April 17th, 2013 § § permalink
Sean Connery, in his thoughtful memoir Being A Scot, tells the story of finding himself on a plane seated next to a compatriot, a young woman. Talking to her, he found that she was a literature student at the University of Edinburgh, and that she was currently studying Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
“Do you see any parallels between Roskolnikov, in the Dostoevsky novel, and the character of Robert Wingham, in James Hogg’s Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner?” he asked her.
“Oh, I haven’t read that,” said she, “I’m in the English Literature Department, not the Scottish.” Connery was bemused, but presumably did not bother to ask why, given her odd perspective, she was studying a novel originally written in Russian.
Connery had left school at 13 with little to show for his eight years in Scottish education other than an ability to read. But early in his acting career, a fellow-thespian had suggested a list of books that the young Connery ought to read, and he had subsequently embarked on his own education in fine literature. His young travelling companion, on the other hand, had successfully completed seven years of primary schooling, five or six years of secondary schooling, and by the time Connery met her at least a year or two at university. So what was the difference between the famous actor with his paucity of formal schooling and the literature student with a decade and a half of institutional education behind her?
In the literature student, I believe that we can see something of the schooled mind at work, in this case someone for whom the books she read were prescribed by others and for whom reading was largely a means to an end. In Connery, a lover of literature, we can see the independent mind of someone who has taken control of his own learning, someone for whom reading was a pleasure in itself, and nothing to do with passing examinations or gaining qualifications.
It is interesting to ponder the differences between the truly autonomous learner and the schooled mind, to explore the nature of learning in an age where, although the opportunities for self-directed learning are expanding immensely as the tendrils of the Internet extend into every facet of our lives, the enduring institutions of the school and the college and the university (all of which I am happy to refer to collectively and conceptually as ‘the school’) remain stubbornly tenacious. This durable social construct, one that has been shaped and adapted continuously throughout history to suit the needs of time and place and wealth and power, has allowed the myriad social, political and religious entities that have sustained it, and that continue to sustain it, to retain an often insidious and reductive grip on the minds of those who pass through their hands. And, despite that constant refrain of ‘the school is dead’ that we have heard in different times and in different places, the school is arguably stronger in some ways today than it has ever been.
Of course, the tale of Sean Connery and the young literature student raises more questions than answers: the gulf between the autonomous learner and the schooled mind is rarely identifiable as a simple dichotomy between the free spirit and the captive will. The reality for most of us is that we find ourselves, throughout our lives, shifting back and forth along a continuum somewhere between the two extremes, although we night hope that, as we grow older, we become more aware of the dangers of the schooled mind, and therefore develop a greater capacity to break free of the constraints placed on us by the school in our early years. Connery’s self-taught love of literature was perhaps not entirely free of instrumental intentions: as an actor, he recognized that an appreciation of literature would be useful to him in his career, but it was his own recognition, not one suggested by others or imposed from without. Equally, the young woman, we hope, would have taken up her course in English Literature because of a love of reading. But between those two routes into books, and most certainly in the student’s response to Connery’s question, there lies a discernible difference between the approach that each had previously taken to their mutual love of literature. Connery, consciously or otherwise, had discovered that there is a higher and deeper and wider significance to learning than can be gleaned from submitting to the strictures of the classroom. The young woman had allowed herself to be persuaded that, like the overwhelming majority of ‘educated’ people, she had little choice but to accept those strictures as seemingly the only available path to an education in the discipline that she enjoyed.
The road taken by Connery was one that led not only to a knowledge of fine literature but also, I would contend, to a greater chance for attaining a degree of self-knowledge that, if not actually denied by school, has rarely if ever been an explicit aim of schooling. The school, historically, has not actively encouraged independence of thought, nor has it cultivated the truly spontaneous or creative mind. We develop such traits despite school not because of it. School is fundamentally about training the mind, developing the intellect (as opposed to intelligence), passing on the knowledge deemed important by a society to those whose role it will be to perpetuate and preserve that society at all levels. As such, the school continues what already is and what has been; its function, whatever the rhetoric, is essentially backwards looking, seeking to maintain the structures and relationships from the past and present on into the future with minimal change.
But given the ubiquity of the school, we cannot simply equate the schooled mind with attendance at school. To do so would be ludicrous. If the schooled mind were to be identified merely by dint of someone having attended school there would no chance of escape from the condition for most of us. But schooling does imbue the student, the scholar, with certain characteristics that the learner has to find the means to overcome either while at school, or more likely once schooling is complete.
