Avoiding the Mediocre Middle

Avoiding the Mediocre Middle

The spate of US Presidential debates over the past months has reminded me of the dialogue and rhetorical tricks my partners and I used to employ as headstrong high schoolers through the National Forensics League.  The goal of a debate tournament was not to present good policy, but to either defend or attack a policy better than the opposition.  This resulted in a great deal of fiat, the ability to create without effort and enact without requisite jurisdiction.  Fiat allowed us to focus our conversations on the issues and the policies rather than the governance or the political capital; it was a pragmatic solution to an ideological conundrum.

The most popular fiat my partners and I used was education.  No matter the significance of the problem, no matter our proposed solution, we always tacked on education via fiat.  Trade embargo with China as punishment for Three Gorges Dam? Education will bring people to our side.  Redefining the national driving age to 18 to cut down on juvenile crime*? Education will show the importance of our ways.  If someone was proposing hands-on solutions to stop the school-to-prison pipeline, we might argue the significance of school-to-prison or the solvency of hands-on intervention, but we would not argue the role of education in the proposal.  Education was a solution, not a mechanism.

a2e0cf5b64e0aba9d046886e84d3ce36More and more I reject the notion of education as emancipatory, as an appendage of social justice, as a tool of democratization and globalization.  I desire to be Jurgen Habermas and see the public square and the sphere of influence, but I tend toward Jean Francois Lyotard and see false grand narratives and broken promises and question the existence of the public square as simulacrum rather than a stolen past .  At the same time, I reject the camp of postmodernism that tends toward capitalism, oligarchy and neoliberalism…postmodernism is not laizzes-faire but rather a critical negotiation of dominant paradigms and a celebration of smaller, localized narratives and contexts.  That means education is a social justice issue, but it’s also a competency issue, and a equality issue, and a jobs issue, and a chance for emancipation, and a chance to make money.  And that space is messy.

Over the next 9 days I have the good fortune to give six presentations at three excellent conferences:  dLRN, AACE and NWeLearn.  These presentations are somewhat all over the board:  a panel discussion of theoretical lenses to engage digital education/edtech research, a paper presentation critiquing the pragmatic space of OER, two workshops on empowering faculty through WordPress, more MOOC as a sociocultural phenomenon hullabaloo, and an ignite talk where I bring up Kenny Loggins and Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  These presentations will be in the company of some of the greatest minds on these topics in the world.

In trying to find a theme between these presentations, I come back to a comparison I made in some earlier research between David Wiley’s Reusability Paradox and Lyotard’s interest in language games.  When our interest is in *striking a balance* between two poles, we are giving credence to the structure and the two-dimensional pragmatic approach.  Yes, Wiley is correct that there is a mediocre middle for OER that tries to be all things to all men, but I disagree with the escape hatch he sees in open licenses…in part our interest in solutionism continues to push us towards these negotiations rather than embracing the discord that truly exists.  If education is both about job skills as well as competence of character, not only must our perspectives change but our tactics must change as well.  It is not enough to bemoan nanodegrees, and it is not enough to build OER (nor is it enough to seek nanodegrees and question OER).  We must understand why nanodegrees are celebrated and resist/negotiate that paradigm, but we also must put the same critical lens to what Faulkner would call our babies.  If information and networks are ubiquitous in 2015, why are we still so beholden to a fiat solution?

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Posted on: October 15, 2015admin

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