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Thursday
May292008

The impetus for educational change

The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's leisure. ~ Sydney J. Harris

What is education's relationship to cultural change?

  1. To bring about cultural change?
  2. To transmit culture?
  3. To prevent cultural change?
  4. All of the above

While much attention has been given to the first two roles of education, the last role - preventing or delaying social change -  is usually ignored.

goldie.jpgWhen my daughter returned from her first semester at the University of Minnesota, she complained that her classes lacked relevance to her intended vocational goals. Well, in so many words anyway. While the U would probably say those "core" courses are there to make sure a student is well-rounded and culturally literate, I suggested to Carrie that this is simply society using education as a means of slowing cultural change by only allowing students who are willing to conform and delay gratification to gain positions of responsibility in society. "You play by our rules or you don't play at all." And it works very nicely, thank you.

Ask yourself if graduating from high school depends more on a student's IQ or EQ? And how much of EQ is knowing when to simply shut up and go with the flow?

Education is also a means of keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor. As Jonathan Kozol wrote in Savage Inequalities, in the US there are schools for the governors and schools for the governed. And my guess is that vouchers would exacerbate the rich school/poor school division, setting more firmly in place the current haves and have nots in society. There are always the remarkable few that escape poverty through education, but they are remarkable ... and few.

I have argued before that schools will not change through internal motivation. In fact, I would argue that teachers and administrators are among the most reactionary factors in any educational change model.(Blue Skunk blog readers excepted, of course.)  I would add that local communities want little change as well, based on initiatives involving year round school, the importance of high school athletics in the budget, and local reaction major curricular changes (like Everyday Math). Businesses claim they need better educated graduates, but do not support longer school years or higher funding for education. Do they really want employees who think outside the cubicle?

Major cultural shifts are about transfers in power, and nobody gives up power without a fight.

Were it not for institutions applying the breaks to change, I'd guess many of us would experience cultural whiplash. For many of us the societal changes brought about by technology are already creating stress in our lives. So this is not necessarily all bad.

____________________________ 

As I think about change in education and about education as a cultural change agent, I can make the argument that only the federal government that has been able to change schools enough that they in turn create true cultural change. Over the past 50 years, I would suggest that these laws not only impacted K-12 schools, but changed society as well:

  • Desegregation laws
  • ADA and special education laws (This may be the single area our selfish boomer generation may be looked on favorably about from a historical perspective!)
  • Title IX
  • NCLB
  • E-rate funding

I know of no state or local initiatives that have had the broad and lasting impact of these federal requirements. Could it be because federal lawmakers are NOT educators so don't know why a thing CAN'T be done?

I take away two things from the list above. First it is federal policy rather than federal funding that has the greatest impact on education. Compare the changes wrought by NCLB compared to E-rate. So as our national associations lobby, I want them to concentrate on policy, not funding.

Second, federal legislation is a two-edged sword. While I am politically aligned with desegregation, ADA, Title IX, and E-rate, the implementation (not the goal) of NCLB works against what I feel best serves students and society. In other words, everyone must pay attention to what is happening in Washington DC and be involved in national politics. Or am I stating the obvious?

Can education effectively be used to change society? What and who actually has the power to change education? Am I missing big changes that started at a local level?

Inquiring minds want to know... 

Wednesday
May282008

Cultural change

I've been thinking about Michael Wesch's talk I heard at last week's e-learning conference. He called his keynote "Human Futures for Technology and Education" and made some interesting points. We are seeing, he observes, a movement toward:

  • User generated content (YouTube)
  • User generated filtering (digg)
  • User generated organization (del.icio.us)
  • User generated distribution (RSS)
  • User generated commentary (blogs)
  • User generated ratings (Technorati)

and concludes we are experiencing not a technology or information revolution, but a cultural revolution.  He also remarked that while we might easily say "Some students are just not cut out for school," we would not say "Some students are just not cut out for learning."

Wesch obviously looks at technology through the lens of both a cultural anthropologist and an educator - the combination that makes him very interesting indeed. And I would agree that we are experiencing cultural changes brought about by technology.

What I am wondering about is just how fast and universal these changes are - and if any changes brought about by technology in education can be considered truly cultural to date.

