The end of education- as we know it?

Education in the 21st century is a multi-billion dollar business. It wasn’t always that way. Ancient cultures provided an education based on the foundations of literacy (writing, reading & numeracy) underpinning further studies in languages, culture, religions, philosophies, the sciences and the mathematics of their era. The Islamic world in particular contributed significantly to developments in mathematics and the sciences, yet this was seldom widely acknowledged in the western intellectual traditions from the late Middle Ages through to the mid-20th century. This has changed today with a growing understanding of the interconnectedness of all intellectual traditions and the contributions made to the growth of modern civilizations. The Middle East, the Indian sub-continent (inclusive of the modern state of Pakistan), China, Europe, Greece, Rome and the cultures of the Americas, Melanesia and Polynesia all made significant contributions from a cultural, religious, sociological and anthropological perspective to modern civilizations. Humanity has grown and developed through the combined wisdom of the ages.

Education as a basic human right grew out of the charter of the United Nations, and as recently as 2011 this was reaffirmed in UN resolution 66/137 on human rights, education and training. Three key components of the resolution are worth mentioning here:
1. Reaffirming further that everyone has the right to education, and that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace, security and the promotion of development and human rights,

2. Reaffirming that States are duty-bound, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in other human rights instruments, to ensure that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,

3. Acknowledging the fundamental importance of human rights education and training in contributing to the promotion, protection and effective realization of all human rights (United Nations)

These are noteworthy and important because the concept of a 21st century education seems to have been navigated away from such essential ideals upon which the human condition relies for its betterment. The renowned Pakistani writer and columnist, Dr. Shahnaz Khan makes a compelling case on this point when she writes:
“Education is…a fundamental human right, however under capitalism education has been converted into a commodity-just like many other necessities of life-to be bought and sold with the sole purpose of generating profit. This has led to drastic changes in how society perceives the role of knowledge in human life and how it is
imparted and acquired” (Khan)

Today the cornerstones of a 21st century education are defined and understood within the confines of a pre-determined political-economic dialectic. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills makes this very clear:
The partnership for 21st century skills has emerged as the leading advocacy
organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The
organization brings together the business community, education leaders
and policy makers to define a powerful vision for 21st century education
to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century
…to triumph in the global skills race that is central to economic
competitiveness for the next decade. (21st Century Skills: Education & Competitiveness)

Williamson and Payton’s argument in their handbook on innovative curriculum is not dissimilar to The Partnership for 21st Century Skills claim that a 21st century education is simply about preparing children for work and subsuming even those as young as 3-4 years old into an advanced capitalist work principle:
“It is our aim to supply a critical but practical overview of the drivers
and factors influencing curricula innovations. We look at the most
recent policy shifts, and identify how these situate the work of schools
in larger debates about equipping…people for changing economic
circumstances and conditions. The development of ‘world class skills’
twinned with the contemporary focus on ICT and on heightening
employability for a competitive economy, are all parts of the modern
educational policy discourse…” (Williamson and Payton)

Translated into the ground reality of schooling in the 21st century this means educational outcomes are predetermined before a child gets through their primary and secondary schooling. Their career pathways have been decided and the myriad possibilities of a child’s innate potential; including their ability to expresses themselves creatively and to be innovative have been predetermined. It is education as an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater end. In essence this is called the ‘global knowledge economy’ and its aims run counter to the real purpose of education:
“to gain knowledge, to enrich human life, enhance the intellectual capabilities of people, promote curiosity, and enlighten and broaden minds in order to propel human society towards achieving the goal of creating a just, fair, and equitable world free of prejudices, conflicts, want, hunger, deprivation, oppression and exploitation”. (Khan)

Today isn’t the end of education as we know it-that was yesterday. But, our schools of tomorrow can redress the balance and work towards creating a more just, fair and equitable world for future generations to come. http://www.schooloftomorrow.beaconhouse.net/

References:
Khan, S. International: The News. 29 April 2015. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-315391-Education-as-commodity. 23 11 2015.
Partnership For 21st Century Skills. 21st Century Skills: Education & Competitveness. Washington: Partnership For 21st Century Skills, 2008. Print.
United Nations. United Nations Human Rights: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. 23 March 2011. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Education/Training/Pages/UNDHREducationTraining.aspx. 23 November 2015.
Williamson, B and S Payton. Curriculum and Teaching Innovation: Transforming classroom practice and personalisation. Handbook. London: Futrelab, 2009. Print.

