Entrenched Engagement

Dale Dougherty ,writing for O’Reilly, tries to tease out some of the questions in how today’s technology can affect what is happening in the classroom:

Is it possible for education to be transformed by Web 2.0 thinking, if not Web 2.0 technology? How could it disrupt the entrenched educational bureaucracy and offer new, potentially better, ways for self-directed learning and exploration? Can we break down the walls of the classroom to make it possible for students and teachers to re-connect in more meaningful ways? Education@Web 2.0

I think he is asking the questions that are on the minds of folks in the technology world and who are wondering when are the teachers and schools are going to start openly adopting some of these technologies (such as Web 2.0 apps and movements: Facebook and social networking to name a few). I don’t want to read into his words too much, but the tension between technology creators and classroom educators (the rhyme wasn’t intentional) has existed for some time and Todd Oppenheimer has outlined a bit of that relationship in The Computer Delusion. I won’t try and recreate what Oppenheimer has already done, but I would like to qualify a statement about the “entrenched educational bureaucracy” that Dougherty refers to.

He’s right: it is entrenched and it is a bureaucracy. Public education deserves all of the criticism it receives for not serving everyone equally and for not preparing every person for life. Public education is failing and public education is not easily fixed. If you want a guarantee that a student will be completely safe and will be completely prepared academically, do not send your child to a public school…it’s too risky.

But, before you send your child to a private or charter school or perhaps homeschool your child, recognize that public schools, like democracy, have not been a reality, but a goal. Public schools, like our version of democracy, is a part of the grand experiment (which I’m sure has been said elsewhere and so I apologize for relying on rhetoric).

Rather than scrapping the whole thing and “overhauling” the educational system (that, btw, is political rhetoric used in the pushing through of No Child Left Behind and probably most of the current 2008 Presidential candidates’ stump speeches), maybe we need to shift the power back toward the educators. As I see it, we’ve been in the age of describing school in business-like terms: community members are now shareholders, concern is now accountability and the students are lost in the endless charts and graphs that litter up most DOE websites. Businesses are in the game to make money for their shareholders…that’s what businesses do. It should be a conflict of interest to have business people making up the majority of educational committees (and such is the case for at least the state of Indiana’s “Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning ” committee and the Educational Roundtable).

Instead, return education back to the classroom educators (having college representatives or school superintendents do not count here) and work more with the teachers-teaching-teachers model that I’ve made reference to in another post (much like the National Writing Project model).

For those who want a more radical way of rethinking education, why not take the best of the social aspects of democracy and apply a non-capitalistic model to it: yes, why not an open source education? I know it’s not a new idea and it is running on the heals of big tech buzz words, but it may be an idea worth pursuing. A good start would to look over Douglas Rushkoff’s Open Source Democracy and see the thinking that can occur when we strip off coercion and established structures and use the potential of a technology such as the internet for good and not marketing.

But that revolution probably won’t happen nationally yet; but, perhaps the ideas from that discussion could affect one classroom and then another and then a conference…

Back to the Dougherty post: a cool thing happens when you say something in a blog post: people comment and discuss and critique and qualify and, well, work with ideas. Already, his post has generated discussion on his site and has been the spark for this post. Our students are doing the same thing on things that they care about on other sites.

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