Heart of Stone - Erasure (mp3)
"This is bullshit."
I travelled more than 1,000 miles last weekend so I could hear a highly respected man, Jeff Jarvis, stand up on a high school stage and introduce his talk with those very words. Some 200 souls somehow connected to the world of education were fortunate enough to sit in a small auditorium and witness more than a dozen respected thinkers, leaders, and innovators stand up and offer their unique insights into technology and education, and attempt to address the challenges of both, or either.
The event was called TEDxNYED. It's an independent event formatted like and inspired by TED, one of the coolest, geekiest, most intellectually inspiring sites on the entire web, as far as I'm concerned. Several of those videos have even found their way to the BOTG site. Which could only happen were they ingenious. We don't suffer fools lightly here at BOTG. Except for one another.
Jarvis' point, if you didn't go read his talk, is that the entire TED modus operandi is based precisely on the educational philosophy that most modern thinkers have determined sucks shit. Authority figure stands before an audience of 7-300 students whose sole purpose is to stare, listen, and maybe take note. Authority figure spews knowledge and wisdom. Students merely hope to catch enough of it to achieve a particular grade... although it would be cool to learn a little, too.
Here are, in brief and with a second degree of separation, just a sampling of some key ideas passed along during this one glorious Saturday in New York City:
- Volunteerism should not be limited in our minds to just time and money. In 2010 we can now contribute information. Not necessarily information that is ours exclusively, but information that can merely be added to a collective in order to give that collective a little bit more information than existed before. (Andy Garvin's example: OpenStreetMap)
- A teacher should know how well s/he is doing as a teacher based on the questions students ask in that class, says the man responsible for this really popular YouTube video.
- Popular culture can and should be used as an educational tool, and we chronically underestimate its power for good, says professor Henry Jenkins.
- Any true educator should support and endorse open source information. Any great idea or method that educates should be made available to educate as many as it can reach and put into the hands of others if it can make those others better teachers. Or, as David Wiley put it so well, "The successful educator shares the most information with the most students."
- Open = Sharing = Generous = Kind
- The best textbooks would be malleable, and that's best done through the power of Internet technologies like the fascinating and bold CK-12 project.
- Human beings are at their best and most powerful when they share; but the creator of great and powerful concepts and ideas must be given due respect. Lawrence Lessig helped mastermind Creative Commons as an answer.
- Jay Rosen has studied "crowd sourcing" and confidently argues that in the battle between 100 citizens v. 1 journalist, the citizens will win. And, in the 21st Century, it's more like 1,000 or 2,000 citizens v. 1 journalist. The only way the journalist wins is by no longer doing things alone. Educational institutions have the potential to learn from this. (I was surprised no one mentioned the potential for home schooling.)
- "Educators should be curators, not creators." -- Jeff Jarvis
- "Do what you do best and link to the rest." -- Jeff Jarvis
- The best class would ask the students what they must know. The best teachers would let students ask the big questions and attempt to help them find the answers.
- School should be considered an incubator, not a factory.
- Much like the article "Dehumanized" argues, the goal of education should be to create better citizens, not simply better workers.
Even more important, the conference forced us little people, the students, out of the auditorium regularly, our heads full of all these explosive ideas and all this wild intellectual energy, and thrust us into a single large room. How could we not but search out another soul or two with whom we could speak and work through what we'd witnessed, what had been injected into us?
In my 14 years of working in education, which must include at least 9-10 conferences, my attempts at networking have never felt as valuable or vital to my experience as it did last week at TEDxNYED.
Now, the challenge, much like the church camps of my youth, are two-fold:
(1) How do I -- neither a teacher nor an administrator with Decider powers -- return into a den of uninspired agnostics and convince them that they're hungry for change in a system in which my school has proven quite adept? How do you convince an A-/B+ student to radically change her study habits because there's a chance she could do better? How do you convince Phil Mickelson to totally change his golf swing? Is it easier if they know the system is broken and we just happen to be better in a broken system? How did the NBA convince all those short white pros that they should allow Wilt Chamberlain to dunk the ball?
(2) Can I, at the very least, maintain some ties to those equally-inspired people at other schools who could, in theory, keep my enthusiasm charged much longer than I could were I to lose that connection?
This is my challenge. The fate of the entire universe rests in my hands. Kinda sorta.