An interesting description of unConferences here states:
The Creative unConference favors a flexible, participant-driven format that values energetic dialogue over talking head presentations. Unlike a traditional conference, where topics and speakers are set by organizers months in advance, unConference participants create the agenda and act as the session leaders. This allows all participants to have their voices heard and engage up to the minute ideas. During the unConference, session topics can be added or modified, responding to the needs of its participants in real time. Participants are encouraged to move from one presentation to another, engaging with their colleagues. Simple guidelines put forward at the event help this all happen smoothly.Hmm. I wonder about those simple guidelines and how energetic dialogue is ensured. At a session I attended (and left) at an unConference, the discourse resembled teacher room chat at its worse. I wondered then and now if it didn't also serve to solidify misconceptions, racially charged stereotypes, and poorly imagined practices. And still I also imagine that for the majority of people in the session they might well describe it as energetic dialogue. Yet, for me it was more like Plato's Allegory of the Cave, specifically when Socrates says to Glaucon: “And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? ”
It is foolish to confuse perception with sight. During the session, one teacher spoke of social Darwinism as truth, while another stated that literacy performance was "set" by the age of 5 and there was nothing schools could do to improve the matter. I heard talk about reports that no one in the room had actually read, yet everyone had an opinion, even after admitting to having not read the report. Allow me to paraphrase some of what I heard before leaving the session:
You know. It's like Darwin. You know him? There's always some kids who just can't get it.
What's bad about teacher evaluation is they're going to put your name on the Internet and how are you going to find another job? They'll know your kids didn't do good.
If you teach in a wealthy school district your kids can learn. If you teach in (insert poor community) we get the kids who can't. Is that fair to us?
I know we all teach exactly the same. I steal their worksheets and use them. It's the kids you get that make the difference.
My kid (5 year old) has 1000 books. My neighbor's kid (5 year old) has 1. You can't make up that kind of difference in school.
The kids come to us blank. They have had no experiences.The beliefs being uttered and unchallenged were shocking. When I asked the group to focus and comment on their own practices, they did not do that and I wondered why. Instead they continued expressing their beliefs about NCLB, working conditions, evaluation of teachers, ill preparation of students via their lives, etc. The discourse exchanged was an embarrassment, personally and professionally, especially as:.
I reject social Darwinism.
I reject the belief that poor kids aren't intellects and aren't creative.
I reject the belief that even if a teacher uses the same worksheet as another, that the learning in the two classrooms is the same.
I reject the belief that learning potential is ever set, let alone at age 5.
I reject the belief that students arrive at any school day without relevant experiences.Where is the metalanguage necessary to critique our assumptions, beliefs, "truths" at an unConference? Is it even possible to re-conceptualize one's practice when situated singularly within one's primary discourse? I wonder if in the rush to embrace unConference, we may be forgetting the value of juried conferences. Is there no value in preparing presentations that are informed by relevant and juried research and theory?