The last time I traveled, the Transportation Security Administration managed to inspect every single bag from every single person in the family… at least according to the little cards they left behind inside the suitcases. Were they bored, or were we a suspicious lot? We’ll never know.
The thought of strangers rummaging through all those undergarments is a bit disquieting. But I have been wondering if such scrutiny, as uneasy as it might make us, might be useful in other venues.
For example, I’m still unpacking the implications of George Siemens’ question “does education need to change?” My answer was yes, but– surprise!!– not everyone agrees on how, if at all. Here are a few things I’ve heard from other adults in the last month or so:
“I can’t imagine ‘going to school’ in my jammies.” (In response a description of the connectivism course. Yes, there were air quotes.)
“It’s not healthy for kids to learn too much from computers.”
“Our [professional education] group has to meet in person [as opposed to using online communications], or we can’t sense each other’s electrical emanations.”
I know, I know: this raises questions about where and with whom I hang out. Actually, these were three separate and rather casual encounters, so it’s probably not fair to hold the speakers to these comments in perpetuity. But as a quick view off the top, they stuck with me, because they serve as a good reminder that while we share some demographics or geography, shared thoughts on education are not as easy to find.
Of the people above, two are female, one male. Each was born on a different continent. Two are currently employed in professional positions, one is currently a stay-at-home parent. All have lived or traveled extensively abroad. All are what I would consider current-events savvy. Two are politically “liberal,” one “conservative.” They all know how to use “the Google.” All have master’s degrees. (One has two).
All have kids under the age of 12.
And, taken in isolation, their comments suggest that ideas related to educational change have some pretty big hurdles.
In unpacking these statements, it strikes me how difficult it is to counter them with data or facts or logic or examples. They reside in an affective zone that is not quite neo-Ludditism, but something…else. And while these parents would certainly argue that their concern is for their children’s futures, the statements seem to be rooted in their individual presents.
Change advocates sometimes see present and even future-oriented resistance to educational change as people just “not getting it.” But I do wonder if it’s helpful to ask why people aren’t “getting it.” What allows people to stare changing circumstances in the face and choose to continue on in a linear trajectory? And, conversely, what causes people to see radical change in what others view as an unaffected or mildly transitional situation? (Is it brain wiring?)
There is a lot of uninspected baggage when it comes to change. Jamais Cascio recently wrote about the concept of legacy futures, old beliefs about what will happen in the future that obstruct our ability to construct new visions. (The classic example: How many of us are still waiting for our jet packs?)
… We get legacy futures in business from old strategies and plans, legacy futures in politics from old budgets and forecasts, and legacy futures in environmentalism from earlier bits of analysis. Legacy futures are rarely still useful, but have so thoroughly colonized our minds that even new scenarios and futures models may end up making explicit or implicit references to them… we have to figure out how to deal with the leftover visions of the future that still colonize our minds.
I’d say that education is not immune to this phenomenon. I hear a pre-industrial, knowledge scarcity “legacy future” in the demands for standardized content. I hear a Sputnik-Cold War “legacy future” in the pervasive statements that students will have to “compete” globally. I might even hear a Puritan “legacy future” in the insistence on “rigor.”
In thinking about how to address or bridge different understandings about change, I have been intrigued by ethnographic and action research processes that are intended to develop community-based understandings of how people view their futures and why. In particular, Sohail Inayatullah’s causal layered analysis explores beliefs about and expectations for the future on four levels: litany, social system and structure, worldview, and myth and metaphor. All of these layers, as suggested by the situations outlined above, seem to be part of educational viewpoints.
One intention of such layered explorations is to create conversations with multiple perspectives within a community or communities. Another is to create futures scenarios. These descriptions of what could happen in the future, based on a deep view of spoken and (previously) unspoken understandings, open opportunities for making (hopefully wise and insightful) choices in the present.
My knowledge of causal layered analysis is rudimentary. Additionally, reports from this rather marginalized field suggest that the space, time, and tolerance for such explorations are limited or non-existent. For the non-futurist, it may seem that such explorations are nothing but blind conjecture, or that the speed at which the future arrives makes such explorations impossible — or moot. And there is a certain truth to the idea that educational changes are coming, no matter what, thus suggesting that the best advice for those who are not interested in understanding and exploring them is indeed to “hunker down, keep doing what you’re doing, and take early retirement.”
But since a lot of folks can’t afford to retire for a while (or ever), it might not hurt to respectfully examine the luggage of assumptions we’re all toting around.