Education, Power & Wealth

The subsummation of 21st century education into an advanced capitalist framework reaches its Zenith in Jose Ferreira’s recent polemic on The Hollywoodization of Education. Ferreira is CEO of Knewton, a self-described ‘adaptive learning company’. It’s actually a euphemism for edutainment in education rather than any serious attempt at marketing the pedagogical understanding of how children learn and what kinds of knowledge and skills they need to acquire in the 21st century.
His opening observation adulating the large amounts of money that Harvard Business School Professor’s make set the tone for his comments. Yet, he purposefully ignores the average monthly teacher salaries, and the terms and conditions of teachers in countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh to name a few of the developing countries with outdated, and under resourced educational systems (and poor internet/online infrastructures). He also neglects other more developed countries like New Zealand, Australia and Ireland where teachers seldom earn up to $50,000-60,000 annually.
Ferreira offers no coherent argument in affording celebrity status to online teachers and his views and opinions tend to reflect other well-meaning (but misguided) Digital entrepreneurs who preach with an evangelical zeal that the all children (including the 70 million who do not get an education) will be better off if they are schooled via an online medium or through a digitalized curriculum. Ferreira’s claims, like so many other well intentioned, non-educationalists that the internet and other digital tools will bring about ‘star quality teachers’ whose salaries will equal that of movie stars and other notable (and unknowable) celebrities. Quite a claim to make given the lack of evidence over the last 20 years of online learning and educational technologies in our schools and universities
His polemic is a bit of a ramble because he uses the language of education without really understanding what it means. For example he says that a ‘teachers effect on learning outcomes will be much more difficult to measure than that of materials’. It’s a confusing and unreliable claim to make given the multiple variables in measuring teacher effectiveness per se. On the other hand his claim that ‘teachers do much more than textbooks do’ is correct. Teaching and learning is by its very nature a social communicative process, and requires human, 3 dimensional, interpersonal interaction, NOT of the virtual reality kind.
He bases his claim on the very shaky, popularized notion that online and digitalized learning will create a kind of neo-classical, digitalized Mr. Chips (computerized of course!) He argues that “with online courses comes a new yardstick: popularity. Acting ability is only one part of being a movie a movie star: charisma, luck, and project selection matter too. Similarly, teaching ability will only be one part of being a superstar online teacher…showmanship, clarity, mass appeal, production values, etc. will all matter too”
Popularity is a highly questionable quality in the teaching profession today-some of the best teachers we ever learn from may not be popular because they do their job-those that are popular often are not the best teachers.
His claim that the “Hollywoodization” of teaching will facilitate the distribution of “star teachers” and that they will receive salaries of “ millions of dollars” is a fantasy born out of the Hollywood movie tradition about a mis-guided educational experience-we know some them: ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, ‘To Sir With Love’ ‘Dead Poets Society, Black Board Jungle, to name a few. His ideas may attract the “Bad Teacher” type AKA Cameron Diaz, but in the day-to-day life of teaching and learning, the good to great teachers will continue to be motivated out of their own passion for learning and for making a difference in the lives of the children and young people they teach. They will develop in them a critical awareness of the false promises and sophistry of the profiteer entrepreneurs of the 21st century who seek to exploit education for their own gains.

