorial consumers, and passive citizens,” it necessarily has to create educational structures that anesthetize students’ critical abilities, in order to domesticate social order for its self-preservation.” (Chomsky, 2000, p.4)

This is hard stuff for teachers to swallow, but Macedo goes on to say that teachers “are technicians who, by virtue of the domesticating education they receive in an assembly line of ideas and aided by the mystification of this transferred knowledge, seldom reach the critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world.” (p.10) I don’t think teachers can swallow this. They may “know it” in the sense that they know there was once an emperor who pranced about in the finest robes until a child saw that he was naked. We “know” this story, but do we experience it in the world? Can we experience it in the world and continue to function in the world of transferred knowledge, can we continue to consciously live “life within a lie.” (p.6)

This is dangerous business, to allow our critical capacity to develop a coherent comprehension of the world. The tradition of Critical Theory is peopled by the unemployed (fired and quit), silent, suicidal, assassinated and insane. It’s easy for Macedo to write that “We must first read the world — the cultural, social, and political practices that constitute it — before we can make sense of the word-level description of reality.” (p.11) When Macedo writes that Chomsky “energetically stresses, teachers need to sever their complicity with a technocratic training that de-intellectualizes them so they “work primarily to reproduce, legitimate and maintain the dominant social order from which they reap benefits.””(p.12) can he not see that this voluntary severing from the dominant social order will also sever them from that benefit?

Who has a coherent comprehension of the world? Even if teachers, or anyone who is part of an established social organization, were to sever themselves from the functioning word-level world, the world-level meaning does not become immediately available. Most thinking people have glimpsed the horror of the world, but few can sustain the necessary study of that horror to communicate any meaning. The task is dangerous, but necessary if we are to meet Feire’s challenge to educators, “to discover what historically is possible in the sense of contributing toward the transformation of the world.” (p.13)


May 18, 2008

Tearing down to build up?

Is it really easier to tear down than build up? Isn’t it possible that the frustration edutech advocates are expressing in this conference is an inability to tear down traditional ideas in education? And if talking about what’s going on in this conference without waving pompoms is looked upon unfavourably, there is an outside, but very relevant, example in the science vs. religion debate. While scientists were busy catching atoms, exploring space and working with stem cells, Christians were busy teaching their children about creation.

I am, and have been, proposing strategies for the advocacy of a research agenda. Why advocate for something that isn’t the best it can be? I wrote in the post above that the research agenda should include the need for a strong scientific, philosophical and historical foundation. I gave Stephen Downes as an example of a researcher with this type of foundation. And when I say education researchers lack discipline, I mean that they use terms without being aware of their meaning. Downes has complained of this lack of discipline as well. I pick up the Canadian Education Associations magazine and am frustrated each and every issue by the sloppy use of terms. Writers who’ve clearly never read a single word of Derrida’s throw around “deconstruction” like it can mean whatever they want it to. Educational research needs more discipline, it needs a stronger scientific, philosophical and historical foundation.

Education research needs to be stronger to stand up to the antipathy in the educating workforce. I am a friend of this agenda, and as any reader of Nietzsche can tell you, a good friend is your worst enemy.

The point I am trying to get across is the lack of discipline in education studies. The field of computer assisted distance learning is over 25 years old, yet the general vibe from the discussions here is that it’s a brand new field. Web 2.0 is an essentially meaningless buzzword dreamed up by a sales team, and it’s thrown around like it has weight. Remember Generation X? The marketers went wild with that one too, and then Y and some even went as far as Z. Cell phones in education? That’s a parody writing itself. Web phone 3.0 isn’t a bad research topic in itself, but without a strong scientific/philosophical/historical foundation it amounts to fanboy drivel or marketing spin. You can point to Stephen Downes and say look, ed tech research is rock solid, but for every Stephen Downes, who’s done and continues to do his homework, there are a large number of “researchers” who need to dig a little deeper. The strongest education research would be connected to or at least aware of the relevant work in other disciplines. Elearning needs at the very least a philosophy.
The separation between creating knowledge and reproducing knowledge is not distinct. I’m definitely simplifying. Knowledge reproduction is not necessarily a bad thing or something educators should feel they must move beyond.

