Posted by: elightkeeper | June 4, 2013

The “us versus them” mentality of B.C. education

While reading about online education in BC yesterday, I found myself arguing loudly with my iPhone in public. Fortunately, Starbucks tolerates all manner of eccentric customers. Nonetheless, I grabbed my Americano Misto and scurried home to blow the dust off of my laptop.

I was going to begin this post by addressing points raised by Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun. But then I pulled at a loose thread in her blog post and an entire alpaca sweater unraveled before my eyes. Now I’ve wound the wool through so many related blogs and comments, I could knit a chapter on the topic and still not be done.

Suffice it to say, I am not going to debate all the points raised by educators in this most recent debate. I confess I find the whole conversation rather irritating, probably because I’ve spent the last decade in online learning and I’m dead tired of taking the high road in the face of criticism from colleagues. So no defence of all the information (and misinformation) will be found here. Instead, I would rather share with you one singular perspective.

We are not on opposing sides in a game of win or lose. We are on the same team.

Online learning is not an “us versus them” problem, whether it is between online courses and face-to-face classes, or online schools and independent online schools. I truly believe this. This is why I cannot enter into the debate about which is good or bad, which is easy or hard, which is better or worse, which is instructionally sound or flawed, which is engaging or passive, or any other similarly distracting and futile comparisons. It’s complicated.  In fact, it is all over the map – sadly, it’s an old map that still depicts the world of education as round and not flat. The point is, debates that pit educator against educator, school against school – or delivery model against delivery model, if you will – get us absolutely nowhere.

In B.C., I’ve come to realize that one of the things we do best in education is blame somebody else – the government, the union, the online teacher, the classroom teacher, the district manager, the independent school, the principal, the trustee, the parent, the university. We are hard done by, we’ve decided, and somebody has to be to blame. Go ahead – take your pick. It will not get us anywhere.

The truth is, we are all responsible. Years ago, a colleague at a DL meeting commented on schools’ nervous responses to students choosing online learning: “When the waterhole starts to shrink, the animals look at each other differently”, he said. While this bit of wisdom still holds true in a climate of declining enrolment, a 21st century reality seems to have twisted the notion further: “When the waterhole is no longer where the animals want to drink, somebody is to blame.”

photo by thomcochrane via Flickr

photo by thomcochrane via Flickr

We are wasting time and energy pointing fingers at each other about what isn’t working in education.  Online learning is highly disruptive, but it is not responsible for the demise of schools or the exodus of students from classrooms. We will bring the demise on ourselves by refusing to work together. We will bring the demise on ourselves by being too slow to change, too entrenched in our ways, and too short-sighted to see that we must do things differently – all of us – in a very expansive, rapidly changing period of civilization.

As we debate all of this, students are using mobile technology in massive, unprecedented ways for unstructured learning. Maybe we should blame the phone companies and call it a day.

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