If There’s a New Way, I’ll Be The First In Line

“If there’s a new way, I’ll be the first in line. But it better work this time.”

– Dave Mustaine: Peace Sells, But Who’s Buying?

Many educators are calling for a new type of education. One that is more fluid, open, self-guided. The argument is that humans are social creatures that naturally want to learn. So just set them free and they will learn like crazy.

Some go so far as to come up with titles like EduPunk and Anti-Teacher. They want to do away with everything from Learning Management Systems to semester-based systems to Universities all together. They are doing some great thinking, blogging, and boundary-expanding.

But can I just say one thing: Whoah! Baby and bathwater anyone?

It seems like to me that most of these people are those that grew up in a really traditional school that really quashed all questions and free-thinking (or, at least, they came to work in one at some time). Think Dead Poet’s Society for an example. So I can understand where they are coming from.

Of course, those of us that actually came from this open, fluid, self-directed education will usually tell you “ummm…. sorry… it doesn’t quite work either. Close – but still needs some work”

I was a “Gifted & Talented” kid – I’m not sure what it is now called. I was even in a GT class in High School – right after Algebra, English II, and Biology II. The goal of that was to give the really motivated learners the freedom to create their own learning in an environment that was free of traditional learning constraints. They tried two six-week sessions of experimental learning that usually descended in to us just goofing off and chatting. Then it was decided that they were still putting too many “conditions” and “guidelines” on us and that we should create our own curriculum for a six week period. All kinds of interesting ideas were placed before us – but then one student said “hey – can we watch movies for the whole six weeks?” That idea won the classes vote by 100%. The teacher decided to step in and say that we at least had to come up with educationally-based movies. So we did – it is surprising how educational “The Abyss”, “Lion King” and “Silence of the Lambs” can become when you put your teen-age mind to it :)

After that, they redesigned it and it became a great class. Oh yeah – we learned many things from those movies. Stuff I never used for the rest of my life except to maybe win a pink pie piece in Trivial Pursuit.

I am not linking to any posts or blogs about this issue because I don’t necessarily disagree with any one of these people. They have great ideas and some great thinking. I also think they need to realize that much of this has already been tried before to some degree – so don’t repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past (Montessori schools, anyone?). Also, please don’t make the mistake that just because things are bad in your (relatively little no matter who you are) corner of the world, that they are the same everywhere else. They aren’t.

To me, the best way to learn is still guided social constructivism, where learning is constructed for others while guided by a teacher or expert that keeps you on track while allowing you to learn. The important part is that the learner constructs knowledge for others. Self-paced learning is too self-focused and studies have proven that people will lose interest in anything if they just keep doing it for themselves. You have to have a grand picture of why you are doing something or you lose focus. “Without vision, the people will perish” is as true now as it was when that proverb was first written. If we are not careful, we will just have a repeat of the self-focused, self-loathing grunge movement hitting us again. Am I seriously the only person that has noticed the rise of grunge music coinciding with the first wave of self-guided learning?

EDIT: Please carefully read this post before posting knee-jerk comments. I don’t say GT, Montessori, or any of the ideas that I examine here or the people that believe them are bad or wrong. Read carefully, please. And, if you don’t know this already, the Montessori movement itself has been very open about the mistakes they have made through the years. I’m referring to the mistakes that they say they have made, not the whole movement itself (although there are many that would dismiss the whole movement).

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

3 thoughts on “If There’s a New Way, I’ll Be The First In Line

  1. I have to say, I think you’re laboring under some false pretenses.

    The people pushing against CMSs aren’t calling for an end to course management systems– they’re advocating a move away from the substandard products of corporate CMSs like Blackboard, and the amount of influence such systems have on Universities and their instructors.

    Moreover, not all of us who are pushing for alternative educational structures or radical rethinking of the structure of higher education are doing so out of some puerile, Holden Caulfield-esque response to traditional educational environments. Some of us are the products of alternative education ourselves, who’ve found that IT WORKED FOR US.

    Despite your dismissive comment about Montessori schools, I recently found myself at a small BBQ where there were four of us who were products of Montessori schools. Three out of four had or were pursuing graduate degrees. The one with only a college education has a very comfortable job at the Pentagon. Of the four with graduate education, two of us were pursuing terminal degrees– one in medicine, and myself in History.

    At the age that you were in a poorly-run Gifted & Talented program, I was already in college– at one of the most “alternative” colleges this side of Deep Springs. Among my friends from college, I can count at least a half-dozen lawyers, at least as many research scientists, three or four tenure-track professors, several State Department employees, and possibly the most successful grassroots political organizer under thirty in the US.