When I say critical I mean to take elearning apart and see what it is. Technology is always designed to be used. Research as well is designed to be used. They are also designed to serve interests. I don’t have an answer here. If I did would type it out. A pan-Canadian elearning research agenda needs to be explicit about who it will serve. Is it possible to do research in general? Is it possible to create an agenda open to a variety of interests?


I read elearning as learning with the prefix “e.” Learning I define as the reproduction of knowledge. Learning in this definition takes place in an educational setting. I don’t deny the human potential to create knowledge, but elearning’s potential resides in its use as an effective means of communication between two bodies.

Every teacher knows that if a student didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it. In an educational setting reproduced knowledge is learned knowledge. Knowledge exists in a body prior to being teachable. When the knowledge comes to exist in a second body it has been reproduced or taught. The example I gave earlier of 8 year-old Canadians who know, at least after school on November 11, that the military secured our rights and freedoms in the wars is reproduced knowledge. It is knowledge communicated from one body to another. These 8 year-olds have this knowledge without any direct experience. This is learned knowledge.

The creation of knowledge is not the same as the reproduction of knowledge. These two meanings in the one term learning will only lead to confusion.

Chapter 3: Education as Direction

September 12, 2007

Writing about a book chapter for chapter is a constant reminder that you don’t know all that you’re writing about. Sure I’ve mentioned this before, but like I’m saying, the reminder is constant. Not that a critique of the entire book would encircle a knowledge of it all, it’s just that this partial critique and my partial experience are amplifying. That said, I’m going to spend a lot of time with chapter three.

Dewey got it wrong. Getting it wrong is a problem for any advancement of a theory of change. What I mean is it’s hard enough to change one person’s mind, even when the change is to the complete and obvious advantage of everyone involved. Changing the many minds involved in the protection and perpetuation of institutionalized education, is an overwhelming task. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the combination of perfect theory and a multiplicity of small scale advances, is a possibility of hope and desire, that at this point can only motivate the work of perfecting theory. The idea of a perfect theory, might be objectionable, I’d probably object to the idea if someone else was putting it forward, but as a motivational idea Perfect Theory works. The problem with using a small scale mind change as an example, say one person changing the mind of one other, is the difficulty even on that small scale of reaching an understanding and course of action that both minds now agree to be in their best interest. At the institutional level, there are many interests, and contradictory interests. In a situation where interests contradict, the perfect theory would harmonize the contradiction. No matter how well intentioned a theory is, with an error it can only go so far. Dewey attempts to connect growth of democracy with the development of the experimental scientific method and evolutionary ideas, but limits the application of the method and ideas in his theory of education to the point where he completely contradicts the concepts behind the method and ideas.

I have a few friends in education who I am in conversation with, and one of the things I usually come around to is the problem of thinking about education while teaching in a classroom. It’s like the classroom structure and organization are binding and make any free thinking impossible. I mention this because Dewey is limited by pragmatism. Sure eventually teachers should think about how to do the work of teaching, but a philosophy of education, or a theory of education needs complete freedom to conceptualize education.

Evolution theory and the Experimental Scientific Method are fertile grounds for education, but how do we follow? I’m not quoting any sources, so if there are any readers who feel like correcting the Folk Theory and Method I’m about to use I’d appreciate it. The theory as I understand it is based on a concept of infinite variation. It’s through infinite variation that survival and diversification are possible. And the Method is a form of documenting a process so that results can be repeated or tested. But in the experimental stage the result can not be known, it’s a process of discovery.

But if, as Dewey suggests in Chapter 3, the general function of education is direction, control or guidance or assisting through cooperation the natural capacities of individuals. then where is the discovery? Dewey falls into the same trap he sets for students by insisting on direction as opposed to aimlessness.

Of course a proposal of aimlessness in education isn’t pragmatic. And there are ends, like reading that need direction. Specific skills and tools, like decoding, encoding and codes themselves are acts and knowledge teachers can aim to teach students. Education as a concept is different than training. Training has a direction, an end, and as such is a more accurate description for what takes place in schools.

