03 October 2010

The Tool Imperative or A MacGyver Complex

"ddraper You really think that school exists primarily to teach kids to use the tools? http://post.ly/10zuH @irasocol stars as #MacGyver."
 Darren (not Don) Draper [1] had said this...
"But you're not really buying this, are you Scott? You really think that school exists primarily to teach kids to use the tools? Whatever happened to student-centered pedagogy? Whatever happened to creativity? Whatever happened to thinking?

"Show me a kid that's learned how to learn, one that can think, can process, and critically evaluate. Show me a kid that's learned how to analyze reality, with or without the use of technology...

And I'll show you the kid that will master the tools of the future, simply because they invented them in the first place."
Now what I had originally said was this...
"The issue is this -

"In order to be lifelong learners it is essential to understand and know how to function with the information and communications technologies of our world, and to know how to adapt when those technologies change.

"In order to be human successes we also must understand how to communicate what we know, how to collaborate, and how to distribute information.

"This is why Socrates drilled his students on memory. In pre-literate Greece, that was the essential tool.

"This is why we taught “reading” (meaning decoding ink-on-paper alphabetic texts) in school, and why we taught writing with pens and pencils, and why we introduced students to libraries. In the Gutenberg era these were the essential tools.

"I sure hope we didn’t do this to preserve our great grandfather’s skills. I hope we did it to enable our students to function in the world.

"Now, the tools of learning have changed, as have the tools of collaboration, of distribution, of creation, and if our schools do not teach these – and much more – help our students to understand how they must manipulate these tools for their purposes – and the world’s – nothing else we do in school really matters, because our students will not be able to effectively work with what they know.

"So when Troy (below) says, “Without technology an educator can be ‘successful’” I think he is wrong (I note as the spellcheck in Firefox allows me to instantly correct his misspelling “‘succecssful’” – a spellcheck which I can instantly switch between US English, British English, Australian English, Irish, and French). So is the colleague who told him, “I don’t need technology to engage my classes” – who, I bet, uses 15th to 19th Century technologies every day in her classroom (printed books, chalkboards, paper, pens, a clock, lighting, windows, chairs).

"Without the technologies which enable communication and information access, education is simply impossible. And if you choose to refuse to use the technologies your students will use – whichever antique technology you are limiting yourself to: books, carved stone tablets, hand scribed scrolls, or cave paintings, Morse Code or mail sent by sailing ship – you are abdicating your responsibility as educators."
So am I just a MacGyver tech geek? Or do I have a point...


Is learning personal or social?

There is personal, internal learning. You don't need a lot of social interaction to know, as an example, that if you stand outside and it is raining, something will change. You might even, without social interaction, learn that - depending on the season - this will feel good or not. And further, you may learn that if you are uncomfortable and you stand under a tree, you make become less uncomfortable. And I'm not here to discount any of that human learning - it is very important.

But to go beyond that - to know what rain is or to know that standing under that tree may not always be the best solution - we humans need social learning. We need to be able to share information.

And sharing information requires technology, which, as frustrating as it is to bring in an academic discussion of an old German Nazi-collaborating philosopher, brings us here...
"Heidegger found his way back to the Greeks in answering the problem of technology. The Greeks use the word techne for technology. Techne does not only refer to activities and skills of craftsman, but also for the fine arts. This is why techne as craftmaking is also techne as art. More than the idea of making and manipulating, techne is a way of bring-forth something. It is a way of letting something be known. The techne of making a statue for example is a way of bringing forth or showing the nature of the human body.

"Techne in this sense is very much related to the idea of poiesis. Poiesis is the origin of the word poetry. Poetry is an “art” of bringing forth into imagery the reality. Like the basic meaning of its etymology, poetry is a way of “revealing” something.

"Furthermore, both poiesis and techne are connected to the idea of episteme. Episteme means being at home, to understand, and be expert in something. In other words, episteme has something to do with knowledge in the broadest sense of the word. Today words taking its root from episteme, like epistemology, connote “knowledge.” Epistemology means the study of knowledge.

