Cynics and Sceptics...and Evangelists...and Politicians!
|My greatest personal bete noire since I started teaching in 1980 is cynicism. I came out of Craigie College, as it was then (now part of Paisley University), idealistic, ready to change the world, and immediately found myself (in school) amongst some people who were, largely, very 'nice' at a social level, but whose views on education and on children were fundamentally reactionary. Quite a shock to the system at the time! |
Although they might not have been able (or willing) to express their views as such, I was met with a mindset (only in a few, mind you, certainly not all) who expressed a liking for social eugenics and, most definitely, for elitism in education. The Scottish ideal (myth?) of universality and anti-elitism meant zilch to these people.
I respect and practise scepticism as a matter of course (indeed, my own mantra in life has always been "doubt everything" - that is why many people I respect view me as a "bad tempered bastard", because I question everything) but there is a wide gulf between the sceptic and the cynic - the first asks questions and is therefore constructive (even if irritating to some) with a view to reaching a better understanding or to debating the rights and wrongs of an issue; the second is simply destructive. This contribution, for instance, should be viewed as sceptical rather than cynical or negative.
If cynicism is at one end of the spectrum, then scepticism can only really sit in the middle of that spectrum - because, at the other end of the spectrum is evangelism.
If cynics are a bad thing and sceptics are a good thing (in my humble opinion), evangelists are absolutely essential - they are, qute simply, a pre-requisite of progress. Where cynics are destructive, evangelists (in education at least, and in education ICT certainly) are an absolute necessity! Without these far-sighted individuals who are able to discern the value to teaching and learning of a new and emerging technology, without those who make it their business to change minds and to gain adherents to the cause, whatever that cause may be, even the sceptics would have nothing to question!
The landscape of Web 2.0 is the best current illustration of the worth and necessity of the evangelist - without the existence of the insistent and intelligent voices of the Web 2.0 proselytizers within our own domain of education, the hugely exciting new possibilities for the use of ICT in education would be a whole lot further off than they presently are.
Beyond even sceptics and evangelists, however, are the politicians - neither the sceptics nor the evangelists will like to acknowledge this, but the cause of any new trend will stick firmly in the mud if neither of them is able to convince some key 'movers and shakers' that their cause is just.
In relation to the education-ICT nexus, we need, in fact, a coalition of educationalists who originate from all three camps, the sceptics, the evangelists and those who can make change happen at a national or global level, to work out how to make real changes in the fabric of our education system(s). Some people, of course, manage to have toes in at least two out of the three camps at any one time.
We simply cannot avoid the question of what we have to do in order to begin to turn around the great oil tanker that is the education establishment, the education bureaucracy (and I use that term in its original, neutral sense). Without a strategy for changing the mindset of the education system, and therefore the funding priorities within it, change will only ever happen at a local, micro level. The time involved, the effort given and the frustration endured in trying to make systemic change can seem too daunting to the evangelical, so the evangelical too often makes do with effecting change in his or her own classroom only - no bad thing, but ultimately fruitless. Even where the crusader is able to take the cause beyond the immediate classroom, the utimate effect is likely to be restricted to the level of multiple individuals locally, nationally, or even internationally - even here, though, genuine systemic change if unlikely.
For me, SSDN has been, from the start, a genuine attempt to turn the oil tanker around and to bring Scottish education (at least) to a point where it accepts that technological change is inevitable and, indeed, that it is a good thing. If the systemic change really begins to happen at this national level, then the combination of the potentials of Web 2.0 and SSDN are simply immense!
It is clear that blogging, wikis, podcasting, etc have an immense potential in education, both formal and informal - but let's not assume that young people today will, because of their privileged 'native' status, automatically recognise the educational benefits to be derived from these new and interactive technologies.
Watching the blogs of the Web 2.0 evangelists, as I have done for quite a while now with pleasure and genuine humility, I see occasional comparisons between those who are 'reactive' (much despised) and those who are proactive (to be applauded, and supported, of course). The reality, of course, is that not one of us can truly be one or the other - life (and education) is a dialectic - we learn from our mistakes, and we constantly have to combine thesis and antithesis to offer ourselves any kind of realistic synthesis that permits us to move forwards. And, the moment we do move forwards, to a new 'thesis', that new antithesis comes round the corner, and we have to look anew for the next antithesis - and so on. It is a good thing to try to be 'proactive' in your own classroom, but it is even better, if we are genuinely seeking real change, to try to be 'proactive' at the systemic level. SSDN - web-based, flexible, extensible, inclusive - is attempting to do just that.
© John Connell
The views expressed in this weblog are entirely my own and are not intended to reflect the views of any other individuals or organizations. All sources will be fully acknowledged.