Dewey says that when an immature human being is subject to some stimuli, “There is always a great deal of superfluous energy aroused. This energy may be wasted, going aside from the point; it may go against the successful performance of an act. “(p.24) To call this extra energy a waste, to see diversion as “going against” is to completely ignore or misunderstand evolutionary theory. Life tends toward variation, infinite variation, and it is precisely through this open attempt that organisms learn and change.

Is Dewey connecting his philosophy with accepted theories and methods of his contemporary society, as a means of gaining acceptance? He is well aware of social pressure and control. He writes of control, “Still more effective is the fact that unless an individual acts in the way current in his group, he is literally out of it.” (p.34) Is Dewey expressing his desire through current ideas?

Scientific discovery and evolution are nondirectable, uncontrollable processes. The method is a system of reproducing and testing discoveries. Discovery cannot be systematized, what happens next is always unknown. The system is the application of what is known, conservative, anti-evolutionary, closed and controlling. “Control, in truth, means only an emphatic form of direction of powers, and covers the regulation gained by an individual through his own efforts quite as much as that brought about when others take the lead. “(P.23) In Dewey’s definition control is the regulation of power or what is known. But if education is a system of control, how does the result deal with real discovery. Dewey is proposing controlled discovery as an educational method. The educator knows and directs that discovery, the point of any act. But what about the pointlessness of real discovery? How are children educated in the known, in the system, the controlled constructed environment of schools prepared to be free creative beings in an ever changing world?

Dewey Quotes on Mind, Language and Intentional Education

“When children go to school, they already have “minds” — they have knowledge and dispositions of judgment which may be appealed to through the use of language. But these “minds” are the organized habits of intelligent response which they have previously required by putting things to use in connection with the way other persons use things. The control is inescapable; it saturates disposition.” p.32

“Mind as a concrete thing is precisely the power to understand things in terms of the use made of them; a socialized mind is the power to understand them in terms of the use to which they are turned in joint or shared situations. And mind in this sense is the method of social control.” p.32

“Interaction with things may form habits of external adjustment. But it leads to activity having meaning and conscious intent only when things are used to produce results. And the only way one person can modify the mind of another is by using physical conditions, crude or artificial, so as to evoke some answering activity from him. Such are our two main conclusions.” p.33

“Intentional education signifies, as we have already seen, a specially selected environment, the selection being made on the basis of materials and method specifically promoting growth in the desired direction.” p.37

“Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their powers and of the materials and appliances used.” p.39

More on Catching The Wave

August 17, 2007

It looks like I might have to read and write about Marx. It’s got to be best to avoid mentioning the name, but if I want to use the concept of alienation, even if I want to transform it a little, I should have some idea of how the concept was originally used. I thought for a moment deterritorialization might work, but that’s even more academic and not really synonymous, either way, alienation has a common meaning that circulates outside the academic world.

The wave we’re after, or on depending on your place in the spectrum of alienation, is capitalism’s third. Again back in Harris’ Ontario I saw the effects of policy geared toward business interests on community. The funding for Ontario’s arts organizations was threatened. And these once community based and minded organizations began appealing for funds with business and economic based arguments. The shift in thinking swept these once autonomous community groups up with the wave of capitalism.

Something very similar is happening with this call to catch the knowledge wave, if we understand it as knowledge wave capitalism. Much has been written about the commercialization of our schools and the resulting uncritical acceptance of product placement. But I’ve also read somewhere that capitalism is illiterate, I could look into this and its effect on literacy.

If literacy is seen as being in harmony with a culture’s body of knowledge, then alienation and illiteracy are connected. Developing a method to bring each child individually into harmony with our cultural body of knowledge would be a “micropolitical means of subversion.”

Multiplicity and Misunderstanding in Education

August 15, 2007

This post, which is essentially a review of the summer issue of Education Canada, might turn out to be some statement of purpose for Not Left To Chance. My main concern today is a proposal for study in a local graduate program. Of course, being afflicted with a philosophical disposition, I tend to space out when defining a field.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to work out a focused study. My interest is literacy and I have a very practical agenda. I want to study tested methods for improving literacy so I can become a better teacher.

