Why teaching isn’t selling

Boring preamble
I’ve been trying to think my way through the reasons why I’ve spent so much time in the last five years tracking down what i’ve called rhizomatic learning/rhizomatic education/rhizomatic thinking… I’ll be presenting in the #change11 mooc before long and am committed to putting together the week in such a way that those that might be interested in finding out what I’ve been doing get the clearest description possible of what i mean. That may or may not contribute to people ‘agreeing’ with me, but i’m not particularly concerned about that. At least not right now. I’m reaching for clarity. Today I want to talk a little bit about why i think it matters.

How selling is like selling
There was a fantastic series of interviews on the CBC’s as it happens tonight. The first was a debate on a giant oil pipeline from northern Alberta to the southern United States. In it two separate sides, each with its own self-contained narrative, disagreed on whether they should build a giant oil pipe. Good for the economy(Shawn Howard). Bad for the environment(Maud Barlow). Good long term planning. Bad long term planning. I found the pro-oil side sounded jingoistic, repetitive and bullying. The anti-oil-line person was thoughtful, accepting of both sides and still holding a position. I much prefer the presentation of the latter (obviously) but it’s still a pretty big issue here. (Part 1 – 2:00-16:00)

The second interview was a breathtaking piece replayed on CBC from an interview on the BBC with Alessio Rastani (Part 1 – 17:00-20:00) an independent stock trader. They asked him what he thought of the new plans for the Eurozone and whether he thought it might help save Europe from a catastrophe. His response? He didn’t care. He was a trader. He was in the business of making money. He likes a giant recession. It’s easier to make money. He then explained to each individual listening how they could make it through the recession… by making money.

To listen and understand the first piece is difficult. It’s long. There are issues to be balanced. There is a huge financial impact. Lots of lives will be affected either way. Should we be exporting all that oil? Is a pipeline the best way to do it? Should we be investing in oil infrastructure, because its a safer investment, or new energy, because its safer for the planet? Many different issues, and, objectively, not really a right answer. It requires some ethical decisions, some practical thinking… lots of different things. No matter what happens, one side will see it as a partial success and the other mostly a failure. There is no unit of environmental measurement we can put against $ of tax dollars. Both sides are trying to convince us that there position is the correct one, and, in a sense, spur us to some action. But it’s hard.
These are the kinds of societal questions i would like to think our education system could prepare us for.

In the second example, a much shorter interview, and a much simpler position. Our friend Alessio has a way of measuring success. His success is measured by whether or not he is making money. His measurement of our success is whether or not we make money through the recession. He then goes on to give us tips and tricks to make money. Thereby, in his words, trying to help us. That’s easy.
This seems to be the kind of question our education system actually prepares us for

Dealing with clutter
Rhizomatic learning is my thinking about how to deal with the clutter. The complex. How do i teach teachers the ‘best’ or ‘right’ way of using social media? How do you teach ‘good marketing strategies’? Most of the issues that i deal with in my own work, that i discuss with my friends, or that i worry about are hard. Should my client spend all this money on this new project… and what are the chances it wont work. Should we build an oil pipeline? Should i send my kids to french school? There aren’t right answers to any of these questions. There may be answers that are better than others for me, I may learn something this time that will avoid a given problem the next time… but there’s no real measurement in it. It’s hard to know even after things have gone through whether these are good decisions.

Would you let a doctor operate on your if…
Turns out, lots of things are like that. I have heard (way too many times) people argue with my work by saying “you wouldn’t want a doctor to learn that way”. My response, now that i’ve talked to a bunch of doctors about it, is that they do learn that way. They learn a bunch of what they practice as interns. They learn lots on the job. Turns out that brain surgery in Canada is ‘watch one, do one, teach one’. Yeah. Doctor told me that. They learn as they go. They learn from their buddies. And they learn from journals (which, i might add, are mostly just their buddies, writing in a more focused format)

That doesn’t mean that memorizing things is bad. You need to know what a (insert fancy word for part of my brain) is before you can cut it open. There are places where you need to simply familiarize yourself with a subject before you can participate. Those things might be like money. You can check and see if someone’s had success with remembering fancy brain words. Actual brain surgery is something else. As is deciding what school to send my kids to. I need to know what schools there are, i can read research… talk to people.

Why learning isn’t selling
People seem to know that most of the important things in our lives aren’t easy to decide, aren’t easily measured, and yet we try to shove this measurement all over education. We see this in funding calls around education. We see it in research studies. We see it in districts looking to be accountable. And i really mean that… I think they are trying to measure education in an effort to be accountable. In order to do that, however, I think they end up having to think like our friend Alessio. They need a measurement system they can count. Do kids ‘know things’. How much does he know? Are they succeeding? I don’t doubt these kinds of measurements make sense in the business world, heck, I use them when i’m doing that kind of work. I just don’t think learning is like that.

We can sell knowledge to our students, trading their time for our approval. This will allow us to measure their ‘learning’. This in a world where we know all the answers. Or we can challenge them to measure themselves. It’s messy. Hard to track. Ugly to teach. But i think it’s the most important thing in the world. Because that’s the world we actually have.

But you need to measure learning?

It doesn’t matter if you NEED to measure how much people are learning, some things just aren’t possible. Learning just isn’t selling.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

5 thoughts on “Why teaching isn’t selling”

  1. Like your thinking, your sharing, your challenge here Dave. Much of what you have written here (the reference to doctors) echoes the work on reflective practice that Donald Schon mentions in “The reflective practitioner – How professionals think in practice” (1983) as “reflection in practice”.


    .. and yes.. it’s easy to cave into “the bean counters” right now. In the current economic climate “the bean counters” appear to be taking more and more control of decision making. After all, they are armed with the data. They are armed with the “measuring tools”. So they have the all important information to share with those who need to make decisions to help them make “solid” decisions. Right?

    Applicable to education? I’m afraid so.. that too is the world we live in. Finite resources to currently do more with less.

  2. The oil pipe problem sorta reminds me of essential framing in PBL The quality of discovering quality problems worth solving. To me the best problems, which require cyclic fermentation (not only solutions) via community curriculums, are being dominated by the immediacy of Stark Alessio Think.

    Whether LAK will address that shift, or may in fact hasten it, will depend on who pwns the means with what intent. We have network rhyzomes touching, initially chaotically, some sticking, most not, but can self value internalisation be a renewable resource worth pursuing (explicitly taught101) as Network Glue rather than Alissio’s ultimately, but as yet unrecognised, finite solvent?

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