A Con Job?

Call me a cynic… but does anyone else suffer allergic reactions to education 2 statements such as those accompanying the upcoming EduCon 2.0 get together (picked up via Will), which I’m sure’ll be fun, but…

The Axioms / Guiding Principles of EduCon 2.0:
1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5) Learning can — and must — be networked.

Now, besides all that stuff about conferences / conversations starting from questions rather than statements, about attendees bringing differing perspectives and so on, I have a few issues with these ‘oft repeated slogans, if you’ll excuse me a minute.

1) Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.

Really, must they be? Is inquiry driven honestly the only way to look cool in online learning (although apparently this is not an ed tech conference… hmmm… wonder how that’ll work out in reality) … reminds me of my dad saying he’s part social constructivist, part behaviorist… aren’t we all :) And ‘thoughtful’ and ’empowering’ rank alongside words like ‘free ‘ and ‘valuable’ in terms of meaningless head-nodders.

NB: I’m not averse to meaningless head-nodders myself, but am still allowed to critique them in others ;)

2) Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen

Oh, come on, co-creation is soooooo the parsley round the lamb. What’s wrong with frickin ‘teaching’, ‘facilitating’ or plain old ‘educating’ (which seems to cover a few of these more broadly ;) Oh, and incidentally WE HAVEN’T GOT ANY CHOICE BUT TO ‘CREATE’ THE 21ST CENTURY CITIZEN. Duh!

3) Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.

I have to say that this was initially what got my ire, although the more I look at the other points the ire gets redirected! Saying this is basically the same as saying ‘buildings must serve people’ which is bad enough as it’s utterly obvious, however, what this statement is really about is a repackaging of ‘pedagogy before technology’ a.k.a. ‘let’s ignore the technology, as it should just meet the needs we have’ a.k.a. ‘let’s not worry about the buildings, just get on with the living’. A dangerous route that all to often has something not dissimilar to Blackboard at the end of it.

4) Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate

No shit Sherlock ;)

Although I might add stuff like express, enjoy, and engage (see, I can do buzz words too :). And also, ‘learn’.

5) Learning can — and must — be networked.

Absolute codswaddle, Gardner anyone?, who says that perfectly decent learning can’t take place for many many people in dusty old rooms all on their lonesome, or that exams and essays don’t cater for at least a significant % of learning styles and intelligences.

Oh, I dunno, the real, overarching issue I have with all of this is that it’s humming to the choir and ignoring the difficult, unpleasant, messy and sometimes just darn impossible questions that make up the reality of successful teaching and learning in any different context, be they C18th or in a fully networked school in 2008.

Oh and look ma, no cats.

22 replies on “A Con Job?”

  1. Never said it was Tom, didn’t even figure that it was written by him… assumed the work of a ‘committee’ somewhere ;)

  2. This sounds like the old school IT, back even when teaching machines were first introduced. Education became big business by the early 90s especially as the consulting biz grew and the push for colleges, especially community colleges, to be money-makers.

  3. Do you have a problem with all edu-techno-conferences? How about NECC? How about Alan November’s BLC? So I guess I will call you a cynic. So, instead of criticizing the Educon thing, what do you propose?

    Now, I do agree that these conferences are attracting a lot of the same folks, and the whole group is becoming a bit cliquish (just check out the weird Twitter phenomenon.). But these are the educators who are spreading the word about preparing students with 21st century skills. These are the Web 2.0 leaders who are teaching the true educational leaders (the principals in the trenches) about ways to engage students in today’s technological climate. That’s what trickles down to the classroom teachers and the students.

  4. Nope, just this one so far… but I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the others as and when.

    You’ll note that we don’t actually disagree on anything – of course it’s good for people to talk about this stuff, spread the word and so on and so forth, but I think I raise some fair points regarding the statements above.

    So, to answer your somewhat inane question, I propose that they change them…

  5. Well, I suppose this means I’ve arrived…

    Funny thing is… I haven’t found a way to talk about this stuff without sounding jargony. Perhaps it’s a lack of vision on my part, I don’t know. Or perhaps it’s because we tend to overuse so many terms that everything is mockable, everything is rippable. But I still find meaning in terminology that others may not. Hey, I don’t care about the “What’s Hot” chart in Entertainment Weekly either.

    The fun part is that we try to imbue those words with meaning every day at Science Leadership Academy, and for us, they have meaning.

    As for the wording, I wrote it — with the help of educators I like and admire. Maybe it would have been better if there was a committee and an organization behind this conference.

