I would like to start with a quote from Diana Ravich from an article she wrote in 2010.
“It is a well-known fact that American education is in crisis. Black and Hispanic children have lower test scores than white and Asian children. The performance of American students on international tests is mediocre.”
This comes as no news to us, because similar statements are being heard all around the globe nearly every day. The same is with the headlines about top-down initiated educational reforms which, after a certain time has passed, are in public rhetoric announced to be failures again. The repetitive pattern of the stated phenomena is an indicator that educational crisis is becoming a global epidemic. In this paper I am making a bold proposal how to find our way out of this worrisome chaos by asking for who are the experts in learning and what are the underlying values of being an expert in the field of education.
The school is dead
Everet Reimer noted already back in 1970, after years of working with disadvantaged children in poor areas that the school is dead. That statement can be openly spelled in the title of his book “The School is Dead: Alternatives in Education”. Based on his experience claimed Reimer that
“[t]he underprivileged, whose home environments are lacking in the specialized resources schools provide, are relatively unsuccessful in school and soon leave it with an experience of failure, a conviction of inadequacy, and a dislike for the specialized-learning resources of which they are subsequently deprived.(ibid.)”
He went even further and announced schools having a “pernicious effect” on cognitive learning for everyone because
“[t]he privileged, on the other hand, are taught to prefer the school’s resources to their own and to give up self-motivated learning for the pleasures of being taught. The minority of Einsteins and Eldridge Cleavers lose only a little time. The majority lose their main chance for an education. (ibid.)”
Well, one might think, this is just one example, one man, one research project but… Already next year, in 1971, Ivan Illich, a well known educational thinker and an associate to Reimer, came out with his book on the same topic. The book had a famous and even today widely discussed title “Deschooling the Society”. Illich called for attention to the failures of American school system and expressed the need for unschooling not only the schools but the whole society. He was openly criticising the educational system and especially the institutionalisation of education; which used to be public good had been made an obligation. People were forced to give up their power and leave education to the specialized institutions where specialists work. During this process, as Illich claimed, they had lost their freedom to decide.
Illich told his readers that the pupil is
“schooled to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.” (2012:1).
In his opinion, the schools are not there for man´s advancement in education but about bureaucratic machinery, the means to control and keep the social order.
“Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank,”
announced Illich (2012:12) and for him there was no question about it, this was an obvious fact.
Of course there is plenty of research published by now (see for example Pierre Bourdieu or the works of Nils Christie) that indeed shows Illich`s notion
“Instead of equalizing chances, the school system has monopolized their distribution.” (ibid.)
being a correct one.
These harsh claims are hard for educators, systems administrators and parents to swallow, even today, so many years later. System is rigid and beneficial to some, therefore we just continue the way it has always been. The question still remains: if schools are not providing education what are our chances then to learn and become educated?
Is MOOC (massive open online learning) the answer to our questions?
Both of the two men mentioned above come forward with their suggestions. Everet Reimer says (1970):
“Every thinking person knows that real education occurs primarily at home and at work, but a number of facts have conspired to rob this truth of its former general acceptance. The modern organization of society, by offering free schooling, rewards both parents and employers, in the short run, for reducing their educational roles.”
He is suggesting us to give up the idea that governments are organising education for us and for our children as we would see it best fit. Instead we should take our own initiative and find our own ways, be creative and active.
As a possible future innovation Ivan Illich is inviting people to think about “learning webs”. According to him the good educational systems will:
“provide access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” (2012:75)
While being part of MOOC, some people have perhaps experienced that Illich has a point here. Even though there are minor drawbacks and some try their best to control and institutionalize, the realm of educational practices is shifting. People are taking more responsibility of their personal learning as well as teaching others. It is indeed happening online with the help of the learning webs.
Ivan Illich called this kind of process “deschooling”. I would speak of networking and learning in networks as a parallel educational system that exist inside and outside of institutions. Illich´s book “Deschooling the Society” is worth attention even today, because he foresaw this new wave of education at the times when computers were just starting to emerge and global online learning communities were unimaginable for the most.
Taught by the ignorant schoolmaster
During the MOOC courses there has been some criticism about the peer-to-peer feedback. Many people simply do not trust learning without a master. Ivan Illich says in 1971,
“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.”(2012:12).
