Learner Autonomy & Its Complicity
Tweetable summary: In its present type, the promotion of freedom in schooling is, on the similar time, the promotion of its reverse.
On-line pedagogic recommendation about selling learner autonomy tends to be guided by a fairly doubtful distinction between a free life and an unfree one – a black and white view of liberation past the classroom. The thought of the lively, self-directed learner rests on an concept concerning the lively, self-directed grownup who has left schooling and develop into a totally autonomous particular person, and this unthought concept belongs to a binary opposition long-since falsified by the proof of centuries.
In that assumed distinction, there’s on the one aspect a glowing picture of a free society the place people are selecting and taking initiatives and passionately pushing in the direction of private success; and on the opposite aspect a darkish picture of browbeaten individuals ready passively to be informed what to do. The free society liberates people and all their latent dynamism; the unfree society crushes them within the identify of a static order – the kind of oppressive order that was to be shattered by the digital revolution, or so we have been informed again in 1984, when the Apple Macintosh was depicted as a sledgehammer for a defiant individualism.
Therefore the acquainted distinction between two approaches to schooling: The dangerous previous one which ready youngsters for an obedient life in a repressive industrial order, and an excellent newer one which encourages particular person autonomy and the artistic problem-solving expertise now recognised to be so invaluable in a digitally retooled society the place a box-defying creativity issues excess of compliance.
Freedom and unfreedom: the acquired concepts
This assumed binary opposition deserves extra thought – a troublesome activity, admittedly, because it requires leaving the protected however suffocatingly slender specialism of pedagogy to assume extra usually concerning the social actuality of freedom. Maybe habituated specialists assume issues of such generality must be left alone, but when we don’t confront them, then our specialised discourse dangers being little greater than academically well-referenced, peer-reviewed chatter. We have to drag these taken-for-granted concepts out into the open and see if they’ve the harmless fact they’re assumed to have.
Of these twin opposed concepts of freedom and unfreedom the latter would appear to be the extra necessary one, since it’s the one which the discourse of freedom resists. Freedom, no matter it’s, is a wrestle towards its reverse.
The dominant concept of unfreedom sees it as our subjugation to the desire of one other. We’re unfree if we’ve to do what different individuals inform us to do. So unfreedom is about obedience and the discovered passivity of people that have been conditioned to attend to be informed what to do (and there’s no tyranny with out that discovered passivity as a result of if individuals are not ready to be ordered, there shall be no ordering).
The 1984 advert for the Apple Macintosh provides a pleasant visible illustration of this. It brings out the sharp distinction between the passive monochrome mass and the lively, vibrant and defiant particular person insisting that the tradition of passivity should finish.
Freedom, right here, is all about that self-directed exercise of people who’re taking initiatives, wanting round for alternatives and seizing them. Nobody is giving orders.
These concepts are the idea for the distinction in schooling between passive and lively studying. Encouraging learner autonomy could be very a lot about encouraging lively studying. Schooling shouldn’t be about youngsters passively ready to be advised what the solutions are. It ought to be about them actively understanding the solutions for themselves. Ideally the training must be project-based, and it also needs to be personalised in order that people can work at their very own tempo, giving free rein to their private dynamism. It isn’t simply that that is the best way that youngsters, as a matter of reality, study greatest; additionally it is that that is the right way to put together youngsters to be absolutely lively members of a free society.
The unfreedom of the free
The narrative of pro-active people destroying an older order of unfreedom is a rousing one, nevertheless it obscures what has been occurring in society for a very long time now. The artistic power, the dynamism, and the opportunity-seeking and problem-solving expertise of people have been unleashed in a method that has them co-creating not an unambiguously free society, however one which establishes a brand new type of unfreedom.
That unfreedom has develop into all of the extra palpable following the disaster that started in 2008. Right here in Greece, as an example, an enormous vote towards the prevailing insurance policies in a referendum in 2015 was overturned inside a matter of hours. No justification for that was given. Nobody got here ahead to elucidate that the sacrifices (in personal wealth – or what was left of it – jobs, the hopes of the youthful era, public belongings, to not point out the sacrifice of key democratic rules) have been crucial to realize some larger good sooner or later – some imaginative and prescient of a brighter European order that may develop into attainable. No, there have been no justifications. There was merely the insistence that there isn’t any various.
