Category Archives: vtclis12

Unintended consequences.

I struggled trying to blog yesterday after reading the excerpt from “Deschooling Society” by Illich.  It was one of those moments where there are so many things that you want to say, that you actually say nothing.  I often felt the same in class today – we were all riled up and sometimes it was hard to get a word in.

I will try to be brief here because I want to (again) draw attention to something scary and ominous that has stuck with me since our discussion.  Before I dive in, I want to point out that, to me, discussing the scary and ominous need not be a pessimistic act… but rather one that helps us to ground and orient ourselves so that we might find hope.

Ben mentioned Skinner boxes early in class and I couldn’t shake the connection from that to our conversation.  We like to think (and often rightfully so) that much of our learning involves sophisticated cognitive and/or social processes – that we are meta-cognitive masters in constructing knowledge and regulating our learning.  Yet, ever since Ben reminded us of our more animal-istic, somewhat subconscious, tendencies to be trained (<phone buzzes>, text back, or check the twitter mention, or…), it was all I could think about and hear as we talked.

Today in class, as we chatted about our education schooling(?) system, I heard that we good little students have learned very valuable lessons:

  • don’t ask questions
  • especially don’t ask naive questions
  • especially especially don’t ask stupid questions (as a novice, your question is probably stupid)
  • don’t say anything that isn’t perfect (don’t do anything that isn’t perfect either)
  • don’t like books (we can’t learn from them anyway)
  • i can’t be an expert until i’m credentialed
  • i can’t contribute until i’m an expert
  • if i display vulnerability, weakness, or any possibility that i might be wrong, i will be eaten, mocked, thrown out, oppressed.

Like the adage “we become what we eat,” how much of these messages do we internalize and allow to dictate our everyday actions?  I know I fall prey to many of these in spite of my best intentions not to.  I think some of these lessons, when internalized, keep us from being our most full, authentic, creative, beautiful selves.  I think they can keep us from seeing the best in each other and in our communities, and even in our institutions (school being one of them).  The hope (I believe) springs from the realization that these aren’t intentional outcomes.  No one is masterminding “schooling” to oppress and to stifle.  Rather, some of these lessons have become “unintended consequences” for some of us.  Fortunately, we can be better and do better.  Critical reflection can lead us to positive change.  Even as cogs in the “machine,” we have agency. (Thanks @shellifowler and @rebeccakmiller for our tweets about this)




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Interest and Pleasure: Beside the Point or THE Point?

Since I didn’t say much in class today (I think I was kind of using the discussion to reflect more on Illich’s ideas) there are a few ideas I found relevant to the topic of curriculum learning.  When I say curriculum learning, I do not mean education.  I mean the formal learning process, that is centralized and tackled in a “one size fits all” manner.

At first I thought Illich’s Learning Webs was kind radical and somewhat absurd but it’s not necessarily the ideas that were so out there, just the solution.  Or maybe it was just his urgent tone…which made me feel like the world was ending or something.  I think his term “deschooling” is a little hard to swallow upon first read.  I think a better term would be “decentralizing.”  I think this term epitomizes everything Illich is trying to put into words but it doesn’t have such an aggressive feel about it.  It does however sound kind of generic so maybe it would just be best to think of his proposal in a decentralized instead of deschooled way.  A way that doesn’t halt development through the forming of little black boxes of knowledge.  A way that encourages questions and doesn’t instill the learner with a fear of sounding “stupid.”  Similar to what Jake said, I fear if we cannot establish a more interactive means to learning in schools, it is truly questionable what the future holds for us.  I can’t help but think back to when I was very young, pre- and early-elementary years, I never stopped asking questions.  It didn’t matter if they were naive or silly because I was truly interested in the answer and I once I got it, I could go along my merry way, continuing my quest for knowledge in a way that made sense to me.  Before I was conditioned to curriculum learning, I made connections all by myself, without the teacher’s help and I felt genuinely satisfied (again, Nelson).

