Lessons Learned

By , January 28, 2011 1:19 pm

Scott Leslie invites me to “write a post” in order to continue a conversation that already has a home because the genesis (actually an outgrowth) of that conversation was offensive. I don’t see the point. But I will stir from my blogging slumber to share what I, from my somewhat (or formerly) inside but mostly outside position learned from the whole incident and various dynamics that have swirled around it. I learned that:

  1. I can expect very little generosity or charity from “friends” when it comes to assuming that I am acting out of good faith in my online interactions. There but for the grace of chance go I that I haven’t made a mistake as offensive as Leigh’s photo was (yet), but it isn’t because I’m particularly smart. It’s good to know that if I do make such a mistake, the worst will automatically be assumed of me. The response to Leigh’s admitted mistake was not only disproportionate and astoundingly lacking in generosity and good will, but also a great illustration of some of Sherry Turkle’s thesis in Alone Together about the nature of online “friendships.”
  2. The elephant in the room of institutional dynamics w/r/t innovation and revolution and how to coherently come to terms with the potential hypocrisy of attempting to stage the latter while being subsidized by the former is a regular topic in private that people are exceptionally uninterested in pursuing in public (and I count myself in such a bind as surely as the Right Reverend Jim Groom and the amazing #ds106 event he has kicked off). I have to believe that this deep-seated reluctance accounts for both the lack of generosity shown toward Leigh and the strange readings of the post that preceded This Great Matter.
  3. I’m way out in left-field when it comes to dialogue and engagement and teaching: I’m honestly astounded at some aspects of the kerfluffle. I still don’t understand how anyone can miss the (I would have thought) unmistakable “teachable moment” represented by Leigh’s posting of the offensive image. Further in that regard, I don’t understand how anyone can confuse the important distinction between the image itself and the posting of the image. Perhaps this comes back to the first point, but the first thing I thought when I saw the image was “wow, that’s not cool,” followed quickly by “why would Leigh do that?” I only know Leigh slightly in person, but I’ve followed and interacted with him online and my distaste for the image was not the end of the matter, but the beginning. I immediately wondered what was going on here. Until this incident, I assumed this was just standard practice, like taking offensive or controversial images or stories in a journalism or English class and digging deep into what they signify, what their intent might have been, etc., even if the immediate and most shallow reasons for why they went wrong are obvious. In the context of a course like #ds106, an approach of engagement seems even more critical: Leigh’s picture was intended to tell a story that went horribly wrong in the telling, but that doesn’t mean the underlying premises are undeserving of discussion or that Leigh isn’t worth the time to engage with to see what he meant to say or convey. Unless, of course, the entire premise of ds106 (in particular) or one’s stance in the world (in general) precludes critical engagement of this kind or is meant to be a kind of non-critical artistic space in which creation is the only important thing, examination and critique being then inherently non-interesting.
  4. There is, in fact, an interesting discussion to be had about the appropriation of Nazi iconography. A recent article in Slate talking about “biker” use of Nazi imagery made the point that “To most bikers, a swastika is no more about killing Jews than it was about Hindu good luck to the Nazis. It’s about being a badass—and that’s it. The whole point is that it’s divorced from history.” There’s a fascinating tension here between the idea that imagery can be divorced (enough) from history to the point that it can come to mean something else and the way that such imagery relies on the fact and effect of the historical time and events to have any power at all. And then consider that the appropriation of the image of Mao Tse-Tung, presumably springing from the same impulse, received almost no attention at all despite that fact that, even by generous estimates, Hitler was responsible for only 2/3 as many deaths as Mao. Again, much more could be unpacked here that probably (and sadly) won’t be.
  5. The general response (or lack of response) to Larry Sanger, Jaron Lanier, Sherry Turkle, etc., illustrates a level of groupthink, technophilia, and reflexive defensiveness in the educational technology community (as I have encountered it) that is deeper and more disturbing than I thought. Perhaps it’s inevitable that a group of people who are (or feel) knit together in the way many of the primary participants in this saga are will slowly harden and become alienated from self-examination and resistant to critique that questions the (mostly) implicit orthodoxy of the views they share (such is the way of institution building, ironically). I find the generalized combination of resistance to technological determinism and the assumption of technological progress disquieting in both myself and others.

