Thursday, May 13, 2010

Imprisoned by the Global Classroom

In 1976, Ivan Illich collaborated with Etienne Verne to write the booklet: Imprisoned in the Global Classroom.

(Note: We need to find English information on Verne, and start a Wikipedia entry).

Following are what I think are significant excerpts, relating mostly to my interest in a critique of education today.

The 56 pages begin with:

I'm not sure if evidence is needed to make such a claim today (I would certainly want to make it!), or how I would go about gathering evidence for it? It seems to me however, that this opening paragraph relates to Susan Awbrey's paper on academic capitalism, were she makes the reference to the problem of mental models not matching action:
Research has shown that the theories, or mental models, people use in practice are, for the most part, tacit. Few people are consciously aware of them. It is these unquestioned theories-in-use that often guide our actions and strategies not our espoused theories. (Argyris and Schon, 1974, Argyris, 1980, Argyris, 1987, and cited in Smith, 2001) Thus, quite often the world-view and values we espouse are not the world-view and values implied by our behavior. This is not just a difference between what we say and what we do (between theory and action) but between two different theories of action—-one we profess and one we actually use.
So far this point should be obvious to most, we all have used rhetoric for the importance of "critical thinking" and "diversity in opinion" and how valuing that somehow leads to counter measures against group think and closed mindedness, but how many of us have witnessed our own inability to accommodate those values in practice, let alone the groups we participate in? When I consider my interactions with various management and policy initiatives, I'd have to say the clear majority don't know how to effectively accommodate criticism and diversity, especially considering a perhaps more emboldened class, gaining strength and confidence through online social media and networks. Of course the reverse is also true, where the new critic lacks the cultural capital to effectively engage the groups in power.

Either way, this problem of closed mindedness leads to significant problems in that we are not able to hear or properly consider the feedback to our strategies and actions. Obviously this is a problem not just for education, but the depth of the problem becomes even more alarming if we also consider Cass Sunstein's recent book Infotopia, where he outlines many examples of the causes and consequences of group think and an organisation's inability to question the consequences and values of its own actions.

And its at this point where the opening paragraph hits the truth of the matter. Action is not possible because over time the agencies to which the proposals are made, have developed defence mechanisms such as departments and procedures, that both intentionally and non intentionally inoculate them from the intrusion, and so the realisation of a need to take action or review mental models.

In other words, the likely criticisms are absorbed by the institution, and the diversity is lost in the group identity and its unique power dynamics.

But this blockage is not true for all change proposals of course, some very significant proposals do get through: academic capitalism, investment in 'eLearning', adoption of IT, but these three especially have been silent revolutions, where critical discourse seems to have been a long way from those who decide on the actions.

So how do proposals get through while others don't? There's an elephant in the room isn't there?...

The "they" here are the deschooling reformers that Illich and Verne call out as the unsuccessful change agents. They were too focused on the action - consequence loop, and not reflecting enough on the underlying values. Again, Susan's investigation relates here, where she points to Kurt Lewin's work around the notion of unfreezing, which it just so happens - relates to action research.
‘Unfreezing’ (Lewin, 1951) is an organizational term that has come to mean many things. First, it means that for change to take place members of the organization must see not only a need for change but also an urgent reason to change. Slaughter and Leslie have made the case for urgency by showing us that, out of financial necessity, higher education is already undergoing a quiet revolution that is having some unintended consequences. Second, Lewin’s concept of unfreezing warns us that attempts to change without addressing an organization’s cultures and values will fail in the long run.
The important thing to highlight in this quote is the warning of that if we don't engage in discussion around cultures and values, changes will be unsuccessful in the long term.. I need to find out what long term means here, and find an answer to my concerns about action paralysis if we gaze over that abyss of values too much..

How would attention to a "hidden curriculum and social ethos" arouse a need for action? Perhaps it would by making explicit the unacknowledged truth of the matter - that our rhetoric does not match our actions. That our actions and the processes that enable them are more fundamentally corrupted. Such attention takes decades on social scale, years in small groups, and months for individuals (in my experience) - which must be why we experience change in networks so much faster than in groups... note to revisit The Wealth of Networks for any mention of this idea.

Depressing indeed! A conscious "latent" conspiracy?..

What I think is meant by this is that the notion of "life long learning", and its unfortunate appropriation by education institutes, dilutes the possibility of focused change by spreading the load and institutionalised corruption across a wider social gathering. Illich and Verne argue that notions of life long learning are sinister in relation to the latent corruption of the groups who appropriate responsibility for it.

And all that out of only 10 pages! I'll leave it there because the day is almost over here.. but I'll post again on the next 10 pages tomorrow.


Alexander Hayes said...

Who is paying you to write all of this Leigh ?

You must have a heap of time on your hands.

Hows bub by the way ?

Leigh Blackall said...