So is interest and pleasure beside the point?  Absolutely not.  Interest and pleasure is the point.  We need to stop striving for “productive members of society” and start thinking about ourselves a little more.  As cliche as it may sound, it is strikingly similar to the idea of being happy with yourself instead of worrying what others think about you.  If your education is not stimulating to you then the “benchmark,” the “A” doesn’t really matter or mean anything.  Now if only there were a more sensible way to achieve this idealistic goal…

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Deschooling: Liberating the Mind

The first thought that came to my mind while reading “Learning Webs,” from Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society was anger.  I had not been aware of how weak my past education was until coming to college and this realization is highlighted a good bit in this class, especially in Nelson’s “Computer Lib / Dream Machines” but even more so in this reading.  Why am I angry?  I feel betrayed by what I thought was a good thing, by an education system that never taught me to delve deeper into how I was learning, not necessarily what I was learning.  I believe more interest in topics would have been generated if the way in which I learned them was more appealing, more stimulating, and more diverse.   After all, the medium is the message right?

It’s not that I am calling myself stupid or uneducated by any means but I do feel somewhat irritated at the inadequacies our current education system has produced in me.  This idea of monopolizing knowledge, only those who have the appropriate title or classification are permitted access to particular tools and opportunities in education and in the working world.  I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Even with this class, I at first felt inadequate.  It’s kind of a paradox because even though it caused me to feel inferior to others’ ideas, at the same time it made me be appreciative and proud of my own ideas.

Furthermore, this class is a form of deschooling itself if you ask me.  Granted, it’s not nearly as radical as Illich’s proposed system but it does away with the concrete curriculum and skills testing.  It is not “a demagoguery calling for more of the same” like so many other classes.  I have said it before and I will say it again, student/reader participation takes precedence over predetermined right and wrong answers.

If Dr. C’s class provides a mere glimpse into the prospect of deschooling, than I will resound a major theme in Illich’s work: liberation.  The idea of letting your own mind do the work is liberating.  It provides a sense of self-worth that no A+ on a final can ever do.

When we start seeing more classes like this one, classes that encourage one’s own imagination instead of the easy alternative of yielding to a predetermined curriculum, then I think deschooling will be taking place on a larger scale.  When people start experiencing what it feels like to actually learn, it will be positively impossible to stop deschooling.  Illich agrees:

“The disestablishment of schools will inevitably happenand it will happen surprisingly fast. It cannot be retarded very much longer, and it is hardly necessary to promote it vigorously, for this is being done now. What is worthwhile is to try to orient it in a hopeful direction…”

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It appears I am far too indoctrinated

VTCLIS12ers, I am in San Diego CA for a conference, so I’m currently  in Pacific time. Did you guys know that there’s only one time zone for the entire country of China? Totalitarianism FTW.

I would like to spend some time to talk about Ivan Illich’s book chapter “Deschooling Society: Learning Webs”. This composition was written in the 70s, which make it quite prophetic in its description about the internet. The overall theme of the book chapter however, concerns the total replacement of the school systems with its proposed new system. The feeling I got when reading this is a sense of confusion. Perhaps I am too blind and indoctrinated by the school system, but I didn’t know the school system was as bad as Illich described. In fact, Illich proposed the “inverse” of school.

Illich does raised an interesting point of how all schools are fundamentally the same (in the 70s). I don’t pretend to know everything school system that exists on the world, but those that I have experienced (Chinese and American) do seem to have some fundamental similarities. One thing I do want to point out is that Illich did referenced China’s Cultural Revolution. I know the revolution was actually happening when Illich was writing the book chapter, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt citing the revolution as a possible “successful” attempt at dechooling the society. The Cultural Revolution was responsible for hundreds of thousands of death; people were murdered BECAUSE they were educated. Millions were relocated and forced to abandon their profession to work in farms. Because of the Cultural Revolution, China had lost generations of educated people, and to this day, the moral standards of the Chinese society still have not recovered. This is a heart-breaking subject that is also fascinated to read about, so I do encourage everyone to at least start at the Wikipedia article. If something akin to the Cultural Revolution is needed to “deschool” society, then I will not wish it upon anyone.

