Regarding Mike Caulfield’s latest thoughtful post:
On one level, I couldn’t agree more. I write this post after long silence not to refute Mike’s ideas, wonderfully expressed, deeply encouraging.
But I’m driven to respond because the matter is not simply one of awakening from a “hasa” world into the brave new “isa” world. If only it were that simple. “Hasa” and “isa” are not alternatives. They are partners in a dance. They are both parts of the inescapable, imperfect, provisional, necessary work of conceptualization itself. Of identity.
There’s a “hasa” element in our experience that we should not reject, lest we swing from one mistake to another.
What I’m finding this summer, for example, is that the course of study, as an experience, does indeed have its own integrity and identity, and that students in some cases want to keep their front page (let’s call it) unique to each class. (Yes, I understand that RSS makes this possible and even trivially easy, but there’s more to it than that.) Example: I have two students who decided to start a new blog for a new class, with an entirely separate URL, because they wanted to craft their work in a different “room” (see below). They didn’t want simply to tag their work in one common space and feed those tagged materials into separate places. They wanted to start in those different places, perhaps to recombine the work later in different ways, perhaps not.
I hope they do find the connections and decide to explore recombinations, of course. Not only do I hope it, I encourage it. Part of the problem is that many students will have to be taught to understand the linking and cross-pollination opportunities the web and a CMS like WP present to them, because those opportunities are hidden by systems like Blackboard, and because for many reasons those opportunities are what schools say they provide when what’s truly rewarded is High Compartmentalization. Sure. But we who provide these opportunities also need to understand that students may want to work through, experience, and communicate in different environments depending on the course of study (or the nature of the experience), a course of study that is itself an experience locatable in time and (often) in space. And that location can matter in beneficial ways, like measures in music or a frame around a picture. Context yields meaning. The trick is to teach people that context is not always a given. It too can be shaped by our decisions. There’s a metacontext, after all, or before it….
(Maybe it’s the difference between a narrative and an interactive game. We need both experiences to help us shape our understanding. Folks who speak of the boring “linear” narrative vs. the exciting “interactivity” of a game are missing the glories of each. But I digress.)
A container is not necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on how we create, understand, and use those containers. Identity is a container, for example, and often a problematic one. But without identity there’s no alterity, and without alterity there’s no love, no freedom. But of course the identity-container needs to be both whole and open, both bounded and permeable.
Or maybe it’s like having different rooms in a house. Sure, it’s one house, but having different rooms is a way of acknowledging the different facets of one’s experience, even though all the experiences are at home, and home is indeed uniquely personal and intimate.
The typical LMS, of course, is not like different rooms in a house. It’s like different peeling-paint waiting rooms in different grey buildings in Anywheretown. Instead of open doors leading easily from one room to another, there are walls and gardens locked away from view, etc. The horror: Blackboard and the many administrative conveniences it serves and mirrors give us all the malignancy of difference with none of its real benefits. In many respects, there’s no real “difference” in these different locked grey buildings at all….
But the impulse of which the LMS is an institutional perversion is not, I’m beginning to think, wholly wrong. The challenge is to re-imagine school so that the boundaries can be artful, changeable, semi-permeable, and the result of creative decisions, not administrative convenience.
Most of all, learning management itself should be part of what a student studies and crafts, part of what the teacher models, not a one-size-fits-all monstrosity that keeps all the work and all the teaching materials hidden and hermetically sealed. Every course of study, in one way or another, should ask of its teachers and students, “What do you make of this? What can we make of this?” And, yes, the ethical question: “what should you make of this, and what should we make of this, and while we’re at it, what should we make of this you-me-we thing, anyway?”
Sadly, as I realize every day (I seem to forget it every night), many students, faculty, staff, and administrators will view this freedom and self-reliance as at best a nuisance, at worst an attack on carefully ordered and compartmentalized lives. To a considerable extent, the educational system we have is the system most people apparently want. It’s a transactional system, not a community of shared endeavor.
I am not sure what to do about this situation. I do feel strongly, however, that we must immediately abandon talk about “learner-centered” or “student-centered” education vs. “teacher-centered” education. That dichotomy seems very appealing on the surface, especially because it seems very democratic, and also because of the home truth that only the student can decide to learn. I embrace that home truth, wholeheartedly. No teacher can decide that a student will learn, and no system can simulate that decision for the student in any truly effective way. No system should try. Nevertheless, “student-centered” starts to sound like “power to the people” to me at times, and I’m increasingly skeptical that it means what we want it to mean. Who are these people and what is the power we imagine? (Related question: Why do we think most students are unhappy with a transactional model? I’m not sure that most of them are.) I also think, with all due respect, that “student-centered” can all too easily become a communitarian fiction that hides the real power, and the real value, of teaching, and teachers, and mastery.
Worse yet: it’s one short step from “student-centered” to “customer-driven.” David Wiley’s post, linked to by Martha above, is relevant here as well.
For me, at this point, all real school must be “learning centered,” that is, devoted to identifying and shaping and nurturing a community that has devoted itself to learning. Real school is centered not on people, per se, but on people’s commitments. It’s a crucial distinction. Our rights, responsibilities, and identities as members of this community are conveyed not automatically, or statically, or unthinkingly, merely because we’re on the payroll or registered for a class. Those rights, responsibilities, and identities are conveyed because of shared commitments. Commitments born of trust, commitments reflecting each person’s willingness to risk, to contribute. Commitments born of each person’s decision, like the books in Donne’s heavenly library in his “Mediation 17,” to lie open to each other, to read, and be read by, the other.
That commitment is our homework: the work we do at home, and the work that builds a home.
I don’t have the whole answer, but at least for this day, I do feel I understand one part of it: any educational system, whatever its design or ideology, that hides, downplays, avoids, or otherwise redirects our attention from the absolute necessity of shared, wholehearted commitment is, in my view, deceptive and destructive. Specifically, anti-human.
Our identities are real, and meaningful, but their meanings are activated only in relationship.
I began this post in darkness, several hours ago. Now light frames my basement window. What do I see? I’m not sure. Do you see what I see? I’m not sure of that either.
S’io credesse che mia riposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’ i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.