"Unschooling" and David Weinberger

Today a student shared a piece appearing over at the Washington post on education, focusing on debates over class sizes. The piece details two general approaches to education--the first teacher driven, the second student driven. This second approach the article refers to as "unschooling," since it emphasizes how learning has to involve developing independent initiative Coincidentally, I was reading through David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous today (at student asked about the books I would be teaching in my New Media class this fall, I've decided to try Weinberger). Flipping through my Weinberger, I came to the following page contrasting what Weinberg identifies as social knowing to traditional, teacher-driven notions of knowledge and education:

Now poke your head into a classroom toward the end of the school year. In Massachusetts, where I live, you're statistically likely to see students with their heads bowed, using no. 2 pencils to fill in examinations mandated by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Fulfilling the mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the MCAS measures how well schools are teaching the standardized curricula the state has formulated and whether students are qualified for high school degrees. Starting with the third grade, students' education is now geared toward those moments every year when the law requires that they sit by themselves and answer questions on a piece of paper. The implicit lesson is unmistakable: Knowing is something done by individuals. It is something that happens inside your brain. The mark of knowing is being able to fill in a paper with the right answers. Knowledge could not get any less social. In fact, in those circumstances when knowledge is social we call it cheating.

Nor could the disconnect get much wider between the official state view of education and how our children are learning. In most American households, the computer on which students do their homework is likely to be connected to the Net. Even if their teachers let them use only approved sources on the Web, changes are good that any particular student, including your son or daughter, has four or five instant-messaging sessions open as she does homework. They have friends with them as they learn. In between chitchat about the latest alliances and factions among their social set, they are comparing answers, asking for help on tough questions, and complaining. Our children are doing their homework socially, even though they're being graded and tested as if they are doing their work in isolation booths. But in the digital order, their approach is appropriate. Memorizing facts is often now a skill more relevant to quiz shows than to life.

One thing is for sure: When our kids become teachers, they're not going to be administering tests to students sitting in a neat grid of separated desks with the shades drawn.

At least, we hope they won't. Weinberger's book was written in 2007--and the changes to education I have seen in Florida since moving here makes me wonder if Weinberger's certainty is so certain.

1 comment:

David said...

I remain somewhat optimistic, at least as a thin shell over a chewy center of deep despair. Even if the old institutions survive the Net, students will take for granted collaborative possibilities that seemed absurd to us just a few years ago. Wikipedia remains the great example, but the ability to spread culture via social networking sites is also radically different and, in its own way, empowering. Those lessons (and so many more) cannot be undone.

Anyway, good luck with your class, and thanks for using my book.