This post was 3 days in the making Alex. I read and write in between meetings and helping my colleagues. This subject is in the heart of my phd, and my phd is based on the work I do here, deveping educational practices, and the systems that support them. I'm employed as an academic, with expected research outputs. Whether or not they accept a blog, subsequent proposals, and presentations as those outputs remains to be seen. I have been encouraged however, to engage in consultantion with uc management processes, so all this has synergy.

Questions like yours would be why our discussions are so limited. Would you mind extending your comment so I'm not left in your subtext?

simonfj said...

Ola You,

Just a quick note to say hello. Hope you and la familia are well. (this is me learning spanish, never in a classroom of course. Look up Pechina, Almeria.

I notice you're trying to take the walls down at places like eduroam. Would yo do me favour with your phd? Could you put it in the context of the change in media, especially towards the bit called social, on ALL our institutions and not just the .edu ones.

They're all publicly funded and even some bureaucrats realise their education has prepared them to be bureauc=rats, and not much more.

So forget the techniques of edu. They're so passe even your tutor must realise what a bureaucrat he's become. He's obviously a bad influence on you. E.g. "deveping educational practices, and the systems that support them."

The 'systems' which support them are mainly media systems. WE're just monitoring the change in how communities get a say (in how the monies are allocated), and as they do, how institutions change.

Leigh Blackall said...

Mysterious comment Simonfj, but a goodie :) thanks.. I think its an excellent suggestion, and something I should do. Certainly Illich and the rest on my reading list will help with that, and my art theory background gives me some good foundations for thinking about media impacts on society and culture. Thanks

Alexander Hayes said...

Paid as in..... it's a luxury to write. Wouldn't you agree ?

Your employed as a member of the organisation within which you are seeking to change.... to accommodate those who would otherwise be not privileged with what you have been afforded.

Your blog has got you the job....not the other way around. Of course your blog will be accepted as content for a PHD...why wouldn't it ?

Many other examples to say it's nothing new nor any more valid than writing it down on bus tickets.

I'm making comment ( pardon my subtext if there is any ) as you re-purpose your prose and refine your consultations to accommodate yet another element in a long and unending discourse about how educational organisations provide a substantial lack of ...........

I want to hear your core point of view not that of Illich derived derision.

BE the politic....if it so suits.....just avid wearing them at all costs.

Jon Awbrey said...

Speaking of mental models, and pursuing the architectural metaphor, here's another paper of possible interest:

Conference Version

Published Version

It was our attempt to trace the building codes of modernity's “stahlhartes Gehäuse” back to their prototypes in Enlightenment and Classical thought.

P.S. Let me know if you don't have access to that journal — I don't myself from my current location, but I can get you a copy later.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks again Jon, reading today.

Thought this mighht be of interest, and would value a critical comment on: The pushback on academic capitalism in the USA

Jon Awbrey said...


Thanks for the reading. Sue is busy with a couple of conferences, so I'll just give my own first impressions.

I wouldn't call the thrust of the letter so much a "pushback" on academic capitalism as an earnest reminder to deal fairly with a Customer who has already paid once for the Goods.

"The broad dissemination of the results of scholarly inquiry and discourse is essential for higher education to fulfill its long-standing commitment to the advancement and conveyance of knowledge. Indeed, it is mission critical. For the land-grant and publicly funded institutions among us, it addresses the complementary commitment to public service and public access that is included in our charters."

That is hardly a new message, but it apparently needs to be repeated every now and again.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Jon, I guess I might be making an incorrect assumption, that the letter is largely a result of an open education, copyleftist lobby group that would seem to having influence in policy and projects in the US.. such as OER, MIT and OCW and Creative Commons.

I think that mainly because that's my network. I realise now - especially through Susan and your own work, that there are other networks pushing at this as well, yours going back longer than the relatively recent open education and copyleft movements. And yours reading as less activist driven, mine certainly activist. Interesting to think and feel the convergence.

I'm looking forward to your's and Susan's response to the question I have regarding Susan's paper. The one about how to avoid paralysis from doubt, questioning and criticism...

Jon Awbrey said...


You asked the notorious "centipede question" — if the pressures of e-volution in this millennium have not already mutated it into a "milli-mega-gigapede":

"The trouble with this I think, and especially in the academic sector where truth is largely relative, and people's depth of understanding is non-sequential and a-synchronous, such a review of consequences might lead to a paralysis. I've certainly come to such a point in many areas of my work, particularly when looking more deeply at the values of 'learning', the practice of 'education', and the consequences that practice has on 'learning'! aka Illich. Our practices are so deeply embedded, and the critique is so fundamentally challenging, that many people become simply paralysed and end up either ignoring the critique and 'getting on with it anyway', or dropping out of the structure all together. As a result, it is very difficult to find people in the sector who are willing and able to discuss the critique."

It's not that I'm paralyzed by the question, not exactly, but I have been giving it due consideration over the past week. My somewhat rambling reflections on it already exceed the margins of what I can write comfortably in this box, so I'm toying with the idea of starting a thread in the Meta-Discussion Forum at The Wikipedia Review, where I'll be able to correct my transcription errors and other more serious travesties of thought.