The Road to Digital Citizenship I: Invent the Future

Three sections follow, all related, implicitly.

Shakespeare often seems to me to be quoting himself. I once saw a stunning performance of The Tempest in which the director made certain scenes especially resonant by pointing out, in every way one can on the stage, the layers of internal reference, even obsession, this play demonstrates as it effectively ends Shakespeare’s long career.

Yet The Tempest is hardly unique in this regard. Many other Shakespeare plays pick up ideas, problems, hopes, and tragic repetitions in their corpus mates. One that’s always struck me comes in King Lear 5.2.8-12:

GLOUCESTER  No farther, sir: a man may rot even here.
EDGAR  What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure
Their going hence, even as their coming hither;
Ripeness is all. Come on!
GLOUCESTER                  And that’s true, too. Exeunt

“Ripeness is all”: a compact, beautiful utterance in poetry. The note in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, 8th edition, the edition from which I’m quoting, says “Compare Hamlet 5.2.160.” Let’s do that now.

HORATIO  If your mind dislike any thing, obey it: I will forestall their repair hither, and say you are not fit.
HAMLET  Not a whit, we defy augury: there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows what is’t to leave betimes, let be.

For Hamlet, readiness is all, because of special providence–a divine care over even the tiniest of events, like the fall of a sparrow. His defiance is complete, stated in prose, ironclad. For Edgar, written into being by Shakespeare about four years after Hamlet, ripeness is all. Endurance is essential. Yet that defiant poetic ripeness, no less than Hamlet’s defiant prose readiness, is a call to action. “Come on!” And Gloucester replies, “That’s true, too.”

Why the too? Perhaps Shakespeare has Gloucester, a foolish but ultimately loving elder, affirm the mysterious blend of readiness and ripeness in any meaningful action. Perhaps this internal reflection, if it is one, can align with Doc Searls’ lovely and loving words at Aaron Swartz’ memorial service last week, as reported today by Dave Winer:

When you’re young you think life is a sprint.
When you’re older you see it’s a marathon.
And when you’re mature you see it’s a relay race.

To which I respond, in the spirit of Gloucester and the poet who brought him to life, we must be young, we must be older, we must be mature. Life is a sprint, and it is a marathon, and it is a relay race. All.

Almost two years ago, I arrived at Virginia Tech and was invited to contribute to the Task Force on Instructional Technology that had been meeting for several weeks already. My assignment was to provide a central statement that could serve as a spine, or a point of synthesis, for the work the committee was engaged in. Over the next seven days, I will be sharing the statement I wrote. Although the statement went through a vetting process and was formally accepted by the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and the Vice-President for Information Technologies, the two administrators who had commissioned the Task Force, the words are mine (aside from the people and materials quoted, of course), and I take responsibility for the ideas and their expression here.

I offer these words in the spirit of the #pdftribute that sprang up following Aaron’s death, as well as in the spirit of Dave Winer’s wise and troubling reflection “Why I Write.” The ideas will be familiar to those who have been following my work for some time. What’s different in this series is that I put many threads together in writing for the first time. I’m confident I’ve grown and learned a great deal since I wrote this. As time permits, I may offer additional commentary along the way. But the original words are here, just as they appear on the official Task Force site.

My thanks to Virginia Tech for the opportunity to write this statement.

The will to learn in an intrinsic motive, one that finds both its source and its reward in its own exercise. The will to learn becomes a “problem” only under specialized circumstances like those of a school, where a curriculum is set, students confined, and a path fixed. The problem exists not so much in learning itself, but in the fact that what the school imposes often fails to enlist the natural energies that sustain spontaneous learning–curiosity, a desire for competence, inspiration to emulate a model, and a deep sense of commitment to the web of social reciprocity. Our concern has been with how those energies may be cultivated in support of school learning.
–Jerome Bruner, Toward A Theory of Instruction (1966)

The aims and purposes of education demonstrate our most deeply cherished values, as well as our collective understanding of what it means to be human. Such values and understandings are no less powerful for being largely tacit. When we design our schools, however, we inevitably find that these values and understandings lead to conflicting ideas of how best to proceed, and with what ends in mind.

No single vision can decide these inevitable conflicts. Nevertheless, the guiding vision of a participatory democracy, our nation’s flawed and uneven and inspiring experiment in self-government, may at least suggest that maximizing human potential within a framework of tolerance and civic commitment can guide our many efforts to build the best educational experiences we can imagine. In The Culture Of Education (Harvard University Press, 1996), Jerome Bruner describes “mutual learning cultures” organized around principles of community and freedom, liberal learning and the specific competencies required to participate in the world of work:

Such classroom cultures are organized to model how the broader culture should work if it were operating at its best and liveliest and if it were concentrating on the task of education. There is mutual sharing of knowledge and ideas, mutual aid in mastering material, division of labor and exchange or roles, opportunity to reflect on the group’s activities. That, in any case, is one possible version of “culture at its best.” School, in such a dispensation, is conceived of both as an exercise in consciousness raising about the possibilities of communal mental activity, and as a means for acquiring knowledge and skill. The teacher is the enabler, primus inter pares.

Such a vision of “culture at its best” informs the founding of this nation at a very deep level.

Benjamin Franklin

One of the most important participants in that vision was Benjamin Franklin. A printer, publisher, artisan, scientist, writer, diplomat, and politician, Franklin was also, in biographer Walter Isaacson’s words, ““a consummate networker with an inventive curiosity” who “would have felt right at home in the information revolution.” Franklin also stands for the fascinating blend of worldly success and innovative genius that our schools seek to empower among our citizens. To have “Benjamins” on hand is a necessary part of American life. Work and success are important, to be sure.

BenjaminsYet it is even more important to be a Franklin, metaphorically and etymologically speaking:

OED_Franklin As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, to be a “franklin” is to be a freeholder, a liberal host, a citizen with the freedom of the domain. The digital age offers opportunities of unprecedented depth and reach for participation in global innovation and conversation, for employing and weaving a World Wide Web of “social reciprocity,” to use Bruner’s term in the epigraph above. We owe it to our faculty, staff, and students to empower them all with the concepts, skills, and experiences that will make them free and full citizens of the digital age.


4 thoughts on “The Road to Digital Citizenship I: Invent the Future

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  3. Pingback: The Road to Digital Citizenship VII: Patterns and Understanding | Gardner Writes

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