There are many more second-order considerations that intersect with these events, most importantly the nature of the #ds106 course and how it fits (or not) into the MOOC landscape, what its activities and success mean (or not) for other teachers– i.e. is DS 106 to MOOCs as Wikipedia is to most wikis?– and how all these fit into the discussions of educational entrepreneurship and institutions, but the ability of myself or this community to have this discussion feels stifled right now.

20 Responses to “Lessons Learned”

  1. Jared Stein says:

    Hi Chris, glad to read your writing again. Though I was not involved in this kerfluffle (but thanks for letting me repeat that word!), and don’t know and only occasionally read Leigh, this interests me for many of the same reasons it seems to interest you. Plus, I just want to comment on your blog. So, a few observations:

    1. I don’t know if this is fair, but I also don’t know if Leigh, Brian, Jim, & D’Arcy are friends in the same way I consider myself a friend to you. Whether I would be more or less offended if such a thing were done by a friend is hard to say.

    2. Yes, but not all who believe in innovation believe in revolution–certainly not the way some folks claim to.

    3. My take on the degree to which there was an immediate and harsh backlash is that the images appeared to some disassociated with the original post, and the initial shock of seeing the images could not easily be undone by mere references to the more explanatory blog post. Do you think if these images were contextualized by an explanation of the ideas and the Wikipedia article the reaction would have been less severe? I do. Having said that, the creation of these images seemed severely dissociated from reality, and I was left thinking, What is wrong with this guy? Again, I don’t know Leigh, and thus that is the reaction of an outsider.

    4. Yep, Jame and I made similar comments when we compared the Mao and the NAZI images. We’ve been interested in Chinese history for a long time, and I think you’re right in your comparative horrors of the People’s Revolution and the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps one is less offensive than the other because of (I daresay inaccurate) assignments of right- or left-wing to their respective politics. Perhaps it’s because one segment of the population was massacred for something they couldn’t control (heritage, sexuality, etc) versus what they believed or espoused (nationalism, democracy, etc). Perhaps it’s merely because we have to still live with communist China as a world power and neighbor. Historians and political scientists could explore this better than I.

    5. No comment.

  2. chris says:

    Jared… I appreciate your comments.

    re #1- I don’t know either, but I was at a table with Brian, Scott, Jim, D’ARcy and Leigh in Vancouver (I’m pretty sure all were that at Brian’s) talking about education so I think there was more than just a casual connection. More importantly, I’m pretty sure *Leigh* felt there was and had a good reason to expect being given more benefit of the doubt.

    re #3- I hear you but keep in mind that Leigh linked from the flickr pick itself to both his blog entry and the specific comment that lead him to the idea of “cult of personality” and then the making of the picture. I can’t subscribe to Jim representing a cult of personality (not even sure we could all agree on what the term means), but I can see a pretty easy “connect the dots” when it comes to a line of thinking between the charismatic leader of the band of revolutionary-speaking edupunks (not to mention survivalist Jim and Non-Programistan Jim– I mean, consider now the imagery at http://bionicteaching.com/ihatecode/) and some of the pieces and parts of a popular conception of the idea of a cult of personality. Not to mention the question of whether that’s what it would take for Jim to be able to be self-supporting at doing the kind of thing he’s doing without an institution in the mix.

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  4. I was born only 14 years after the end of the Second World War. memories were still fresh, the rubble was still on the ground, and we were well into the Cold War and anti-communism.

    Why is this relevant? When I was a kid, the swastika symbolized little more than ‘bad guy’. It could be used, it was used, to indicate (as was the case with the biker gangs (mostly from the same age group) to show that you are a badass. As for its use in humour, heck, Hogan’s Heroes was on TV, and of course we were being treated to a host of very good movies about the war.

    It is only in the last 20 years or so that the swastika has been so demonized that its appearance on a wall or in a blog post warrants a news broadcast of stinging denunciation.