In a free society the kind of mythology that dominated the darkish societies of the medieval interval is meant to reside on solely as materials for entertaining movies and novels. And but we discover ourselves immersed in a globalising system whose imperatives have a drive harking back to medieval concepts of destiny. Our lives are dominated by systemic imperatives that rule with an unquestionable fatefulness.
It isn’t a world by which the 99.9% are a browbeaten mass topic to some tyrannical will. We’re all opportunity-seeking and problem-solving people having fun with our equality beneath the regulation and our virtually limitless freedom to tweet our opinions. Nobody finally is telling us what to do. The place we should bow to the directions of middle-management, the directions are based mostly on a transparent grasp of the systemic imperatives, not on some arbitrary will that insults our freedom.
However do these systemic imperatives not quantity to a brand new insult to our freedom, such that a new sledgehammer must be thrown, not at a brand new Huge Brother, however on the system that has changed him? The reply relies upon – does it not? – on the place the system is heading.
Again within the 19th century, when it nonetheless made sense to assume that humanity gave the measure to all issues, the collective venture that we take part in could possibly be imagined to be heading someplace significant. A society dominated by Satanic mills might be imagined to be a stepping stone to a post-industrial order of fabric a lot and leisure sufficient for the lives of everybody to be crammed with one thing extra significant than the wrestle to make ends meet.
The place is that narrative now? Even when we simply restrict ourselves to materials considerations (the one ones that matter publicly, in any case) there isn’t a prospect of an epoch of a lot which may permit us to get off the hideous treadmill. As an alternative, new types of shortage are constantly created, pushed by an crucial to build up wealth. In impact, cash, which should have been a mere technique of change, stands now as the last word finish of human endeavour on a worldwide scale.
What sustains the system shouldn’t be a discovered passivity, however the dynamism of lively, opportunity-seeking, problem-solving people, organising private studying tasks aimed toward success, as a result of everybody now’s a life-long learner regularly looking out for brand spanking new concepts about tips on how to succeed. And success inevitably includes adapting to the prevailing system, lending one’s private energies to its consolidation. An ideal union is created between private dynamism and the dynamism of the system, with out anybody being informed what to do.
The prevailing unfreedom – the state Max Weber described as an iron cage – is just not the antithesis of freedom, however a state rising out of the pursuit of freedom.
Freedom and which means
Our misconstrued freedom is one which forgets the significance of with the ability to discover which means on the earth to which our free exercise will contribute a miniscule half. One thing that Georg Simmel says illuminates the connection between the problems of freedom and which means:
Simply as freedom is just not one thing adverse however slightly is the constructive extension of the self into the objects that yield to it, so, conversely, our freedom is crippled if we cope with objects that our ego can’t assimilate. (p460)
Objects that may be assimilated to the ego are people who, in on a regular basis language, “make sense”. The identical applies to the world of motion: Our freedom is crippled once we discover ourselves collaborating in a world that doesn’t make sense.
A lot of what passes now as schooling for autonomy is a preparation for this crippled freedom.
The complicity of schooling
Integral to this new type of unfreedom are two concepts that the dominant strategy to learner autonomy unwittingly lends its help to: an concept concerning the self and one other concerning the world. And these usually are not merely concepts since they’re constituents of a type of life by which the fashionable self units itself over and towards a world construed as a factor to be studied with good objectivity – an impersonal, law-governed and systematic actuality. The fashionable self insists on its freedom from the world. The self will decide the ends of its existence in a world that may be manipulated and made to serve these private ends.
These concepts comprise what could be referred to as a pop existentialism in accordance with which the world is actually absurd – an countless and meaningless spherical of T. S. Eliot’s “delivery, copulation and demise” – and that absurdity could be accepted insofar because it leaves the person free to create his or her personal which means. Which means turns into private, personal, and actuality is accepted an impersonal, detached, primarily meaningless system. Which means loses its actuality and actuality loses its which means, however the trendy self now finds itself free to place the stuff of the world to make use of with no limits positioned on what may be carried out.
