Will Your Learners become better Educated as a Result of ISTE 2014

I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.

Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated.  ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.

That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…

There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.

You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.  Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”

I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?” 

Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use.  My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.

Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics).  But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library.  They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.

Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.

Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.

Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.  

Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.

Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.

It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.

If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”

If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.

Exactly 2¢ Worth!

3 thoughts on “Will Your Learners become better Educated as a Result of ISTE 2014”

  1. I agree with everything you say here, but I am concerned by something
    else that does not get enough attention in my view. I think schools are
    becoming dominated by STEM, and I find this especially true of those
    trying to introduce more technology into the classroom. Again, I believe
    it is important to make use of what the technology makes available and
    that it has the potential to enrich all classrooms in addition to developing skills in students that they will need if their futures are to be happy and productive. I think suggest to my students that they supplement STEM with PALLMSS (pronounced “palms”). This is an acronym for Philosophy, Art, Language, Literature, Music, and Social Studies, the traditional Liberal Arts curriculum. I have written on my blackboard “STEM makes us better machines, PALLMSS makes us better human beings. One student asked does that mean STEM enables us to make better machines or that STEM makes us into machines. I said I left the sentence deliberately ambiguous. The premise of STEM is that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are more necessary today than ever if students are to succeed in the world of work that is evolving. Again this is true, but these disciplines all take us out of ourselves (put our focus on the outside world and not so much on the world inside of us), and the goal of teaching them is to make us better employees, not necessarily better people.

    There was a review of a new book recently in the “Washington Post”. The book is “Beyond the University; Why Liberal Education Matters.” In the review the reviewer, Christopher B. Nelson writes, “The book’s supporting framework, which Roth borrows from the education scholar Bruce Kimball, is the idea that two distinct traditions of liberal education have “uneasily co-existed” in America. The first is a philosophical tradition emphasizing preparation for inquiry; its aim is freeing the mind to investigate the truth about things physical, intellectual and spiritual. The second is a rhetorical tradition emphasizing initiation into a common culture through the studyof canonical works; its aim is learning to participate in the culture, to appreciate its monuments and to create new monuments inspired by the old. Roth characterizes the philosophical thread as “skeptical” and the rhetorical thread as “reverential.” Nelson finishes the review with “’Beyond the University’ is a lucid, helpful and accessible account of thecurrent challenges to higher education. My only slight reservation comes from my conviction that liberal education at its best cannot be entirely circumscribed by the philosophical and rhetorical traditions. It rises above them, transcends their oppositions and removes the tension between them. Education serves a unitary soul motivated by love of learning and aware that it lacks something it needs to reach its
    highest desires. In the end, liberal education must take its bearings from the most fundamental question of all: What does it mean to be human?”

    This is what troubles me most about the test culture in which we live and the direction modern education is taking us, making usready for the world of work while ignoring what it means to be fully human and doing little to help students discover themselves as individual human beings. As people we are more than the skills, the disciplines, the professions we have mastered and it is that something more that the traditional Liberal Arts education helps us realize. Our technology enables us to do amazing things, but it also creates new challenges. The fact that problems come with the technology is not an argument for abandoning the technology, but it does suggest that we ought to give some thought to where this technology will take us and consider some of the long term implications so that we will have given some thought to and anticipated some of the problems before they arise. Our classrooms should not just make better and more efficient and effective use of technology, they should also help us understand ourselves as individuals and our relationship to the world around us and the people that occupy that world. Obviously I am not cut out for a “140” character world. I have been following your blog for years and have always found it full of useful information, much of which has found its way into my classroom.

    J. D. Wilson, Jr.

    1. J.D., I couldn’t agree with your more.

      Yet the question remains, “How do you test that stuff?”

      It’s a question that has, in my opinion, been insidiously inserted into the education conversation by two factions.

      One is a political interest in finding a way to do public education more cheaply, and in a way that degrades the endeavor in favor of a market-based, profit-line education system.

      The other is an industry that wants to market products that do education better, but need a way to quantify their success — test scores.

      Again, I am quite fearful about education’s future, as its leadership has been removed from the hands of experts and usurped by amateurs (politicians and CEOs).

      Thanks for your contribution.

      1. I think a good part of the problem is, as you point out, that that question (“How do test that stuff”) is asked at all. Much of the testing is done with multiple choice standardized tests that begin with the premise there is one right answer to every problem and life is rarely like that. One of the values of technology is that it enables students to pursue multiple avenues of inquiry, all of which have the potential of being correct, and selecting the avenue that works best for them.

        And then of course, how do you test maturity, how do you test creativity, how do you test the ability to see the world from different points of view by entering into the points of view of others, how do you test so many of the things that make our students more rounded human beings (and more successful very often). I think it ironic that many of those championing college readiness did not themselves finish college. I agree that it is important to get our kids ready for college, just ironic that those that did not take the conventional path themselves are trying to create a conventional path for everyone else; a path that discourages the kind of thinking they pursued that made them successful.

        J. D. Wilson, Jr.

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