    This conference doesn’t have sponsorship. It doesn’t have an exhibit floor, and it doesn’t have a publicist. We thought it’d be great to bring everyone who wanted to come together to talk about the issues in education we care about. We’re charging $50, and if there’s left over, it goes to the school’s general activity fund. I’ve put dozens of hours into it already, I’ve got hundreds more, and here’s the fun part… my “Conference Committee” consists of a handful of teachers who were on the other side of some emails and phone calls, my technology coordinator, a Drexel University intern, and ten or twenty students who are helping me figure out how to pull this off.

    I’d call it a constructivist experience for the kids, but I’d hate to see you mock it.

    And a few things about why we chose some of the terminology we did…

    1) Inquiry — well, we built the whole school around the idea of inquiry-driven education. We use that as a fundamental building block for every unit of curriculum we write. So for us, that word has a ton of meaning. As for thoughtful and empowering… how much time have you spent in failing schools? I wish we could say all schools were thoughtful and empowering, but the sad thing is that I’ve seen more than aren’t than are. And I think there are ways to structure those values into the day.

    2) Co-Creation of 21st Century Citizen — well, given that almost every corporate write-up in America that talks about education reform focuses on the new workforce. I think that sells our kids short, so for me, talking about citizenship is my answer to that.

    3) Honestly, I don’t get your argument here. Districts all over my country have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on technology, thinking it could be the tail that wags the dog. Putting pedagogy first — figuring out where you want to go and then asking how the technology can help you get there… that’s important for me.

    4) Schools are still spending thousands of dollars on drill-and-kill software. Schools are spending thousands of dollars on whiteboards that allow teachers to put power-point slides on the board and lecture. Laptop programs are failing because schools don’t change practice when despite the new tools. Dare I suggest that you may want to ask yourself who is living in the echo chamber? These ideas may not seem revolutionary to you, but I’ve spent my entire career in urban public education, where we’re still fighting to prove that kids can have email access in school.

    5) Sure, in any isolated moment, learning can happen in a dusty old classroom, and it does, often. And yes, Emily Dickenson wrote all her poem up in her room. But I believe — and I’ve seen — that learning happens better when our ideas are challenged and enriched by those around us.

    As for your real issue… that’s the last thing I’d ever do. I have to deal with those questions every single day as the principal of our new school. I’ve been part of building a new school as a teacher. I’ve helped friends start schools on advisory boards, and I’ve spent the last three years — one planning, now two running — bringing a shared vision of our school into being. Every day, I have to honor the faith that 250 families and 18 teachers put in me, and we deal with those messy hard questions in our classes, in our halls, in our faculty workshops.

    So, James, rather than just rip us down for trying something, come to the conference. Submit a conversation proposal. Come a few days early and spend the time at SLA talking to kids and teachers. Come see how we try to make those ideas live — how we succeed and how we fail. And then bring your ideas to our school and then conference too. If you’re still a cynic after that, so be it.

    (And by the way, I think this could be called a lot of things, but a con-job isn’t one of them. You may not agree with our ideas, you may choose to see where we don’t reach the ideals we shoot for, but we are trying to build a school as close to our ideals and our vision as we can. Disagree with me sure, but please don’t assume you know my motivations or assume that I would act or write in a way that represents anything other than what I both believe and work toward every day.)

  6. Chris, I’m not saying that having the conference is a bad thing, or that the conference will be awful, or that there’s no value in it… just picking holes in the statements that I picked holes in.

    It sounds, as I said, like a fun event and I’m sure will work well, as for the kids helping organise, that sure isn’t ‘inquiry driven’ but it’s also good and I’ve got the utmost respect for anyone who can pull a conference out of the dust… I’ve been there.

    However, that doesn’t mean that the statements aren’t complete BS ;)

    [incidentally, I’m English-Australian, remember that when I’m calling things shit, it’s funny in my book]

    As for your comments, sure, inquiry based learning is good, I wouldn’t take too much stock in corporations if I were you (the kids will be running them soon enough), you can’t put pedagogy first – nothing comes first, and I’m very aware of what a regular school environment is and happen to agree with you that socially constructivist approaches do tend to be better… but not for everyone.