    It’s also culturally specific. I find the extreme aversion to the swastika to be localized to conservative Christian regions – ie., the U.S., and western Canada. In Britain there was outrage recently that a Prince wore a Gestapo costume to a Halloween party, but it’s more telling that he did, and thought nothing of it.

    This is why Leigh can say he was just running a parody and why other readers can totally not get what he was thinking. We are tempted by the technology to think we are all the same, but there are generational differences and cultural differences.

    So I think everybody needs to back off a bit…

    Because, you know, I found it really ironic that on the very same day one of the complainants was publicly unfriending Leigh, he was also DJ-ing an ‘all fuck’ program on #ds109 radio. And to *my* generation, casual swearing isn’t cool, it’s not something we do, and we don’t get that younger people just don’t think it should bother anyone.

    Me, I don’t so much care about swear words, I’m not afraid of them, they don’t offend me (hate, bigotry and corruption offend me), but I don’t use them, and I even post ‘language warning’ on links to posts using them (I got some snark about that, of course, by one of the self-same casual swearing generation).

    I mean, why go out of my way to offend anyone? I can understand, people do it, but it’s not for me.

    Or, a few years ago, when I was in Denmark (total coincidence), the furor over the publication of photos of the Prophet erupted. Yeah, I know, they’re just cartoons, they’re nothing harmful, etc. etc. but I have chosen not to publish them, not to look at them, and for good measure, not to print the name of the Prophet. I mean, after all, why go out of my way to offend people when it’s nothing – *nothing* – to follow a few simple courtesies.

    Obviously, it’s a judgement call. There are people out there who are offended at the drop of a hat. Search for “I’m offended” on Google and find 8,100,000 hits. http://www.google.ca/search?q=%22I'm+offended%22 I’ve had people write to me and say “I’m offended” because I disagreed with them about some fact or interpretation of the facts.

    But it’s also pretty easy to not be offended. I mean, you have to go out of your way to be offended. You have to make a deliberate effort. But we live in this media-saturated culture and it seems that in order to be seen as having any feeling at all about something we have to have the most extreme feeling: outrage, offense, of some such thing.

    So, again, why can’t people back off a bit.

    One the one hand, we could all be a little more sensitive to the things that offend others (and yes, I include myself in on this, because I’ve been known to stomp on the feelings of some people without having a clue that I’ve done it).

    We should all adopt a bias for respect, rather than disrespect. Being free, being radical, these aren’t about things that other people find offensive. They’re about saying things that other people think are not true. It’s a fine line, sometimes, to be sure, but let’s learn toward respect.

    And on the other hand, we could all be a little less easily offended. I know, it’s hard to do when there are hoards of people (trolls, scumbags, and haters) trying to get your got, to tweak your nose, to rub your face in it.

    But, you know, when you’re offended at *everything* it loses it’s meaning. There are some bloggers out there (I won’t name them) who have been ‘offended’ so many times I don’t know what they mean by it any more. Same your offense and outrage for the things that really matter.

    Yeah, I know, maybe Nazi images really matter to you. Maybe Satanic scrawls on church walls really matter to you. I know, it grates. But do they matter, say, as much as actual torture, decapitation, dismemberment? You know, things that are *actually* happening in places like Congo, Afghanistan, Myanmar?

    But what’s the best response? It it to fire off reams of outrage? Maybe to protest in the streets or declare a holy war against the author? As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

    The thing with punk is that it’s in your face. To some people, that’s the essencew of punk. But to me, the heart of punk lies in being free, not being offensive. We can all strive to be a bit nicer, to throw salve, not grit, into the mechanisms of our interactions.

    An ideology based on nastiness is not for me. And it is out of the presumption that it’s OK to be nasty that most of the things I find truly offensive find fertile grounds to breed.

  5. Alan Levine says:

    One lesson is that Nazis are not all that funny, unless they are parodied a la Hogan’s Heroes to an extreme exaggerated form that is far from the reality.

    I gave Leigh some Leigh-way and really did not think he was portraying colleagues as Nazis- and he has responded in a more than appropriate way on Jim Groom’s mile long comment stream. For me, I am taking the lesson away on looking as deep as possible to see the intent behind something like “the photo”.

