Wednesday, July 21, 2010

a 20th century perspective

While attending the 20th Century Education Conference, we watch a series of speakers telling us exactly what is needed for students in the New Economy. It's about innovation. It's about creativity. It's about collaboration and connections.

"We need to prepare students for jobs that don't exist yet," each speaker would explain.

Preparing students for non-existent jobs? Sounds a bit like training students for jobs in Santa's Workshops.

At one point, the keynote speaker, Thomas Edison, offers his ideas on Innovation Factories. He mentions how they worked toward perfecting the light bulb and the phonograph and now motion pictures. "In this Industrial Age, it will be less about farms and factories and more about innovation and creativity. This is progress."

* * *

So, I'm sitting with Mr. Brown, having a pint and discussing the ideas from the conference. He's a bit skittish, knowing that parents from the Temperance Society might be lurking around the corner.

"If we define the goal of education by economic norms, we run the risk of becoming slaves to the economic interests of those at the top."

"Right. We become a plutocracy."

"Exactly. It starts to feel like bread and circus all over, where free education isn't all that free."

"I had that thought. As Edison began to advocate for more phonographs and motion pictures in the classroom, it struck me that he those devices have the ability to entertain and distract . . . "

". . . all the while making the Edison Company a fortune. It's anti-democratic, really. I know it sounds so important that we help students to get into the Innovative Class, but it starts to sound like they are advocating that we move our students into the Patrician Class who will think and create while the farms and the factories do the grunt work."

"Something about that bothered me."
"I don't want to create a factory of innovation. I want to create a community of critical thinking. I don't want to develop skills for non-existent jobs. I want to develop a deep, democratic classroom. I'm not so interested in bread and circus, but in students who challenge injustice and think well about life."

"I kept thinking about our children at school and then the children working in the factories. Kids die every day extracting resources to fuel the Innovative Class. I'm not sure I trust the Patricians with my students."

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