I will come back to what that schooled mind is all about, why we must not be content with the intellectual framework that school bestows on us, and how critical it is that we are able to overcome at least the most deleterious and pernicious aspects of the school’s legacy on our own development as rational, free-thinking human beings.
March 7th, 2013 § § permalink
Evgeny Morozov dismantles the lazy thinking and the fundamentally anti-progressive notions outlined in Gavin Newsom’s recent book: Citizenville:How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government [bad book, so no link!]. California’s lieutenant governor is taken apart in an article in Bookforum.
[It is his] lack of any basic curiosity about the technological solutions that he advocates—and especially about their unintended consequences—that makes Newsom’s account so suspect. Public institutions such as the BBC might be terribly inefficient and scandal prone, but they still do a better—and more systematic—job at rooting out corruption than Newsom’s citizen-hackers armed with databases and sophisticated visualization tools.
I don’t agree with everything Morozov writes (his Net Delusion described some critical blind spots in our understanding of the Net today — delusion was too strong a word, but I suppose it helped to sell the book) but this piece gets it spot on with respect to Newsom’s Ayn Rand-induced, hacker-worshipping, anti-democratic nonsense.
Most of all, Morozov exposes the fundamentally conservative and regressive philosophy that so many thoughtless, slow-minded and mantra-spouting lovers of technology-for-its-own-sake mistake for creativity, ‘thinking different’ and enlightenment.
February 25th, 2013 § § permalink
In the 1980s, German philosopher and provocateur, Peter Sloterdijk, proclaimed ‘the end of the belief in education’. Despite society’s declaration that Knowledge Is Power, young people, he said, live…
…with the risk of learning without prospects. Those who do not seek power will…not want its knowledge…and those who reject both are secretly no longer citizens of this civilisation.
How much more do Sloterdijk’s words resonate today than they did three decades ago? Today knowledge is power, still, of course, but we can also say that knowledge is currency, knowledge is economic lifeblood, knowledge is culture, and so much more.
Education for education’s sake is fine as a mantra, but in the real world, we need to be able to offer our young people hope. How many young, and not so young, people see little if any hope today? Too many!
Too many will therefore question the point of education in the formal sense. And who can blame them?
January 16th, 2013 § § permalink
There are strategies that teachers and schools can employ to ensure that technology becomes purposeful and systematic. There can be little doubt that its potential is very great, as it provides the opportunity for effective teaching of skills, of finding and using information within a context of high student interest. This unique combination is too great a value to be wasted.
Celestine Kemunto Nyamari lives in Kenya, where she attends St. Theresa’s Girls’ Secondary School in Kithimu, a couple of hours drive North-East of Nairobi. Celestine took part in the first student-led Education Fast Forward debate (in November last year) as a guest debater and is set to join EFF6: From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders on January 28, 2013.
January 13th, 2013 § § permalink
The knowledge necessary to function successfully and follow a career was seen to already exist: it could be handed down from experts and leaders to learners and workers. In the Industrial Age, curriculum development was a matter of selecting the most important knowledge to transmit to students; experts decided what knowledge to mass-prescribe and in which sequence.
Jane Gilbert and Rachel Bolstad (amongst many others) questioned the traditional concept of curriculum development in their 2008 book Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future. Their words are quoted in a new White Paper, sponsored by Promethean’s Jim Wynn, and authored by Gavin Dykes, Michael Furdyk, Sara Hassan and Jennifer Corriero for Education Fast Forward, entitled From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders (downloadable PDF).
The authors agree with Gilbert and Bolstad and state their position clearly:
…this model of curriculum development is difficult to maintain given that: it is no longer possible to accurately predict the type of knowledge youth may need as they move through life, the rapid pace at which technology is changing and new knowledge is developing, the rate at which career possibilities are proliferating (ones with which we are familiar and ones we have yet to imagine), and social, economic and environmental challenges are becoming increasingly complex.
They ask the question:
How can learner voice help address these uncertainties?
And the seemingly simple answer?
By giving learners an authentic say in what and how they want to learn.
The White Paper will underpin discussion at the next Education Fast Forward debate, to take place as part of Education World Forum in London at the end of this month. The paper, which will be presented by Sara Hassan, of Taking IT Global, joining the debate from Toronto, is an excellent summary of the issues surrounding this critical question, and the authors have been able to offer a combination of sound thinking, practical advice and a way forward for those in education (still too few, I would say) who believe that curriculum design, pedagogy, the role of technology and national education policy-making all should be influenced and shaped by the voice of the learner.