A year before him declared Paulo Freire, a well known adult literacy pioneer from Latin America, education to be a “cultural action for freedom and therefore an act of knowing and not for memorization.”(1972:13). His thoughts have been inspiring many to look at education in a different way, and if mention just one, I would pick Jacques Ranciere, a philosophy professor from France.
In 1991 Ranciere published his essay “The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation”. This book is a collection of his ideas about equality and democracy in the field of education. It is easy to follow because of the simple language the man is using, though the thoughts he is sharing with the reader are complex and very provocative, especially if you happen to be an educator.
Through the work of Jacotot (an ignorant schoolmaster) Jacques Ranciere introduces us to the concept he calls “universal teaching”. According to Ranciere, teaching is all about how to become emancipated, he speaks not only about the emancipation of students but also about the emancipation of masters. Only emancipated master can emancipate his students.
“The whole practice of universal teaching is summed up in the question: what do you think about it?” (1991:36). Ranciere notes that “Everything is in everything” (1991:27) therefore we are all equal in our intelligence, because “there is nothing to understand” (1991:23), “one must begin to speak” (1991:24). No one understands more, we might just think that they do, we hand over our power of thinking as well as learning the moment we start to worship the master.
Teaching can only
“be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student, who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master.” (1991:29-30).
The ideas stemming from this though are further elaborated in a scientific peer-reviewed journal called “Educational Philosophy and Theory” Volume 42, Numbers 5-6 published in 2010 which is dedicated to Ranciere´s work in education.
His thoughts open up a wide array of new ideas and possibilities for experimenting in education. I see the whole online learning community as a possibility to go much deeper if we wish. We might even look at education and learning online as complex educational process that is in the hands of the people themselves who take action and therefore are the agents of change reclaiming the realms of their own education and emancipation.
Who is the expert in education then?
To sum up the discussion I would finally like to introduce you to Edith Cobb. A lady who only published one book, “The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood” was her lifetime work and came out in 1977, the very same year she died.
Edith Cobb was not a typical educational thinker, she did not follow one school or tradition, instead she mixed ideas and research results from various fields of studies. This was probably the reason why writing a book was such a long venture. To combine and integrate the impossible, to read and learn in multitude of areas parallel, is not an easy task, but can be a rewarding one. During the years of searching she developed an original independent vocabulary. Already for that reason only, one might want to read her book now, 40 years later.
Her work is based on numerous autobiographies and play observations. At her time her research methods were way out of the common approach. It was at the height of the positivistic era of experimenting, testing and interrogating. While discussing her methods in the first chapter of the book, she does not mention much about the background of her study. Instead she writes:
“… individual men and women ultimately create cultural and social history in terms of their particular world imagery and their capacity to lead others to participate in the world as they see it, politically, aesthetically, philosophically, or otherwise.” (1977:18)
Even though one might say, that she says little or nearly nothing of the actual method of her study, it states clearly the underlying values. That kind of open declaration of individual freedom, need of taking responsibility for your personal actions in combination with creative attitude has been missing in the work of most authors and researchers in the field of education. Even though we have been presented with thousands of books about research in education, there is very little valuable content on most of the pages printed. I propose that being the reason why people are reclaiming the expertise in the field of education and taking public action, each individual on its own and together as a global learning community.
About the illustration. I took the pictures during the last intuitive pedagogy course in Berlin 17-21 May in Thomas Pedroli´s workshop about play. Playing is one of the most powerful ways of learning. It is a gif file and if you click on it it starts to move. Try!
List of references
Freire, P. (1972). Cultural Action for Freedom. England: Penguine Books.
Illich, I. (2012). Deschooling the Society. London: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd.
Ranciere, J. (1991). The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. California: Stanford University Press.
Ravich, D. (2010). School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/sep/29/school-reform-failing-grade/?pagination=false [retrieved 13-05-13]
Reimer, E. (1970). School is Dead: Alternatives in Education. Garden City, NY: Anchor. http://learninfreedom.org/system.html [retrieved 13-05-13]
Some parts of the article have been previously published in my blog “An Apple Tree” https://evelintamm.wordpress.com.
This is a second draft of assignment paper for MOOC online learning course about critical writing. Comments are most welcome.