Thursday, February 05, 2015

Long Interview with Me by Alisa Gross at The Acclaim Blog - Challenging Ed Reform Thinking

Alisa Gross just published the first half of a long interview I did with her for The Acclaim Blog: "Using Education to Serve the Individual." I want to think it's going to be controversial, but maybe it's not... It reflects the thinking I've been doing for the better part of a year as I have stopped my Future of Education interview series to really follow a philosophical thread that started for me when seeing the propaganda exhibit at the war memorial museum in Caen, France, near Normandy. I hope you'll read the full interview and let me know what you think.

"While much of Steve’s work focuses on edTech and education reform, classical philosophy is at the heart of his thinking. To him, the problems in modern pedagogy reflect a largely unrecognized philosophical opposition between the idea that education should build up of the capacity of the individual and the belief that it should train  the individual to meet societal goals... Steve sees the ideas of Socrates later echoed in the educational philosophies of the Transcendentalists, who thought that helping individuals become self-reliant and independent led to a higher form of community, which was at one time much more of an influence on our educational thinking than it is now.

"In contrast, much of current thinking about education in the Western world since the advent of psychology and the belief in scientific management of the mind, reflects a belief in the use of education to achieve social purposes, with individual capacity subsumed by the needs of society. For Steve, the slippery slope is that even what we think of as progressive educational ideas are still presented within the context of broader social control.  What we think of as being 'progressive' ideas differ from existing ones only in that the progressives want the power of enforced education to further the specific ideas or programs which they see as being 'right.'"

"In the late 1800’s, we started to think about the brain the same way we were thinking about other sciences. Our idea was that we could measure the brain and the brain’s activities the same way we were measuring other natural phenomena. And as a result, we moved away from philosophy and toward psychology. And what that did was produce behaviorism, or ways of thinking about interacting with other people where we seek to stimulate others in specific way, and get a certain responses back. So we moved from seeing other people as being independent agents to being things that we would stimulate and from which we would get a response."

"In their desire to make things better for students, [progressive educational thinkers are] still operating under the assumption that one group of people in society should determine what another group of people should do in order to accomplish a larger vision of society."

"...we can ask ourselves a simple question: what is the outcome of our current system of learning? Do most students leave our public education system believing they are good learners? That they are capable of being independent and self-sufficient? Or that they are good at math? How is it that our system of learning leaves most who go through it feeling that they are not good learners?"

"The bold experiments in freedom that start with the Magna Carta, that broke so substantially with historical political systems, are not reflected in how we think about education right now, I don’t believe.  How many of us know about the democratic school initiatives, or the kind of  homeschooling, freeschooling, unschooling kind of work John Holt promoted in the mid-20th century? If we really believed that we were  preparing all our students to be vibrant actors in our democratic society, wouldn’t we actually have many more real opportunities for students to practice that democratic governance and decision-making in our schools?  I hate to say it, and I’m not the first one, but the school experience for most students is more like being in prison than being in a democracy. I don’t think anyone has consciously intended this, but it’s something important to think about."

"What we may actually be teaching students through neglecting to involve them in determining their own education is how to be dependent, because that’s not a bad outcome for those that benefit from our system of dependency capitalism. In this system, manufacturers, government, and influential people depend on citizens to be compliant and dependent, buying the same things, watching the same TV shows, and not questioning things. So rather than helping citizens become independent, all of our major institutions work to create dependency. Students leave college with so much debt, the kind of debt that should be their first house debt. This means that they can’t do unique, independent things. They have to take jobs that can pay in order to manage that debt. This means that they’re not  going to push back intellectually,  and that they’re not going to think independently because they’re just trying desperately to just make loan payments."

"At core, I don’t think it is consistent with our ideas of freedom and of a generative and just society that one group of people determines what another group of people does. But this is how we currently think about schooling."

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