Teaching in the Shadows of Social Injustice

Teachers in Brazil, protesting their poor working conditions and paltry wages for undertaking one of the most essential jobs in the world today-educating future generations-were brutally attacked by security forces as they protested for better pay and working conditions. While their rally was hijacked by anarchists and other groups fed up with the gross inequalities which have characterized Brazil for decades; the teachers’ protests are receiving more attention because Brazil is to host two of the world’s most watched and attended sporting spectacles: The FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic games in 2016.
Sport in itself is an essential part of the social and psychological dynamic of human societies, and has been for thousands of years. The kinds of sporting activities which have evolved through to today are for the most part based on fair competition with the sole purpose of excelling in and accomplishing extraordinary human achievements whilst showing courage, determination and perseverance in a particular field. These core values of competitive sport make any game or competition such an exciting spectator event and fuels local, national and international fervor to the point that one’s life-style, social status and reputation may be determined by the sport they follow and the club brand to which they hold allegiance. Football, Cricket, the NBA, the NFL, Tennis, Baseball, Rugby Union & League, as well as Swimming, Sailing and Skiing are featured among the top elite sports in the world. The respective affiliations and clubs which host these sports are for the most part multi-billion dollar a year industries and are legitimized through their own hierarchical structures and law governing bodies each in some way linked to the corporate world of advanced capitalism. And herein lays the rub for ordinary folk.
What justification can there be for paying anyone in excess of $400,000 per week when the global average wage per week is around $600 per week; if you are lucky enough not to be born in any of the developing countries of the world? While top footballers like Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo offer us scintillating performances as skilled footballers; from a social justice and equality stance there is no justification for the kind of money they earn as professionals. Therefore, it is totally acceptable for teachers in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter, who may only earn as little as $1600 per month to protest, given their profession is essential, while footballers’ jobs, and myriad other sporting professionals’ jobs are non-essential.
Brazil has come to accept the gross social and economic inequalities in its country as the norm. This is wrong. The people’s right to protest is an inalienable right, especially as they are paying out billions of dollars on their country’s credit card to host two of the world’s most prestigious sporting spectacles. While the World Cup and the 31st Olympiad will bring a lot of kudos and cash to pay off the debt accumulated by the country in the short term, the long term goal of providing decent housing, decent jobs, decent wages and alleviating poverty fades away.
Nelson Mandela reminds us that the globalization of professional sport means, as it so often does, “that the rich and powerful now have new means to further enrich and empower themselves at the cost of the poorer and weaker, and that we have a right and a responsibility to protest in the name of universal freedom”.

Hope and Despair in Africa

One of the most encouraging stories to emerge out of the secret and sinister world associated with the global pharmaceutical industry this week is a report that a pharmacological company in the United Kingdom is to market the world’s first malaria vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline is seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first malaria vaccine after preliminary findings from its drug trials suggest that its drug significantly reduced the number of malaria cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has a murky past though. In July 2012, the pharmaceutical giant pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a $3 billion settlement of the largest health-care fraud case in United States history, and the largest payment by a drug company in the US. The settlement was related to the company’s illegal promotion of prescription drugs, its failure to report safety data, bribing doctors, and promoting medicines for uses for which they were not licensed (Wikipedia, 2013). Let’s pray this significant hope for the future of infants, children and the peoples on the African continent is not sullied with the same misfortunes.
I have traveled extensively throughout West Africa and on occasion have been ill and required hospital treatment. The health care systems I encountered and experienced were served for the most part by caring and compassionate medical personnel, who had to make do with outdated equipment, a lack of State of the Art equipment, and dwindling supplies of the drugs necessary to stave of illness and the effects of serious infections and afflictions like malaria. So, this is great news for Africa, in particular for its most vulnerable and poorest, who suffer beyond measure from neglect and exploitation by those in whose hands is concentrated all the wealth and power of the continent.
According to reports the drug which GlaxoSmithKline want to introduce was found to have reduced the number of malaria cases in children by almost half. While it did not eradicate the disease, this is a significant step towards that goal for those countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where many millions of cases fill their hospital wards. However, as has been pointed out many times, the ability of the mosquito to outwit the drug corporations is renowned, and there are some strains of malaria which remain drug resistant. Nevertheless, with the support of the non-profit Path for Malaria Vaccine Initiative, supported through the philanthropy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is hoped that the World Health Organization will approve and recommend the use of the drug. The downside to this good news is that it may not be until 2015 that we see the drug introduced to the most vulnerable communities in the malaria infected countries of Africa. But it does give hope.
Then again hope can quickly turn to despair as on the same day we learn that on a continent where the majority of people live in poverty and earn less than $1.25 a day there are 55 billionaires. 20 members of this group are from Nigeria where the average wage falls below $1:00 a day.
The 55 African billionaires have a combined wealth of $143.88 billion dollars. Such statistics suggest another kind of illness for which there’s no known vaccine: Greed. The World Bank estimates that there are over 400 million people living in poverty in Africa. In West Africa the average yearly income for each person is $309. This compares with an average yearly income for each person in Sub-Saharan Africa of $470. The region’s economic growth has averaged only 2.5 percent during the past three years while its population has been growing by 2.2 percent a year. Moreover, over 55 percent of West Africans life on less than $1 a day; life expectancy at birth is only 46 years; secondary school enrollment is at 20 percent; forty-two percent of adults are illiterate; and malnutrition affects 29 percent of children under the age of five (The World Bank, 2013). What the use of a fine house if you don’t have a just, fair and tolerable planet to build it on? (Thoreau, 2013)

