Lemmings Marching to the Flat World Drum Beat ???

The ever challenging, Mr. Hoffman, commented the other day on my blog entry about high schools and computer science courses (High Schools Fail To Meet Needs Of Tech-Driven World ????). In his practiced zeal to poke holes in my arguments, Hoffman logically questions my suspicions of our constant calls for more science, math, and technology instruction in schools, considering my “promotion of The World is Flat.

He assumes that my interest in the flat world, as an approach to talking about changing global economic conditions means that I’m marching lemming-like along with Friedman and other advocates of flatism. Those who are regular readers of my blog and who have heard me talk about the flat world, flat web, and flat classrooms know that many of my ideas do not parallel those of most flat world preachers.

Our tendency is to absorb the flat world story, and then say, “We must be more competitive!” “We must look at what the Chinese, and Indians are doing well to attract global business, and do it better.” The message I got from The World is Flat, is that we need to learn to cooperate, to collaborate. China and India are finding their niches. What is ours?

I maintain that it isn’t necessarily programming or even engineering, although I agree with Alfred Thompson’s comment that exposure to and understanding of the engineering and even the programming are critical. We do not need to dominate these areas, however, in order to remain prosperous or even in a position of leadership. We do need to be figuring out those contributions that we are uniquely good at.

There are lots of directions we might go in. But what interests me is our astounding capacity for play. We know how to play. At least we use to. We have been successful and prosperous for a long time — decades. We’ve learned how to enjoy it. We’ve been selfish, foolish, wasteful, and arrogant in the process, but joy is a thing that we know something about. We should master responsible joy, and export that. I have no idea what that would look like, but it isn’t marching everyone into engineering school — in any country.

I believe that it is the creative arts that we should be emphasizing, every bit as much as the technical arts.

Enough said about that. Thanks Tom. I appreciate any opportunity or excuse to further explain my points. Keep challenging me, and others, and enjoy it. 😉

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7 thoughts on “Lemmings Marching to the Flat World Drum Beat ???”

  1. I take your point, David, and I’m glad I could explicitly tease it out of you. When I read TWiF, one reason I didn’t think that it was a very useful book for educators (outside of its chapter on open source), is that there is nothing in it to actually change anyone’s point of view about what should be done in education. You can use TWiF to back just about any argument you want, e.g., if you believe NCLB is an effective approach to improving schools, TWiF shows how important it is that we keep it around.

  2. David:

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean when you write that we should export creative arts. But that’s ok, because as you write, you don’t know exactly what you mean. However, if you mean that we should lead the rest of the world in the ability to develop innovative ideas, projects and technologies, I fully agree.

    However, this will take a lot of work. As you know creativity is spurred by asking questions and then developing answers to these questions. Have you ever noticed how little our students ask questions in school, particularly challenging thought provoking questions. I teach a religious school class of 4th graders. By the time my students get to me, they’ve been conditions to think that asking questions not “cool.” I work all year long to teach my students that it is not only cool, it is smart. Before the end of the year, I have the opportunity to hear all kinds of interesting questions.

    Maybe our teachers need to learn how to prompt students to ask innovative questions. Sometimes, I’ll simply say something like, “Ok guys. I’m running out of energy and I need a question to recharge myself.”

    If we are going to succeed as a nation we have to become a nation of creative thinkers who both ask questions and develop answers for them.

    Andy Pass

  3. I think I am taking the issues raised by TWiF and some of the other educational ideas permeating through the blogosphere and coming to some different conclusions. While TWiF points out that US schools lag behind in math and science, the bigger issue is information literacy. That is why I feel David’s points on the ‘flat classroom’ have a greater impact on the educational process. If you take much of the educational technology research and writing over the past few years, the emphasis has become more of application as a way to increase skill. The idea that teachers are no longer the sole holder of knowledge in a classroom is difficult for most to grasp in an intellectual sense, but it is exactly the point that needs to be brought out. Everyone points to the Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants analogy as a way to change part of the process, but that only goes so far.

    David’s idea that there is a breaking down of the top down model of education, there is no ‘gravity’ to power the educational process. This leaves a vacuum or an ‘energy crisis’ in education. The solution to the energy crisis is to empower the students to find their own way through the process, with teachers guiding them in their quest. Collaboration, individual reflection and interests are all energy sources that need to be tapped. How do we tap them? We provide the tools to make this type of collaboration and individual exploration possible.

  4. I like what Kyle said about the lack of ‘gravity’ in the “flat classroom.” The power vacuum is real, but it is not solved by empowering the students. That’s only half of it.
    It is up to us (educators) to help each other stay at least ‘on pace’ with the students as far as technology, web 2.0, or what ever the subject. For teachers to be a guides and leaders in the classroom we must know where we are going ourselves before we send our students on their way. We must have a process in place before we empower students to find their way through one.
    Training teachers in technology must be a mission for all schools and school systems. I can accept a “flat classroom” but I don’t want anyone to have to teach in an upside down one. We must maintain relevance to our students. If they feel like they don’t need us anymore we will never teach them anything.

  5. I completely understand Tom’s comments. I agree we cannot teach in an ‘upside down’ classroom, but we also need a way to move the entrenched teachers move forward. The quote I use on my blog (http://capuchinotech.blogspot.com) fits this need nicely! “There is a big difference between teaching thirty years and teaching one year thirty times.” We need to get those that have taught the same way year after year to adopt the new informational strategies into their classrooms. My way to do this is to create a critical mass of students who will have the skills and will apply them in classes other than the one’s they initally learned them in. This will make it easier for some teachers to follow, if the road is already paved for them to drive on!

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