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Friday, October 8, 2010

RBP: Resistance is Better Pedagogy

©Rattus Scribus 8 Oct 2010

David Brooks, one of my favorite Op-Ed columnists, has an interesting piece on the new movie "The Social Network," about Mark Zuckerberg, the genius who created facebook. Ironically, Zuckerberg has little social and moral skills himself, yet creates the global online social networking revolution. In so doing, the character study suggests, he creates with his intellect a "medium he understands to conquer a medium he doesn't."

I find this interesting as it comes right at the time my wife (8 years now a 4th grade public school teacher) tells me daily how increasingly difficult it is to "teach" this generation of young people. These are the "natives" of the social network revolution, their day marked by constant interruptions of task-switching (not "multi-tasking," which is impossible) usually connected to on-the-grid time, and bred to be the consumers par excellence.

Most of the people reading this (if you are anything close to my age) are what sociologists term "immigrants" in this online technological world. The natives have the advantage of familiarity of this culture that is as second nature as the language acquisition of the country of one's birth. Older immigrants who finished with their formal education before this revolution and may even be already in their professions are constantly having to acquire new knowledge and cultural skills as if in a foreign land. On the other hand older immigrants have the advantage of knowing that other worlds have existed before this one, and other cultural options and directions are possible and maybe even preferable to the current cultural directions.

Discussions about education in this country are political footballs that ultimately lay the increasing burden of all the problems that need to be overcome on the shoulders of teachers. Witness the documentary "Waiting for Superman" and the flurry of articles it has spawned: the single most important factor in the educational success of America's children is teachers (professional, quality teachers), not more money, not better technology, not social location, etc.

That is actually old news. Only someone who is not a teacher or who has long forgotten what it was like can come up with something so obvious to we who actually teach, and make it sound like a new discovery.

But here is something you will not hear much about. Few politicians or anyone for that matter want to discuss America's cultural problems, only one of which is the emergence of a culture that sees itself as customer (who is always right) and education/school (indeed, everything) as but another product for consumption, the purpose of which is to help them fulfill (you guessed it) their programming for consumption. Add to this the Zuckerberg factor (the trend in the lack of social and moral skills as a cultural norm) and one may begin to see what teachers are up against, especially at the primary and secondary school grades, but even at the college level.

While I agree that teachers are a critical factor in the educational success of students, it is simply unrealistic to expect that every teacher everywhere will be able overcome the tidal wave of American cultural values, assumptions and habits that young people bring with them into the classroom of the type that are largely not conducive to a learning attitude and overall environment. And by the way, the very term "success" (which goes to the very purpose of education) itself needs much critique.

Another problem I'm having with the "all roads lead to the teacher" argument is that it is often lip service, at least in practice. The powers that be still lay off teachers even as they spend gobs of money on Promethean Boards, and subscribe to the "build it and they will come" corporate model, which, for all the arguments used to justify it, never adequately addresses how any of this is GOOD PEDAGOGY FOR THE SPECIFIC EDUCATIONAL GOALS the school has in mind.

The new Promethean Boards in the midst of layoffs is a particularly instructive example at the public school where my wife teaches. The remaining overworked, consumer student and parent (e)valuated teacher-baby-sitters certainly have more bells and whistles to up the entertainment value of education. But nowhere in the training of the use of this technology (so my wife tells me) are the teachers told how more magic boards make for better pedagogy in the face of challenges like larger student to teacher ratios, and "I'm the consumer" student attitudes. (Indeed, such technology only feeds that attitude.)

Here's a thought. Instead of catering to the cultural trends of young people (who, contrary to their own view, do not always know what's best, and in the case of the people who market products to them, may not even care as long as their quarterly statements get fatter), maybe in certain instances Resistance is Better Pedagogy (RBP).

PBS, Frontline documentary, 2007.

Instead of bowing to the tyranny of technological and consumer trends, maybe RBP. Instead of accommodating the cultural assumptions where everything is ultimately judged by "the bottom line," maybe RBP. Maybe RBP is a way to address the current trend in the lack of moral and leadership skills of the next generation who are nevertheless next in line to run things.

Jackass phenomenon: mook icon for boys.

Brittany Spears: pioneer "midriff" icon for girls.
From "Merchants of Cool."

David Brooks concludes his article by saying, "The character gaps that propel some people [like Zuckerberg] to do something remarkable can’t be overcome simply because they have managed to change the world." I think if we want anything like a positive moral outcome to America's educational enterprise, and not just more cultural reproduction, we should seriously consider RBP.

Ruben Rivera


M.A.the2nd said...

Wow Ruben ... great commentary on an increasingly disturbing phenomena. The younger generation in some instances have lost completely the ability to communicate in the "old-fashioned" way. They have forgotton or perhaps never experienced what it is like to sit down opposite someone and talk to them. Communication through eye contact and active listening seems to be something of a dinosaur. I worry so much and I feel it is so important that there is a block to the amount of time kids have on the technological revolution and that they come off their computers and iphones and sit down and talk. We have regular chat sessions and we love it. Whilst the technology allows us to communicate via blogging I know for a fact and if you and Anita lived in my town you would both be sitting on the verandah with us sipping tea and socializing, enjoying company with like minded souls.
I know also what you mean about the terrible time our wonderful teaches have trying to strike a balance and impart knowledge to their students. The trouble is so many parents expect the teacher to do everything .. definitely apt your "consumerism" comment because they feel the poor teacher has to do it all. Wrong ... education starts at home as well as values and morals. Poor Anita must feel she is bashing her head against a brick wall some days! I wish she could teach my Georgiana as we would be a perfect combination.
Alex actually auditioned for the Social Network movie. He didn't get it and in some ways I am quite glad .. because I am not sure I liked the message that was coming through. Have thousands and friends and a few enemies but no ability to have a "true friend" or know how to be one.
Great piece .. I am going to read it again to see if I missed anything!
Have a lovely day

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Excellent post Ruben.
I have to say that although technology has brought us so many advantages, I miss the fact that so many have completely lost the need or want to communicate face to face.. emails instead of a phone calls, and does anyone write letter any more? So many children have been brought up in a whole differnt world. So much time spent inside on the computer or other electronic games, little time outside enjoying the beauty. What is wrong with reading a book under a shade tree. I have always felt that education begins at home.. Why so many parents find it necessary to let it fall upon the teacher is beyond me..
My admiration and deep gratitude goes out to all that have chosen the teaching profession. It is a shame that they are not appreciated as they should be.. Thank you for the great post.
Enjoy your day with Anita tomorrow.
Take care my friend

Tish Jett said...

Thank you Ruben. I had no idea. My daughter, who was here visiting a couple of weeks ago said that if/when she has children she would like to be able to live in France.

Ruben, we have to find you a wider audience. You are just too good not to be shared.

Hope you and Anita are having a beautiful day. It's gorgeous here.

Warmest regards,

neki desu said...

exceptional post. i can only add to it, AMEN!
found you via Tish Jett.