Teaching for and in the 21st Century

I set out to write a blog post about Seth Godin’s Tedx Talk: Stop Stealing Dreams. Truthfully, I don’t have it in me. I grow so weary of the hegemonic idea that Silicon Valley, tech entrepreneurs, coding, Raspberry Pi, etc. are going to save us all. Let’s get rid of teachers and replace them with online lectures. Let’s stop memorizing things and let our computers think for us. Let’s all be rugged individuals who innovate alone at a terminal. We’re all supposed to “think different” but only within the narrow confines of neoliberal capitalism.

I’m tired of it and I don’t have the strength at the moment to write a full critique. So instead I want to write about what I think education ought to look like in the 21st century. The most valuable thing Godin asks is: What is school for?

School is for exploring ideas.

School is for learning how to think critically.

School is for teaching children how to build communities.

School is for teaching students how to recognize illegitimate structures of power and domination. And for developing the tools to dismantle these structures.

This sort of education can happen in any field, any discipline and any setting. There are no discreet spheres of life. Politics, economics, science, family, etc. all are interwoven strands of individual and collective life.

School, then, is for teaching and learning how we can more fully build solidarities, technologies, and organizations that open up spaces for human flourishing.

16 thoughts on “Teaching for and in the 21st Century”

  1. I almost clicked out of the video when he said people never have to memorize anything again because of the Internet. Not only does it strengthen your mind to memorize information but it also helps you think faster and more critically.

    1. I agree completely. While I don’t think memorization can or should be the only method of instruction or education, it can definitely be an important one. There is a long tradition of memorization as an intellectual accomplishment and to wholesale throw it out seems very odd.

      I’m also quite skeptical in general about taking educational/teaching/learning advice from someone who has no background in education and who puts them self forward as “an entrepreneur and blogger who thinks about the marketing of ideas in the digital age.”

  2. I must admit that my own feelings about Stop Stealing Dreams have shifted a bit recently as well. I still believe that networked digital environments and the participatory cultures of the web offer invaluable leverage to our innate dispositions as social learners. But I also find myself increasingly on the back foot defending the prerogatives afforded by content expertise and experience in the classroom. And when I’m feeling that way Seth Godin can come across as yet another of the teaching as high-tech business gurus. Which is why Parker Palmer is there — he balances out Godin with a summons to engage with passion, to hone the kinds of social intelligence and empathy we need to succeed (meaning be forces of light and good — not make tons of money) in what is ultimately a vocation. Now more than ever, that’s a tough position to adopt, but the imperative to do so is urgent.

  3. Great post Jake. Technology is actually starting to eliminate the thinking processes of people nowadays, and its only going to get worse moving forward. School needs to remain on solid foundations and use technology in ways to assist this education and not replace it with online lectures or search engines that provide immediate answers. Students need to be able to build communities through their innovative ideas – and our educational systems should enable them to do that whichever discipline they are in.

  4. “School, then, is for teaching and learning how we can more fully build solidarities, technologies, and organizations that open up spaces for human flourishing.”
    This was such a great way to finish your thoughts, and I completely agree. There is no formula in learning, no one-size-fits-all that will work for everybody, I think. I believe that it is the interactions and conversations that we engage in with people from different backgrounds and with different interests that helps us build our knowledge and skills.

  5. Godin was the weakest resource this week by a wide margin. I tried to be a little crab like and pull out some of the better bits of his thought. Railing against rote memorization was his highest virtue, but he’s obviously been drinking Marc Cuban’s bathwater. Enough techno-utopianism. I’m less efficient because I have to check the information superhighway every hour or so (if I’m estimating conservatively) and it’s always spilling out more obligations and more drivel. I might be able to read and edit more documents because I can see them on a computer screen, but I don’t remember what I’ve read nearly half as well as when I have a physical copy.

    1. More Freire! Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual. MLK’s Creative Maladjustment speech(es). Really anything that sees education as an end in and of it self, rather than mobilizing it for what managers, CEOs, and others with power want. While I recognize there are real constraints to how we can teach, I want to resist the idea that we have to instrumentalize education and our teaching practices.

      1. Oh, I like the idea of MLK’s Creative Maladjustment! Said, I fear, might be quite a slog for some of the GEDIs. I’m also thinking about Bell Hooks — a couple of the short pieces from Teaching Critical Thinking / Practical Wisdom? More recent and focused on contemporary situation than Freire…Thanks so much for these suggestions.

        1. That MLK speech (and idea) is one of my favorites and as I read through again I think really does connect to the idea of how do we want to be educators. Said can definitely be a slog (Orientalism in particular was grueling for me) but, the nice thing is you can actually listen to the Representation of the Intellectual lectures on the BBC website.

          I think bell hooks could be a really good fit as well. She is quite challenging and thought-provoking. I was reading W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk the other day and I came across this passage which I really liked:

          “The greatest success of the Freedmen’s Bureau lay in the planting of the free school among Negroes, and the idea of free elementary education among all classes in the South. It not only called the school-mistresses through the benevolent agencies and built them schoolhouses, but it helped discover and support such apostles of human culture as Edmund Ware, Samuel Armstrong, and Erastus Cravath. The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.

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