The event will combine a live presence at EWF and a global presence via the magic of Telepresence, An articulate group of young education leaders will debate the issues around ‘From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders’.
The primary aim is twofold:
to bring the voice of youth to the policy-makers’ table, to let the young people hear some views on the big issues, and to let them debate them openly and fully
to bring the policy-makers (kicking and screaming if necessary) to the learners’ table so that they have to face up to the issues that are critical to the learners before they make their policy decisions
And it will all take place across a truly international matrix of connections, crossing countries, cultures, and communities.
The event itself takes place on Monday 28th January at 11am and you will find the link to the live video broadcast on the day itself on the Education Fast Forward page on Promethean Planet. Promethean’s Chief Education Officer, Jim Wynn, will be opening the EFF6 debate, which will once again be moderated by independent education consultant Gavin Dykes. Discussion will be led by Sara Hassan and three student presenters. Closing the debate will be Michelle Selinger, Director of Education at Cisco.
Twitter users can follow the debate itself using the hashtag #eff6, while there will be some interesting discussion around many of the key issues in the debate using the hashtag #learningmatters.
Finally, a reminder that you can download the White Paper.
January 6th, 2013 § § permalink
A university is not a scientific hothouse with some frills around the edges – such as the humanities – generating off-the-peg ideas for business to patent and commercialise. It is an independent, autonomous institution housing multiple academic disciplines whose cross-fertilisations and serendipities lie at the heart of the capacity to enlarge the knowledge base. It is consecrated to delivering knowledge as intellectually held in common – why the freedom to research, to publish and to disseminate is the sine qua non of academic life. It is a public, open institution, so a private university is a contradiction in terms. Knowledge, and the qualifications that go with it, is necessarily public currency.
Will Hutton, in today’s Observer.
The knowledge economy is massively dependent on the intellectual powerhouse of higher education, and a critical ingredient of that is its capacity to sustain high levels of postgraduate training and development. That capacity is under threat at the present time from the concomitant effects of the huge rise in undergraduate fees and the decisions by the research councils in the UK to withdraw support from taught masters courses.
Just another example of the current UK Government’s willingness to allow ideology and self-interest to trump what is good for the country in the long run. As in schools, so in higher education too.
[This is a cross-posting from my new blog at I Am Learner]
December 20th, 2012 § § permalink
Right now, all of the places we can assemble on the web in any kind of numbers are privately owned. And privately-owned public spaces aren’t real public spaces. They don’t allow for the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance that only arise in spaces that don’t exist purely to generate profit. And they’re susceptible to being gradually gaslighted by the companies that own them.
Anil Dash, on just one important issue amongst a number, in a great piece on Rebuilding the Web we Lost.
Affirming ‘the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance’ of truly public spaces, namely spaces not intended purely for profit, is critical to an open social web, and precisely what the Facebooks of the world can never engender.
Thanks to Stephen Downes for the link.
December 19th, 2012 § § permalink
Almost everyone involved in education agrees that leadership is important.
That, however, is where agreement ends and debate begins. Beyond that point, we cross a turbulent landscape where competing definitions of leadership abound, where the very nature of leadership is the stuff of argument, where conflicting philosophies of education each generate their own understanding of what makes for an effective leader and how a good leader should behave, and where notions of how we must go about educating and training the next generation of education leaders scatter in every direction at once.
But such observations are not a counsel of despair. Far from it! Just as education itself can never be a science in any accepted sense – it is a sphere in which battles will always be fought between philosophies, beliefs, ideologies, cultures, prejudices and histories – so these same battles are reflected in the ever-restless and exciting debates and discussions around leadership in education.
Whatever our own standpoint might be, we should accept that one voice is often missing from this unruly discourse: that of young people, the very group most often affected by the decisions of education leaders. Just as they are absent from educational debates generally, so youthful voices are too often muted when the topic is the leadership of the social good that is utterly central to their futures: their education.
Education Fast Forward (EFF), an organization, sponsored jointly by Promethean and Cisco, that brings together leading global experts and change agents from the world of education to discuss ‘the topics that matter most’, wants to begin to change that by bringing together some articulate and intelligent voices from the world’s youth to discuss issues that are relevant to young people themselves and to their education.
In July 2012, in the most recent of the five debates organized by EFF to date, a group of eloquent and youthful voices debated the topic ‘From Learner Voice to Global Peace’. The young people were located all across the globe and came together primarily through the wonder of Telepresence (TP), a high-definition video conferencing technology. The discussion that day was not only intelligent and thoughtful: it was truly inspiring for everyone involved.