"These three Greek terms (techne, poiesis, episteme), although different, have the same essence; they are all processes of revealing, bringing-forth, and opening up. Thus, going back to the question of technology, what is decisive in techne or technology does not lie at all in making and manipulating, nor in using of means, but in the aforementioned revealing. Heidegger maintains: “Technology is a mode of revealing. Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens.''
Technology is what allows us to socialize learning. Language (verbal and non-verbal) being, perhaps, step one. Technology also allows asynchronous social learning (step two - languages - pictorial, symbolic, and alphabetic) from the first cave paintings to Twitter. It is through technologies that the world is revealed to us, and that we reveal ourselves to the world.

Lascaux Cave Tour
So, it is a need for technology, not an unquestioning love for any specific technological set, which brings me to insist that technology is the most important set of skills we can help students learn in schools.

We all know this when we remember what "technology" is - our way of manipulating the world. And we all know this when we remember that one of the primary definers of humans is adaptive tool use.

Bonobos use tools, but they don't adapt them like humans do... (cc: Wikipedia)
Yes, plenty of other species use tools, but none adapt tools the way humans do, changing them, developing them. It is what has allowed humans to survive, and significantly, to rise from the middle to the top of the food chain.

Thus, education must be dominated by helping students to understand and adapt the tools of learning and communication. They cannot become lifelong learners without that. They cannot engage the world without that. Their "learning" - without that - becomes limited to the personal.

And we must help them learn and adapt the learning and communication tools of their time. Antique methods make nice hobbies - we still have stonecarvers and scroll artisans, people still make quill pens and papyrus (all awesome YouTube videos) - but none of that is helpful in discovering how the universe works, either mechanically or poetically. And none of that will enable them to voice their thoughts and discoveries to the world effectively.

I stand by what I said... this is not a question of MacGyver theatrics, but a question of human learning.

"Without the technologies which enable communication and information access, education is simply impossible. And if you choose to refuse to use the technologies your students will use – whichever antique technology you are limiting yourself to: books, carved stone tablets, hand scribed scrolls, or cave paintings, Morse Code or mail sent by sailing ship – you are abdicating your responsibility as educators."

- Ira Socol

[1] I had thought "ddraper" was a cute pseudonym, until I realized it was the man's name. When I coached soccer I had a player named "Steve Rambo." His jersey said "Rambo" and he took a lot of heat from opposing players... luckily, he was very good.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Tool imperative? MacGuyver complex?

Not sure I see a difference. If you need to escape from the room with the ticking timebomb in it, you'll use the 19th century teaching technology, or the smart phone, whichever is at hand.

I think the real problem educators should be looking at is not whether to teach with cell phones or chalkboards, but instead giving students the rhetorical and philosophical tools to understand who you need to go beat up (or vote out) for putting the bomb in your room in the first place.

That is the problem with this 'colonialist' critique of modern education, isn't it? Do too good a job and the students will figure out a solution for themselves.

-htb

Darren Draper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darren Draper said...

Hello Ira, I appreciate you thinking through this further. A few thoughts:

1. I don't subscribe to the idea that language is a technology. I know some linguists might (Michael Tomasello, for example), but others maintain that language is innate (Chomsky, Pinker, Sampson).

2. In light of the fact that I don't think language is a technology, I can confidently argue that teaching can effectively take place without technology. Furthermore, I don't believe the statement that "technology is what allows us to socialize learning," is entirely true. Technology *can* aid in socializing learning, but learning can be social without any technology at all (haven't you ever sat in a face-to-face idea exchange?).

3. Finally, I don't think that the only purpose of schooling is to teach kids to learn. Carolyn Foote has recently expounded upon other purposes (http://futura.edublogs.org/2010/09/30/more-than-a-test-score/) and I've written a little about this concept here (http://darrendraper.posterous.com/what-might-the-future-bring).

narrator said...

Darren,

Thanks for responding...

I don't really want to get too deep into the Tomasello/Chomsky debate. I come to language as a technology or tool via Ground Theory observation. That is, the "fact" of language may be innate but the reality of its use is as a learned tool. We sure treat it as a "learned tool" in schools - constantly teaching the specific rules of its usage - and often limiting the choices of languages used.

But, while my last paragraph might suggest no need to respond to your point number 2, I'd rather discuss the extreme limitations. You may not be wrong, of course. Socrates agreed with you absolutely, and thus deeply opposed literacy as a destructive technology. But face-to-face as a learning tool without any technologies is not just limited re: time and distance from the source of information, it is also limited severely by the junction of the speaker's verbal explanatory skills and the listener's auditory learning skills. Why, I imagine, even little kids resort to drawing in the dirt when explaining football plays.

