Wednesday, July 08, 2015

"For the love of money is the root of all evil." - 1 Timothy 6:10, King James Version of the Bible

I read something yesterday that stopped me in my tracks. From an essay entitled "The Treason of Intellectuals" by Chris Hedges (bold emphasis mine):
Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” ...But once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.” 
I've been trying to figure out why my discomfort with direction of education, and ed tech, especially in the last few years, has felt intertwined with larger social issues, but in a way I wasn't fully sure I could pinpoint.

I can remember the genuine excitement of the movement to use Free and Open Source Software in schools. There was passion, creativity, and building computer labs for almost no money... but then there was a switch. Google came in with their free email services, and it turned out that no matter how compelling the philosophical and pedagogical arguments were for Open Source, it was actually the "free" aspect that carried the day. I remember realizing that Free and Open Source Software had been a surrogate for me, that what I really cared about was the approach to creation and participation that were a part of its ethos and that felt like they could change education.

That banner of change, and authentic excitement, got rebuilt around the use of Web 2.0 in education: teachers and students blogging, connecting through social networks, actively engaged in building their own learning networks and teaching each other. It was magical. And yes, like other educational technologies, Web 2.0 services had collaboration baked in and made the adoption of such pedagogical strategies much easier; but Web 2.0 was, again, a surrogate. Which we found out as free turned to paid, and as companies struggled, offerings changed, and created content disappeared.

We may be seeing the same cycle play out in the maker movement.

But hardest of all has been to see is the way in which so many authentic collaborators in the ed tech space, over the last ten years, have now become much less collaborative, as the continual money pouring in from corporations and foundations has had its inevitable influence.

In our New Testament quote above, there's valuable nuance. It's not money that is the root of all evil, it's the "love of" money. We all need to survive and to provide, and we can make conscious choices about what role we allow for money in education conversations.

But I'm worried that we've gone way, way too far down a path, both in education and in our larger industrial economies, of allowing money and profit to become so central to our decisions that we seem to have forgotten the danger that focus ("love") has on our ability to see clearly.

Especially because the lives of children are being impacted so significantly. What activities taking place now will we look back on with shock, that we actually become "stimulators of" instead of "checks on?" 

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