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July 1, 2012 / glencoyote

Big Picture – Core Assumptions

In Digby on Friday:

“America isn’t so much a country as an uneasily balanced melange of two very distinct cultural tribes, each with its own norms, entertainment and assumptions about the basic facts of the world. And while many people find that scary, it shouldn’t be. The rising demographic is the one with a better morality and a better sense of objective reality.”

While written with reference to the presidential campaign, as an educator I love the attention given to the impact of the “rising demographic.” The spatial (cross border) and temporal (age) divides in politics have their analogs in education. The debate over the digital transformation of schooling  is also, in large part, generational. When we talk about the ‘adult in the room’ we must necessarily question their generational ‘loyalty.’ Is the adult struggling to preserve a pre-digital conception of education or are they moving forward? A while back I wrote:

I believe in the rising generation. When I am in the classroom surrounded by teenagers I know that I am among the souls that will inherit the earth. I know that the rising generation has been shaped by forces that I may perceive but cannot completely know and that it is my job to help them understand the unique conjuncture, the constellation of context and experience that is both shaping them and creating their opportunity to shape the world. I am aware that in sharing the history of my own generation I can help them to see their own potentiality. That the refracted mirror of intergenerational difference contributes to the maturing of a personal sense of time and place.

But as the school becomes increasingly enmeshed in the burgeoning digital ecosystem I think my comment was too timid. The adult in the room cannot be trusted to engage with the creative opportunities afforded by generational difference if they are not actively reaching across the digital divide. The digital transformation is not the contested ground between old and new – the transformation is happening – the divide is over how quickly the transformation will be allowed to enter the classroom and reset the relationships between students and teachers, and reorder our understanding of what is possible in the creation of self-directed, collaborative learning processes.

Two helpful posts by Paula White at Cooperative Catalyst encouraged me to think further about “The Past, The Present and the Future of Education.”  Referring to an article by Rob Mancabelli, she discusses the “New Pillars” of education. Mancabelli describes the old pillars as the textbook, the lecturer, and the classroom. 21st century education (that is, education in the digital age) transforms these pillars.

How does this happen? Well, the textbook gives way to multimedia; the lecturer becomes the personal learning network; and the classroom becomes the global internet. The effect of all three transformations is to loosen the rigidity implied by classroom walls and to push the student, the teacher and the school community into relationships that extend beyond the campus and which implicate the workplace, the community, and society in the actual (as opposed to imagined) education of youth. Instead of a structured, linear learning process we have complexity and uncertainty.

While most of us are at least a bit accepting of the presence of complexity and uncertainty when it comes to understanding our own lives, the challenge in education is different. As Richard Elmore explains, in the classroom learning is too often about control. To introduce genuine complexity and uncertainty in the classroom “we have to work out a way to lead the adults through a process so that it’s psychologically safe for them to experience students as powerful agents in their own learning.”

This presentation by Maria Popova is essential. Self-directed learning becomes the curation of global, essentially infinite, knowledge/experience/creativity.

When the rising generation has control of the educational agenda, then the school will become an essential incubator of societal flexibility, and complexity and uncertainty will become our happy companions.

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