Saturday, June 23, 2007

Content vs. creativity as the goal of education...

In my mind, there is little doubt that we are at the initial stages of tremendous change to our educational structures. The way in which we interact with knowledge - co-creation, commenting, amateur peer-evaluation, openness, etc. - is strongly at odds with traditional education. Classrooms have been conceived as comprising a single prominent node (the teacher). Yet, our daily interactions are multi-nodal. Our experience with information is multi-perspective.

Forecasting the world in which our children will be working and living long after we are gone is an impossible task. We can not, with certainty and absolute confidence, even forecast what the world will look like in the next 10 years.

School systems all over the world, literally everywhere - in so-called developed and undeveloped places - are set up to make academic professors of us all. Middle and secondary schools are set up to physically and academically resemble colleges -- curriculum is built around fifty minute chunks; academic seat-time is measured in quarters or semesters; grades are used to mark mastery, content is delivered only to be absorbed and repeated, etc.

The trouble is, no matter how revolutionary secondary curriculum and participation is, if one stays on track a student will run smack into the walls of the ivory tower and will be transported back to a medieval system where the ultimate goal is to fill our brains -- slightly on one side, of course -- with content. How many of us were told as children not to dance because we won't grow up to be dancers; not to paint because we won't grow up to be painters; and so forth and so on. Sir Kenneth Robinson explains how schools kill creativity far more eloquently than I can.

The question that remains for me is whether education can evolve on it's own...or whether it will be transformed and revolutionized by outside forces.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Access to all the world's knowledge is a human right...

Here's a point of view I hold: Strictly in the context of the Internet age (and the promise of 21st century participatory cultures), our educational system is fatally flawed. (I'm really talking about the system that is in place from roughly the 4th grade through 12th grade.) Question: Can the "system" be fixed or is it doomed?

I believe our current K-12 system of education is doomed. I believe that, in the absence of the rise of a replacement system, the great "divides," starting with the digital and ending with the income, quality of life, and "creative" class, will be greatly exacerbated until society is heavily destabilized, risking the outcome of a ferocious 21st century version of fascism. The countervailing response to such an outcome requires an economic theory based on abundance (The Wealth of Networks), not scarcity.

As the internet has become widespread, growing numbers of people have seized the opportunity to increase their participation in education, entertainment, and volunteerism. The development of networked space brings society another step further away from the dark ages of Taylorism by increasing our faith that we can make something of our own volition that is valuable to society. (Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 5)

I believe that all human knowledge is rapidly aggregating on the Internet. This makes access to "the world's knowledge" and the means of social production an educational right, indeed a fundamental human right - available to every culture and individual, regardless of socio-economic status. Weighing the risks and opportunities should demonstrate that whatever perceived "risks" to learners (again, I'm speaking primarily about learners in the 10-18 age bracket), opportunities for self-determined learning through unfettered access to the Internet are far greater and more essential to human health, economic, and social progress.

The "free market" system is not to be trusted as an intermediary in this area. Our "free market" intermediaries remain bounded by fear and the threat of the shift of large segments of the population away from being manipulated "consumers" toward independent "producers."

The work I've been doing with students raises the following hypothesis: Access to the Internet is a human right, on par with the rights bestowed by the great Civil Rights Act and the rejection by civilized individuals of apartheid practices everywhere. Access should not be filtered or qualified, indeed it cannot be filtered and qualified by gatekeepers of a failed educational system. Removing all barriers to accessing knowledge and the means of social production in our educational system is the signal challenge of the next 5 years.