I just experienced the power of the Read/Write Web for learning. I’ll explain what I learned in a moment; but first I wanted to provide some context. Miguel Guhlin’s post “Shut It Down” hit a nerve with me when I read it a few days ago.
“At last, someone who I agree with completely. It’s time to shut schools down.
You’ve been writing about our educational system for decades. What’s the most pressing need in public education right now?
Shut down the public education system.
That’s pretty radical.
I’m roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”
I just feel it’s inevitable that there will have to be change. The only question is whether we’re going to do it starting now, or whether we’re going to wait for catastrophe. Source: Alvin Toffler, Future School, Edutopia
The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Where’s my handy-dandy trash-can lid?”
I responded to this post immediately:
Early in my career I visted schools in burned out areas of Newark , NJ where the school was an oasis of hope. It was a place where students were treated with dignity, were fed, and had some order in otherwise chaotic lives. Oh, and BTW, there was also teaching and learning going on.
This dedication to children goes on today in schools across our country. For the most part our teacher corp is caring and accomplished.
I am a stand for change and for honoring the amazing work that is being done every day by our schools. This argument by Toffler is offensive.
It sounds so profound and rolls so easily off the tongue…but it’s really an insult to my wife, and to the many educators in my life whose work I respect and who inspire me with their effort on behalf of children.
Change can be difficult and there is always a tug of war between the future and the past; but are we really served by leaders who advocate “blowing things up” and starting over?
Miguel came back with a strong defense of his position. I responded again.
It was here, in the midst of a lively discussion, that my learning began. I was definitely confused about defending the institution that I am dedicated to transforming. More importantly, when on I reflected on my comments, I could feel the emotion in my responses. I was being way too didactic, too argumentative, and too righteous. When I get like this it’s a clear indicator that I am not acting from the heart, the place where all ego, desire, and confusion disappear. When I write or act from places other than the heart, I greatly increase my chances of making a mess. A mess that takes much more energy to clean up than it takes to create.
It was at this point, that I deliberately and gingerly stepped down from my soapbox and began to listen rather than expound. I was reminded of a quote, “that when your talking you’re not learning”. I stopped talking and in the quiet returned to my heart.
After a time, I moved to my bookshelf and picked up “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”, a book I hadn’t touched in many years; a book that I had treated as my bible when I began my career in education, many years ago. I began to read and the words and ideas flooded over me, into me; words and ideas that wouldn’t have been available to me if I had kept flailing around from my soapbox. In moments, I found some clarity, some sanity, some ground.
Here is one of the many passages that struck a chord in me:
“The institution we call school is what it is because we made it that way. If it is irrelevant as Marshall McLuhan says; if it shields children from reality as Norbert Weiner says; if it educates for obsolescence as John Gardner says; if it does not develop intelligence as Jerome Bruner says; if it is based on fear, as John Holt says; if it avoids the promotion of significant learning, as Carl Rogers says; if it induces alienation as Paul Goodman says; if it punishes creativity and independence, as Edgar Friedenberg says; if in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed.”
From “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”, Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner
So, I learned several things. First, the Read/Write web allowed me to connect to a far-flung and divergent learning community, each member a potential teacher. If Miguel hadn’t put up his post and defended it so well, I might not have been challenged to the point I was. It wasn’t the content of Miguel’s post that held my learning; but his willingness to put his ideas in the public domain, his willingness to discuss them openly, and his gracious invitation to continue the discussion off-line; that was the foundation that created the environment for my learning.
And, as with all real and meaningful learning, I, the learner, was responsible for taking the next step. For me it was recognizing that I was acting from my ego, not my heart. Every moment of our lives holds the possibility for learning, if we make it so.