Sunday, May 17, 2009

You Can Stop Partying: It Ain't 1999

I think some folks are still partying like it's 1999.

I remember that night distinctly. My wife and I were living in Boston. For the big night of celebration and potential chaos (for the kids in the readership, there was this little thing called Y2K...) we decided to go down to the Public Garden to the main party.

Only there wasn't much of a party there.

Turns out that no one bothered to tell the assembled crowd that the fireworks and music were happening across town. So there we all are -- several thousand folks in a field -- all staring up at the sky at midnight. And nothing happens.

I feel like that field must have been full of folks in education. Because when those fireworks failed to go off, they just figured to themselves: "Huh. Guess we'll just keep doing this 20th century thing."


Went back today and read a post Alec Couros wrote on the Open Thinking blog back in March 2008. In the post, Couros takes a look at a statement by Bob Cringely of PBS:
There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life.... The younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

Couros thinks about the way we're approaching technology and about the ways we're applying it to education and wonders aloud:
But what if you know it is just a band-aid? What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

The fact of the matter is: this is the 21st Century. And the 'traditional' way of teaching that is indeed in its "death throes" is really just emblematic of what's happening to all the 20th century ways of thinking from the Cold War mentality to hyper-capitalism.

But this is not something new.

Those 'traditional' ways -- meaning the pedagogy and not the content -- really only go back to the end of the 19th century. Those 'traditional' ways only came in to being by destroying the 'traditional' ways that came before them.

And that's happened time and time again throughout our history going at least all the way back to Aristotle deciding to set up his school differently that Plato's before him.

Content is a different issue. As a Latin teacher, I can attest to my conviction that we need to teach students history, and grammar, and rhetoric, and mathematics, and music, and the arts and all of the 'traditional' disciplines. Even more important to me are the 'themes' of civilization: the concepts of comedy and tragedy, hope and despair, freedom and sacrifice. Either way, the means by which we teach and the meaning of the value of what we teach are and must be made to answer to the needs of our current society and not some generalized and nostalgic concept of what society is.

The 20th century is over. It is finished.

Long live the 21st century. Someday it too will be over. And the educators of the 22nd century will throw out all of those outdated and nostalgic pedagogical traditions of the 21st while holding on to the great themes that go back to the dawn of time.

And so may it be forever.


  1. Hola. I'm a newcomer to your blog and Twitter feed and feel like I showed up late to the party and there's only a couple cups of punch left but I'm nonetheless enjoying vicariously re-living the good times through the archives. Good post and keep it coming. ¡Carpe Web2.0!
    Pura vida,

  2. Trust me, this party's only just gotten started.


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