    Part of the all the goodness of embracing the Big Open is accepting and making room for opposite ideas we may not agree with or like.

    I also hope one day I can use the phrase “technological determinism” in a real sentence.

  6. Sami says:

    I never got to see the art as it was censored. The fact that it was so utterly controversial and got such a large reaction ideally makes it better art — though it may be have been utterly tasteless.

    We have many different viewpoints and political orientations. And many of us who consider ourselves “liberal” are more centrists than leftists. There among us exist people who are prone to fantasy. There are those who are strong proponents of scientism and so on, there are cynics and stoics. Amongst intellectuals or at the very least the academically inclined it is very difficult to get mass agreement.

    As for technological determinism, I think it only exists under certain contexts and conditions — wanting knowledge to do is undetermined but a capitalist wanting knowledge wants it for a specific purpose — or a technocrat. Under our political context, it has a determined characteristic and moves in a very specific direction. If you have a problem with that then change the politics — but unfortunately the peons can’t think that abstractly and this sort of talk gets them down.

    As for offence, take it easy. Art is offensive, and perhaps you are trying to say something maybe create chaos, the interruption and interpretation is in the mind of the thinker.

    Also, today I was thinking about movements and how most of them don’t know what the fuck they are doing. Even society, it’s just one grand myth propping up all of reality. Humanity exists in that space. It does not exist in group think. It does not exist in reason. It does not exist in science. It exists in myth and disillusionment. It exists in the art produced as a result.

  7. Alan says:

    Chris- please ignore/discard my last snarky comment; I ought to try some new patterns. I meant to swipe at me and in reflection it looks like the other direction,. Or just totally disregard, I ought to be lavishly thanking you for writing again

  8. chris says:

    Alan- no need! I enjoyed your response and (seriously) hold it as a model for others. Perhaps after the intensity of the offending imagery, whatever snarkiness your post had didn’t register!

    And I agree with all of your lessons but one: the day Alan Levine starts seriously using “technological determinism” in his sentences is the day I wonder what alien has replaced him :)

  9. Martin says:

    Hi Chris,
    it’s kinda broken my heart a little to see you and Scott arguing over something that shouldn’t matter as much (in my view).
    I think your first point is a bit unfair. Of those involved, I don’t think Brian’s said much, D’Arcy has made it clear he found the image upsetting, which is fair enough, but has said let’s move on, and Jim’s post was very dignified I felt. Scott has had a bust up, but it seems he and Leigh have been having some disagreements previously. It strikes me that your leniency should stretch this way too – it’s okay for friends to fall out.
    I disagree that this is evidence for Turkle’s thesis – it seems to me fairly typical of what happens with a big group of ‘real’ friends too. You’ll have some who get on better, some who always seem to argue, some who act as peacemakers, etc and something might happen that causes a big rift in the group. I think people want to say, ah look it’s different online, but to me it demonstrates how much online relationships are as real as real ones.
    I’d also disagree (but in a friendly way!) with your point 5. Actually I think we’re seeing many of the people who are engaged with technology being very critical of it. I posted recently that I think we;ll see a backlash this year from this group, so I suspect it may be the other way, a swing from technophilia to techno-angst. I have a long post about Lanier I need to write sometime. I disagree with a lot of what he says, but I agree when he says technology criticism should not be left to Luddites.
    For me the biggest lesson is Nazi comparisons always generate more heat than light, so to start a piece with Godwin’s law means there’s nowhere left to go.
    But hey, it got you blogging again, so not all bad news!
    Martin