There seems to be a lot of claims in the book chapter about schools that I don’t know if I agree with. For example, Illich claimed that “schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life”. I’m not sure that this is true, at least not all the time. Most knowledge taught in school is readily available elsewhere, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a class where the teacher claimed that the way he/she teaches is the ONLY way for us to learn. (There may be misguided radical teachers that would say that, but I would hazard to say that they are in the minority). He also claimed that the public is “indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are result of formal schooling”. I also don’t think that is completely true. I believe the public DO value skills and knowledge that did not stemmed from formal education, however, I would tend to agree that there may not be enough appreciation for it. But Illich seems to imply that the entire schooling system is a conspiracy to keep knowledge and skill scarce to general profit. That is a rather cynical outlook that is entirely possible, but I don’t think is true. I don’t think people are as sinister as we like them to be.

There are some very good ideas here, I especially like the uplifting of games (as described by Illich) in the educational setting. Like many other methods described by Illich, this relies heavily on the self-motivation of the learners. In fact, the entire system Illich described only works under the assumption that people WANTED to be learners. I would love to believe that is true, but I am dubious. However, I agree that in an ideal society where all social elements encourages the population to emerge as learners (which is not what we have right now), this is possible. Another idea that Illich proposed (one that even he agreed was radical) was a “bank” for skill exchange. This is a truly fascinating idea, but seems monumental in its implementation. Essentially, we would be creating a whole new economy that is based on the exchange of skill. Like any economy, there will be ways where it can be abused and manipulated. Illich freely admitted that such a system would “promote an elit of those who earned their education by sharing it”. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

The entire discussion about the short-coming of sequential education is familiar to me. We have had heated discussions about the fallacy of such a system. I am very conflicted on this subject. On one hand, I can see the amazing appeal of non-linear education, a system where the learners to see the big picture and work their way to the nitty-gritty details of knowledge and skills they wanted to learn. On the other hand, coming from a STEM background, I don’t know how this can be realistically accomplished. Some knowledge in STEM makes the most sense in a sequential manner. It would be a difficult for a learner to appreciate calculus before he/she has a good understanding of algebra. Illich envisioned a system where learners would be able to specify specifically what they want to learn. This seems great, but very idealistic, and again hinges on the assumption that all participants are motivated learners.

The peer-matching network Illich described is very interesting, as it is essentially a more narrow, focused form of the internet we have today. Illich described in this manner, we “abolish the power of one person to oblige another person to attend a meeting”. Googling/wiki-ing is the same way; I am not obligated to provide and/or obtain knowledge and skills from the internet, yet I maintain the agency to do so, and I DO choose to do so with a clear motivation.

Illich vision of a deschooled society have some very appealing aspects to me, yet the entire system just seem way too radical for me. Illich predicts “the disestablishment of schools will inevitably happen–and it will happen surprisingly fast”. It’s been 30 years and it hasn’t happened yet. I supposed then I am part of the problem, as it appears I am far too indoctrinated to believe Illich. They say “Who dares, wins”. Well, I guess I’m a loser then.



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A Life Without Schooling, Not Possible.

It is generally accepted that the schooling system we have today is corrupt.  The purpose of schooling is no longer centered around gaining knowledge.  With such widespread dissatisfaction, one would think that something could be done.  However, it is hard to imagine what this something could be.  Ivan Illich’s “Learning Webs” from Deschooling Society helps to outline what he thinks this something could be.  More importantly, it outlines some of the major problems with schooling in our society.

Ivan Illich states that “a good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” He says that “what are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.”