The World Bank. (2013, April 12). West Africa: Facts and Figures. Retrieved October 8/10/2013, 2013, from The World Bank: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20179737~pagePK:34370~piPK:42768~theSitePK:4607,00.html
Thoreau, H. (2013, October 8). Family Letters. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/materialism
Wikipedia. (2013, October 2). GlaxoSmithKline. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GlaxoSmithKline

The Mad Men and their 21st Century Skills mantra

One of my favourite USA produced TV soap melodramas is Mad Men. It’s a fun, but tacky fast paced series set in the 1960s, about the Freudian manipulation of the consumer market place by Madison Avenue advertising executives. They actually coined the term Mad Men for themselves. No self-deception there-just the irony of their in your face honesty of how deceptive their practices were to sell stuff that most people didn’t want or need to lead fulfilled lives. Many decades later not a lot has changed. The Mad Men are still with us in a new disguise similar to iRobot, selling electronic stuff that we don’t need while trying to prop up an ailing almost dead world economy.
However, there is one significant difference in the pernicious strategy of today’s Mad Men-the use of technology and the marketing of it as an essential aspect of 21st century living. The Mad Men of the corporate IT world would have us believe that we cannot live without gadgetry, mobile devices and the like. They would further suggest that information technologies, along with online activities, social networking and educational technologies have spawned a new kind of human being: homo-digitalis. These new creatures of humanity often referred to as digital natives, because of their unique ability to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, have developed remarkable skills akin to the symbiotic relationship which is presumed to exist between Kyle XY and Spiderman. I attended a conference once, where one of the Mad Men claimed that through the use of electronic gadgetry, mobile devices, online activities and social networking interaction, the human brain of homo-digitalis was ‘rewiring’ itself to keep up with the incredible frenetic speed of evolutionary changes that these creatures are presumed to be undergoing. But there is no truth or scientific evidence in such a claim-it is simply a marketing ploy to encourage fear ridden parents and educators that they need to keep up with the madness in electronic gadgetry, otherwise their children or students will become part of the great unconnected, unplugged underclasses of the future-inept in everything IT skill except the old 20th century social skills of civility, politeness, humility, compassion, empathy, honesty and genuine concerns for other people.
More recently some remarkable empirical evidence has emerged suggesting that the rapid tsunamic development of homo-digitalis is not permanent, and like the fate of Dolly the sheep, could result in premature aging, and the onset of short-term memory loss and the debilitating psycho-cognitive disease dementia-electronicus.
Whilst driving my car yesterday, I thought the driver in the vehicle ahead of me was drunk, so I immediately went into defensive driving mode, overtook her and noted that she was texting on her mobile phone. Later that day, while walking along the corridor of a College I was visiting, a student fell down the stairs while he was texting. In my class the following day, a student said she couldn’t hear my lecture. I suggested she take the headphones out of her ears and concentrate a bit more as this would help. While these are isolated cases, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence which suggests that multi-tasking is a myth. The only rewiring of the brain which is going to take place in the near future is when one is hooked up to a life-support system, after suffering a near fatal accident of some kind while multi-tasking with a 21st century interactive mobile device.
The partnership for 21st century skills argue that their unified, collective vision for learning known as the Framework for 21st Century Learning is a prerequisite for students to be able to prosper in the interconnected world of the 21st century. They identify critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem solving among the key 21st century skills which must be embedded into school and higher education curricula. They further argue that “students are more engaged in the learning process and graduate better prepared to thrive in today’s global economy” (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009).
Notwithstanding the current global youth unemployment rate of around 12.7% or 74 million young people; it seems naïve to suggest that thriving is an option for anyone between the ages of 15-24 who is out of work in the 21st century. While the Framework for 21st Century Learning covers some of the essential cognitive development of an individual and how they should be using digital tools in their lives, it doesn’t consider how to be resourceful and adaptable when you cannot get a job after 12 years of schooling, and after graduating with a degree from a College or University. None of the most up-to-date gadgetry and technology in the world is going to feed you if you cannot work and earn a living.
Those of us educated in the 20th century could argue out a case that this very same skill set now rebranded as 21st century skills was to be found in the curricula of our respective eras. For example, a constructivist approach to teaching and learning formed an essential part of my experience as a learner in the 1960s. Furthermore, we could go back to antiquity and find subjects like logic, rhetoric, mathematics, philosophy and science essential subjects and disciplines which ensured that critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration were required of an educated person. Socrates would certainly defer to this assertion.