The full debate can be watched and listened to on Promethean Planet.
bring the voice of youth to the policy-makers’ table, to let the young people hear some views on the big issues, and to let them debate them openly and fully
to bring the policy-makers (kicking and screaming if necessary) to the learners’ table so that they have to face up to the issues that are critical to the learners before they make their policy decisions
And now, in January 2013, during the annual Education World Forum, to be held in London, another group of exceptional young people (including some of the voiced from EFF5) will come together through the magic of TP to talk about ‘From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders’. Those of us involved in EFF have some hopes and expectations of what might come out of the event, but we are also highly aware that there must be a genuine space in amongst our presumptions for the hopes and expectations of the young people themselves to come to the fore during and beyond the discussion.
The primary aim is twofold:
Issues such as the structure of the curriculum, how education is delivered (including differences in this across the world), the relevance of education to their lives, how we might encourage real change in the relationships between people in education systems, seeking to realise the extraordinary value that can be sought by tackling education’s challenges with people rather than doing it to them. We need all policy makers to take on board the knowledge that they are making decisions now that will affect the generation ahead, and perhaps more than one generation ahead.
And all of this will be happening across a truly international matrix of connections, crossing countries, cultures, and communities. I will be blogging again in the New Year with details of the date and time, and with information about the key speakers, young and not-so-young, who will be leading the discussion.
Watch out for that!
December 16th, 2012 § § permalink
A letter in today’s Observer about George Osborne’s financial competence caught my eye — the letter was in response to an article by Will Hutton in which he had assumed that Osborne really is seeking to remedy financial inequality in the country but he just doesn’t have the economic competence to make it happen. The sentiment in the letter resonated with my own thoughts, not just about Osborne, but about the whole Tory endeavour in Government at the moment, and especially about Michael Gove’s assault on schooling in England. Of Osborne, Graham Aspinall, of Sheffield, wrote:
To credit Osborne merely with economic illiteracy, as Hutton and Blanchflower et al do, is too charitable. He is a shrewd ideologue and strategist. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the ruin he is inflicting on families. He knows what he’s doing; he just doesn’t care. Osborne is not an economic illiterate; he’s worse – a moral illiterate.
Polly Toynbee has called the current administration:
…the most rightwing of all postwar governments…
I agree. And deep at the heart of this rightwing government is a clever, seemingly-complex (but really not), unfailingly polite, well-read and media-savvy ideologue who just happens to be in charge of education, apparently by his own choice. At least in Scotland we have only to contend with an egotistical incompetent as education secretary; English state schooling, on the other hand, is now being systematically undermined and dismantled by a man who thinks that his own life tale, that of someone from humble beginnings made good by a rigorous schooling of a tradtional kind, is the model that must serve everyone.
But that is only part of what Gove is about. Gove, like many of his rightwing friends in this Government and beyond, accept wholeheartedly the concept of an education system as a race to the line, as the means by which the country’s elite is selected and trained, and as a system designed to weed out those who are not capable (defined by criteria designed to serve the rightwing credo) of benefiting from any kind of academic schooling. Many will throw, and have thrown, the epithet of elitist at this crew, and will intend it as censure. To Gove and his colleagues, such name-callers are merely stating the obvious. They would call themselves exactly the same, being merely descriptive of their philosophy and intentions and values.
Michael Gove is a man with a mission, and he is in a hurry to complete it. State schooling in England has been, for many years now, a foreign land when viewed over the fence from Scottish education; soon, it will be more like viewing the surface of Saturn, an exotic place beyond our easy ken and understanding, a situation not lacking in irony given that Gove’s own schooling happened in Scotland.
November 27th, 2012 § § permalink
This has been cross-posted from my new blog at iamlearner.net, which I have established to support and complement my business website at consult.iamlearner.net.
On my travels around the world I have often found myself working with some truly inspiring organisations. One of these is SAIDE, the South African Institute for Distance Education, who I met with more than one occasion in Johannesburg. This is an organization that is truly committed to transforming education and training through a focus on the adoption of open learning principles and distance education methods.
SAIDE do not think small! One of their key aims is to:
Support programmes in sound and innovative course design, materials development, learner support, management, and the use of technology, particularly for large scale provision.
They given powerful substance to their principles with the launch of a site dedicated to the provision of OER resources for education across the continent of Africa — OER Africa. With special areas of focus — teacher education, health, agriculture and skills development — this is a great resource built on the assumptions of openness.
A quick search for ‘professional development’ threw up some 237 references, and I could see a rich harvest of ideas and materials even in the first two of three pages of results.
Definitely worth a look!