A little background: At some point in my efforts to change the world by changing a local media scene, I decided that education could be the field where the work of changing the world holds the most potential. I enrolled in the local Faculty of Education and a year later was a qualified teacher. At that point I went back to work in local media.

A little more background: The time and place of my turn toward the field of education was Harris’ Ontario. Education was overtly politicized by the governing body and teachers and their unions were essentially destroyed. It was a bad time for education in Ontario, and in the spirit of full disclosure, a good time for a middling student to get into a Faculty of Education.

My first complaint is with the education I received. I recall one telling incident every time I bring up teacher education. The lecture based section was led by instructors who told you what to do in the classroom. Once, and only once, I questioned a teaching practice. The instructor looked at me, (it wasn’t like I was out of line, the instructor had asked if there were any questions) and said “This would be a higher level discussion.” then continued with the lecture as if no question had been asked. Teacher education generally exercises only lower level recall skills.

And the practicum was just as bad. The student teachers who could most closely ape their mentors were highly rewarded. I learned to mimic tone, gestures and catch phrases for positive appraisal. This wasn’t as foolproof as it sounds. An outside appraisal was also part of the student teacher’s report. My outside appraiser was a retired principal and a strict disciplinarian. During his first appraisal I was being mentored by a teacher with a soft touch. This retired principal gave me a near failing review. Luckily for me, when he came around for my second appraisal I was aping a strict disciplinarian who was retiring from teaching at the end of the year. My second and final outside appraisal was a glowing report, with stars and extra comments written in the margins to note my striking improvement.

In most teaching positions this kind of education/training isn’t a problem. In front of a group of similarly socialized students, you perform an act prescribed by governing bodies and the results sought appear. As long as you are doing what you’re told, remain dependent on outside regulators for instruction, you’ll be a success at the job of teaching. The direction of education is left to policy makers. Teachers have learned not to question, their success is dependent on their ability to unquestioningly do what they’re told. You could clearly see that dependence in Harris’ Ontario. Teachers were powerless to defend the work they do from a government that didn’t have the best interests of education written into their policies. Grudgingly, the teachers followed the governments new prescription.

And in the end what did it matter? Literate households and communities continued to produce reading ready children. Schools continued to stream the children of professionals into academic areas while the kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds were streamed into holding cells. All the exercising and testing helps to reinforce the stigma and heighten awareness of who has what and who doesn’t.

In middle class neighbourhoods differing social situations and physiological states lead to a diversity in the classroom. Teachers in these situations, drawing on their training will have many successful students and a few challenges. These challenges are what interest me. You can generally predict based on social situation which children will succeed in school. The curriculum and teaching methods were formed around normal socialization. Outside the norm, the methods fail. The one or two kids socialized outside that norm will not connect with the methods. The teacher will pass 28 kids and fail 2. The systems/methods failure labels the child.

And still some more background: One thing led to another and I got call from a principle in an isolated community. A teacher hadn’t returned from a vacation and they were in a bit of a bind. Two days later I was in this isolated community. I quickly realized that my training was useless. Most teachers in the community had been flown in from the outside, most thought the problem was the kids. It was clear to me that I was the problem. I’d like to say that I modified my method and achieved some result, but that’s not what happened. I never really connected with the kids. I tried, and something was happening toward the end of the first year, and then the second year with a different class I started all over again. I was isolated, inexperienced, an outsider and in a school that had modelled itself on “normal” schools.

That said, I did learn a lot, and have been haunted by the problem since. I was in a classroom filled with kids less socialized-in-preparation for traditional teaching methods than the one or two that fail in middle class neighbourhood schools. I don’t have the answer, but this drives my desire to research different methods of improving literacy. I do have an experience that informs my critique of traditional methods, and also witnessed first hand the uselessness of traditional methods in the same situation, as employed by a teacher with 25 years experience.

