The world is your classroom.
The ongoing development of technological infrastructure including the internet and internet based applications is working quickly toward attempting to intricately connect us with one another across the globe in new and supposedly more dynamic ways. The walls which once divided us and made it difficult to know and relate to those beyond our close proximity are quickly falling and crumbling at our feet.
This reality is present both within and outside of the classroom. Last week, Dr. Ransom spoke in his EDTS523 class about the ways in which higher levels of connectivity are impacting life within the classroom. He spoke of how the classroom was once a place where students went and in a sense, were logged in with full screen enabled and committed (whether willfully or not) to life as it had been planned by their instructors.
In film, we have often seen the traditional classroom depicted as a place where the teacher presides with authority and control, expecting students to follow their lead, adopt specific goals, and for their behavior to reflect sharing in those goals. Here, life within the classroom is like a sort of classroom trip on a school bus, with the teacher at the wheel making all of the directional decisions, expecting (and requesting) the students to be satisfied with the trip, regardless of where any of them might like to go and what any of them might like to see.
For some students, this is not a great problem. Some are able to find fulfillment in living out a role that has been created for them while adding bits of an authentic self to the mix when and where possible in order to maintain some level of satisfaction. For others, this type of environment creates a major dilemma within which they may feel deprived of the ability to live, to be themself, and to engage in learning that is fun, enjoyable, and natural.
When a student finds themself within such a dilemma, three (or more) possibilities may occur. They may decide to make a fresh attempt at adopting the prescribed role that a teacher has set out for them. They may rebel against the authority of their teacher in various ways. Or, they may “check out” to some degree, or all together. Checking out is likely more common than rebellion, as from a student’s perspective, it may seem the more rational thing to do in the face of dominant authority and unchanging circmstance, not to mention is likely seen as less risky too.
As students (and many other things), we have all checked out before. Perhaps we found ourself glancing at a book unrelated to the lesson, peering out a window which welcomed our curiosity, playing music in our mind, or doodling pictures on paper. In such a dilemma, it is difficult not to check out. Within our very nature is a propensity to learn, explore, discover, experience, and create, and to do so in communion with others. Within such a dilemma, we find ourself disabled rather than enabled, contained rather than set free. Naturally, we check out and seek out furtile soil within which we may learn, grow, and experience life more fully.
If we are students and we are plants, then our teacher should be a good gardener. To be a good gardener, they must recognize that we are similar in that we are plants, yet also very different. Some are fruits, some vegetables, some flowers, and some cactii. As students or plants, we do not always choose what makes us similar and what makes us different. Forgive us when some of us do not understand why we are all treated as fruit trees when not all of us are fruit trees. When we are all treated as fruit trees, some of us bear fruit, and others do not.
If our garden or classroom is to be a healthy place, a special sort of gardener is needed. A special gardener must be without preference for certain kinds of plants. They must be open to possibilities beyond their current experience and perhaps even their vision of possibility. They must be prepared to embrace newness in a dynamic way, ready to learn, grow, and change with other members of the garden. They must be ready to be a student and a teacher, a gardener and a gardenee, not one day to the next, rather moment by moment.
In the days of the black and white classics, it was a bit easier for a teacher (gardener) to close their door and do their own thing. It seems that it was more OK for them to work at growing only fruit trees and for the other plants to suffer. That was school. That was life. Supposedly, a great deal has changed since those days. Educational theorists have helped to enlighten us to the reality that not all students (plants) are the same and in fact, none are the same. A great deal of research has taken place and teachers are better equipped and hopefully more motivated to be that special gardener, to nourish and grow plants of all sorts, each distinctively unique from the other.
Laws governing the practice and environment of education have changed to support this new reality, which isn’t really new at all. We might say that our awareness is new, but not all of our awareness is dependent upon an intellectual acquisition of knowledge provided by researchers and contemplatives. Perhaps our collective agreement about the reality of learning is changing. The classroom door has been thrown open and now, whether intrinsically motivated or not, we have agreed that not all plants are the same, and all deserve equal nourishing, and that we must be a special sort of gardener in order to help them to flourish, and if we are not, then we may need to co-garden with one another in order to succeed.
Technology has helped to support the opening of the door, the knocking down of the classroom walls. No longer are any of us as limited in our ability to know of the reality of a garden in which all plants may grow and flourish and to understand what it is that facilitates such a life within the classroom. Nor are students as limited in their ability to know of such a reality, to understand what is is that facilitates such a life, and to seek it out if they so please. Technology has empowered individuals, whether teacher or student or other, to at the very least become more aware of activity within the world, to become more knowledgeable about the world. Students can no longer be logged into the classroom in full screen mode by an administrative user. They are not fooled by such tactics and now possess the power to disable full screen mode and to switch tabs if they so please.
This phenomenon is occurring across the globe within all facets of life and not necessarily because of technology, since the propensity for leading a fulfilling life has and will always be within our own nature, but technology has helped to support the collective understanding of that propensity as being a shared propensity and a good propensity, one that deserves attention regardless of discrepancies and differences. Indeed, this propensity is getting attention. Within the news, we see and hear stories of a drastic need for change within education as a result of many types of plants clearly not thriving within our gardens. Is something wrong with the plants? Is something wrong with the gardener? Is something wrong with the tools? Is something wrong with the weather? We may want to quickly discern what is wrong, fix it, and get back to gardening. However, the art of gardening seldom involves quick fixes. It is a delicate art and we will need to take great care in how we approach each moment, whether or not we are in the midst of a dilemma.
While it may be difficult to find a film playing in black and white in the theater, it is not so difficult to find a teacher who still continues to teach as though they were growing a garden of only fruit trees. Regardless of the potentials of our collective awareness, a teacher is an individual and has the ability to exert their own free will. However, now that the door is no longer closed, choices that are unhealthy for the garden are no longer as easily supported by anonymity. Technology is acting to louden the voices of students. If they are suffering, no longer must their cries for help go unheard. Calling, texting, e-mailing, facebooking, tweeting, blogging, and vlogging are among the tools that students are well versed in using and will naturally use to express themselves if unable to do so within the classroom. The walls of the classroom may still be there, but they have become transparent. How will this change the reality of life within the classroom? Clearly, we are seeing it change life outside of the classroom with each new day.
Perhaps the classroom will no longer exist as a hidden place, accessible to outsiders by means of word-to-mouth, or through various gatekeepers such as teachers and school administrators. While policy and politics may work toward the preservation of the hidden classroom, the power of policy cannot overcome the natural propensity to live fully that we all share. Teachers, administrators, and others involved in the world of education might be wise in submitting to this propensity and working with it rather than against it, out of fear or other unnecessary emotions or rationale. Whether they do or do not, passionate teachers are collecting and congregating and are doing so not within a faculty lounge which is confined by walls, but within a faculty lounge that is without walls and where all are welcome to join in the discussion and participate.
Though the news may seem bleek, this is a time for passionate teachers and students to celebrate, for having the opportunity to explore the potentials of a life of learning together, knowing that we are supported by “the rest of us,” seen and unseen, and aware that the propensity that moves us is alive and cannot be diminished, regardless of circumstance, of politics, and whatever else might prevent one from seeing the beauty in a flourishing garden of diversity.