When these concepts have been first clarified within the early 17th century individuals might be forgiven for considering that the self that liberated itself from the world was, fairly merely, the person. The liberation being envisaged can be the liberation of people. There isn’t a excuse now for persevering with that perception. The previous view of the world as subordinate to the triumphant self led to the creation of a world subjugating particular person selves to an impersonal and detached system antithetical to any significant notion of individuality.
The mistaken type of schooling for autonomy is one which continues to entrench this cut up between the manipulative self assumed to be the supply of which means and an detached, meaningless world ready to be manipulated. An instance: the framing of studying as a relationship between the kid and a world of data, and the view of a revolution in schooling made attainable by types of know-how that give the kid unprecedented direct entry to that info. To think about the kid as inhabiting a world of data is to think about that world as primarily meaningless. As soon as the final drops of which means drain from the issues of the world what we’re left with is mere info. If this view of the self-world relationship is accepted on the outset and brought as a right, there’s little probability of the following schooling pushing towards the prevailing heteronomy.
Sugata Mitra provides a pleasant instance of the worst sort of studying exercise – one pitched as revolutionary when it’s truly the other. In his so-called self-organised studying environments (SOLE) the instructor is to set questions for youthful pupils, who enthusiastically discover solutions on-line. He refers us to a query about goats. It asks whether or not goats are able to doing one thing. The reply will probably be a reality about goats. Totally different concepts concerning the talents of goats can be discovered on-line and the youngsters should sift the true piece of data from all of the misinformation.
In accordance with the prevailing requirements, that is good, age-appropriate lively studying. What individuals miss out on is how such a lively studying reinforces the thought of an primarily meaningless world ready for us to control it. The exercise focuses the youngsters’s consideration totally on a reality about goats. The place of the goat in our world, the which means of the goat and the connection to the Bacchanalian are utterly ignored, presumably as a result of there isn’t any fact to be established there. Schooling have to be about getting the youngsters to respect an impersonal fact – a fact composed of information and the theories that specify the information – one which has no place for previous tales which may assist youngsters to debate what’s necessary and what not. And the kid learns that his or her subjective response to the goat is neither right here nor there within the public world which a proper schooling paves the best way for.
Even the information are meaningless. The query concerning the goat appears to have been chosen at random. The youngsters run off to seek out a solution which shall be simply ok to fulfill the instructor, then they’re given one other query, apparently unrelated to the primary. There isn’t a concern to attach the actions up in order that the youngsters may start to develop a view of the world as a significant totality. No, as an alternative the world is left as a meaningless and overwhelming mass of data that exists to be processed both by the thoughts of the kid or its digital equal.
That is an strategy to schooling that matches properly with the view of the world established within the broader, all-pervasive media surroundings. The digital media proceed the development already established in pre-digital TV, the place information of a tragic demise might be adopted by an upbeat advert for bathroom cleaner, offering an ideal casual schooling on the planet as primarily meaningless. Maybe youngsters undergo a quick interval of bewilderment earlier than studying to be detached to issues, not within the sense of being uninterested, however within the sense of not anticipating issues to imply something. Therefore the mentality behind the recognition of the fail compilations on YouTube. The ache of others as the peak of leisure. Probably the most technologically refined civilisation provides a license to an unqualified barbarism.
The train of a misconstrued freedom is on the similar time a development of the world as primarily meaningless. In studying to be free, the youngsters discover ways to adapt to the very order that negates their freedom.
Though the dominant narrative sees a more moderen concern with the kid as an lively learner changing an older concept of the kid as an empty vessel, a extra fascinating distinction is between the long-established concern with goal information and an older concern in schooling with character. What predated the mannequin of schooling centred on an summary notion of the kid was a mannequin devised for a specific social class. Schooling was the cultivation of the kind of character motivating the members of this class to place all their initiative, creativity and problem-solving expertise within the service of the empire that they might assist lead.
The brand new type of schooling for autonomy unusually finally ends up serving the identical type of function. Youngsters are impressed by the million ingenious methods during which issues could be intellectually and technologically manipulated, and thru that inspiration they’re motivated to place all their initiative, creativity and problem-solving expertise into the service of the ingenious international system that has changed the age of empire.
