“Development is the gradual emergence of a problem-solving system.”
If you substitute “learning” for “development” , then you have one of the most profound and simple definitions for what it is that teachers must become–guides to the idiosyncratic and utterly customized problem solving system that is a child’s mind.
The authors are speaking from an NGO’s stance and a long term one at that. So much failure in ‘developing’ countries has been the result of what has been referred to as the ‘carpenter’s dilemma’–every problem looks like a nail. And the hammer, while tres handy, cannot cement a foundation or glaze a window or feed a mother and child.
Kentaro Toyamo, a UC Berkeley ICT development expert, critiques this single-minded strategy this way according to blogger Tate Watkins,
Anyone imagining that a day or two of hacking will produce solutions to development problems, even in some small part, is either a technologist drunk on her own self-image who believes that she’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge with technology, or a World Bank officer drunk on his own self-image who believes that he’ll solve a mindboggling social challenge by motivating some technologists. In any case, it seems clear they are the kind of folks who don’t learn from history.
Every educator must confront the similarity of the problem in school settings and ask themselves wherever they are, “What am I doing to encourage the gradual growth of an emergent system that permits and promotes problem solving?”
The fact is that most of us are not doing much most of the time, especially edtech pedagogues, to humbly acknowledge its limits. That is called hubris. Hubris brought us the BP Oil Spill, the Iraq War, credit default swaps, and apparently the modern classroom.
Just as there is no app for poverty there can be no app for the learning. It, too, needs to emerge wherever and whenever it is needed. I am appalled every time I reflect on the grimy wisdom of this video from a 2007 speech by Dr. Richard Elmore that I think supports what Kentaro and Watkins so simply and elegantly assert: it’s the default culture, stupid. (Scott McLeod has gathered together these threads very conveniently and considerately at Big Think in his blog there, Dangerously Irrelevant.)
And the failure of the default culture is just as devastating in the first world as it is in the third. And our hubris is to assert that there is an app for the failure of that default culture. Elmore’s solution to this is a leap of faith in the redemptive power of our children and our communities,
I wonder, finally, what would happen if we simply opened the doors and let the students go; if we let them walk out of the dim light of the overhead projector into the sunlight; if we let them decide how, or whether, to engage this monolith? Would it be so terrible? Could it be worse than what they are currently experiencing? Would adults look at young people differently if they had to confront their children on the street, rather than locking them away in institutions? Would it force us to say more explicitly what a humane and healthy learning environment might look like? Should discussions of the future of school reform be less about the pet ideas of professional reformers and more about what we’re doing to young people in the institution called school?
Reminds me of the Simpson’s episode (s02 e09) where Marge succeeds in banning “Itchy and Scratchy” and at the end of the episode all of the children pour into the streets to play to the strains of Beethoven’s “Pastoral”. A goosebump moment of the strangest order I have to say. Isn’t that what Elmore is asserting–get out of the kids’ way and be ready to help them when they ask for it, but you better be damned sure when they ask you because when it comes down to it we have made an assumption that is at heart wrong and destructive: students learn because they are taught. That’s it. That’s where we went off the rails. An assumption like that becomes an institutional imperative over time (perhaps the imperative assumption). After that, we paint and wallpaper over the foundational cracks that inevitably form as the ground shifts. Make no mistake. The ground has shifted.