I’ve been a bit distracted by my day job for the last month or so, and with the book we are trying to write (see http://xedbook.com) I’ve been neglecting my thinking here. I find that if i don’t have a 1000 words of writing in my head I don’t tend to sit down to write on my blog. I will risk it here tonight in order to get things moving again. I have an event at the end of the month in Sweden where i’ll be talking about rhizomatic learning that I’m very much looking forward to and I’m hoping to have my thoughts organized.
Why we teach
I wrote a post early last year where i said that
Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to.
I still think this is true. I think that we define ourselves as a culture and as a community by the way we shape our schools and by the things that we want to have come out of them.
I had a great chat with my mother tonight about MOOCs. She watched a presentation i made (IN FRENCH!) to the ItyPA MOOC folks this week. She asked me if I really thought that a MOOC was a reasonable way to teach a 6 year old basic skills.
My answer, as any reader of this blog will likely understand, was long and convoluted. I tend to think outloud (voice or text) and my mom tends to be relatively patient with me. I said that most basic skills that any kid ‘should’ learn should come from his immediate environment, from his parents/friends… that basic math should be learned fighting over candies.
The ‘purpose’ of our public schools, however, include a very important social justice function. They are also a place where we have a social safety net to scoop up the parts of people’s learning that, for whatever reason (and there are lots), doesn’t happen in their home environment. And this isn’t just about ‘reading books’ there are lots of people’s home environment that are super book heavy, but not super ‘work’ or ‘play fair with others’ or ‘share’ heavy. Schools hopefully raise our community lowest common denominator on all these fronts – books and sharing.
Remembering is not enough
The next step up the ladder passed textual literacy, basic social skills and counting out jelly beans is the ‘knowing stuff’. I’m all for knowing stuff. Knowing stuff is great. It provides context, it gives me stuff to bore people with, it passes the time. I think, however, our relationship to knowing stuff and more particularly to knowing ‘particular things’ has changed a great deal.
There was a time where keeping track of certain ‘innovations’ see Mouldboard plow was of critical importance to every community. A plow that allows us to eat more is something we all totally want to make sure we remember how to do. I like eating… too much sometimes. But if a community loses track of its critical items of knowing, it’s in alot of trouble. A midwife who knows how to deliver a baby in a variety of scary situations is a wonderful thing. (speaking of knowledge we lost track of)
But that relationship is changing. We have ways now of reaching out to get information when we need it, of storing information for the future.
And here’s where things get complicated.
There are a vast number of things that you can’t write down, record or ‘directly pass on’ about what we know. That midwife could tell you a great many things about delivering babies, every single thing she could remember, and that’s not going to make you a midwife, no matter how well you store that information. In the words of my plumber
Book smart guy just raved on bout how easy plumbing is always does his own Thanks 2 You-Tube 10 min & $75 later ur rented snake is un stuck https://twitter.com/peiplumber/status/254301553756889090
So, my plumber and I agree, that a youtube video and rented tools do not a plumber make. He and I, at least, agree that it is not the recordable content that makes you a plumber. I also don’t buy the 12th century distinction between ‘work of the hands and work on the mind’ i think plumbing is like anything else… there’s the stuff we can write down and talk about and there’s the complex stuff we understand.
The decisions we can make.
So what are we trying to pass on then?
Any education system that judges itself on things people remember and can prove to you they can remember are, basically, training people to do bad plumbing. The days when ‘simply remembering stuff’ was valuable has passed entirely. We no longer need people in a factory line who remember to turn the button with their right hand. Anything that can be automated by memory, will be.
I want us to be passing on the ability to choose. The will to understand. The work ethic required to engage at something for long enough to understand it. The sense of responsibility to believe that you should do that for yourself. I don’t care about the content or the rules associated with it… those we can find.
A crafts-person, whether they are working on a cabinet, or as a manager in a company, as a business owner or whatever, has to be more than someone who can follow a rule. Rules can be automated, as of yet, judgement cannot.