    I’m not ripping you down, I’m providing constructive/funny criticism, if you can’t handle that then don’t publish it… and certainly don’t invite conversations… I didn’t even use any nasty pictures this time ;)

    And I’m using ‘Con’ in the same way you are… it’s a conference, it’s a job organising them right, who am I to control what other implications that might have ;)

    One of the main problems about the education blogosphere is that we spend too much time in a nonsensical echo chamber… someone like Tom criticizes Will and he’s pulled up as being partly responsible for a lack of posts… I critique your axioms and you take it personally (I didn’t even know you wrote them).

    Heck, we could do with a bit more criticism, a few more arguments and, to be quite frank, a bit more humour in these here parts!

  7. The problem is, the topics mix personal and network learning with learning that takes place in schools. That’s why it seems all jargony – we look at it and we know schools don’t work this way, and so in each point we see at once something that’s all liberating but at the same time know that behind it lurks the iron hand of school discipline and order. So we look at it, and our claptrap filters are on, and nothing comes out the other end – in *this* context, it’s all hot air.

    Oh, and James, I was completely with up up to the remark about the cats. The lack of cats in this post is a serious weakness, one I think that can only be rectified with an extended discussion of cats in the comments.

  8. James,

    I think you’re being a bit disingenuous in your reply to me….

    Your use of your emoticon suggests you knew exactly what you were doing when you titled this piece. And since we both understand that titling a post “Con-Job” would certainly imply that the writer believes that someone is trying to rip someone off, you can understand my frustration. If you did intend your post to be a critique and not a slam-job, then perhaps your use of humor just missed. But also, titling a critique in such a way as to impugn the integrity of the people behind the ideas rarely leads to a open reading of the critique.

    I’m happy to have a dialogue about the ideas… and I repeat my offer to have you come to SLA, come to EduCon 2.0, and engage in the conversation… but again, I’m not sure that was your honest intent.

    If it was your intent to critique and not slam, and the problem then is, perhaps, with a poor choice of language and humor, then I hope you take the first 80% of my first comment as a continued part of the dialogue, and take the last 20% with a grain of salt. But if it was, instead, as you referred to it in your next post, a “snipey article,” then I’m happy to accept your apology.

    And to both Stephen and James, I would hope that you both have not grown so jaded as to lose the hope that schools can be open, democratic and liberating. Again, if that is the case, come to SLA, please. We’re not perfect, not by a long shot, but we try to walk the walk every day, and I think you’d enjoy seeing the effort we’re making. We might even convince you that it’s still possible.

    — Chris

  9. Chris has hit the nail on the head. It is so easy to criticize; to dish it out. But in this case, James only taunts those who criticize him. That he refuses to offer a better suggestion than Chris’s conference (see his comment to me above) smacks of hipocracy to me. It is bully-like behavior. It is hit and run.
    Chris, I only wish I could join you in Philly, but I just can’t travel this time of year. Please consider winter break, spring break or the summer for future conferences.

  10. Yeh Chris, I was trying to imply that someone was being ripped off, exactly, nice work.

    Dave, I made myself perfectly clear re: alternatives, how this is [sic] hipocritical is beyond me.

    Stephen, I will try to do better with the cats in future, many apologies for this.

  11. In reading your original post, I think that the main criticism is in starting with axioms instead of questions. That is a valid criticism. I also agree with the criticism of “pedagogy first”. What if a technology changes the pedagogy, such as the ability to connect with almost anyone, anywhere in the world, thus changing the pedagogy. Do we keep classrooms when the outside world offers so much more or do we help kids break out of the classroom?

    As for putting your money where your mouth is, James, you have shown by example how to foster a community of learners with Edublogs, et al. I, for one, am indebted to you for your support over the years, especially when I first started on this blogging thing.

    I do not view this post as a personal attack and I feel we need more critical conversations. Keep up the good work incorporating subversion in our community.

  12. There’s been much talk about the echo chamber of this conversation.

    It’s an unfortunate dynamic that a consistent way to get noticed within the echo chamber is to behave badly.

    To be, essentially, bitchy. Go on the attack! Be unapologetic, then accuse the recipients of lacking humor.

    It’s like Fox News. Or Cross Fire.

    Self deprecating humor always works. It’s a much better place to start if the goal is foster dialogue between people. I’m all for laughing, but it doesn’t work to follow offense with “be less sensitive.”

  13. So, this is many-month-late comment man…. ooops… too late then – Ed

  14. If anyone else fancies leaving a comments the elusive ‘ed’ tells me that they’d better be a. funny, b. worthwhile or c. offering some sort of bounty

    Dullness about me being an asshole etc. doesn’t usually qualify.

    Unless it’s really well put.

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