I love science fiction. I am insanely jealous of its authors and characters because they get to spend most of their time in the future. I wish I could live to see much of what has been imagined come to life – and to see much of what we’ve done to ourselves and the world undone.
In particular, I love
- Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which is it own curriculum of near-future bioethics. It is perhaps the most important book for our time not being taught (or am I wrong?).
- Alastair Reynolds’s House of Suns, which somehow undid in my heart all the damage caused by The Sun Also Rises.
- Dan Simmons’s Ilium and Olympus, which bodaciously extrapolate humanity’s role in a post- or trans-human future brought on by human imagination.
- Charles Stross’s Halting State, which cannily melds geopolitics and the economics of online gaming.
Reynolds, Simmons, and Stross (though not in Halting State) write about post-singularity civilizations. The singularity is the point at which humanity creates a post- or trans-human biological or technological intelligence greater than humanity’s own which then goes on to design ever-increasingly more complex post- or trans-human intelligences with problem-solving skills that dwarf the human capacity for invention. The singularity is an “intelligence explosion.” The singularity might benefit humans with technological gifts that augment human capacities, or it might pose unforeseeable threats to human existence. It might pose benevolent threats and/or threatening benevolencies. Because of the unfathomable intelligences it unleashes, the singularity creates an unpredictable world/cosmos for humans. Or at least that’s what I gather from those authors and Wikipedia.
Shelly and John are pretty amazing educators and thinkers; please read those posts for yourself. Let me venture a humble paraphrase here: both posts are about teaching students to think and learn using the tools that work for them and that more closely resemble their futures than our pasts.
We are, however, at a crucial moment in the shaping of that future, especially the future of schools.
We are at a dark singularity capable of unleashing a predicable decline in America’s economy, geopolitical influence, and standard of living for its middle and lower classes – at the point where a civilization decides to limit its capacity for invention forever.
We are at an apotheosis of industrial education.
Look at this @edReformer post by Tom VanderArk (@tvanderark). Look at the table summarized from Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson. Kirsten’s talking about the same book. I think VanderArk, Collins and Halverson trust blended learning to move us from the middle column to the one on the right.
Blended learning uses technology to let students pursue, apply, and assess their learning outside the classroom.
At its best, blended education helps students access the information and experts they need outside their classroom to learn and to affect change in their lives and communities.
At its worst, it’s a product rather than a portal. It’s a program on an vendor’s server, or a vendor’s program sitting on a division’s server.
Will our school divisions buy in to authentic blended learning, or buy blended learning from the textbook companies?
Will schools admit that there is a reason for their existence beyond standardized testing? Beyond making AYP or accreditation?
Blended learning could bring to schools the dark singularity of further enmeshing educational technology, vendor licensing, and student seat-time. Or it could bring about millions of bright singularities of learning as it evolves and becomes something centrally uncontrollable. Blended learning could make education a form of self-expression, or it could make school even more of a repressive. It could use computers to control student behavior more dispassionately than a teacher ever could in the rote memorization of scripted curricula.
There is no standardized way to measure students’ learning if blended learning is done right. There is one particularly insipid and cost-effective way to measure student “learning” if blended learning is done wrong.
Who will make the call? Administrators caught in the Catch-22 of federal funding? Principals beholden to their school report cards? Teachers evaluated by students’ test-performance?
What new coalition of the willing will recapture learning from schooling?
In all of this, I think also of Mary Beth Hertz’s (another amazing educator, @mbteach) Peoplegogy post on the fiscal politics of teacher pensions in Oregon. Here’s why:
If we teachers accept a future of dark singularity – if we are compliant in adopting blended learning done wrong so long as out contracts are safe – then we have no right to those contracts. We have no right to demand the wages we earn or the benefits we enjoy if we are content to proctor the commercial computerization of classroom instruction. The public will one day look up in unison and ask us why we’re making so much money as public employees doing tech support for proprietary educational software. We will have no allies, and, if we’re honest, we will agree that we are not teaching and should not be paid as teachers. We will accept lesser wages which will buy less as our standardized educational system makes the United States the next best place to outsource services and productions from Asia’s new innovation economies. “Capitalism never solves its crises problems. It moves them around geographically.”
If we don’t accept a future of dark singularity, if we work instead for the bright singularities of blended learning for all students, then we need to stand for something greater than ourselves. We need to make alliances with businesses doing good. We need to think of our classrooms less as places and more as metaphors for what we want learning to be like for out students. We need to stop teaching in rooms and start teaching in clouds. We need to stop arranging desks in rows and start investing resources by student. We need to think of learning as a gift economy and negotiate fair pay from a stance that is easily recognizable as civic virtue.
Having little practical business sense – or practical sense at all – it scares me to suggest that I need business.
Then again, maybe I don’t. Maybe I could pull it off all by myself. Do you recognize that notion? That feeling? Is it serving us well? Our students?
We need to connect with people doing good outside school, some of whom might just be in the business of blended learning. I don’t mean to include or exclude app developers, per se, but I’m willing to include some insomuch as they connect our kids to learning that we can’t provide on our own. I do mean to include local mentors, service organizations, and businesses wiling to take on our students as apprentice communicators, inventors, and volunteers.
Can we find partners interested in sustainable educational reform? Interested in the bright singularity of learning rather than the dark singularity of capital? Interested in making teaching and learning better? Interested in the strength of a diverse and curious culture, rather than in the exploitable weaknesses of a standardized one?
If we can, we should join up; the dark singularity is coming for our schools, regardless.
Are good intentions and Open Source education enough to fight it? Which good businesses stand ready to help classroom teachers and students unleash their bright singularities?