  10. Jim Groom says:

    I’ll be honest with you Chris, I’ve been through this with EDUPUNK, as all of us have, and for me I’m just laying low and remaining quiet so I can focus on what is happening with ds106. I will reach out to Leigh soon enough, but I really wanted this to die down a bit. I just don’t want this whole thing to be about “institutions, EDUPUNK and especially Jim Groom” again–that got us nowhere. I really want out of that dynamic, and the only way I know right now is laying low. I’m realizing the idea of me can be far more powerful that my actual actions and thoughts. I think there is some real energy in this radio thing right now and I want to focus on that, enjoy it, for me it is as simple as that. It is about so many people, it is so distributed, and it is a genuinely good vibe—that’s special. This blowup couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time :) And Leigh does have every right to say and do what he likes, that’s the web and I believe in it, but it does not mean I am gonna always be comfortable with everything. And it also doesn’t mean I don’t deeply respect and enjoy Leigh (in fact, Leigh and I had never been closer than these last months). That said, I am still confused like my post suggested. Not angry, not trying to alienate, etc., just confused and trying to make sense of it before reacting—a first for me :)

  11. chris says:

    Martin: it’s been pointed out to me that it’s unfair to lump together those who were in the image with those who were not. Fair enough. My disappointment remains intact and has to do with much more than just this specific incident.

    I have to disagree with you about the Turkle thesis, etc… I am POSITIVE that if all the same players had been sitting in a room together– or had more significant face-to-face interactions and ties– that the reaction would have been very different. I’m POSITIVE that Leigh would’ve been given a significantly larger benefit of the doubt. Turkle and others aren’t saying that online connections and relationships are NECESSARILY weak or inferior, but (in part) that there are affordances of the technology that CAN allow for confusion and conflation between strong- and weak-ties and that mindfulness is an important aspect if we don’t want to make those kind of mistakes. No one that I know of is denying the utility of social networks, only that they can play into some of the less useful and less powerful parts of our psyches and the way we connect with others, magnifying some negative tendencies (I’d guess there are deep biological reasons for these tendencies) if we don’t pay attention. Is this different from face-to-face relationship building? Not in all ways, certainly, but in some important ways, yes. In any case, the fact that so many read (or, actually, don’t read) what Turkle or Lanier are saying and then react to arguments they AREN’T MAKING, is problematic.

    I’m not seeing the introspective critical engagement you maintain is happening in this community. Please point more of it out to me if you can… it would restore a bit of my faith to see it happening. What I see is reflexive, knee-jerk defensiveness and (mostly subconscious) technophilia.

    Finally, I disagree that almost any starting point leaves on with nowhere left to go. I think that’s at least counter-productive (my point remains: WE CHOOSE where and whether to go beyond) and even childish… not to mention that the important conversation started before the image and the image was tangential even when it appeared. But it’s a conversation people don’t want to have (witness Jim’s comment below).

  12. chris says:

    Jim: the problem is, those are important issues. Maybe I’m not aware of the previous conversation that figured this all out, but as far as I can tell there is a lot to be untangled when it comes to Jim Groom and MOOCs and institutions, much of it because you have explicitly invoked or alluded to it.

    DS106 is awesome. But I suspect its awesomeness is more event than model. Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s an important thing for anyone who wants to draw lessons from it. There are those who seem to think that DS106 represents something they can do, but that, to me, is like saying that because I can install MediaWiki I can start something akin to Wikipedia. I can’t. Nor can I, or just about anyone else, put on a DS106-style event because WE ARE NOT JIM GROOM. And whether you like it or not (and I think you *should* like it), that’s a salient point that ties directly into the revolutionary rhetoric that you love while your paycheck comes from an institution (as does mine, so this isn’t a negative or positive note, just an observation), yet another aspect that makes this kind of MOOC thing difficult for anyone else.

    I’d like the dynamic of the conversation to be something other than “X and Jim Groom” as well… but the only way to get there is to figure out what parts are Jim Groom and what parts are not, what parts can mean something for someone else, etc.

    As a singular event, as a making of art, DS106 is glorious. Whatever else it might be (and I can understand why you, in particular, might be uninterested in figuring that out, right now or ever) is open to question.

    These issues are important and unsolved. You may not want to talk about them, but why should no one else? Is it because there is no answer or because there is no heart?

  13. Sami says:

    I don’t think it’s Jim’s fault that he’s in the position that he is in; he may be encouraging some things but he also fits into the role quite well. He also seem charismatic and seems to genuinely care about the stuff he is preaching, he is not doing it solely for personal reasons. He also invests a lot of time in the stuff outside of what is required for his position; or at least that what it seems to me like looking at DS106 and looking at other stuff he chooses to do.

