Re: What's old in curriculum configurations

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Mar 06 2005 - 09:40:53 PST

Courtney is here and I gave her your last note with pic and reference.
Very nice to c you.

On Sun, 6 Mar 2005 11:12:23 -0600, Peg Griffin
<> wrote:
> Hi, all,
> The point that most jumped out at me was this one in Jay's note, " If there
> are people who WANT to come and ...." and then he went on to describe an
> active learning environment he would arrange and continued "should have a
> lot of other choices ..."
> And it got me to reflect on how do people get to want... choose to choose...
> and what is there in early education that has to do with the tools and the
> knowledge base to choose? I think this is an addition to the utilitarian
> metric about educational content that has been implied.
> The issue of choice, Hobson's choice, masqueraded choice, last resort,
> forced choice was always a big problem in the FIFTH DIMENSION re-designs.
> The idea was for children to have consequences to their work that involved
> choices. More effort achievement/more choices. (We did have "storms" that
> messed up the operation/consequences of choices so we didn't have a world
> where effort and achievement always trumped outside circumstances.) A first
> level would be no child choice but wizard dictated next destination in the
> Fifth Dimension; the second level would be a choice among two or three next
> destinations; and the third would be even more choice, some that could
> effect choices well in the future (like a pass to save and use later to skip
> a destination). Kids had peers, older siblings, and teachers and
> assistants to talk through the situation with so maybe some real cognizing
> about choice could occur.
> But we found ourselves regularly failing by making it so the choice offered
> was not a choice for the child at all.
> We were so good at tricking ourselves into offering choices that took no
> choosing, that were purely rhetorical ones. We would put the Mean Streets
> story builder next to a horrible spelling drill, so almost any kid would
> take the Mean Streets which we valued more for education and research
> purposes. We would maneuver so that The Pond (a mathematics environment we
> valued for education and research purposes) was never a choice along with
> Parsec (a super duper arcade game) because no one would ever pick the Pond.
> We had to put in all kinds of procedures to check on ourselves so that we
> did not take away choice by exercising control in our design, inadvertently
> or not.
> So, in the worlds that lead to Jay's classroom door how do the choices
> arise/get shaped/ get taken away?
> And what can happen in earlier education to make the choice and the choice
> maker more likely to be genuine?
> Peg
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Phil Chappell" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Sunday, March 06, 2005 2:50 AM
> Subject: Re: What's old in curriculum configurations
> Point(s) taken!
> Phil
> On 06/03/2005, at 9:25 AM, Jay Lemke wrote:
> >
> > A very nice quote from Basil (Bernstein), Phil. How about a little
> > more inwardness, feeling, ownership? Not from a one-size-fits-all
> > standardized state curriculum.
> >
> > I was hardly endorsing primary education, just alluding to the fact
> > that while reading, writing, and arithmetic actually do get used by
> > most people, along with a little (in the US, very little) bit of
> > information about whether Ohio is east or west of Chicago (and Austria
> > or Australia in Europe), that there is almost nothing in the secondary
> > curriculum that most people really need (however nice it might be to
> > know some of these things, and whatever use they may have for people
> > who choose a few -- very few -- particular career paths). No one ever
> > built a curriculum by going out and looking at what knowledge most
> > people really find useful and valuable. But we require ALL students to
> > learn a very large body of information, with no real justification.
> > Many of you know that my original field was physics and that I've
> > worked in science education for decades. It's all supposed to be
> > needed to help people make their way in a technological world. It's
> > not. Who needs to know about the asexual reproduction of plants, the
> > stages of cellular meiosis, or even the theory of evolution? the
> > kinetic molecular theory of gases? the difference between ionic and
> > covalent bonds? I imagine there are a few things that are so basic
> > that no matter what topic about the natural world you were interested
> > in, you'd find them helpful ... and for those, there is no need to
> > require them, just to make them available.
> >
> > Similarly for most of language arts (i.e. canonical novels), social
> > studies (i.e. history), and mathematics (factored any polynomials
> > lately?).
> >
> > The whole idea of organizing learning over periods of years around a
> > fixed body of information is ridiculous. Who ever thought this was a
> > good idea? When was it ever compared systematically to alternative
> > ways of organizing education? (I have no trouble, of course, coming up
> > with sociological interpretations of the actual historical
> > developments that led us to this nonsense. None of them have anything
> > to do with helping most citizens become critical thinkers and set on
> > the path to their own life goals.)
> >
> > I do take the point that there is both an institutional and cultural
> > inertia to be dealt with. We have all these buildings, all these
> > chairs and desks, all these people who have spent years preparing to
> > and practicing at telling students about what some non-thinking people
> > have decided they ought to know. And we have generations of adults who
> > have fondly idealized memories of the few good teachers and learning
> > moments in their school lives. Those certainly exist. It's not,
> > fortunately, possible to design an educational system so bad that real
> > learning and excitement about it NEVER happens. Just one in which it
> > doesn't happen most of the time, and in which, even when it does, most
> > of what is learned has merely cosmetic or sentimental value. I recall
> > that my mother, who recently passed away, was always very proud of her
> > A-plus in trigonometry. I don't recall that she ever used, remembered,
> > or even mentioned anything from the subject, other than her
> > achievement (and no doubt a significant one socially and culturally
> > for a young woman in the 1930s). Her real interests were in psychology
> > (clinical) and music (vocal), and she worked most of her life making
> > business and non-profit offices run effectively day to day by thinking
> > intelligently about things that are (and probably never will be) in
> > any school curriculum.
> >
> > I did find very interesting Mark's report on the findings of his
> > dissertation, that out-of-school teacher-student relationships are
> > forced to re-invent themselves. Perhaps choices about the content of
> > what is learned are too.
> >
> > If there are people who WANT to come and sit in a room and listen to
> > me comment on interesting texts, ask them critical questions and help
> > them think through answers, and organize some social activities that
> > might help them learn from one another, that's fine with me. But they
> > should have a lot of other choices of ways to learn, and things to
> > learn. And the choices should be theirs.
> >
> > JAY.
> >
> >
> > At 07:31 AM 3/4/2005, you wrote:
> >
> > 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,
> >
> > Phil
> >
> > 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.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > 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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