I want to document and maybe provoke a discussion and reflection on last night’s Change 11 web conference with Dave Cormier on Rhizome Learning. I felt pretty alienated and out of place.

But first a few caveats:
1. I like Dave a lot, count him as a friend and find his ideas on Rhizome learning interesting and relevant
2. This was my first synchronous session at Change 2011 MOOC (many mostly, time and priority related issues getting in the way). Thus my alienation may result from my failing to take the time and energy to become accustomed to and grow into the norms of this group/network.
3. The session was one of the most interactive, Elluminate sessions I’ve seen. Dave is a master at both creating the context through his slides and allowing comments to flow fast and furious.

One of the first slides Dave asked what was the purpose of education. There was about 30 replies entered onto the slide. Many like “create workers”, “babysit kids”, “create soldiers”, “give a space for teachers to endless repeat stories from their youth” and many more reflecting a distinctly EduPunk interpretation of the stuff of Hidden Curriculum critique of formal education system. But not a single comment about education being responsible for and or even associated with learning. This struck me as odd (and alienating) for three reasons.

First, likely all of the participants (including Dave and myself) are products of, and beneficiaries of a variety of educational systems. In fact, many of us participating in the MOOC are the teachers or administrators running or at least participating in formal education systems, and thus the very enemy being bashed. I do not deny the culture homogenizing influence of education systems but look at all the definitions of education from dictionary.com:
– 1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.
– 2.the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
– 3.a degree, level, or kind of schooling: a university education.
– 4.the result produced by instruction, training, or study: to show one’s education.
– 5.the science or art of teaching; pedagogics.

The conversation seemed to focus (and get stuck on #4 alone), whereas I like to think of number #1 and work to develop #5.

Second, I’ve spent 2/3 of my adult life trying to improve access to education through various distance education institutions, technologies and systems. My motives are certainly not to create soldiers or workers, but to expand opportunity and give people real choices. Sure, education does lead to better jobs, but it also leads to better understanding and management of our global environment, release of and development of creative juices, as evidenced by the formal education of almost all of the interesting and important cultural, artistic and philosophical leaders, models and trend setters. I recognize that education is a two edged sword and can also stamp out creativity, as evidenced by studies of changes in school aged children – but it also provides a context for students to learn how to create, think and get along with and tend the various weeds (personal and institutional) in our gardens. Education, like other institutional systems both creates and is created by individual and social hierarchies. You can also see that children don’t generally get any more creative when they are denied opportunity to go to school – maybe just the opposite. Except of course if they are the children of or exposed to educated adults or others with large (and often uncommon) personal gifts and abilities

Third, I like others am attracted to the romantic notion of the Nomad. During my 20’s and on, I spent 15 years on a homestead in Northern Alberta, so I am quite familiar with the value and sense of freedom of living outside the mainstream society, but I still had to learn (pre-Internet days) how to research, argue, support and protect that alternative lifestyle – and I was grateful for the formal education tools and skills that I had available and sadly were not, to many of my rural and First Nation neighbours. I also have seen the marginalized and not very pleasant or sustaining lifestyles of modern Bedouin communities in Jordon and Oman and Roma communities of nomads in many countries of Europe. Sure, they have at least equal doses of culture and maybe more creativity than others, but they suffer from all sorts of challenges, not least of which are health issues and the lack of educational opportunity for their kids. If you talk to these nomads, you will find that many of them have high aspirations and regrets about their own lack of education and make great efforts to provide educational opportunities to own children – and not just because they want them to be good factory workers or soldiers. One might also ask are the ecology, anti-war, Arab Spring, social, charitable and volunteer services that are trying to build and mend our world populated by educated people or by Nomads? I refrain from using the the older term of ‘learned people’, because I appreciate the distinction made between learning and education – but I don’t deny the correlation.

Finally, I realized last night how “out of it” I am in regard to skill using Blackboard, graphics, Twitter and other PLEs as compared to many of the Change participants. This is OK, as I am old fart (61 years) and I am at the stage of life, where I don’t feel compelled to keep up with all the new technologies and the skills required to exploit them. But I am light years ahead of most of my generation (Stephen notwithstanding!) and thus I see the EduPunk culture becoming a very exclusionary technocracy. And to be frank, not one that I really aspire to join. Maybe Moocs are its ‘educational schoolrooms’.

I belief connectivism has much to say to formal education systems, but change is a very complex and needs many advocates and workers – both in the trenches and by Nomads. If we really want to CHANGE systems, we have to insure that we don’t grow as rhizomes, reproducing clones of ourselves or establishing gardens in which only certain types of weeds can flourish.