Crossing the Event Horizon of an Antiquated Education System

I noticed something this week.  I am interested.  I think I’m starting to shake off the shackles and the dust from massive burn-out at my former job where I had become bored, uninterested, and dispassionate.  It’s the closest I have ever come to feeling ambivalent.  It actually frightened me.  I worried that I might not ever be interested in anything again.  What if I’d crossed the event horizon on a massive black hole of disinterest and boredom?  Apparently, I had not crossed it.  I just spent a little too much time in the ergosphere.  Perhaps listening to people like Dr. Gardner Campbell, Sir Ken Robinson, and others is having an impact.  The idea of exploration is appealing again.  But now, I’m wondering how many students today are perpetually stuck in the ergosphere of an antiquated and inadequate education system that doesn’t provide the necessary tools?  How many get lost, and how many have crossed the event horizon, possibly never to return?  (Here’s a black hole diagram for those interested – a little physics never hurt anyone).

Black Hole Regions - Singularity, Event Horizon, Ergosphere

Those countless who have quietly slipped over the threshold have certainly been robbed of their tomorrow (at least as far as Newtonian physics is concerned).  This isn’t a new problem.  This has been a central issue in teaching and education for over a century.  In 1915, John Dewey wrote, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

We did no favors for the generation of learners who experienced No Child Left Behind.  While I haven’t conducted any kind of survey or monitored primary and secondary classrooms, I suspect that quite a few kids felt disinterested, dispassionate, and bored.  It’s a terrible feeling, and a far cry from the learners in the PBS video, “Digital Media – New Learners for the 21st Century.”  Unlike one of the learners in the video, many in traditional settings don’t describe their classroom experiences in the following manner, “It looks fun.  I want to learn it.”

Standard curriculum requirements for states don’t necessarily include the use of digital media in the classroom.  While I can’t speak on behalf of every classroom at every level in the country, I can say that less than 2 years ago, I was in the midst of a graduate program at a very well known and expensive university, and in over three years of coursework, we never deviated from the standard format of classroom delivery: stationary speaker, set of slides, required textbook, tests, papers, presentations, grade.  It was not interesting.  Other than getting the piece of paper (degree), I wasn’t sure it really mattered.  I didn’t feel connected to the vast set of resources just steps outside the classroom.  I didn’t feel connected to other universities, knowledge, possibilities, or avenues.  I felt isolated and I also felt like I was getting ripped off.  How many students in primary, secondary, and undergraduate level courses feel the same way?  If they don’t have access to the tools that help them connect, understand, interpret, reinterpret, solve, innovate, and eventually feel ownership in a topic or concept, they are getting ripped off in the very sense that John Dewey meant.

Digital media is part of the current fabric.  Teaching without it is essentially teaching without practical application.  One dimensional, static, linear, hardcopy classrooms are no longer practical.  You’d be hard pressed to find a scientist or engineer who’d advocate teaching the physical sciences without a laboratory component, or medicine without a residency.  A frightening concept emerged in the final few minutes of the PBS video…  According to Dr. James Gee, variances in teaching and classroom experience could result in a sort of pre-determined fate for students.  Those that get the static, minimum requirement approach may receive an education that prepares them for service-based jobs.  Those that get a dynamic approach that includes the application of current tools like digital media and encourages innovation and adaptive problem solving will likely be more prepared to meet an increasingly competitive world economy and succeed.  Haves and have-nots.  An even wider gap in the social strata that that sounds disturbingly similar to the makings of caste society.  I think it already exists, and that it won’t get better until we decide to invest at the national level to ensure that all kids have access to the necessary tools and teachers.

Where I used to be afraid of how far behind I had fallen in the world of digital media and how I might be an utter failure in using it as a teacher to inspire others, I am now really fascinated by the possibilities and the challenge.  I see a need.  I see how I might go about improving my own skills.  I also see that it’s going to be a lot of work and a constant level of effort to stay current.  That’s okay.  Maybe, that’s what it takes to keep from crossing the event horizon.  Maybe one of the teacher’s roles is to keep students out of the ergosphere  – never let them get close enough to be affected by the fear that it doesn’t really matter and they can’t make a difference.


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