Yogurt.jpgThe variety of rates at which the tools above are being adopted by the general population was brought home to me vividly by a phone call I received last Monday from Don, a retired teacher who serves on our local lakes association board. He wanted to know how many visitors the association website was getting. Loggin on as webmaster, I found out the site had been averaging about 25 hits a month so far this year. I was mortified; Don was delighted. "Wow, that's almost one a day!" (Take a look a the site - if we get up to 2 visitors a day average, it'll really make Don a happy camper.)

On that same day, I read Amy Bowllan's post in which recommends Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income and strategizes how she can increase her (probably already substantial) blog readership. I suspect one would need more than "almost" a visitor a day to hit that six figure income. Don and Amy may both be part of the same cultural revolution - but for Don it's revolving att 33 1/3 rpm - while Amy is mp3. (A recent study identified only 6% of American consumers as "digital savvy.")

Last week, when Scott McLeod asked his blog readers about "long term, substantive, sustainable change that occurred in your organization," I was sincerely hard pressed to identify such a change - let alone think about who or what caused it - especially a change abetted by technology. If I survive two more weeks in my current position, I will have completed 31 school years as a teacher, librarian or technology director. And things are more the same in 2008 than they are are different from my first year teaching in 1976. Some changes, yes; cultural changes, substantive changes, no. For the most part adults are still putting 20-30 kids in hard desks in square rooms, talking at them and requiring them to regurgitate what we told them.

To use Zuboff's terms, we have "automated" some aspects of education with technology: attendance, grading, lectures, and communication. But what we have yet to do is "infomate it" - do things we could not do before there was technology. What would real cultural change look like in education?

  • All students would have meaningful Individual Education Plans specifically written to their learning styles and needs.
  • Classrooms would be truly differentiated with all students learning in their own way, at their own pace. Chronological segregation would not happen.
  • Personal motivation and relevance for learning would be a prime ingredient in education.
  • Constructivism would be the main pedagogy, not a once-a-year term paper or project.
  • Data mining would genuinely determine the most effective teaching methods, teachers and conditions for learning.
  • Distance learning would be the norm, opening huge opportunities for students to learn according to interest from the very best instructors.
  • Gaming would be the norm and teachers would be game coaches.
  • Schools would be genuinely pleasant places where student want to be.
  • Assessments would measure individual growth over time, not compare students to artificial norms at snapshots in time.

We seem poised in our technology efforts to make some of these school culture changes. I am not holding my breath for any of these things to happen, but you never know.

Has technology changed school culture? Will it? What will it look like? 

Tuesday
May272008

Ruminating

ruminate: 1 : to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly 2 : to chew repeatedly for an extended period (M-W.com)

Susan Sedro at Adventures in Educational Blogging shares her frustration at having little time for "deep thinking" and asks her readers:

... how do you make space for deeper thinking? Are you able to ponder deeper thoughts in the midst of business or do you need a clear mental space for it? What strategies have been working for you? Frenetic minds want to know!

It's a great question and  this was my response to her:

My sanity (what little remains) demands quiet time to think. I find this by:
  • Walking every day for at least an hour (well, almost every day).
  • Driving with the radio/CD player off.
  • "Scheduling" at least two hours of writing time each Sat and Sun morning.

Not much, but it is what I can eke out. I refuse to get an iPod because I am afraid it would steal even these brief moments of quiet for me. [Doesn't anyone else remember the short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut?]

Too often we are so hell-bent on obtaining information, keeping up, we don't take the time to really ponder what we've taken in.

One of my favorite words is "ruminate." I am not sure which meaning came first - chewing on ideas and information metaphorically or chewing grasses and cud literally. But I like the image of bringing something back up and extracting more nutrient from it a second or third time.

Do Web 2.0 tools encourage or discourage rumination, or as Susan terms it, deep thinking? As I write this or anything I know others will be reading, I am forced to take at least minimal care to consider, organize and articulate my experiences and readings. To think a little harder and longer about stuff than I might normally do. On the other hand, RSS feeds, e-mail newsletters, blog posts, Nings, micro-blogging, and other tools are bringing me more information faster than ever. Without the gift of added hours in the day. Can't one say that he is not finished thinking about a thing without being labeled "indecisive" anymore?

I worry that in our haste to know the facts about the new, we refuse to take the time to consider the implications of the new.

And if we as educators don't slow down and reflect, analyse, consider, doubt, challenge, and dissect, who will be the model of these behaviors for our students?

Where do you find the time to ruminate? 

cowruminating.jpg
A ruminating cow...

 

Original image from <http://www.apl385.com/leutasch/index.htm>