Posts Tagged ‘education’

the case against marriage

October 16, 2009

“What lurks behind this narcissistic attitude is, however, the Freudian death drive, a kind of “undead” stubbornness denounced already by Kant as a violent excess absent in animals, which is why, for Kant only humans need education through discipline. The symbolic Law does not tame and regulate nature but, precisely, applies itself to an unnatural excess” – Zizek from Organs without Bodies

Atlantic Article

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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.

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.

Benjamin:

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

Friere:

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

Darwin vs. Capitalism

January 26, 2009

I went to the Philosopher’s Café tonight at Cafe Kathmandu on Commercial Drive. The topic was “Empiricism and the State of Evolutionary Biology in an Age of Faith-Based Fundamentalism.” It was a discussion about ways of knowing that pitted the knowledge of science against the knowledge of God. The discussion is never-ending. Listening tonight, hearing the old familiar lines, it occurred to me that maybe the church isn’t the obstacle to enlightenment it’s made out to be. Over the past 150 years the values of Capitalism have replaced the values, however similar, of the church. So I asked the question: “Can it be a fluke that children are in the capitalist state run school system from the ages of 5 to 17 and at the end of those twelve years have no understanding whatsoever of their material reality?” The way I see it, Darwin’s Origin of the Species is a revolutionary work, and a true understanding by the population would change the world. What’s so scary about evolution?

This Café was part of the Vancouver Evolution Festival.

The idea that both religion and capitalism might have a stake in keeping quiet the notion that free and uncontrolled variation, the variation that makes evolution possible, has been considered. Check this out: from Jihad vs. McWorld:

To the extent that either McWorld or Jihad has a NATURAL politics, it has turned out to be more of an antipolitics. For McWorld, it is the antipolitics of globalism: bureaucratic, technocratic, and meritocratic, focused (as Marx predicted it would be) on the administration of things—with people, however, among the chief things to be administered. In its politico-economic imperatives McWorld has been guided by laissez-faire market principles that privilege efficiency, productivity, and beneficence at the expense of civic liberty and self-government.

For Jihad, the antipolitics of tribalization has been explicitly antidemocratic: one-party dictatorship, government by military junta, theocratic fundamentalism—often associated with a version of the Fuhrerprinzip that empowers an individual to rule on behalf of a people. Even the government of India, struggling for decades to model democracy for a people who will soon number a billion, longs for great leaders; and for every Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv Gandhi taken from them by zealous assassins, the Indians appear to seek a replacement who will deliver them from the lengthy travail of their freedom.

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)

Glossary

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?

elearning

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

Chapter 2: Education as a Social Function

August 13, 2007

Given the impossibility of direct contagion or literal inculcation, our problem is to discover the method by which the young assimilate the point of view of the old, or the older bring the young into likemindedness with themselves.

another enquiry concerning human understanding

What interests me is a series of questions about the body of knowledge in which our education is situated. I need to first define education, or at least differentiate between chance socialization and formal schooling. Writing the distinctions can in no way separate these learning environments. Dewey says as much when he writes, “The main texture of disposition is formed independently of schooling by [the demands set up by current social occupations.]” (p.17) He goes on to say:

What conscious, deliberate teaching can do is at most to free the capacities thus formed for fuller exercise, to purge them of their grossness, and to furnish objects which make their activity more productive of meaning.


For Dewey, school is a social organ which simplifies and purifies an educational environment in an attempt to make for a better future society. And yet, by Dewey’s own understanding, the environment is forever contaminated. The immature disposition is already independently formed and school becomes a form of exercise in modification.

It might help to view social environments as one views eco-zones, social geography mapping the vast differences in social climates. This way common understanding becomes a goal and the form of exercise varies with zones of social disposition. Dewey writes “Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments for the purpose makes a great difference.” The great difference in the chance environments goes unwritten.

Two Things:

Thing One: I will be returning to this chapter. The concepts of the social as educative, the social function of education and education as a social function will ground any study of literacy.

Thing Two: Should a literacy based pedagogy be concerned with the metaphysical problem of a “better future society” or with reading society as it is in its full complexity?

Chapter 1. Education as a Necessity of Life

July 29, 2007

Before I go on about Chapter One of Dewey‘s Democracy and Education, I should say a few things. First, I’m reading this book because I’m under the impression that it’s a founding text for “progressive education.” I say “under the impression,” because I haven’t actually read it yet. I finished a program in education and reading Dewey wasn’t necessary. Very little “source” reading, actually no source reading was necessary. Perhaps my Faculty of Education subscribed too strictly to Dewey’s doctrine of learn by doing and feared that including source readings would render its program “remote and dead — abstract and bookish.” And secondly after reading the first chapter I see a need for a rewrite of this book. Maybe someone has already done it, if so let me know, but if not, now’s the time.

Calling for the remake of a classic is dangerous ground. There are unsuccessful remakes for sure, and choosing a classic in any form is a risky move, But a chapter for chapter, subsection for subsection rewrite, would change the course of progressive education.

Dewey sees in evolutionary ideas a metaphor for life and education . He writes “As some species die out, forms better adapted to utilize the obstacles against which they struggled in vain come into being.” But the idea of progressive improvement isn’t with us today. Today when a polar bear loses her struggle to survive, no more adapted creature is waiting in the DNA of her offspring to survive in the new environment. The concepts Dewey uses to base his philosophy are false. That’s not to say his philosophy, in this sense and ideal education for creating an improved society, is without merit, but that as an articulation it fails.

The other major problem in this chapter, other than the debatability of the title, is the confusion of socialization as a broad educational process and schooling as a more formal kind of education. Education in these terms, or with this definition becomes unworkable. The meaning of “education” is culturally broad. In the title “The Education of Little Tree“, education refers to much more than the bits of formal schooling in the book. Education is synonymous with “experience” in this sense. When Dewey writes “What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life.” He may be over-emphasizing the importance of education in the formal sense by leaving the distinction between social rearing and formal tuition unclear. We can live without formal tuition, it isn’t necessary for life.

“The young of human beings compare so poorly in original efficiency with the young of many of the lower animals, that even the powers needed for physical sustentation have to be acquired under tuition. How much more, then, is the case with respect to all the technological, artistic, scientific, and moral achievements of humanity!”

Here again Dewey confuses child rearing and socialization, with more formal tuition. The lower animals who seem to live just fine, and as an example, the raccoon, which could be here long after our animal form has been extinguished, does just fine without technological, artistic, scientific, and moral achievements. Formal tuition is superfluous to life. Not that it’s superfluidity reduces its cultural importance, but Dewey seems to be basing the urgency and importance of education on a claim of necessity.

“As formal teaching and training grow in extent, there is a danger of creating an undesirable split between the experience gained in more direct associations and what is acquired in school. This danger was never greater than at the present time, on account of the rapid growth in the last few centuries of knowledge and technical modes of skill.”

Dewey ends Chapter One with a warning. This split is “one of the weightiest problems with which the philosophy of education has to cope.” Am I wrong to think Dewey is equating conscious learning with direct associations and unconscious learning with what is acquired in school? This too is a problem.

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.