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Unhinged by meddlers and tricksters #CCK09

November 4, 2009

More links, examples and some coherence will be added to this but wanted to publish it for cathartic reasons. 

The reading and ideas that I have come to as a result of the connectivism course I am following have left me a little unhinged. As an educator who was drawn to Erica McWilliam’s depiction of teachers as ‘meddlers in the middle’ and also a fondness for Jim Garrison’s assertion that teachers are ‘prophetic tricksters’ that know how to ‘bend, break and redefine borders’*1 I should not be concerned that as a student I am at present swimming amongst ideas rather than finding them comfortably anchored and under my control.

Part of the issue is that the readings and forums that I have read have taken down different paths, some of them vaguely familiar but many of them new and uncomfortable. My thought process is pulled through hyperlinks quicker that it really wants to go but curiosity keeps me clicking, sometimes before I have fully reflected on each stage. For example one of Stephen Downes and George Seimens, the course leaders, major propositions is that constructivism does not sufficiently explain the process of learning. So I went back to Vygotsky and thought about his research, I got into the philosophical implications of his work and the challenges of Stephen Downes and was then provoked to re-visit what seemed to me a parallel intellectual path I had travelled when exploring literary and critical theory as an undergratuate, I wanted re-explore post-modernism but in the context of learning. I looked back to Nel Nodding’s “Philosophy of Education” and found in her section on postmodernism, (apologies for the long quote)

“Derrida’s plea to let others be is a call to abandon grand narratives. We can no longer assume that people can all be described by some overarching theory, that they all long for exactly the same goods, respect exactly the same virtues, or mean the same things when they use similar words. To make such assumptions is to be guilty of “totalizing” of summing up unique parts of human experience in one grand description that emphasizes similarity and  covers up difference…At this point, it should be made clear that an effort to force all children into the same course of study- however well intended the attempt-is, from the perspective of postmodernist, a totalizing move. It improperly (and unethically, Derrida would probably say) assimilates all children to the model of an elite established by crieria constructed by an excluisive few”.  p80 

So where I start to become re-hinged, where I start to make connections across the reading I have been doing, is around this debunking of grand narratives and the implications for education. Connectivism really grabbed me as a theory when George in his interview started talking about co-curriculum, started to pick apart the notion of a pre-designed curriculum, of the complicated puzzle that teachers make of learning to be solved, the closer the arrangement to their thinking, the better the student. I found surprising echoes of this postmodern approach to curriculum in Clayton Christensen’s book “Disrupting Class” when he calls for schools to “move away from from the monolithic instruction of batches of students toward a modular, student-centric approach”. Where Christensen and to some extent postmodernism leave me still grappling and where I need to delve deeper is in the role of groups and networks in learning. My next post will be on this key aspect of connectivism but I am a keen to also reflect on the theories managing change that I have been looking at.

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