So what’s the difference in the early years of the 21st century? Why the constant, repetitive almost ad nauseam reference to 21st century skills by the Mad Men? The answer is simple: technology. The multi-billion dollar corporate IT industry along with the Partnership for 21st century skills has the global reform of education in its sight-in fact it has well and truly begun.
Embedded in their all encompassing curriculum model is the concept of multiple literacies. This is a highly questionable term which probably doesn’t exist in its own right. It is more about developing a skill set or competencies to use a machine or device rather than a specific psycho-cognitive process such as to be found in the foundations of literacy-reading, writing, listening, speaking and numeracy. It is a mis-leading term which covers anything from politically correct understandings of the ‘other’ to business as practiced through the ruthlessness of 21st century advanced capitalism.
The idealism is in this model mirrors other more comprehensive curriculum models like the International Baccalaureate’s PYP, MYP and Diploma program. However the comparison stops there, because the curricula of the IBO have no corporate IT agenda and encourage a critical appraisal of their own learning culture along with its content. The kind of curriculum model proposed by the IT corporate world and their 21st Century partners doesn’t allow for this, and is based on conformity and compliance to a corporate global model of teaching and learning and deference to its compulsory inclusion of technological gadgetry. These include but are not limited to mobile learning, online learning, blended learning, social media, like twitter, Facebook, yammer, and so on, various multi-media platforms like padlet, OneNote, iPads, and the plethora of other educational technologies which are competing for a place in the world’s burgeoning IT educational sector.
The jury is still out on the extent to which any kind of educational technologies are producing brighter, more adaptable, more flexible, compassionate, caring, multi-skilled graduates from primary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities, who will contribute to more peaceful, just and socially cohesive societies.
Notwithstanding this fact, the Mad Men peddle the myth that digital and mobile learning will create the iRobot equivalent of Nietzsche’s Übermensch, and without the inclusion of branded educational technologies in teaching and learning all educational institutions are failing themselves and their students.
This is clear in the ITL research group’s recent report on innovative teaching and learning (2011) 95% of the report condemns schools and learning institutions for not using the latest products and gadgetry, there is no informed, clear critical research on how their products perform or affect learners cognitively or how they define the methodological and pedagogical processes in a constructive way. It is one thing to argue for every child having an iPad to reduce heavy back packs with lots of books, and quite another to pursue the argument that IT will increase knowledge gains for learners.
Traditional classroom style learning with its essential socialization and communicative processes along with the lecture theater are also targets of the corporate IT sector and some educators too.The CEO of AISH (Academy for International School Heads) Bambi Betts recently argued that it is ‘game over’ for education as we know it today through the flooding of the educational sector with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Her carefully chosen description of these courses as ‘disruptive innovations” in mainstream education highlights the willfulness of forceful change being imposed on teachers, students, parents and some administrators who question the efficacy and legitimacy of MOOCs and other kinds of educational technologies. The assumption that formal learning is an option which can take place anywhere and at any time is false and based on erroneous understandings about how we learn, why we learn, what we need to learn and how we measure and evaluate successful teaching and learning. An avatar lecturer or a video clip of a lesson hardly qualifies as innovate in terms of teaching and learning, but may well be disruptive to genuine critical enquiry, the acquisition of knowledge, and becoming a life long learner.
Teaching and learning is a highly sociable process. It is built on a fundamental axiom of clear inter-personal communication. Moreover, schooling and tertiary studies is a highly controlled social process as well as an intellectual one. We require those who graduate from our high schools and universities to be civil to others and to have good manners and treat people respectfully and contribute to the development of a more peaceful, just, fair and equitable world. Working in the isolated vacuum of virtual realities where “I am my screen” and “I do not have to compete to share my thoughts and ideas” does not contribute to positive social learning outcomes at all. I’m all for rethinking education and embracing technology and 21st century skills (whatever they are or will become); but the core principles at the heart of any future developmental plans in education should embrace sound pedagogy and how students learn, not what they like using and doing best.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). P21 Framework Definitions. Washington D.C: Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Intentionality & Integrity in International Diplomacy and Higher Education