    As for someone paying his paycheck, go back to the 60s and think about some of the professors that participated like David Suzuki. Everyone collects a paycheck, if you don’t you’re down and out… and you can’t fault them for doing so.

    Movements emerge and evolve, so it also means that any sort of movement would be limited to Jim Groom — it would not. It would be a series of self organized events all over the world with devotion to the idea of freedom in academia away from the tides of power that run today. It would not be defined by just anti-corporate rhetoric and would take money and participate and attempt to enrich culture rather than go against it… and change is by merging with it; but not being absorbed by it as the environmental movement has.

    DS106 is an event, and Edupunk is not yet a movement; in fact it’s a very, very small group of interest. If there were a Neopunk movement, of which Edupunk was a part, then that movement would make any sort of DS106 event a success. It’s simply about captivating the attention of the people; you really can’t fault people for starting to do that. Perhaps Jim should spend more time working on that aspect of liberalizing the idea and encouraging other people to start similar movements on their campuses; with an ideal of Neopunk and counter-culture… and make this whole thing into a movement, rather than about a person or a small group of people or an event. Rather than personality cult, a movement with many leaders and followers all working towards the same sort of goals; globally.

    Also, the entrepreneurship and sellout rhetoric. I think that this needs some new rhetoric to redefine the boundaries and ideas around it and be more productive… in redefining what it means to be a cultural entrepreneur (as what differentiates you from everyone else) and to act virtuously for the aims of the movement rather than for personal gain. There is nothing wrong with collecting money, there is nothing wrong with making a living; but when that becomes a big part of it… and that you are concerned with central growth, rather than growth of the idea in its many different forms out there; in the movement… that’s where you stray… this just seems to be getting started and if it were to take-off, it would be a good thing. At least to distract from everything else and offer an alternative mode of being.

  14. Thank you for this post Chris, and to Stephen for his post on Half an Hour (copied here as a comment).

    For the past 3 days I’ve been running a wiki conference and unable to keep up with the distribution of the dialog, so gradually catching up tonight.

    During that conference, I have however found myself in evening dinner table conversations with friends and professional colleagues here in Canberra Australia – and found something that may help process this problem.

    Even when imagining themselves in the image, no one was able to find enough reason to be offended by the image, but easily took offense at the responses. They seemed to intuitively understand the two images as a statement, a conceptual sketch, and a joke. Regarding the joke, some found it funny or thought provoking, while some found it tactless.

    An early representation of such diverse response was from Peter Rawsthorne, who was dealt equally unmoderated hash treatment, despite him being a goodwill contributor for a number of years.

    One person here, did explain to me that there is a lot more sensitivity in North America toward Nazi appropriation (as Stephen also pointed out), but also struggle with the inconsistency in the sensitivity. American political figures are often depicted with Nazi imagery, and you point out other forms of appropriation, and the responses are disproportionate to the original message.

    Adding weight to this problem of consistency, that ultimately affected my own (and many others) judgement and ability to foresee the sensitivity, is the lack of explanation as to why the Mao image caused no offense. Even when pressed for explanation, and after I’ve gone to some length trying to explain my intentions, no one has addressed that pretty stark gap, or retracted the harshness of responses that lend weight to the image’s intended statement in the first place!

    I now believe the responses outweigh the offense in the image, and the subsequent issue shouldn’t be dismissed or simply wish away.. it is important, and I think you do it justice Chris. But its equally important to bare in mind that the cumulative effect of the responses distorts the message of individual responses, and non-responses. One person’s outright revolting response, distorts D’Arcy’s harsh but ultimately fare response, etc. Another person’s additionally revolting response distorts the meaning in Jim’s justified delay in offering any response, or decision to not moderate flame comments etc.

    Thanks all for taking the time to consider and introduce me to more concepts and critiques, and for the generosity of spirit to help me/us deal with it all.