The teacher with 25 years experience successfully employing traditional methods, however, put the failure on the kids. While it was clear to me that the school was failing, I was also incapable of solving the problem. The problem in this case is that the school isn’t a learning environment. In this case with grade eight students testing at grade three levels, the failure to create a learning environment was clear and documented. The problem in city schools is that the diversity of the student body makes all propositions untrue. Different children relate differently to a school environment. My concern is that the constructed school environment fails to bring about learning in some children. These children could learn in a differently constructed environment. Some sort of change is needed for these children to learn in school.

And now the review: The latest issue of Education Canada, themed Encouraging Subversion, acknowledges a need for change in the system. The editorial does a good job of capturing the mechanistic quality of the debate, but unfortunately sums it all up with one line: “That’s the way it’s always been.”

Perhaps an educational revolution is in the works, if so, you won’t find it written in these pages. Maybe it’s there somewhere behind the words in the conclusion to Andy Hargreavesarticle The Long and the Short of Educational Change. I don’t expect the germ of revolution to grow out of our national debate.

One article that clearly illustrates a major problem in the direction advocates of educational change are heading is Catching The Knowledge Wave: Redefining Knowledge for the Post Industrial Age. (The article is available as a PDF download here.) I’ve written elsewhere about the wave jumping phenomenon, but here the wave catching is clearly conscious.

First, the author Jane Gilbert has some interesting current projects. Take this passage out of one recent report:

Schools are highly complex organisations that are, for all sorts of reasons, set up to deliver their services to groups of students. Because they are set up in this way, it is not easy for them to deal with children who don’t fit conventional patterns, and as a result these children (or, more accurately, their families) tend to be seen as problematic. Turning this around, it is possible to argue that it is because schools are organised in the way they are that these children are seen as problematic and/or deficient: that is, that it is the schooling system that needs to change, not individual children, if this “problem” is to be solved.

Writing the awareness of different patterns within society, should lead to critique of the capitalization of knowledge hiding under cover of a “social shift.” But in the Education Canada article Gilbert presents the desire of corporate media and the resulting government policy as a rational for reorganizing education.

The media is full of references to the knowledge economy and the knowledge revolution; business discussions now routinely talk about knowledge management, knowledge resources, knowledge clusters, knowledge work, and knowledge workers; and policy documents argue for the need to ‘catch’ the knowledge ‘wave’.

She goes on to write “[Knowledge] is now understood as being more like energy, something defined by its effectiveness in action, by the results it achieves.” This definition confuses knowledge with agency, or equates the two.

According to Lyotard, learners will be encouraged to develop an understanding of an organized stock of public and/or professional knowledge (‘old’ knowledge), not in order to add to it, but to pursue ‘performativity’ – that is, to apply it to new situations, to use it and replace it in the process of innovation. They will be encouraged to understand the rules or established procedures of a discipline, profession or trade, not in order to follow them, but in order to see how they might be improved.

How do you read Lyotard? Is he critical or advocating? And isn’t this exploration for improvement already the intended direction of the experimental scientific method? Knowledge in this passage exists in the ‘old’ sense. Knowledge isn’t performativity, an understanding of a body of knowledge becomes performativity. “With a creative hand they reach for the future, and all that is and has been becomes a means for them, an instrument, a hammer.”

In the Knowledge Age everyone needs the kind of knowledge and skills traditionally only provided in post-secondary education. We need new ways of organizing education based, not on the one-size-fits-all, production-line model, but on new models that allow flexibility, multiplicity, and new ideas about ability. Secondly, we need a new way of thinking about what we teach and why we teach it, a new way of thinking about the traditional disciplines that underpin the school curriculum.

What needs to be understood about the Knowledge Age is its increased complexity. To say that we are in a post-industrial age gives the meaning that the industrial society is no longer in existence. Just recently I drove through the mountains from Vancouver to Dinosaur Provincial Park. On the way I saw that railways are still moving goods across the country and cattle ranchers still use horses to do their work. Perhaps what’s happening here is a desire for change, a desire for a new way of thinking that’s uncritically married an accepted or legitimate call for change.

People’s understanding of time, space, and place are changing, and the boundaries between countries are breaking down. We are developing new forms of information, new ways of presenting information, and new forms of money. There are new more complex forms of personal identity, and people are connecting with each other in new and different ways.

