Saturday, 14 January 2012

"mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent pour partir"

I return to Baudelaire during critical times. Invariably. He lived in the 19th century.

The first week back from the X-mas break and all my students seem to be charging ahead, in one direction or another, at variable speed most of them and with variable momentum. But there is motion around me. There is feeling and there is a lot of talking, sometimes pointing to "the poverty within" as Pinter would phrase it. This week of my life was, yet again, a week about education.

First, the technology. I recently acquired a kindle, the purchase of which i proudly announced to my father, my model book-worm. Good, he said, another publishing house bites the dust then. But, dad, e-books are cheaper, easier to access, transport, share. I know, he said, but musician so-and-so, whom you like so much, has had only seven performances in December and January. And he does not earn anything in royalties because his music can be downloaded on the internet for free. (Counting the number of trees that i will save by using my kindle was pointless.) I put the phone down and picked up my kindle, went on reading Neil Postman's The End of Education where Postman discusses the gods of Economic Utility, Consumerism and Technology (p. 32): "technological innocence refers not only to ignorance of detergents, drugs, sanitary napkins, cars, salves, and foodstuffs but also to ignorance of technical mechanisms, such as banks and transportation systems". The technological advancement that started with such a bang in the 19th century is continuing and the baton is being passed on to the 21st century. The 20th century, my dad's world, is dead,. I was born and raised in this world; i will die in another. Do i feel the moral imperative to buy a print book for every kindle book i download? Probably. I will try to hold on to my dad and our shared world. (By the way black-and-white is back, but it's not the same. Satyajit Ray is black-and-white, 21st century isn't.)

Putting my personal technological and emotional dilemmas aside, the association of the 19th and the 21st centuries that Postman creates, reminds me of a similar point Erica McWilliam made at IBAEM regional conference in The Hague in October in 2011 with regard to education. Actually it is the very first point she makes referring to the emergence of disciplinary categories in the 19th century ('homo sapiens') and the need for "empathy, global consciousness, thinking beyond own generation, willingness to change and courage" for the new category that describes what humans are, i.e. 'globo sapiens' (a term attributed to Ian Lowe) in the 21st. How much of what we teach our students, in boarding and in the classroom, is still 20th century, or even the 19th? For example, do we still believe that if we throw people together, they will get to know each other and eventually get along? Contact theory does not always seem to work; look at America, look at South Africa or just look at some of our schools. Do we try to create a shared culture in our schools and do we value every stakeholder as a learner? Probably not, many of our processes in schools are managed in an authoritarian, rather than a co-constructivist way. Maybe we need a closer look at the culture in our schools, their structure and how we manage power. Do we lack courage? Are we unwilling to change, or even worse, resist change? My father is not unwilling to change; he is unable to do so. But for me, a teacher, it is important to have a kindle, use a smartboard, web 2.0 and much more. It is a moral imperative to have courage, empathy, the willingness to change and think beyond my generation. Because that's where my students live.

As Erica McWilliam suggests, the 21st century needs more than routine thinking in everything we do and learning matters more than knowing. What is in demand is the ability to see the part in the context of the wider and more complex whole and the ability to collaborate with others in ways that increase opportunities for successful innovation.

This week also, a lot of my students decided to write their ToK essay on the topic of discovering new ways to look at old data vs discovering more new data. The discussion led us to watching Sanjit Bunker Roy's TED talk about his Barefoot College. Illiterate grandmothers who do not speak the same language, working together to build solar panels are quintessentially Globo Sapiens of the 21st century. What are we?