Productive and powerful

[cross-posted at the TechLearning
blog
]

I’m in the midst of reading Clark Aldrich’s Simulations
and the Future of Learning
. As Aldrich walks me through the process of
developing a leadership simulation, he has a number of interesting things to say
about video game and simulation design. Thanks to Aldrich’s clear and engaging
prose, I’m finding myself unexpectedly captivated by the nitty-gritty of the
workflow of simulation production.

So far the statement that has resonated with me the most, however,
pertains as much to education as it does to the gaming industry. Aldrich
said:

The goal of learning in any organization (business, educational,
governmental) should be to make its members more productive (p.
3).

I’ll agree with that. And I probably would add to the end of that statement
… and more powerful.” I think that additional phrase takes the edge
off what might be construed as a focus solely on preparation for work and
expands it to include personal empowerment.

Productive and powerful. Isn’t that what we want
for the children in our schools? Isn’t that we want for the educators with whom
we work? Productive and powerful. I like it.

We have 50 million public school
students
in the United States. Are the thousands of worksheets that they
will complete in their lifetime making them more productive? Are their countless
hours of individual seat work going to lead to greater personal empowerment? Are
they getting opportunities to be both productive and powerful on a regular
basis?

What about our subpopulations? Are socioeconomically-disadvantaged students
often getting the chance to be powerful? Do our students with disabilities or
our students whose primary language is not English have multiple, ongoing
opportunities to feel like they are productive, contributing members of our
communities?

What about our 3 million public
school teachers
? Are the tens of millions of hours that they spend in staff
development and training each year actually making them more productive? Do you
think the bulk of them feel empowered by their ‘learning opportunities?’

Do we regularly ask ourselves these kinds of questions in our school
organizations? As educators, should we?

I have some hard thinking to do about my own graduate classes and degree
programs here at Iowa State

6 Responses to “Productive and powerful”

  1. Yes and no.
    American agriculture is far more productive than it was 50 years ago. Augmented incorporation of agribusiness has also given agriculture greater funding and arguable power. And yet we’re killing the soil, our food’s less nutritious and the world is facing a serious food crisis. This is to say nothing of the unprecedented production of corn and what high-fructose corn syrup is doing to obesity rates in the country.

    I use this analogy because I do not ask if work in my classes will make my students more powerful or productive. I want work in my class to push my students to be more thoughtful and creative.

    While extreme productivity and increased power can be helpful tools, they don’t make for better citizens. Yes, the thousands of worksheets make them more productive. That productivity possibly also leads some to “earning” higher marks and then feeling empowered as students. The problem is, they aren’t empowered in any authentic way. I think that’s the point you were approaching.

    Productivity and power are important skills for our students, our peers and ourselves; but they decline in usefulness if they are not implemented in thoughtful and creative ways.

  2. Hmmm. I think you both raise good points.

    What makes me always pause is that persons in Nazi Germany in its heydey, evidently felt very productive and powerful, perhpas even thoughtful and creative, as many were truly inspired by a man who made them feel authentic. Scary.

    This is why I think we need to truly realize that technology is not a foundation (which I heard lately) but a tool.

    I really appreciate thoughtful stuff and hope that my kids will to as they get educated. They need great teachers who really get them to be thoughtful.

    Like this:

    http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/07/the-internet-and-the-future-of-civilization/

  3. The point of Scott’s post is even more important when examined in contrast to the opportunities that children engage themselves in despite of what we do in schools.

    World of Warcraft (whether you like it or not) has 10 million subscribers – many are presumably school-aged children. They have opportunities everyday to be productive, powerful, creative, and can even fail with enough resources for them to seek out and reformulate new strategies for success. One cannot succeed alone, and must coordinate and compromise with others to be successful.

    When students come back to school, they must downshift in many ways: Turn control back over to the authority, work towards productivity (which, is a commodity in today’s economy – going to the lowest bidder), fail and be punished, do more of the same if you appear to do well, …

    While children have more opportunities to be actively involved with media (instead of the sit-and-get TV generation), schools (in general) still look much the same as they did before TV.

    The High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE)is a telling story about school boredom and what students value when it comes to being engaged in school from a pedagolical standpoint. My concern is our gap will widen as students continue to have access to engaging and empowering environments despite of school.

    HSSSE: http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/pdf/HSSSE_2006_Report.pdf

  4. I don’t think we can question that we want students to be more productive, the question is productive at what? Neither do I question the need to be more creative and thoughtful. Powerful in the context of empowerment also makes sense to me.

    Once again, this conversation captures for me one of the major issues we face in public schools, the lack of consensus on our purpose. We read about 21st Century learning yet we test for 20th century productivity. Wouldn’t it be empowering if we had leadership, direction, and support around an effort that made sense, was possible, and could generate the energy and enthusiasm to sustain over time? Is it possible without commitment to a common set of knowledge and skills young people need for post high school success? Is reaching this common set possible? Don’t have answers, but I spend much time reflecting on the questions in our system where we are making it happen.

  5. “Do we regularly ask ourselves these kinds of questions in our school organizations? As educators, should we?”

    I don’t believe that we do ask ourselves these (and more) questions. And of course we should be asking the questions. Others should be asking questions too—legislators, superintendents, professors, business people and just plain folks.

    Fortunately, some people have asked and answered questions. They are detailed in the many reports (you posted a nice list of them). Yet, for the most part, the reports haven’t been taken seriously—they are probably on shelves in the offices of the high and mighty simply gathering dust. The attitude amongst people seems to be “Don’t bother me with this stuff. I’ve got a _______________ (pick one: classroom, school, department, college, district, legislature, business, family, ranch) to run.

    Meanwhile, the system that was designed over a hundred years ago for circumstances that no longer exist continues to destroy the spirits of many of the inmates—educators and students alike. We don’t seem to take seriously the number of students who drop out physically and mentally or the staggering number of professionals that leave the field frustrated and disillusioned. Nor do we recognize or deal with the the professionals who remain but who are defeated and have given up . What a waste of creativity, energy, intelligence and possibility.

    I guess it simply doesn’t hurt enough yet.

  6. Mike,
    What you’ve said here is so true!

    “The attitude amongst people seems to be Don’t bother me with this stuff. I’ve got a _______________ (pick one: classroom, school, department, college, district, legislature, business, family, ranch) to run.’

    Many people do not think they need to change the way they do things. I don’t know whether they think the new initiative is just another bandwagon they don’t want to jump on or what.

    I must say that I have seen lots of initiatives/bandwagons during my career as teacher. Some I’ve jumped on because I thought it would be beneficial for my students only to have that initiative abandoned and another one started. It is discouraging. I can see why some people would just think “Yes, it sounds interesting, but I’ll just pass on this one.”

    I’m not condoning this practice. Far from it. But until there’s commitment from above to give full and extended support, people are going to think why bother it’s just something else they want us to do.

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