    Thinking about all these people, I’m still not seeing where my nontraditional education has held me– or many of my friends– back in any way. These schools have allowed us to grow and explore our interests, pursue passions, made us self-motivated lifelong learners. Sure, there was the occasional kid who ended up selling handmade bongos out of the back of a bus, but I’m pretty sure he would have ended up doing that no matter what his schooling.

    This is all anecdotal, sure. I don’t have figures to back me up. But your dismissive attitude in this article seems to be supported only by a single, poorly-run classroom.

  2. Matt Crosslin
    The people pushing against CMSs aren’t calling for an end to course management systems

    Actually, I have read plenty that are. Notice I said ‘some’ are pushing for this – not all. I have been to sessions at conference called ‘Death of the Learning Management System’ – that was exactly what they were about.

    But your dismissive attitude in this article seems to be supported only by a single, poorly-run classroom.

    Actually, no it isn’t. First of all, if you had read my article closely enough, you would have seen that I didn’t totally dismiss this type of education. I clearly said ‘Close – but still needs some work.’ I am just asking people to take a close look at what they are advocating to make sure they are not repeating mistakes that were already made out there. Second of all, I didn’t say that the whole class was poorly run. Did you read where I said this ‘After that, they redesigned it and it became a great class.’? This is also what I said: ‘I don’t necessarily disagree with any one of these people. They have great ideas and some great thinking. I also think they need to realize that much of this has already been tried before to some degree – so don’t repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past’

    Thirdly – I used to be a director at a tutoring center. A large number of the kids we had to tutor were Montessori school kids that couldn’t make in in college or a regular high school. My co-worker could call them after the first day of tutoring. We would check the file, and sure enough: Montessori. I can name just as many Montessori failures as I can normal grade school failures. I know that some people feel that kind of education works. Great. Out of 10 or Montessori schools I have worked with and the 100 or so products of these schools that I have interfaced with – I wouldn’t agree. The funny thing is, the Montessori schools themselves will tell you all of the mistakes that have been made in their movement, and how they are working to correct them. My so-called ‘dismissive’ comment about Montesorri schools was made in the context that I thought every one was well aware of all the ways that Montesorri schools had self-criticized themselves. I guess not.

    Also, notice that I never said anything about alternative colleges. The research seem to indicate that those are pretty hit or miss, but I know of many that have worked.

    Maybe you should try reading my post closely before giving such a knee-jerk reaction? It’s pretty clear that you, whoever you are, are putting words in to my mouth based on your own feelings.

    I think this shows one of the problems with some parts of the EdTech and even EduPunk movement. I have run in to this many times before. People want to question the way things are done, and they get mad at people who don’t automatically accept their right to question and think outside of the box. But then you question them and they get livid. They start calling you close minded, judgemental, etc. All because you did to them what they are doing to others. Most people in this field are not like this – but I have run in to some that are.

    Some of us are the products of alternative education ourselves, who’ve found that IT WORKED FOR US.

    That’s great. I didn’t say it doesn’t work for anyone. I can line up thousands of people that would tell you that the traditional industrial-era style of education worked great for them. The problem is that some people are saying that the current mainstream educational system doesn’t work for anyone, and that is just not true. They want to chunk the whole system and re-do it.

    Moreover, not all of us who are pushing for alternative educational structures or radical rethinking of the structure of higher education are doing so out of some puerile, Holden Caulfield-esque response to traditional educational environments.

    Every single one that I have read are. That is what they say. Most blog posts start off with some comment about how traditional schooling failed them in some way. Also, I never, ever called anyone puerile (childish) in any way. Please DO NOT put words in my mouth. That is just sad. There is nothing childish about wanting to change something that didn’t work for you. If you are pushing for education reform, but it is not because of the way things are – then why are you pushing for it? There is no need to change the status quo if you are not wanting change due to a reaction to said staus quo. If you liked the status quo, you would want to leave it alone.

  3. Sounds to me, a fellow GT (TAG where I’m from) student, that the problem in the GT class you mentioned was motivation. From what I’ve read, and wrote, I’d say that this is a big part of the reason people think the “new” direction is a good one.

    As a game designer, I think most don’t really get it. Truth is I don’t think most game industry people really get it in a way they can use to improve motivation for learning.

    While I know there are those who don’t want to chuck out the old system entirely, I also know that there are a lot of time it sounds like they do with plenty of people who really want the old system completely gone. Personally I think that the best solution is to create a dual system system. Some people don’t fit into normal education, and some don’t fit into the “new” vision for education. There are some of us out there in the movements.

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