Thursday, March 4, 2010

Week #9: Education as Commodity & Other Things

First off, this is the link to my presentation tonight on Anderson's "Towards a Theory of Online Learning": Click here!

I am swamped in marking, so this will be brief!

First off, I want to explore the idea of theory, which was touched on in the chapter I presented. Educational theorizing is often frowned upon by teachers (I know, I was/am one) as not grounded in the reality of the classroom. I agree with Anderson, however, that good theory allows us to think about the big picture and use the ideas to reflect on our own practice. On the other hand, as Anderson pointed out, a theory can also blind us if we subscribe to one ‘pet’ view without question. Going back to the previous weeks presentations/articles, although I did not necessarily subscribe to the views given, I think it is still important to listen to and consider alternate theories and ideas. For example, take the The Computer Delusion by Oppenheimer. While I do believe that technology can offer much to improve education, his anecdotes (although it is interesting how he uses these stories to support his view, yet decries them as poor research earlier in the article) illustrate how NOT to use computers in the classroom. Likewise, Kirschner’s article argues that discovery learning is not advisable. Although I do not think his description of inquiry learning is the model promoted for classroom use, it does remind us of the importance of scaffolding- or guidance - in teaching, all elements of good practice. I guess my point is that arguments that prompt us to question and consider our practice critically are important to our growth as educators. Learning and teaching are messy, they are not easily reduced to theory since they are human endeavors, and humans vary, what works in one situation may not in another. Theory gives us a starting point, ideas to consider and test in the reality of our practice.

Before I move on to my next topic, I recently was watching a few video episodes of Search Engine (from TVO) with Jesse Brown. Take a look at the episodes called “The Luddite” (just funny!), and the ones about saving newspapers (related to Ben’s post a while back about changing media) and about the Internet making us dumber. The videos are funny, but make some good points for consideration.

Now, to finish, I will turn to the some of the ideas Ben presented about the move to education as commodity in the move to corporate globalization. This idea, in particular, was of interest. There has been a distinct trend, especially in the U.S. towards treating education as a business. In some cases, there is a call to have Business Administrators run schools so they are efficient producers. Students are treated like products, throw out the bad ones, churn out good little future workers. We want them to think, but not too much, after all, they might question the status quo! I do not disagree that one of the jobs of a school is to prepare students to become meaningfully employed and enjoy a good standard of living, however, many of the jobs today’s students will enjoy do not exist. There are many other reasons for education as well, like the ability to think creatively and critically, to be ethical, good citizens, to respect other people and viewpoints, to appreciate other ways of thinking and the list goes on. Many of these skills would also be important for employment, but life is more than a job. (As an aside, I came across this wiki recently where the topic of what education is for, is discussed – interesting and something I think all teachers need to think about – why are we doing what we do, teaching what we teach?). Increasingly we see the influence of business, the call for ‘accountability’ – while not a bad thing, is always based on standards set by organizations with a heavy corporate influence and tested by an external, standardized test, that more often than not reduces learning to rote procedures and knowledge. Now corporations might not all be evil, no doubt some wonderful people head up corporations, but their main goal is profit – sometimes at the expense of people and the environment – thus, we need to resist the corporatization of schools – or at least bend them to our will! On that note … I will close up my Apple computer (one of many Apple products, I own), go see if my Toyota is still in one piece and… ) enough of a rant for now and so much for brief!


  1. Mikeold...

    Great post (again)! I like theory; always have. I think it's because I'm a philosophy junkie. What you said about Kirschner's inquiry model not applying in school rings true, but what I think Kirschner wanted us to think about is if there is a universal best teaching practice that can develop the critical thinking skills and minimize stressors, including cash. Having said this, the way Kirschener frames the behaviourist approach to education almost supports the commodification of education. And maybe that's what he's out to prove, that education can be commodified. Constructivism does work, no question, but I still think it works best only for those who have the critical thinking skills to make it work, or who have very good guides to weed the garden as it is cultivated.

    The Semantic Web is something to reflect on. It's in its infancy now, I think. We don't yet have a bot for everything, but I think we may one day (smart learning objects?). Actually, what I'd really like to see is a tranaction system built that would allow me to complete my tax return at the click of a mouse! Who knows, I may see a cell phone fly before that happens. I don't think it's that hard to do, but attempting to make it happen may cause some fundamentalists to think that any government registered on-line identity is a sign of the number of the beast. Run to the hills!

    The Winner article is cutting, but it certainly speaks to the reality of life these days. Consider laissez-faire. I have been asking the question for a while now, "What might a completely private education system look like?" In the end, I think we'd get back a lot of what we now have.

    What Winner says on p5 about the power of self-description is so poignant, that if we let others (corporations) answer for us the questions "Who are we?" and "What are we about?", then the game is over. That questions posed on the wiki you referenced and the question you asked, "Why are we doing what we do, teaching what we teach?", are in the same category as Winner's biggies. Those theoretical constructs need pondering.

    By-the-way, Apple does have good products, but the business model sucks, big time. That company, with all it's red tape, makes the simplest of transcations so difficult. I have to start wondering if they moved their headquarters to 1980 Moscow. Oppressive is a word that seems to fit.

  2. Your comments about the role of business in education will be a theme in my presentation about the 21st Century learning skills. There are many businesses who are involved in the creation and implementation of this document in the U.S.A. Apple is one of them.

    It should, I hope, make for an interesting discussion/debate about the role of business in education. Advocates for the 21st century learning skills say it is very important to make sure schools' outcomes are aligned with business/employers' needs.

    On your last comment about your Toyota: I heard yesterday that Toyota discovered the faulty sticking gas pedals is not due to a computer malfunction, it's due to a mechanical malfunction. I hope that puts your heart at ease. Next time your accelerator won't stop, don't blame the computer! ;-)

  3. Great to hear, Roland, I'll keep that it mind if the accelerator ever starts sticking! I look forward to your presentation (in another week) - I had the same thoughts about that article, it is also related to James' Standards presentation as well. Many of these skills are distinctly 'business' in flavour. It goes back to part of my post about preparing kids for work taking over as a major purpose of education and Gary's statement from Winner's article.