Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else." - John W. Gardner

As you might easily guess, I appreciate the sentiment of the first half of this quote, and the idea that all education should ultimately be self-education.

As to the second half:  many of us have felt that the inevitable result of the growth of the Internet would be a flourishing of democratic learning, as more and more knowledge becoming accessible on the Web would create an open library for the world. In some very significant ways, this has become true (think Wikipedia, YouTube, Google).

But in other interesting, maybe even a little disturbing, ways, this renaissance in information hasn't necessarily led to a revolution in how we view learning, or in student independence. Even with the push-back to Common Core and with the opt-out movement, culturally the physical school building still overwhelmingly defines learning. Parents are just as obsessive about traditional measures and how they open (or don't) the doors to the right college or university.

Granted, online classes are becoming more ubiquitous, but when I talk to most students taking them, their eyes are as dull as ever. And OK, FaceTime and Facebook and the rest now allow conversations about homework assignments as well as the inevitable social. But many of us entertained grander visions of the Internet exploding the walls of the classroom, taking learning anywhere, liberating the innate desires of individuals to map their own learning destinies. Students with mobile devices flooding the streets and the world, conquering life.

Unless I'm missing something significant, students just don't seem any more academically independent than they were ten years ago.

Perhaps part of that is that the entertainment options through the Internet create their own new forms of passivity;

Perhaps another part of that is that there's a significant incentive for schools to maintain their roles and functions as the gateways to learning;

But perhaps, more than anything, part of that reflects the ways in which I and others in the tech world have a tendency to superimpose our unrealistic pedagogical desires on each wave of technology, a little blinded to the historical inevitability of the how traditional systems ultimately, slowly, but inexorably, absorb new technology, smoothing off the revolutionary edges while doing so.

I remember the excitement, the passion, the absolutely contagious energy there was in thinking about how the Web would change learning. Now I watch commercial companies, foundations, and others use the same language and words that we once did, but almost in a robotic, methodical, marketing-speak way without any sense of revolution.

John Holt, Ivan Illich, Seymour Papert, Howard Rheingold... I feel your pain.

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