What do the former NBA basketballer Dennis Rodman and recently published anti-intellectual Dale Stephens have in common? Both have recently gained popularity in the media. Rodman recently visited North Korea with several players from the Harlem Globetrotters. Resplendent in dark sunglasses and several metal rings hanging loosely from his nose and ears, Rodman proclaimed on a cable network which was beamed throughout the world that himself and ‘the dear leader’ Kim Jong Un were the best of friends. While Dale Stephens, claims he left school at 12 years of age and says that a University or College degree is irrelevant today.

Rodman qualified his new friendship with Kim Jung Un by saying he had put aside the bad things ‘the dear leader’ had done, and simply embraced him as a friend would – foibles and all – even if those eccentricities included a repressed desire to destroy South Korea and its main ally the United States of America, of which Rodman is a citizen. His visit and remarks took me back some forty years ago, when the American actress Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam at the height of the war her country was embroiled in with the North. Among her most regrettable moments she claimed was when she was “duped” into sitting on a North Vietnam anti-aircraft gun after having denounced her country’s political and military leaders as ‘war criminals’ and the soldiers fighting the war as “liars” who had never been subjected to torture. In fairness to Fonda, she has over the years expressed regret at her actions and comments. Will Rodman and Google CEO Eric Schmidt regret their visits to North Korea before or after ‘the dear leader’ provokes a nuclear conflagration on the Korean peninsula? It’s too soon to tell, but the burning question for both these citizens of the United States of America, whose country is technically still at war with North Korea – why go there? What did they gain from it? What did the people of North Korea and the United States of America gain from the visit? What did the world gain from it?

Both Rodman and Schmidt, along with ‘the dear leader’ gained media publicity and a degree more of the celebrity status to which they have become accustomed. Pictures of the tall Rodman in sunglasses toasting the short stature of ‘the dear leader’  over a sumptuous dinner, while more than three quarters of the North Korean population go hungry, suggested not a genuine friendship based on acceptance, trust, dignity, mutual love and respect, but one of usury, manipulation and opportunism. One, a fading NBA star out on the hustings to resurrect his dying celebrity status, and another of  a vertically challenged person whose boyhood fantasy was either to play in the NBA or conquer the world-clearly neither of which he has or (Insha’Allah) ever will achieve.

Perhaps Dennis Rodman and Eric Schmidt meant well, but then so many others before them have meant well too- Rudolph Hess meant well when he flew to England at the height of WW ll to negotiate a peace with the allies. Stalin meant well when he exiled Trotsky and subsequently engineered the latter’s death. Chairman Mao meant well when he began the Cultural Revolution which in turn caused the deaths of more than 30 million of his Chinese comrades. George W. Bush and Tony Blair meant well when they unilaterally invaded the sovereign state of Iraq. And there are still those to this day – however misguided they may be -who believe Hitler meant well too. Intentionality is an essential part of any action. Good intentionality will only produce good results. It is difficult to identify in Rodman and Schmidt’s actions any intentionality in terms of alleviating human suffering, or contributing to a greater good in a country where potential basketball players and IT engineers suffer from rickets and other bones diseases caused through malnourishment, hunger and basic deprivation of even rudimentary health care. Both men had choices as high profile media personalities. Why not a trip to China’s restless Sichuan province or Lhasa in Tibet and highlight the genocidal atrocities being carried out daily by the army, secret police and gendarmes of the People’s Republic of China, or to Zimbabwe where the black and white people suffer ongoing political and social repression while Robert Mugabe in the late stages of senility bleeds all the riches from his country and spends tens of thousands of pounds on a sumptuous, extravagant birthday party for himself. But, as Rodman celebrates his new life-long friend, and Schmidt manages to get permission to turn a ‘Google’ satellite upon the impoverished and failed state of North Korea after they had recently launched their own satellite, and conducted a massive underground nuclear test, the western media revels in the achievements of two audacious self-serving individuals.

