“RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.” There are times when I find that these three words define what education in America has become. The phrase became popular when it was said on a television show called Star Trek: The Next Generation in the episode, “The Best of Both Worlds.” It was said by the alien race of the Star Trek universe known as the Borg. The Borg were major villains in the Star Trek series and were frightening creatures who assimilated cultures or technology in their “collective.” They pretty much assimilated anyone or anything they deemed worthy through higher technology and superior traits (i.e. strength or intelligence). In the series and other series in Star Trek, they took over many civilizations to achieve what they desired to take over all lifeforms and technology in their version of “perfect.” The Borg are part of a collective with no individuality, but more importantly, they act as one. However, the most important element of the Borg to understand is their ability to do all of this by their cumulation of superior knowledge, technology, and power. They could take down entire intelligent civilizations without much resistance. To me, the Borg’s mission sums up what education has been forced to become and mindful learning may become a useful defense against Borg education tactics.
A major problem within the educational environment is the lack of individuality and creativity allowed within the teaching profession. Teachers are expected to “assimilate” their students into becoming what the requirements dictate. It is not teaching nor is it learning. It robs both the students and teachers of their individuality and uniqueness, very much like the Borg of Star Trek. We add students to a “collective” without recognizing the importance of their independent contribution or the uniqueness in which they learn. Ellen Langer describes this as mindless learning. I find it difficult to describe this process as learning. Personally, I think it is better described as “assimilation.” Students absorb the information without truly learning it. They know it until the test or they only do what is required. Learning includes passion and inspiration to seek out more knowledge than what is required. It is a feeling as well as a process.
How does this happen? How did education become about the “assimilation” of information and not about “learning” of knowledge?
Now, I think it is important to clarify the differences between what is happening. We are losing the uniqueness of our educational system. Ken Robinson’s TED Talk video does a wonderful job of explaining what is happening. However, I think it is important to emphasize that not all educational practices we use today are problematic. Not all testing is bad. It has a role to play just as many other practices do, but it is important to understand that individuals learn differently and we have to adapt to these changes in who students are exposed to the world. We need standards, but we have to able to balance meeting these standards without compromising the most compelling aspects of student individuality.
Michael Wesch’s article, “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance,” discusses how he found students were simply struggling to understand the importance of education. Individuals need to know that they themselves are important and not just part of the collective. My supposition is that individuals in a classroom need to feel they provide something that other cannot. (It’s like when you pick your team fro a group project. You want to have individuals with different strengths and weaknesses, so you can have a well-rounded team. Each member defines their own piece of the puzzle for the best result.)
How do we make these changes? Honestly, I do not how to make these changes until we change the perception of education. It is a double-edged sword: individuals need to change their way of looking at education, but in order to do so we need to change their experience of education. Until we can change this forced feeling of having to obtain as much knowledge as possible without looking at the intricacies or nuances of what students are studying, we cannot change education. Education has to become a journey to greater knowledge and not an assimilation of “you must comply.”
You hit on something from the Michael Wesch article that I also found interesting – the idea that students are struggling to understand the importance of education. I often wonder how many students are in college simply because they are supposed to be. Are all students truly interested in learning, or do they want that piece of paper that they think will make it easier to get a job? I believe educations is of fundamental importance to a well-functioning society, but maybe all young adults don’t understand the role they play in this. There are so many opportunities within education and for higher education reform, and your double-edge sword metaphor hits it right on the head.
While I hope we never reach the level of homogeneity that the borg possessed, there is a way to change the perception of education. If we use “the power of positive thinking” as I have often used, there is the potential for us to begin changing how the classroom and subsequently education is implemented and therefore viewed.
An individual has a thought. A pair has an idea. A group has a process. A mass has a movement. And when a movement has traction it changes a paradigm of thought. When the paradigm changes the mindset of a generation it become the norm. From a thought can come a revolution in education.
It takes time to rotate a sword to be able to rest on the broad side of the blade.
I do agree on your points regarding “assimilation.” Resistance is … what’s that word?
I am thinking in context of public schooling, and further, my own experience with it.
I also agree it’s not all worthless – testing, standards, educational continuity across a very large population spread out across a very large chunk of earth, all have their place, all are useful.
Lastly, I also agree with the notion that the fault does not lie exclusively with the educators. A student with a chronic case of apathy and a nonexistent work ethic that refuses to put in the attention or work required to understand a lesson or concept does not help.
Of course one could argue that apathy is a result or symptom of an education system that failed that student. In some cases I could see the merit of such an argument. In other cases I could not.
I’m not entirely sure why we’re so concerned with pointing fingers.
“That’s not important right now, what’s important … is figuring out whose fault this is.” – Randy Marsh
Is it possible to do both, keep consistent standards across the board, yet provide individual attention to those willing to accept it?