Posts Tagged 'philosophy'

Constructive advice

As is wont to happen on the Web, I found this terrific quote by scientist John Seeley Brown by way of this article about communities of practice at The Learning Circuits Blog, which I found by way of this post by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about virtual communities. In an interview with Line Zine editor Marcia Conner, Brown spoke eloquently about learning, knowledge, and the relevance of constructivism:

We tend to forget that learning and sense-making go hand in hand: we tend to forget that for the learner, the student, there’s always this sense-making going on even if we, as teachers, think everything is clear. Now, suddenly, teachers have been thrown into the same kind of chaos as their students. This has created a symmetry that really focuses on how we need to jointly learn together.

What a gift it is to celebrate balance and harmony amidst “chaos”!

What do you think?

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Leaving “competition” behind

Cross-posted at SchoolMatters (East TN, USA)

I’ve been steeping in a brew of educational conversation this week — first at a meeting on Monday afternoon in which board members, school personnel, and community leaders debated the future of our local school-community partnership and then tonight at a gathering in which a principal outlined an ambitious curriculum design for a new high school under construction.

So I was really primed for this column by Alfie Kohn. (Reading it requires a free registration at Education Week.)

Kohn, a longtime critic of the grading and testing procedures used in U.S. schools, critiques some loaded education verbiage we all know well: “competitiveness in a 21st century global economy.”

Kohn questions the conventional wisdom that treats test scores as a barometer of a nation’s economic health. But he goes beyond that to question the values system that links financial terms to teaching and learning:

Is the main mission of schools really to prepare children to be productive workers who will do their part to increase the profitability of their future employers? Every time education is described as an “investment,” or schools are discussed in the context of the “global economy,” a loud alarm ought to go off, reminding us of the moral and practical implications of giving an answer in dollars to a question about schools.

It worries me that educators and educational leadership co-opt language from the business community — “investing,” “buy-in,” “clientele, ” and so on. The prevalence of this language is everywhere, especially in my field of study, which is instructional technology. This is a passionate group of people who believe in technology’s power to foster creative problem solving and other-centered thinking and learning on a global scale. Yet, our advocacy is frequently framed in terms of “we must have x or y tool if we expect to compete in the 21st century.”

Is it because we believe that is the only way to get the establishment to listen?

For the last several months, I’ve been trying a little experiment. You can try it, too. It goes like this: next time you catch yourself saying “global economy,” try saying “global community” instead. Rather than “compete,” try “contribute.” Instead of “competitive,” use “compassionate,” and “collaboration” makes a nice substitution for “competitiveness.”

What do you think? (Thank you to Connie Weber at Classroom 2.0 for sharing the link to Kohn’s commentary.)

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Reflection on Dewey

Earlier this summer I took a course in educational philosophy in which we read “A Teacher and His World,” an essay by John Dewey first published in 1935 in the journal The Social Frontier.

Apart from the sexism in the title, I found resonance in Dewey’s argument. I regret that I cannot locate an open-source version of the essay to link to in this post. Sigh.

Here is a quote:

The sum of the matter is that the times are out of joint, and that teachers cannot escape even if they would, some responsibility for a share in putting them right. They may regard it, like Hamlet, as a cursed spite, or as an opportunity. But they cannot avoid the responsibility. Drifting is merely a cowardly mode of choice. . . . The first need is to become aware of the kind of world in which we live; to survey its forces; to see the opposition in forces that are contending for mastery; to make up one’s mind which of these forces come from a past that the world in its potential powers has outlived and which are indicative of a better and happier future.

While the social forces are different, the times remain as disjointed today as they were when Dewey first wrote his essay.

We live in an age of global connectivity and social isolation, of community building and niche marketing. Vast amounts of data and information flow freely across virtual borders, while the security of geographic borders is hotly contested. Ours is a society hobbled by provincial, close-minded attitudes even as it pays lip service to concepts like “the human network” and “the global village.”

These social and political divides are caused in large part by the advance of the digital era, and, if I heed Dewey’s call, I share some responsibility in “putting them right.” As a teacher and student in instructional technology, I see Dewey’s call to action as an opportunity and not “a cursed spite.”

Because of technology’s impact on our culture, I interpret Dewey’s recommendation as an imperative for keeping pace with the changes in technology. It is simply no longer acceptable for teachers to say, “It’s too complicated – we need more training,” or “I don’t have time to teach computer skills, that’s the business teacher’s job!”

In truth, today’s technology is cheap, ubiquitous, and easy to learn and use. Young people already know this; they are utilizing technology daily to collaborate, create, and communicate with others in new and exciting ways – outside school hours. During school hours, it is another story. All they hear is a litany of “no cell phones,” “no downloading,” “no blogs,” and so on. We deny them access to the tools they use for meaning-making and then scratch our heads in bewilderment as levels of student disengagement continually soar!

Dewey’s advice means not only understanding how technology works and how to employ it but also being keenly aware of its impact on society. This means teaching about and through technology.

What exactly does this practice look like and how is it done?

Another implication stemming from Dewey’s imperative is that I cannot be afraid to delve into new technologies as they become available. There is no need to wait for specialized training; many of the newest tools are free, open source, and user-friendly. When necessary, defer to the experts – the students!

As an educator, I bring my own expertise to the table: the ability to facilitate a dialog about the merit and worth of technology. By modeling how to be a critical consumer of technology, I can help my students develop the affective skills they will need for a lifetime of responsible and ethical engagement with technology. This seems to be in step with Dewey’s directive that we make conscious decisions about which societal forces will lead to “a better and happier future.”

Again, what exactly does this practice look like and how is it done?


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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

Train of thought:


These are the communities where I network and cross-post. Come by for a visit!
Classroom 2.0
School Matters (East TN, USA)
Media Literacy