    Regards
    Leigh

  15. chris says:

    Sami– for some reason you seem to think that my desire for Jim to take part in these conversations is the same as wanting Jim to be the subject of the conversations. Those are two very different things. I’m privileged to count Jim as a friend online and in person, but I don’t want the discussions to be about Jim Groom any more than he does… in fact, the point would be to figure out how some of these things can work for those who are not he (or He :)

    You also too easily elide the issues that come with being funded by institutions for anti-institutional acts while being part of the institution while at the same time attributing terminology I would not like “sellout.” Everyone (basically) needs to get paid, no doubt, but not everyone needs to get paid by an institution (which is, ironically, at the heart of the post by Leigh which eventually led to the brouhaha)… if they do, then revolutionary rhetoric is bound to be a point of discussion, if not interrogation.

    You do start to get at something interesting with the idea of a “series of self-organized events,” except that it takes the approach that the way to change education is to get together and talk about education and try to change it in the meta- rather than in the practice. What is interesting about MOOCs and events like DS106, to me, is how they are changing education in a much more interesting way– through the activity of teaching and learning in a different way. That seems much more interesting, and not only because it is possible to do so within an institution while what you are proposing is, to my mind, completely hopeless as an agent of actual change from within the institution (and meaningless to the institution if the participants are without)… that’s the Catch-22 of institutional (not organizational) change.

    What I find most intriguing is what the rest of us mere mortals can do who don’t have the following and connections (well-deserved and well-earned), Jim has, how such activities can operate successfully at a smaller scale, etc. I have some experience with putting on similar activities, including one that Jim has referenced here as contributing to his idea for DS106 in some small way, but the questions remain.

  16. Sami says:

    I don’t really think that you want it to be about Jim, Chris, you have been extremely diplomatic about the whole thing. But I did want to take a minute to defend, in case that is what someone was thinking. Since it’s on your blog, you feel that it’s direct at you — it is not.

    As for anti-intellectual acts, I am not sure of exactly what you mean. At this point capital and the institution have become so conflated, that I doubt you will rid either of the other; and I don’t think you guys have a plan or a strategy for that. Also, what are the alternatives to being paid by the institution, being paid by the students/consumers of that institution? So to sell your services to the consumers? Am I missing something here?

    I have a feeling that you guys are a bit too stuck in the institution and that you should get your students involved in the leadership roles… and in their own movements for changing the institution and the anti-intellectualism endemic to the institution. Ultimately, it is they who are affected, and it is they who can demand for the sorts of changes you want more effectively.

    It is really about them and not at all about you or the courses that you deliver or even the events you choose to hold. I am fortunately not involved in these things the way that you guys are; so I have some distance to the issue and can give this sort of critique without worrying about my career or offending those involved.

    That any sort of movement or change is more about the students and less about you, your careers, or the institution or its change. The change on the demand side is much more do-able and prolific and needed. That’s what 60s counter-culture or even punk was about more about, mostly the young people rebelling. That’s what most movements are about, it was about their interest for change. This interest group of teacher/educators wants to change the institution and thereby the students, I think that’s backwards. I don’t really hear a lot about education for leadership and for change; of liberating the minds of the students, but tons about the tools we are going to use to revolutionize everything.

    This whole thing so far is about consumerism of free tools used by students introduced by EdTech… and very much set in the rhetoric and training of the institution. It has an element of supporting careers and furthering those careers; which again I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with… but it’s not an effective strategy for accomplishing what is meant to be accomplished.

    The change would come from the students, the actual consumers of the institutions basically saying enough. It would come from refusing to use the tools and finding alternatives until the schools chose to use the alternatives, etc. You guys are employees with careers that depend on the institution.

    Away from that I don’t know what you have. It’s because the free tools are mostly run by corporations… and open source rhetoric has been effectively capitalized. What is outside of that consumerism is the process, the participation in the process, of the idea. Away from the tools and consumerism.

  17. [...] of personality and profiteer marketing. Not saying this is the case of the people involved, but as Chris Lott mentions, the incident provided a teachable moment in critical thinking and is a useful reminder of [...]

