Sunday, September 07, 2008

Cyclical Educational Solutions

Educational initiatives often seem cyclical. Many current initiatives resemble initiatives pushed 30 years ago, and later seen as inadequate. To many, it is ironic that the system has just gotten over those old failures. The problem is, in education, as in religion static solutions aren’t possible.

Educators are generally trying to prepare people for some aspect of life. This is true even of your math teacher. Question them and they will invariably have a reason why learning math is important. Often it has nothing to do with content, but rather about the lessons one learns and enables during the process. A decent portion of any educational initiative involves the maintenance of essential societal tensions. Some universalist versions of religion are similar. Form matters less than inward effects.

Problems occur when proposed balance shifts are envisioned as static solutions. For instance, a generation or two ago, student were expected to personally construct knowledge from a somewhat disjointed set of facts. Students “pieced” together lessons and demonstrated their grasp of the gaps in big summative assignments. Rubrics and details were pretty non-existent. In these tasks the grades were more about whether a student “got it” rather than how well they matched a pre-made set of criteria. Obviously this has problems. It tests whether or not you think the same way as your teacher. The response was movement towards feminist pedagogies: no hidden bars, and heterogeneous scales. Is this a static solution? Certainly not.

Focus on this solution for long enough and implicit culture shifts in this direction. This is not a bad thing. However, any shift comes with its own set of emergent problems. In this case, there are complaints about a loss of personal knowledge construction and criticality. The response is a re-interpretation of old solutions. We see a push toward knowledge construction: this time through social construction rather than individual construction. A good way to look at this process is through the lens of essential tensions.

1 comment:

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