Image CC BY-NC-SA nzbuu
I grew up and have returned to live on the edge of a very deprived area. What caused its deprivation? Going from once being the largest mining village in the world to having no coal mines in the area. We’re talking (at least) third generation unemployment for many people.
But I’m surrounded by wonderfully different and independent people, proud of their mining heritage. Which is why it makes me sad when those in a position to make things better conflate two different forms of ‘culture’.
On the one hand, we’ve got a dialect (‘Pitmatic’) audibly distinct from ‘Geordie’ (that of Newcastle-upon-Tyne), along with different traditions, customs and even artwork that’s a product of the areas mining heritage.
On the other, there’s the drugs, graffiti and crime ‘culture’ that’s been a result of the decline of coal mining.
So when schools and local organizations remind young people of their area’s past, they’re doing them a favour. I was part of a local history project in Doncaster that aimed to do just that. We disseminated video interviews of people involved in the coal mining industry – leading to some wonderful learning conversations and realisations.
But when schools and local organizations allow (or even encourage) young people to graffiti, make drugs references and reward them with gift vouchers that they know will end up being spent on cigarettes and alcohol, they’re doing them a massive disservice. That’s got nothing to do with culture and everything to do with crime and social disadvantage.
We need some clear thinking and action on this. I doubt my area’s any different from others in anything other than specifics.
There’s a difference between meeting young people half-way with cultural references and capitulating to the criminal underworld.
I started reading educational blogs in late 2004/early 2005. Back then, there were only a few educators blogging – the likes of Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Wesley Fryer. Oh, and the inimitable Stephen Downes. There was (and still is) a dearth of UK-based educational bloggers.
One thing they had in common, however, was a revolutionary message: that education must adapt to the 21st century or suffer the consequences. There were fantastic conversations to follow across these blogs. This is one of the reasons I started teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk in late 2005 – to become part of this ‘conversation’. 🙂
Now, in early 2008, things have changed. Whilst it’s great that there’s more educators than ever blogging, tweeting, etc. the focus has shifted. Those that were formerly in the classroom and relating the changing world and tools available to everyday educational experience are no longer in those positions; educators who have no desire to transform education are blogging. The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.
At the end of the day, the map is not the territory. My wife, for example, memorized the map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne when we got married and she moved up there. In many respects she could navigate herself around the city better than I could – someone who had lived close-by for 15 years or more. She could name the most popular places for pizza, show visitors the major attractions. But she didn’t know the city in the way a local would. She knew the what, but not the why.
The same goes, to a great extent, with the edublogosphere. Three years ago educators were looking to using new technologies to move towards a new model of education. Nowadays it seems to be all about bragging how you’ve used (web) application X before anyone else has. The edublogosphere seems to be overrun by educators who know the what but not the why. They’re impressed by those who can ‘leverage the power of the network’. This means, in practice, seeing how many people following you on Twitter respond to a shout out for information/hello’s whilst you move out of the classroom and into a consultancy role.
I guess from the above you can tell I’m not in favour of the new direction the edublogosphere’s headed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still people keeping it real and not jumping on the latest bandwagon. But they’re becoming increasingly hard to find. Technology and the teaching methods that gave a vibrancy to the early edublogosphere have been distorted in order to be shoehorned into a corporate vision of schools I, for one, find repugnant.
So how should we fix it? Well I’m not saying that I’m not also to blame. I know that I am. These days I use technology to make my life easier rather than to push boundaries. Perhaps we need a commitment to collaboratively develop new pedagogies rather than remark on how ‘cool’ it would be to use any given tool? I can’t believe that it’s 2008 and we’re still using a method of education more than a little reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution… 🙁