Though I think approach is a great idea, I feel that it is extremely unrealistic.  Even if students had access to all of these networks, society has conditioned students to do the least amount work possible for the best grade possible.  In theory, “someone who wants to learn knows that he needs both information and critical response to its use from somebody else.”  This condition is idea.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. Currently our  condition would be extremely hard to reverse.  In order to reverse it, the generation undergoing the deschooling could not be exposed to the behavior of the generation before them.  With this said, I believe Ivan Illich’s theory is great in theory but impossible to attain.


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Are We the Condominiums in Data Space?

What exactly is Viola referring to when he asks the reader “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?”  By that question I mean, what does a condominium have to do with data space?  After over-analyzing numerous definitions of the term, I discovered a few reoccurring words that must relate to what Viola is asking.  A condominium is “a large property complex” that is “divided into individual units.”  Now I’m wondering if the large property complex part refers to this idea of “Data space” – “a conceptual geometry, theoretically infinite, within which various forms may be created, manipulated, extended and destroyed.”  Are we going to divide up the data space like a condominium or are we going to navigate around this data space as a whole?

If you can follow me here, then Viola’s three structures to describe patterns of information will make sense.  You can take the most popular structure called “branching” wherein the navigator takes the top to bottom approach.  This makes most sense to me because it is linear and the exact path to follow is quite obvious.  Viola also highlights the fact that this system is utilized in our education system; it’s very predetermined and definitely easier than the alternatives…but easier is almost never better if you ask me.  A new diagram called the “matrix” structure is an alternative way of viewing information, wherein the viewer can enter at any point, move in any direction, at any speed.  Unlike branching, this structure is not linear because the navigator can take any path through the information however it maintains the idea of parameters.  This idea is not sustained in the last structure called the “schizo” or “spaghetti” model which gives way to the concept that “all directions are equal but all are not equal.  Everything is irrelevant and significant at the same time.”  It’s easy to get lost in the randomness of this structure, it’s actually impossible not to.  I can relate this structure to a lot of the readings we had, especially “medium is the message” and the big question in McCloud’s Time Frames, is linear progression really necessary?

I don’t think Viola is emphasizing holistic over parts or vice versa, I think he is focusing on this idea that you can’t understand what you’re looking at unless you know what you’re NOT looking at.  In other words, when analyzing a piece of information, keep in mind what you are NOT analyzing because often times, what is missing could play a big part in understanding.

So many of the readings we have done emphasize viewer participation.  The uniqueness of each individuals’ thought process is essential to holistic and thorough learning, to the greater good of society.  Does that make each and everyone of us the “condominiums of data space”?  I think so. and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all.  Viewing information in a linear, parts-focused, condominium-like manner is not helpful but viewing information in our unique way, without a set of predetermined steps IS helpful.  I think that is what a lot of these writers are trying to get at with their essays and I think that is what Dr. C is attempting here with this class.

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Choose your own adventure.

(Sorry LDRS 1016ers, this post may not be your cup of tea…)

Viola and McCloud should be/must be cronies.  It is interesting to see how they use different media as “ins” into the same essential idea of multiple ways through the same material.  For McCloud, we studied the circular comic and wondered at the different stories that were contained all depending on where you start.  In Viola’s work, we stumble upon the branched structure and the schizo structure – the idea that there might be infinite ways through the same material.  For example, a student watching videos that have choices (click here and dive into this story, click here and dive into that story, don’t click and the current story keeps playing) in a way that gives the reader/viewer agency in how they navigate the pre-recorded content.  <hint hint, Meta-team, kinda sounds like our looping, linking, Wordles!)>

Viola takes this “control” further as he talks about being able to manipulate and modulate video just as in electronic music.  When reading this, I immediately thought of time lapse videos, and how they tell a beautifully unique story on their own that both is and isn’t quite the same as “real time” (whatever that means… gee thanks McCloud for ruining that concept… :P).  Ants and little humans?