Dale J Stephens is also self-serving in his intentionality. He campaigns upon a belief that a College or University education is an outdated and unnecessary credential in an age of post-modern and advanced capitalism. Stephen’s carries a similar message to the great philosopher and intellectual Ivan Illich, that society needs less schooling rather than more schooling. Stephen’s online ‘UnCollege manifesto’, similar to the Marxist manifestos encourages subversion and undermining of the current institutionalised approach to education. However, unlike Illich who did benefit from an extensive education which included fluency in ten languages and degrees in Theology and Philosophy, Stephens offers a simple kind of fantasy path to consumer enlightenment where a beaming Bill Gates surrounded by a brilliant white light will welcome all college dropouts to entrepreneur nirvana.  His mantra is disturbingly like the new age idea that one can think their way into a successful job, career and happy life. He writes “If you want educational freedom badly, and are willing to take a few leaps of faith, change is possible. You really can lead the life you want, learning along the way. You can have it all – the only things you’ll have to give up are the societal assumptions and expectations that serve as your comfort zone. Step outside that zone and you’ll be on your path to success” (Stephens, 2011). There’s no substance here except the great capitalist mantra that “you can learn from life and change the world” (Stephens, 2011) while someone else takes what little money you have from you. Unlike Stephens, Illich was a vociferous social critic and offered alternatives to the West’s institutionalised, material ridden consumerist culture. Stephen’s on the other hand is riding on the back of a corrupt entrepreneurial culture where success is gauged by how much money you can make with or without a formal education. Bill Gates delights in telling his audiences he was a college dropout. Stephens does the same. Moreover it is not entirely true that Stephens forfeited a formal education. He did attend Hendrix College in Arkansas for a while and was later granted a Thiel Fellowship in which the recipient forgoes College or University for two years to focus on “their passions” Furthermore, most internship and Fellowships are considered aspects or parts of formal education. What Stephens’ offers is a lie-that one can think their way to success, and that study, hard work and a well gained credential from a College or University is useless in the 21st century. He writes “no matter if you are a college student, high school student, unschooler, home schooler, and/or lifelong learner you can completely redefine higher education. You can learn from life and change the world” (Stephens, 2011).  Stephens complains that a formal education “rewards conformity, rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning, and theory rather than application” (Wikipedia, 2013). This is a misrepresentation and gross distortion of higher education from someone who never experienced it, and like Bill Gates dropped out and then attacked it for his own commercial gain. Higher education may well reward conformity through learning higher level thinking skills-such skills are necessary and essential to plough through the kind of sophistry being peddled by Stephens and his cabal of hackademics.  A College/University education does encourage independence and competition; after all if one cannot hold their ground in a competitive and sophisticated legal argument they won’t make a good lawyer. Similarly, if an undergraduate doesn’t learn the art of rhetoric and critical thinking they won’t recognise the manipulation and usury in commercial competition and entrepreneurship, and if they don’t learn theory they’ll never be able to apply frameworks of thinking into their personal and professional lives. A College or University education does not guarantee a job, but it does guarantee a defensive logic against the propaganda being promoted by the ‘UnCollege manifesto’ and the stunts and antics of Rodman and Schmidt. Stephens is no Ivan Illich, Rodman is no Kofi Annan and Schmidt lacks the wisdom, knowledge and training of Dag Hammarskjold. A College or University education could be as T.S Eliot wrote:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust” (Eliot, 1963)

Or depending on an enquirer’s intentionality there could be no limit to what may be discovered through a formal higher education. It could make the earth a more sustainable,  just, habitable and harmonious planet in which to live.

References:

Eliot, T. (1963). Collected Poems. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.

Stephens, D. (2011). the UnCollege manifesto: your guide to academic deviance replacing college with self-directed learning. USA: Creative Commons Attribution.

Wikipedia. (2013, February 10). Dale J Stephens. Retrieved March 4, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_J._Stephens

Twitter & Ted on the road to know-where?

In the opening chapter of his insightful and well researched book The Net Delusion: The Dark side of internet freedom, Evgeny Morozov recalls the hype and misinformation surrounding the role of Twitter following the Iranian presidential elections and the subsequent June 2009 political protests on the streets of Tehran.  Many writers and bloggers hailed Twitter as the future of political revolution and change throughout the world. He cites how some went so far as to proclaim Twitter was achieving what the United Nations and the European Union have been unable to do-bring about regime change in Iran. The obsession and infatuation with the social media platform led a former deputy national security advisor who worked during the difficult and painful years of the G.W.Bush administration, to launch a public campaign to nominate Twitter for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Morozov, 2011)

Four years on and there’s been no Twitter led or inspired regime change in Iran. In fact throughout the Middle East and North Africa, any claims that Twitter has been at the forefront of revolutions, public protests and political change are by and large inaccurate, misleading and mis-represent the capacity of any social media to bring about political and social reform in any part of the world.  Current events in Syria, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran suggest that the violence, suffering and misery brought about through modern warfare weaponry plays a much for decisive and destructive role in bringing about or ushering in political change.  Furthermore, it’s naive to think and argue that the citizenry of any country will be sufficiently empowered through any kind of internet, social media platform or Google inspired creed to bring about social reform and political change anywhere.