Simply as that post-imperial empire systematically excludes questions of the meaningfulness of what’s being finished, an excessive amount of of what passes for a liberating schooling prepares youngsters to simply accept that systematic exclusion of the query of which means. And in studying how you can turn out to be professional manipulators of meaningless materials, youngsters discover ways to develop into uncomplaining objects of manipulation.
Schooling for a much less crippled freedom
To date the methods devised to advertise learner autonomy haven’t challenged the dominant concept concerning the object of schooling. Mitra induced a stir in questioning out loud that youngsters won’t have to study very a lot any longer (within the sense of committing it to reminiscence) however that left the thing of schooling precisely because it was: the type of goal information that lends itself so nicely to quantitative evaluation. Mitra merely instructed that as an alternative of internalising that information, youngsters solely wanted to discover ways to entry it and manipulate it and put it to make use of.
If there’s to be an schooling for a much less crippled freedom, it must problem that view of the thing of schooling. As an alternative of limiting itself to the sorts of problem-solving actions and tasks that match very properly with the prevailing curriculum, it must push for a unique curriculum. Totally different points have to be put on the centre of the tutorial agenda: points having to do with the phenomenon of which means. Goal information and impersonal expertise must be seen as subordinate to a extra essential enquiry into the which means of what on earth is being achieved with all that information and all these expertise.
In apply which means academics might be much less keen on establishing important distance (partly as a result of that distance is already such a outstanding function of the prevailing tradition outdoors faculty) and extra serious about cultivating an appreciation of the issues that youngsters have been distanced from. The chance to have contact with and maybe look after actual goats is infinitely extra helpful than a fast fact-finding train concerning the animals carried out on-line. Even higher: a visit into the hills to see the goats of their pure habitat, adopted up again in school with an enquiry into what goats have represented up to now – taking the youngsters into even stranger hills in worlds created lengthy earlier than the goat turned little greater than a cheese manufacturing unit on legs. The deeper the appreciation of issues like this in all their sensuous and social particularity, the extra the reason for a much less crippled freedom is superior.
With this strategy to schooling depth turns into extra of a priority than superficial mental dexterity. When college students are taking a look at totally different cultures, as an example, the power to match and distinction these cultures means lower than the power to see issues that we will study from them, which might contain creating a deeper and extra open engagement with our personal tradition. This additionally avoids leaving the scholars with the impression that within the quest for which means there are such a lot of contradictory factors of view that the undertaking simply needs to be deserted.
On this approach, the exploration of which means takes us not into some murky inner life the place dialogue shortly turns into unimaginable, however right into a delicate and important engagement with the historic challenge to which we belong.
In impact, this various strategy to schooling connects college students with the roots of civilisation itself, asking: Was it for this that the earth grew tall? And: If not, what? The at present dominant concept of freedom which plenty of the pedagogic discourse rests on belongs to an epoch during which the venture of civilisation is, in impact, placed on autopilot. Dialogue of the ends of that venture is lowered to an irrelevant twittering commentary, leaving the systemic imperatives to realize momentum unchecked and revealing that behind its high-tech, nanofibre veil this new civilisation is harbouring one thing hideously barbaric. The unprecedented noisiness of our epoch is matched by its equally unprecedented silence on the actually main points in regards to the ends of our existence.
A brand new schooling for which means and civilisation would revisit earlier pedagogic considerations with values, however as an alternative of hardening youngsters (e.g. with compulsory boxing classes for the boys), getting ready them for the civilised barbarism of empire, the purpose can be to deepen and refine their sensitivities, cultivating the richest potential engagement with the world they reside in – thereby creating the kind of character capable of confront the senselessness of the world and demand that it cease.
Briefly, to open up the prospect of a much less crippled freedom instructional speak about learner freedom must cease decreasing studying to creating the methods of manipulation and accumulation. They must be subordinated to an enquiry into the values which may information our manipulative and accumulative actions and assist us undo the order that negates human freedom. Given the connection between that negativity and the prevailing taboo on any significant dialogue of the ends of our existence, an schooling for a extra considerate autonomy should put that query of ends – so contentious and but so traditionally urgent – on the prime of the agenda.
written by Torn Halves on September 25, 2015 in digital revolution and schooling with no feedback
tags: lively studying learner autonomy pedagogy