As for #3, thank you for the links, those help explain your thinking to me. First though, I think I need to say again that my point was not that schools not need teach anything else, but that "without the technologies which enable communication and information access, education is simply impossible." And if I look at your list, "civic literacy, moral uprightness, integrity, respect, and the importance of maintaining high levels of social capital," I might say that civic literacy and maintenance of social capital clearly require the constant use of information and communication technologies, and that if moral uprightness (a term I struggle with, especially in the American experience, but...), integrity, and respect, mean very little these days if they are restricted to face-to-face communicative environments. I know that I insist on my undergraduate teacher education students having signed public blogs for reasons which closely parallel your list.

But there is a sense which troubles me in Foote's piece. And that's her assumed ranking of technologies on a morality scale. The printed book (etc) has been enormously destructive during its history, and I'm not just repeating the fact that Gutenberg wiped out close to half the languages of Europe. Whether Mein Kampf or the works of many right-wing authors today, or the exploitive destruction of lives in pseudo-memoirs, or the use of print "journalism" by the likes of Henry Ford, we know that what Foote is discussing has nothing to do with "the internet." That giggling child may have been reading Nazi childhood propaganda about Jews while in bed in Hamburg in 1938, and the "outing" of Gays for destructive sport goes way back before Arpanet.

My friend Michael Bugeja of Iowa State's journalism school once called Gutenberg "the junk mail king of the 15th Century," when we debated (he being on the "anti" side in a battle about social networking in schools). He is right, of course. Most of what Gutenberg printed with his invention were the indulgences of the wealthy. And soon after, his invention filled France with pulp journalism about the "Martin Guerre Case." It was a tool of brutal repression of minorities in the hands of the English crown, just as radio and film were in the hands of Soviet dictators.

Yet none of that is the fault of print. Rather it is the fault of humans who have not learned to use technologies in responsible and humane ways.

- Ira Socol

Carolyn Foote said...

Well, first off, I assure you my nephew wasn't giggling over Nazi propaganda, to be sure. And I would posit that all sorts of bigoted behaviors have persisted throughout history but we have as a society been able to move past some of them, and I have a belief that we can become more aware. Maybe by inches and degrees and over much time, but we can evolve in our human understanding. (of course, that is only my philosophy).

I get your point regarding technology as it is one I struggle with constantly, because I believe it is both true and not true.

I suppose what I really meant(and still should have said more clearly) in my post was that the ability to think for oneself and to act out of mindfulness, compassion and deep consideration of ideas is important. Which you mention in your response to the original blog post and to Darren's comments.

I think the ability to use the tools of our time is in many ways critically important.

But I also know the finest teacher I have ever worked with, who was a master of Socratic inquiry, could have done it without much beyond the technology of a book or printed article, or just the tool of a pen, or even just the tool of oral communication. He was the most skilled teacher I've known because what he understood and knew about was curiosity, wondering, questioning and most of all listening and reflecting.

Quoting Darren from your post above: "Show me a kid that's learned how to learn, one that can think, can process, and critically evaluate. Show me a kid that's learned how to analyze reality, with or without the use of technology...

And I'll show you the kid that will master the tools of the future, simply because they invented them in the first place."

Students who have the ability to evaluate and analyze, to think critically, and to think long term have the "tools" that will help them be adaptable--because their critical abilities are ones they will bring with them to the "technology table" so to speak. And they'll have those "tools" to bring to the analysis of anything they face/learn/encounter.

On the other hand, I do think it's critical that we turn the paradigm of school on its ear. The new technologies do invite us to have our education conversation(by that I mean school) in a whole different way, that conceivably is more "life-long". It's not just the tools though--it's really that the things they allow are helping us to see things in a completely different light--to use the wisdom of crowds, to leap through "classroom walls", to elevate quiet voices to voices that get heard--there are so many transformative things that the tools allow us to do/see.

So that is where my own cognitive dissonance on this question enters in.

You have some very cogent points and I readily admit my own post had some weaknesses in logic which frankly I wrestled with, but I never meant to imply that it is only the technology that was at fault. When we tolerate bigotry in whatever form, we perpetuate it.

