I’m taking a MOOC. I already said that, but, there’s homework . . . The gist of the class so far is about the advent of digital technology as a tool for growth – grow your brain, grow your network, grow your idea. Change your mind, change the world. We keep reading these essays from far-sighted people who were articulating a world of artificial intelligence and personal computers in the early days of Dick Tracy. Reading about these utopian uses of technology in the antiquated syntax of the 50s and 60s on my smart phone makes me feel like I’ve been transported to a galaxy far, far away. The 60s wasn’t really that long ago, but it seems like we’re behind the eight ball if we’re only now getting to their ideas about machine aided learning.
Why can’t we adapt more quickly to innovative concepts in education? What prevents the best ideas from bubbling to the surface in the service of the people? (And I do not believe corporations are people). If education were a capitalist system and human empowerment the currency, we’d see more varied solutions, more competition – a real race to the top. It’s easy to criticize capitalism for the way it pits the winners against the losers, but our school systems are doing just that without the benefit of incremental improvement that competition spawns.
The author argues for a technology designed as a creative process to be undertaken with the audience (users) in mind. He sees technology as our ecosystem, claiming we “live in media, as fish live in water.” This was written in 1974. Nelson argues that technology will allow people the right to explore at their own pace and whim and he believes that right outweighs any administrative advantages of creating and enforcing “subjects” and curriculum sequences. We’re beginning to believe him. The Kahn Academy broke one of our molds with the flipped classroom, recognizing that not all students are going to grasp a concept because it was presented in a classroom lecture once.
Here is a list pulled from the reading. It hurts me to hear some of these words, I am a teacher. It pains me to see how much of this still applies forty years later.
1. The human mind is born free, yet everywhere it is in chains. The educational system serves mainly to destroy for most people, in varying degrees, intelligence, curiosity, enthusiasm, and intellectual initiative and self-confidence. We are born with these. They are gone or severely diminished when we leave school.
2. Everything is interesting, until ruined for us. Nothing in the universe is intrinsically uninteresting. Schooling systematically ruins things for us, wiping out these interests; the last thing to be ruined determines your profession.
3. There are no “subjects.” The division of the universe into “subjects” for teaching is a matter of tradition and administrative convenience.
4. There is no natural or necessary order of learning. Teaching sequences are arbitrary, explanatory hierarchies philosophically spurious. “Prerequisites” are a fiction spawned by the division of the world into “subjects;” and maintained by not providing summaries, introductions or orientational materials except to those arriving through a certain door.
5. Anyone retaining his natural mental facilities can learn anything practically on his own, given encouragement and resources.
6. Most teachers mean well, but they are so concerned with promoting their images, attitudes and style of order that very little else can be communicated in the time remaining, and almost none of it attractively.
What is the role of “the teacher” in this new information economy? How can we smooth the transition of this massive technological disruption so fewer teachers and support staff feel attacked instead of inspired? I welcome your ideas.