All this while people continue to connect as they always have. People continue to go to church. In certain zones of our society the alphabet is an unworkable concept. It’s just not true that everyone needs the skills traditionally provided in colleges and universities. Some jobs involve hanging headless bleeding chickens by their feet on a conveying wire. What Gilbert is expounding in the preceding passage could be called folklore. Schools needn’t be concerned with changing to keep up with social folk tales. The preceding passage expresses a reality that’s suspect. Another writer could easy fill space with tales of thickened political boundaries. Again today, right now there are children two weeks away from entering the foreign culture of their neighbourhood school where they’ll learn nothing but an affirmed sense of alienation.

A question: Would teaching methods successfully developed to improve literacy in children from non-literate backgrounds be useful for teaching children from literate homes? In other words, if teaching methods were based on the needs of non-literate children, how would the learning of pre-literate children be affected?

Computers in the classroom or literacy and GUIs

July 27, 2007

What follows is a response to Chris Sessums blog so it might read a little out of context. I put it here because I wanted to add some links to it. ::

Here are a few people in opposition to computers in the classroom.

A back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors is burgeoning nationwide. Programs, public and private, are starting or expanding as research shows kids suffer health problems, including obesity, from too much sedentary time indoors with TV and computers. The post could use some formatting, or maybe that’s just part of the anti-computer ethos.

Theodore Roszak The Cult of Information “...the best approach to computer literacy might be to stress the limitations and abuses of the machine, showing the students how little they need it to develop their autonomous powers of thought.” (p.242) The first edition 1986 the second edition 1994

Neil Postman Technopoly…technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology – from the IQ test to the automobile to a television set to a computer – is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control.” (p.185) 1992

I’m not quoting these “progressive” “left” or “ultra-left” critics/activists out of complete agreement, more out of respect for the diversity of the back-to-basics movement(s). The neo-luddites are more than neo-conservatives (who can also have us nodding our heads in agreement to their arguments here and there) they’re also ultra-progressives. Dewey didn’t use a computer. Like Roszak says, we don’t need it.

I disagree almost completely with Roszak and Postman, while I strive towards their end goals with my work, I wonder also about the possibilities of these machines.

To your question What can computers really do for kids in the classroom? Stephen Downes answers They can teach them how to use computers.

Downes is completely correct that the computers themselves could teach children how to use them. GUIs are so intuitive, that computers are easier to use than the timer on the oven in your kitchen, not to mention older technology like the 8-track tape (who ever got the hang of those things?). This freaks teachers out that a machine can replace them so easily. Why is it that kids learn more, easier, faster, better in the glow of a GUI? Another question is “do they?” but what we hear is that kids are learning slaves to the machine, and unteachable by humans.

So the question is literacy. Most teachers are politically illiterate, at least in Canada where the governments and media squash them at will and with frequency. Most teachers are computer illiterate, and as such are unable to teach through the machines. If teachers are being replaced (not today, but maybe a not-so-distant tomorrow) it won’t be the machines, but coders who are their replacements. In this day to be politically and technologically illiterate is to be philosophically illiterate, and that’s a whole lot of illiteracy in those claiming to teach literacy to our children.

So yes, the computer itself will teach children how to use it. The fear is that the coders are unaccountable. What are the values they code into the machine? And really how does this differ from Dewey’s constructed environments? Did Dewey propose a system in which those being educated were unconscious of the preferred result? With the computer interface are the graphics using or being used? This interface could be a very powerful metaphor for teaching, but students need to learn to use a computer beyond using programs. And of course the problem with this is a person with the knowledge to code/script/program a computer has an earning potential and interest area that excludes public school teaching as an option.

This is the second time I’ve typed this out and I’m still meandering, but if I’m trying to say something it’s that computers are tools for communication, but the form of that communication is dictated by code. Knowledge of the code allows the users to infuse the form of communication with a personal set of values. This understanding is key for promoting the tool in the “progressive” sphere. All the players in education should be critical of the tools, programs and their uses; they should also have the knowledge to alter those programs to create forms more consistent with their values.