Viola seems to be beautifully prophetic  (like many of our other authors).  Just as he discussed the modulation of time within videos, he also mentions that “the computer is merging with video.  The potential offspring of this marriage is only beginning to be realized.”  iPad?  Facetime?  Youtube? Second Life?  With this kind of “new media” doppler radar, I think we should take a hard close look at the closing tomorrow.  What does Viola mean by “development of self must precede development of the technology or we will go nowhere” – ??  Is he sending the same message as the movie Wall-e?  Or maybe it is like our takeaway from McLuhan that we should be aware of how we can be both augmented and blinded at the same time?   Or…?  Are we the porcupine or the cars? Both and neither?

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The Gestalt Principles of Time.

“Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?” by Bill Viola left me with a whole new perspective on time (not unusual for this course). We all understand that time is continuous. However, there are certain situations when we do not perceive time as continuous. For example, when we recall memories. As Bill Viola says, “it is memories, and to some extent sleep, that gives us the impression of a life of discrete parts, periods, or sections, of certain times or ‘highlights.’”

I believe that Bill Viola intentionally drew a parallel between the gestalt principles and time. Rather than our eyes attempting to make sense of a photo, our minds are attempting to make sense of the concept of time. “Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. These theories attempt to describe how people tend to organize visual elements into unified wholes when certain principles are applied.” In short, the gestalt principles attempt to describe why we as humans tend to view the whole and then view the sum of the wholes parts. We first view time and then we view the discrete parts, periods, or sections of time. I find this extremely interesting because it applies to everyday life. When we tell a story to a friend we do not simple tell the story from beginning to end with every mundane detail in between but rather skip around and tell the parts that apply. The sum of these parts make up the whole story. As Bill Viola states “life without editing, it seems, is just not that interesting.”

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Why hasn’t this happened yet?

I would like to express to you some of my thoughts as I read Viola’s article. First of all, is the whole “early Greeks’ mnemonic walks through temple” the exact thing Jake mentioned the other day? You know, when had that whole argument about “embodiment”? Turns out this is a huge deal. I particularly liked how Viola interpreted this as an “artificial memory system”. In this way we create new connection between “key points” to locations, and the new connection takes on meaning that previously did not exist.

The fascinating thing is that, this connection (with its “new” meaning) is part of a big picture Viola called the “data space”. The thing about connection is that, it bears no meaning without the things it connects together. “There is always a whole space…” When the Greeks created the the mnemonic connection in their temple walks, the connection was made for a greater purpose, NOT for the sake of the connection alone. This seems to be an intuitive notion, but I don’t think I have thought about this before it was expressed to me by Viola. The analogy he then used, by comparing how our memory works to how computer generates 3D images is very telling. The image cannot be created without its reference space. This “space” itself bears little meaning without the created image, because it is a reference to the image. But the image itself CANNOT exist without the space. Quite a twist on the whole chicken and egg problem.

We are all in agreement that the message is always sculpted by the medium. Some of argue that the medium IS the message. But here Viola exemplify the notion that nature of the message itself is highly correlated to the nature of the medium. A video is by nature extremely sequential. Only one frame is shown to us at one time. This is a limitation we don’t often think about, mostly because we expected it. Poetry, as Viola described is completely opposite. The entire work is shown to us at once. We may interpret poetry sequentially, but even then it was not required that we do so. It seems to me that the video media have not overcome this limitation today (30 years after Viola has written this article), but I think my question is, how would we even try to overcome this limitation?

Viola also touched on his displeasure on the sequential nature of education. We have touched on this subject heavily during the GEDI class, generating much heated discussion. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this subject here because I am conflicted about this issue. Coming from a STEM background I believe that some of the sequential nature of education is unavoidable. I think for someone to comprehend calculus before he or she has a firm handle on algebra would be very difficult. But, I can certainly appreciate that if we were to offer up the “data space” – that is, the big picture – of mathematics to a student first, they would be more motivated to learn. I am skeptical on the idea of non-linear learning, but I shall remain cautiously optimistic, because I think it is a noble and novel notion.

