Re: What's new in classroom configurations

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Fri Mar 04 2005 - 04:31:26 PST

I've been wanting to respond to this over the past 24 hours, but it's
all too depressing! Although grounded in the US post-primary context, I
have to say that second/third/etc language programs for adults in
structured situations, with set text books and prescribed methods isn't
far from what Jay is talking about. After listening to Tom Waites'
"Bone Machine" album this afternoon, I think I'll just turn off the
computer and read a comic book.

But on a serious note, there are historically situated expectations of
students to think about too, which very much constrain how far you can
knock down the walls. Adult students' beliefs about what constitutes
"good" teaching relate to their own experiences in school - there's a
wealth of evidence there. I'm not sure if the comment: "There is no
evidence, beyond the most basic elements of primary school curriculum,
that any of what we spend hours and years teaching is actually of any
use to most people" implies that we maintain what we are doing for
primary kids, but if so, wouldn't that perpetuate the current crisis? I
can't help but return to Basil Bernstein's theory of knowledge
structures and now try to think about what Jay is saying vis-a-vis the
dangers of not formally dealing with vertical knowledge structures (not
putting words in anyones' mouths). Extremely important stuff that needs
to be confronted.

A poignant quote from Bernstein to end:

Of fundamental significance, there is a new concept of knowledge and of
its relations to those who create it and use it. This new concept is a
truly secular concept. Knowledge should flow like money to wherever it
can create advantage and profit. Indeed knowledge is divorced from
persons, their commitments, their personal dedications. These become
impediments, restrictions on the flow of knowledge, and introduce
deformations in the working of the symbolic market. Moving knowledge
about, or even creating it, should not be more difficult than moving
and regulating money. Knowledge, after nearly a thousand years, is
divorced from inwardness and literally dehumanized. Once knowledge is
separated from inwardness, from commitments, from personal dedication,
from the deep structure of the self, then people may be moved about,
substituted for each other and excluded from the market"

Dazed and confused,


Postscript - it would be interesting to see some actual work done on
chronotopes and formal/informal learning - I've thought a lot about how
you might go about this, but ethical problems always seem to get in the
way of things.

On 03/03/2005, at 10:38 AM, Jay Lemke wrote:

> Very interesting resource links posted recently about issues of
> designs for learning environments.
> I rather liked the basic ideas in the Duluth harborside plan, though
> perhaps the homebase was short-changed a bit.
> Let's consider starting from some radical re-engineering of how
> learning is done, and I don't just mean kids in groups, which is great
> for getting them to talk and have a little freedom of action on short
> timescales, but still is mostly NOT a ZPD because of its homogeneity
> with respect to competences relevant to learning goals (though
> valuable insofar as other sorts of diversity leaven the groups).
> Most basic is getting outside the walls of the school, not just of
> the classroom. Then, giving students more control of the goals of
> their learning, as well as the timing and means. Start by changing the
> power relations. Imagine that it was a learning environment for
> high-status, powerful adults, not for our last remaining legally
> disenfranchised social caste (apart from gays in the US).
> Look a bit at how citizens of this age group and generation CHOOSE to
> learn when not in school. E.g. how they share tasks of learning to
> become expert players of computer and video-games (and for other
> activities within their own culture-realm, ignored by the curriculum
> and most parents). By and large they do want to play together, which
> is not seen as distinct from learning together. The learn/play
> distinction is itself fundamentally dysfunctional, as we have known
> theoretically at least since LSV and Dewey. While there are purely
> online collaborative groups, there are also usually face to face ones.
> There is the same kind of total integration of practice and learning
> that Lave describes for traditional apprenticeships, and which makes
> sense in age-heterogeneous (and competence-heterogeneous) communities
> -- but not in imitations of these principles in age-homogeneous
> classrooms.
> Several of the sources posted recently mention the need for a variety
> of different kinds of learning environments, and likewise for
> different kinds of learning/action/play groups: peer groups, peer and
> mentor, competence-diverse, diverse in age and likelihood for forming
> social bonds with similar vs different members, etc. Longterm groups,
> ad hoc groups, across all timescales.
> A lot less emphasis on adult planning and design and control. Less
> adult pre-occupation with optimizing learning; let people figure out
> how they learn well and support that, in its many forms. Good learning
> arrangements emerge when people get together because they want to
> share in learning/playing/doing. No one has to design it all for them,
> and design really cannot effectively anticipate the variety of
> possible solutions people will come to.
> But all of this is predicated on something much more basic:
> motivation to learn/play/do. Most of the problems with school-based
> and curriculum-based education comes from the very simple fact that
> most students do not want to learn what someone wants to teach them.
> And they are right. There is no evidence, beyond the most basic
> elements of primary school curriculum, that any of what we spend hours
> and years teaching is actually of any use to most people. Most of it
> is simply artificially over-valued cultural capital, not functional
> cultural capital (or functional only because it is arbitrarily
> valued). The fundamental problem with education today is not teaching
> methods, resources, or learning environments. It is the CONTENT.
> Still, it is more intellectually interesting to think about the role
> of space and time, by which we usually really mean place and pace, as
> well as movements and traversals, in learning, rather than about why
> schools and their version of "education" are so dysfunctional. It is
> also less depressing.
> One could take, in a sense, two approaches to this. You could look at
> the chronotopes (space-time-place-pace typical dynamic patterns) of
> non-learning in failing institutions, to see how not to do it, and to
> watch the counter-chronotopes of resistance, appropriation, etc. Or
> you could look at the rarer examples of spontaneous
> learning/playing/doing communities (some of which might even occur in
> schools) and see what their chronotopic patterns are like, and how
> they come up against obstacles and barriers, and which ones they find
> ways around and how.
> Of course what I would LIKE to study would be such communities for
> which the barriers are removed, so that one could see just how they
> would evolve if our society were actually interested in having people
> learn to think and learn how to succeed at what they want, which it
> clearly, and for fairly obvious reasons, is not (or at least its most
> powerful interests are not).
> JAY.
> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> School of Education
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Tel. 734-763-9276
> Email.
> Website.

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