The recent visit by Google CEO Eric Schmidt to North Korea gained little for its people who for the most part starve and have no access to any kind of social media let alone internet freedoms, apart from allowing the West some limited voyeuristic views of the North Korea via Google maps. Moreover the constant vilification of the Chinese for their lack of internet and social media freedoms belies a much darker secret in the West- we are all monitored too -there’s no freedoms when it comes to electronic media.  Every website, tweet, chat, email, or online search for whatever reason leaves a footprint for any keen amateur or professional electronic tracker. All social media claim the right to whatever you say, upload or publish via their platforms.  Yet those who sign up for social media access would never allow anyone to walk into their homes, apartments or dwellings and help themselves to information and memorabilia about  their personal and private lives. When the internet was first conceived and social media began to emerge as derigure for 21st century communications we knew we were creating the future, but we didn’t realize what kind of future we were creating.

Twitter allows users to communicate with one another using 140 characters or less on virtually any topic anyone chooses and deemed appropriate by the service operators.  The social media claims up to 500 million users, but there’s no way to verify they are all genuine account holders, and similar to Facebook, up to 30% could be fake or non-user accounts.  Nonetheless, it’s popular and aside from the social buzz and instant celebrity status which may be derived from its use, it has been taken up by corporations and educational institutions as a way to communicate and share ideas. For example, a report in the Australian news spreadsheet-The Age-suggests that Australian teachers use Twitter to engage in education related topics, like reforms, focus and leadership.  (MacGibbon & Tarica, 2012). And in the January, 2013 issue of IB World, the official magazine of the International Baccalaureate Organization, a teacher from the New International School of Thailand claimed that Twitter is a great resource “for real time news in a time of crisis”, while another group of educators engaged with the IBO’s Primary Years Programme claimed that Twitter helped them to get “their ideas together” (IB World, 2013). Leaving aside the obvious question over whether or not any communication platform would be available in a time of crisis these are unsubstantiated claims and pertain more to personal opinion. But, it’s worthwhile to consider the type and quality of information which may be shared in 140 characters or less in any situation especially when educators claim its usefulness as a cutting edge communicative platform. According to Twitter in 2012 its three most famous tweets came from President Barrack Obama, the pop singer, Justin Beiber and an NFL football player. Not a mention of a tweet from the Arab world, North Africa or Iran. Furthermore the tweets of the famous three consisted of only a few words. For president Obama it was simply four more years, Justin Beiber told the world he was sick, and an NFL player complained about the NFL lockout.  Yet did anyone think they were important messages? About 1.2 million twitter users did.

There’s no doubt that Twitter is beguiling, but its usefulness as an agent of social change and transformation and its ability to convey and spread ideas of any substance is highly questionable. While it may well be advantageous to educators to tweet to one another “learning by doing is fabulous” it’s quite another to read the works of John Dewey, the early 19th century American Philosopher, Psychologist and educational reformer, to really understand what he meant when he developed the concept, and how such a notion would work in the 21st century when educational technology is engaged in so much of the doing. Social media is dumbing us down. It plays into a social and political worldview which prefers passive acceptance over critical analysis of the status quo. It doesn’t allow one to question, analyse and respond rationally and critically.

TED talks, like Twitter is another media platform which engages in the spreading of information via an electronic medium-the internet. Under the slogan of ideas worth spreading, a TED talk lasts around 18 minutes. Audience members must pay a significant amount of money to participate as passive recipients of whatever is being said, and they clap and nod approvingly at various points throughout the presentations. An invitation to present via TED talk is exclusive, somewhat elitist and not open to the public. Are their ideas worth spreading? Not really, because the speakers are unable to deliver a well prepared and thoughtful argument within 18 minutes. Moreover if Bill Gates and Charles Leadbeater are any example, then they are simply spreading ignorance. They are for the most part opinionated thoughts expressed without recourse to any kind of evidence or clear reasoning. It’s difficult to conceive of Heidegger, Kant, Freud, Greer, Butler, Spinoza, Midgley and Sartre to name a few, expressing their arguments and ideas in under 18 minutes. TED talks are the multi-media equivalent of a bar room chat after a two hour professional development session.

We live in an age where we are flooded with information.  Myth and fact, knowledge and understanding, reason and belief are merging into one another, and becoming unrecognizable. Meanwhile the skills to wade through it all with good sense and purpose are languishing and becoming inaccessible in an educational sector under siege through the corporatization of teaching and learning, and subordinated to a distorted, chaotic and often irrational technological utopian vision of the future.

References:

IB World. (2013). Ways Social Media Work For You. IB World , 18-19.

MacGibbon, A., & Tarica, E. (2012, November 12). The Age: Teachers unlock tweet smell of success. Retrieved February 7, 2013, from The Age.com.au: http://www.theage.com.au

Morozov, E. (2011). The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York: Public Affairs PBS.