Our Latest Myth: Adaptive Learning

I’ve long been fascinated with what I can only call (pardon my Marx) the ideology of bourgeois individualism that underlies so much of U.S. education. It really shows up when you talk about grading and commenting on papers. Students need, it is said, what is called “individual” help. Of course, students are members of cultures, and so the help we give is often as collective as it is individual. There’s nothing unique or individual about the conventions of writing. Most students need “collective” help with their writing; they need to understand that it’s not all personal expression.

Facebook writing has it’s conventions as much as college writing .  We don’t always teach individual expression,  as often as not we teach the collective traditions and standards that transcend individuals and that make communication possible. Yet acknowledgment of our collective existence is one of the taboos of pedagogy. It’s not simply pedagogy, either, it’s morality, too. If we don’t use “individualized” instruction, we are teaching poorly, or so it is said, but more importantly, we are doing something wrong. We are denying a student’s humanity.

Our humanity, of course, is more than individual. Americans, though, don’t like to be thought of as members of a class,although we don’t mind putting others into categories or groups.  If current politics teaches us anything, it teaches us that we fear our collective identity. These were my admittedly cranky thoughts as I read, “Why You Should Root for College to Go Online.” The public universities do need to move more quickly into more substantive online programs. They don’t need to get bogged down in the bourgeois muddiness of so-called adaptive learning.

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 Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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