Thursday, November 23, 2006

Clash of 2 Worlds

It seems to me we’re seeing a clash of 2 worlds:
the pre-computer world, where we must know everything, and
the post-computer world, where we must know where to find everything.

In the pre- world things were orderly. Some students/people were smart; they could memorize lots of things and spit them back on cue. There was an orderly path to the good life- students went to a school (good school= the most memorization available), aced college tests and got into good colleges (ditto good college), and thenthey found a job in some field that honored the knowledge they had, even if it didn’t actually USE it (how many people use their learning in their day-to-day life?). Kids who weren’t so smart, or weren’t in an environment that honored those smarts or could get them into “good” schools, went down different roads, either into not-so-good schools and jobs, or into the trade or business worlds, feeling inferior even if they made lots of money.

In the post-world students/people are honored for their individual interests and skills. If you can design a website/software/product, and if people want your skills, then you’re paid accordingly. Discovery and innovation matter more than memorization. Knowing how and where to find answers matters more than knowing the answers themselves. And actually, you might be helping the world to adjust what it “knows”. You might be one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have now become authors themselves, helping to educate and keep the world informed on sites like Wikipedia, Wiktionary, or even personal blogs which are visited by thousands of people

Unfortunately, these worlds often don’t coexist very happily. People who’ve been successful in the pre- world sometimes feel left-behind and powerless in the new world. It’s even possible that they’re trying to fight back, though unconsciously. Have you ever wondered why our country is ordering more and more testing just when we have less and less need to memorize facts? Why there’s such fanaticism for math and science just when we desperately need people who know how to negotiate, understand our “enemies”, and solve so many social and environmental problems? Could it be attempts by “pre-“ elite to maintain their hold on students/people? Students won’t have time to innovate and explore new technologies if we keep making them memorize more and more ……stuff! Unfortunately, they also won’t have time to help us solve problems of poverty, environmental woes, or other challenges either.

The post- people have their own ways to fight back. The most obvious ways are creating viruses and worms. How many people who make these things are just angry at how the pre- world has treated them? Their skills were often not honored or rewarded; their contributions were ignored until they invaded our own small computer worlds. Another retributive act is music and document/book sharing (or stealing, depending on how you look at it) . Post- people sometimes don't honor the intellectual property rights that have been taken for granted for centuries, partly because they've grown up in such a free atmosphere that gates around certain information seem ridiculous. They also may look down on Pre- people simply because they don't understand newer terms and procedures.

These 2 different ways of looking at the world are affecting education in a big way. In the next entry I’ll be looking at how education fits into this war, how teachers and students are being pulled more and more toward both of these poles at the same time.

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