And I think that is worth saying once in awhile.

narrator said...

Carolyn Foote has left a new comment on your post "The Tool Imperative or A MacGyver Complex": but for unknown reasons, it is not appearing... so I've put it in myself - IS

Well, first off, I assure you my nephew wasn't giggling over Nazi propaganda, to be sure. And I would posit that all sorts of bigoted behaviors have persisted throughout history but we have as a society been able to move past some of them, and I have a belief that we can become more aware. Maybe by inches and degrees and over much time, but we can evolve in our human understanding. (of course, that is only my philosophy).

I get your point regarding technology as it is one I struggle with constantly, because I believe it is both true and not true.

I suppose what I really meant(and still should have said more clearly) in my post was that the ability to think for oneself and to act out of mindfulness, compassion and deep consideration of ideas is important. Which you mention in your response to the original blog post and to Darren's comments.

I think the ability to use the tools of our time is in many ways critically important.

But I also know the finest teacher I have ever worked with, who was a master of Socratic inquiry, could have done it without much beyond the technology of a book or printed article, or just the tool of a pen, or even just the tool of oral communication. He was the most skilled teacher I've known because what he understood and knew about was curiosity, wondering, questioning and most of all listening and reflecting.

Quoting Darren from your post above: "Show me a kid that's learned how to learn, one that can think, can process, and critically evaluate. Show me a kid that's learned how to analyze reality, with or without the use of technology...

And I'll show you the kid that will master the tools of the future, simply because they invented them in the first place."

Students who have the ability to evaluate and analyze, to think critically, and to think long term have the "tools" that will help them be adaptable--because their critical abilities are ones they will bring with them to the "technology table" so to speak. And they'll have those "tools" to bring to the analysis of anything they face/learn/encounter.

On the other hand, I do think it's critical that we turn the paradigm of school on its ear. The new technologies do invite us to have our education conversation(by that I mean school) in a whole different way, that conceivably is more "life-long". It's not just the tools though--it's really that the things they allow are helping us to see things in a completely different light--to use the wisdom of crowds, to leap through "classroom walls", to elevate quiet voices to voices that get heard--there are so many transformative things that the tools allow us to do/see.

So that is where my own cognitive dissonance on this question enters in.

You have some very cogent points and I readily admit my own post had some weaknesses in logic which frankly I wrestled with, but I never meant to imply that it is only the technology that was at fault. When we tolerate bigotry in whatever form, we perpetuate it.

And I think that is worth saying once in awhile.

narrator said...

Carolyn,

Thank you for adding to the conversation. I agree with all except: "But I also know the finest teacher I have ever worked with, who was a master of Socratic inquiry, could have done it without much beyond the technology of a book or printed article, or just the tool of a pen, or even just the tool of oral communication."

Maybe. Maybe he can communicate. But could all students, say, lying on the grass under the sun - much less lying on the grass in the rain, be taking it all in if he was just talking?

The problem with Socrates, and the whole Socratic education concept, is how elitist it is. It was designed that way. Socrates was in no way interested in educating everyone. In fact, he thought education should be very difficult and hard to get. That was a part of his opposition to literacy. (The other part largely related to the undependability of non-spoken text, when you can't see and smell your "teacher.")

But if you get past that, I really struggle with comprehending the idea of the book as some small, easy technology. The book - declared "the most significant technology of the last millennium" by readers of The Guardian, is a very expensive, very complex, and very disabling technology (2/3 of Americans never read above the 6th grade level). Just because a technology is old, doesn't make it any less a technology http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/02/what-is-technology.html - one of the books behind my dissertation is William Alcott's 256 page guide explaining to the teachers of 1841 how to use the "Black Board." Alcott, of course, had already pushed American schools to build real structures, with good windows, good roofs, chairs, and desks. All controversial technological additions in their time, as was the introduction - by Henry Barnard - of the idea of the school schedule.

It is "all technology" to me - unless humans are naturally endowed with it (see the question Darren raises above re: oral language). So once you are using technologies you are choosing technologies. And technology choices are usually about power.

Socratic choices, or focusing on the book, are typically "comfort choices" for the teacher, not choices made for student access, or the needs of students. Remember, this year's kindergärtners will graduate into the world of 2023. That's not the 15th Century.

- Ira Socol