  18. Scott Leslie says:

    I am pretty stunned that Leigh is now able to write “the responses outweigh the offense of the image” – wow. Poor Leigh. Then why take it down? I didn’t see anyone ask you to.

    For what it is worth Leigh, I did try to respond to you as to why the Mao image did not draw as big a reaction. I wrote:

    “it’s not really any better than the Nazi one, but if it hasn’t provoked more reaction that is likely only because for many people the history of Mao’s China is not as well known, and also that the subject of the photo is not as immediately iconic as the Nazi one (e.g. it’s not a particularly famous image and so many might not clue in immediately to the analogy that’s been drawn).” I would add – it was not the image that was pointed to in your tweet either, which is where I (and I know others) first saw the Nazi image.

    This isn’t the first, or even the third or fourth time you and I have clashed. Humour is a funny thing, eh? Not to worry, I’ll climb back into my hole and cede you the moral high ground you clearly deserve.

  19. chris says:

    Sami: I don’t have a problem with students paying. I’m also a student and I pay even as I’m a teacher and get paid. The question is, given how often we bemoan the institution– and rightly so given that I’m not aware of any contribution it is making to furthering progress in teaching and learning beyond being a banking mechanism– is their a viable way to remove the institutions from the equation altogether without having to go (too far) down the road of marketing that Leigh was referencing in the earlier post I linked to?

    It’s not necessarily significantly different than the plight of the artist…

    Of course, the institutions rise for many reasons. In the context of education– particularly the process of teaching and learning, the pedagogy and approach– what did the 60s counter-culture movement achieve? Not much, if anything. They achieved much when it comes to the shape of the institutions, but not much when it comes to escaping them. That’s the irony, but there’s a simple reason why: students aren’t students for very long, and not usually long enough to bring about much change.

    I think you’re wrong about most educators wanting to change the institution. Or at least it doesn’t characterize the people I care about and listen to. The ones I care about see that idea as stillborn. What they want to do is teach differently… the tools are just a means, potentially, to do so. The problem is that there’s very little opportunity to teach differently within the institution but no path to moving teaching outside of it. Then again, there’s no clear proof that enough (hardly any, really) students WANT any of this in the first place. They want good enough and to get out with the piece of paper, having subconsciously (usually) or consciously (like me) given up on the rest.

  20. Sami says:

    “I’m not aware of any contribution it is making to furthering progress in teaching and learning beyond being a banking mechanism’

    I think that historically, we had somewhat of a different arrangement. Where personality cults were common (and their leaders were often sincere) and so you had a school often started by a personality; say Socrates… and its followers. What’s wrong with that, I don’t know? We still hear about these schools and their important contributions.

    How about seeing the institution itself as a personality; and the cult situated around that? It being much more pathological than an individual because it’s not sincere; the bureaucracy and the delineated nature between its constituents and the personality itself keeps the people behind its behaviour beyond reproach or effective change.

    In many ways accreditation is a way of maintaining the small set of personality cults that are acceptable as authentic and acceptable cults of the state vs. those whose take on reality the state does not find acceptable. The corporations plug into this system to give credence to the personality cult… and testify to its goodness.

    “In the context of education– particularly the process of teaching and learning, the pedagogy and approach– what did the 60s counter-culture movement achieve?”

    I don’t think that was its intent. And every movement and every group of people have their own objectives and intents. That was a different time with different set of premises.

    I think what is more important is the idea that change can come, I think that’s a very important idea. For those who run the system to not get too comfortable with the level of control or power that they think they have… because power corrupts… and what we see today in many ways is a type of corruption.

    “students aren’t students for very long, and not usually long enough to bring about much change.”

    I think the process and the institutions that students can create can last very long. Look at some of these fraternities for an example. It’s just a matter of energy and process maintaining itself; something that requires ever more capital whose flow is tightly controlled and directed towards specific direction just by the medium.

    “I think you’re wrong about most educators wanting to change the institution.”

    I think you somewhat contradict yourself in your elaboration. It seems in wanting to teach differently and the institution allowing that, they want to change that aspect of the institution. I wonder though why they have such desires?

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