Education Resuscitated

I hate this idea that we are all always either happy or sad, positive or negative. Moods and emotions are moving targets. On the other hand I do think that it’s easy to get, well, crabby about the current state of education, or the state and education. The most narrow-minded technocrats seemed to have won a decisive victory. (One of the themes of my book is the way literature and writing were seen as correctives to the objective passions of an over-confident science.)

Don’t get me wrong. Technocrats are cool: they are the ones who figured out the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge and my personal computer, to list only a few of my favorites. But an overly technocratic view of education tends to believe that something as intangible as learning can be measured as fully and as precisely as, say, rainfall. They don’t recognize the limits of objectivity, in other words. The current political Zeitgeist seems wholly trapped by this idea, determined to swamp us all in standardize testing and measures of all sorts.

A technocrat emphasizes administration over teachers, seeing the school as a factory, and the classroom as a machine designed to deliver education to the student, that is, to the consumer. The more I look for this sort of thinking, the more I find it, and the more intellectually bitchy I get. That’s why reading, “Author, innovator shares vision,” about Milton Chen, was so refreshing. Chen’s idea– to paraphrase very roughly– is that learning should occur in a big messy organic network, the very opposite of the well-oiled machine.

Chen might be too optimistic– I am not sure that finding and then using an IPhone application is a good measure of technological sophistication–but he is trying to use the potentials of technology to resurrect a very traditional notion of a liberal education as a life long endeavor (“K to Gray”). I just wish that writers like Chen showed at least some awareness of our current conditions, especially in the ways that class impacts technological access. His vision can’t happen if the gap between the rich and the poor keeps growing…

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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