I don’t pretend to have much knowledge on Indian Tantric doctrines, but Viola’s comparison of it to the nature of electronic systems is interesting to me. We may see television, radio, and oscilloscope has vastly different electronic “media”, but they essentially interprets this same information, albeit into very different forms. This analogy reinforce my believe that there really is very little fundamentally “new” things. As Viola has shown ideas like “artificial memory systems” exist long before the term was coined, as ancient Greeks had been doing that exact thing in their temple walks.

If we expend the linear progression of information and data, into a grid (matrix) as Viola suggested, the resulted product would be vastly different from most media we enjoy today. One of the biggest paradigm shift I see in non-linear information is that is doesn’t, shouldn’t, and couldn’t matter where you started. In linear expression of information, there is a purposeful start, and it ends up somewhere. Any deviation from that would probably result in incoherent understanding. But in the non-linear array of information Viola suggested, it seems that the intention is that we could start at a different place, go a different path, and end up at a different terminus, the information should STILL be coherently expressed to us, and we would be able to coherently interpret it. Assuming that I did not misinterpret what Viola meant, this would be monumental. It would be like a two dimensional being realizing that there is such a thing as thickness.

Such ideas are not stranger to human, as again, Viola has written about is more tan 30 years ago. Have we not worked on this? Why hasn’t this happened yet?

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In vtclis12 class on Thursday we had our second discussion of McCloud’s comments.  I think we could all agree that it was a day of subtle tricks that unlocked powerful concepts for us all.  It started with Julie’s reading of the comic from right to left (GASP!) and followed with Adam’s link between the comic on page 724 and gears turning at different rates.  More subtly, at the end of class we talked about panels.  We examined the quotes “for just as the body’s largest organ — our skin — is seldom thought of as an organ — so too is the panel itself overlooked as comics most important icon!”  This led to that the panels have “no fixed or absolute meaning like the icons of language science and communication… nor is their meaning as fluid and malleable as the sorts of icons we call pictures.”  In McCloud’s comic itself, this leads to conversation on the relationship between depiction and perception.  Throughout the talk of panels, McCloud quickly references “frames” as a synonym.  But, as we re-read through this in class, we always used frames to talk about it. <I promise I’m going somewhere with this :)>

Frames.  I’m not a comic book reader.  I work with students in the context of community engagement.  I am responsible for course content of leadership and social change.  I value reflection on critical issues in this world.  To me, when I hear the word “frame,” I think about the person who is privileged enough to set the stage, to tell the story.  I think about the schemas (categories and stereotypes even) that help us to navigate the world.  Until Thursday, when I read pg 716-717 I thought of panels in comic books.  Thursday, because of the simple switch of a word, I was reading about frames in life.  I immediately bookmarked Chimamanda amazing talk on Delicious because connections were firing off in my head.  To McCloud, the panel is comic’ most important icon.  In our lives, understanding “framing” is perhaps one of the most important things we can do.  I want to share some quotes from Chimamanda…

“That is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become” (talking about oppression)

“Stories too are defined by the principle of <power>. (she uses a word I do not know how to spell phonetically) How they are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.”

and, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I am pleasantly flabbergasted at how McCloud’s dive into time and frames is so universally applicable beyond comics – from commenting on how we think and perceive, to a reminder on the nature of the “frames” that help us perceive and mis-perceive, judge and be judged, understand and mis-understand.  And, just as the cartoonist can manipulate our thoughts and perceptions with “frames,” so too can we celebrate or malign others in our framing of them.  At one point in her talk, Chimamanda mentions that “where you start the story” (how you frame it) can make all the difference.  For example, she mentions the single-story oppression of starting the story of modern America’s history with the arrows of the Native Americans rather than the arrival of the British, and how that dramatically alters the perception of the history.  This reminds me of the comic wheel again on page 724 – how does the story change depending on where you start?  Does the couple break up at the end or is this the story of the birth and growing up of a boy with a single-mother who struggles through life but happily finds love at the end?

What “frames” are in your life?  What “framing” do you do of others and how can you be more intentional with, and respectful of, the “framing?”

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