Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Sundaes Made of Meatballs


A talented marketing writer, possibly named Seth...something --Rogen is probably not right... oh, it's Godin-- wrote a book called Meatball Sundaes, a work about marketing in the new reality of social networks, the 'long tail', and the loss of the ability of major corporations mass-marketing not-very-well-made 'necessities' to the bulge in the middle of the market. Essentially this was done, in 1951, by dressing up meatballs to make them look 'special' -- make a sundae with them, because chocolate sauce and whipped cream and a pretty little cherry will make them look better and then they'll not be boring old meatballs anymore...

What has this got to do with anything?

Further to the last idea (schools can --or even should-- hold back the tide of technological advancement), school systems and their conventional supporters (everyone from governments happy about the idea of installing propaganda into the majority of minors' heads, to parents happy to have someone else responsible for the poor output at 18) are locked to into the same crisis-creating past-attached disasterous thinking that got GM, Chrysler, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Ford where they are today:


the world is changing but we are right-- our past tactics succeeded because we
are right and the changes that have happened in the world are anomalies that we
are confident won't last, don't matter and can't affect us because we are too
big, too right and successful because of divine right and the correct way of the
world. This is a temporary set-back caused by a minor misalignment of unrelated
and ultimately irrelevant stars.
Haha ha.

So... my point is that school systems operate on the cusp of 'we do things the right, natural, necessary and modern way,' arguing that they serve the real needs of the future adults they teach while dismissing technological and economical advances AS IF they don't matter at all --not to them, not to the system, not to the children, not to the adults those children will become and not to society.

Because embracing emerging technology is expensive and the schools already own all the obsolete technology, they feel secure and the simple position: we need not adapt. Now that 'knowing' is irrelevant in the face of 'finding out' and fact-gathering is the job of webcrawlers, not people, it becomes more and more ridiculous to 'teach' facts and insist on kids--or anyone--not using the readily-available tools to answer the questions.

The 'regurgitate what I told you' form of education was poor and flawed half a century ago. Today it is not just poor & flawed, it's irrelevant.

When a system is faced with a massive advance in cheap, portable technology, readily available to the average 10 year old, it has two choices: adapt to the technology or go to war with reality. It's sad to watch a whole system engage in a fruitless war when Sun Tzu, a thousand years ago, knew that the dumbest war to engage in is the one that cannot be won. No system in the history of the world has won the fight against reality. As my mum quips: mother nature rolls last. If the school system was a tyrant, it could have foreseen the troubles it would have with cell phones & stopped them becoming widely available. As much as the system and the people in it would like to be The Tyrant, that is not the way of the world --even if it seems, from here, that once it was.

It isn't. Now: adapt or suffer.

Does it seem ironic to anyone other than me that it is the most educated, the most expert on learning, who cannot conceive of a successful way to use the advances of cellphones to enhance the education, to incorporate them the way books have been, the way inexpensive paper has been, the way large numbers of same-age students have been, the way video, public address systems & even computers have been. It amazes me that no one in the system sees the technology as a wonder, a marvel--a boon to the potential of engaging students. Nope-- it's all meatball sundaes: we did it right in 1951 and that right way will remain right for all time because we have this big system already in place, that's why.

Photo entitled Swedish Meatball, copyright Dalyswe, used with permission, Flickr commons

Jammin' Cells


Am I the only dinosaur who remembers calculators being confiscated in classrooms? The recent controversy over a cell phone jammer at a Vancouver Island school reminds me once again about how fantastically-long it takes the school system to adapt to reality.
An utterly-convinced teacher told me 'you won't always have access to a calculator, which, in the age of solar cells and microchips, sounds like he'd never made it out of the era of slide rules. I've seen a slide rule-- at an auction. My mom had to learn how to use one. My kids can't guess what field the term applies to-- maybe playground design?

And so we move on...

With nano-technology coming -- soon-- it seems to me the schools (and the people in them) can use the upcoming year to see if they can catch up to Y2K, so maybe by the time the internet is accessible by blinking or something at least they can deal with a cell phone the size of a deck of cards.

One day in the not-to-distant-past, it will become possible for students to access more-information in 5 minutes than the school library can hold, on a piece of hardware that can be readily concealed in a bikini. The idea that the people in a school should live as-if this is not the every day reality at life is.. naive. Do I mean 'naive'? Maybe I mean 'ludicrous'? Or 'massively delusional'?

The idea that the school system can hold back the tide is... pervasive.