Thursday, December 11, 2008

Richardson Redux . . . . from the Trenches

Since Will Richardson visited my school, I have been following his blog closely. When I recently read his "The Ultimate Disruption for Schools" post, I was ready to call him out from my perspective here in the trenches. Please read his entire blog, but to summarize, in it he explains how he has been "smitten" by Mark Pesce's "Fluid Learning" Pesce begins by supposing "Our greatest fear, in bringing computers into the classroom, is that we teachers and instructors and lecturers will lose control of the classroom, lose touch with the students, lose the ability to make a difference."

Before completely digesting both blogs, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. It seems to me that academics and theorists often promote the highly idealized and Romantic notion of the pure and innocent child, whose natural curiosity and desire to learn gets crushed by the educational system. In this vision the authoritarian teaching establishment is determined to stamp out this zest for learning in the name of conformity and control.

While the stereotype of teacher-as control-freak certainly has some validity , the idea that teachers' fear of losing control is the reason they don't jump at the chance of letting students connect, collaborate, and create the curriculum is silly. I am skeptical of collaboration and student-centered activities for completely different reasons. In my experience children and adults often choose the path of least resistance, become easily frustrated with the new, and are not motivated moment to moment by long term goals. They do, however, often respond to structure and expectations. I resent it when the struggle to reolve issues like these becomes oversimplified as the battle of the individual (student) versus the Evil Empire (me).

But in fairness, when I re-read Will's blog a couple of day's later his own qualified conclusions more fully registered with me:

The question for me right now is shouldn't my school system be preparing [his own children] equally as well for a world where traditional college is not the only route to academic success? Shouldn’t my kids get some concept of how to gather their own information, find their own teachers, develop their own collaborative classrooms and write their own curricula? I mean at the very least, shouldn’t we let kids know that is an option these days?

This is pretty reasonable. While I remain skeptical about this terrific faith in young people to self-actualize through self-direction, at the very least we should make ourselves and our students aware of the new opportunities the communications revolution has given us.

1 comment:

Will said...

Hey Larry,

Thanks for re-reading. ;0)

Just for the record, I think teachers are even more important now because our kids need to look to them not just for content expertise but for real learning expertise as well. If we're not modeling these possibilities, I just don't think we're preparing them.

And I do think that the system does tend to make dependent learners out of my kids, does tend to make them less self-directed in it's zeal to program their education. It really is, to a large degree, about control when you step back and look at it. That's why this vision really resonates.


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