Friday, March 8, 2013

Schooling and Learning and Tech, Oh My!

Gathering Landscape (M.A. Reilly, 2011)


It begins this way: I'm at a coffee shop and I overhear two teachers talking about a shift to a 1-to-1 environment at their school next September.  I learn that each student will be issued a Macbook Air. The teachers' voices sound excited and more than the words, their tone catches my ear and I lean a bit closer just as one says to the other:
"It will make note taking so easy."
"Absolutely. We can email our PowerPoints to the kids."

A few days later I am perusing the table of contents for the March issue of ASCD's Ed Leadership, Technology-Rich Learning.  As I read I think, there's an absence here, especially an absence of young voices, of counter narratives.


Maybe we need a new language. One that affords us ways of (un)seeing education--of recasting
this familiarity in new cloth--
      [seeing what is before us
                          in ways we have trouble naming--in utterances that feel
   unfamiliar to the mouth, that

   give us



I have long been fascinated by a passage from Martin Heidegger's Building Dwelling Thinking.  It is one I have kept nearby, read and reread, and misunderstood for years.

An odd friend at that.

In explaining the function of the bridge, Heidegger writes:
The bridge swings over the stream "with case and power. It does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge designedly causes them to lie across from each other. One side is set off against the other by the bridge. Nor do the banks stretch along the stream as indifferent border strips of the dry land. With the banks, the bridge brings to the stream the one and the other expanse of the landscape lying behind them. It brings stream and bank and land into each other's neighborhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.

It is this mind that sees the bridge as that which gathers earth as landscape around the stream that we most need now.


Much of what we talk about when we talk about technology (note the singularity of the term) remain still lifes that fit inside an old frame--a dressed up transmission model with consumption as its main aim and stability as its rudder.

Here there is always a teacher and always a student, regardless of the presence or absence of a school building.

Yet, when I listen to teenagers talk about learning, I think we have run aground.


I live with a teenager and so it's not too unusual then that I was listening for him and his friends in the Ed Leadership issue. Would we talk less about teaching and more about learning?  Would we understand that dwelling is a requisite of building and thinking comes from dwelling?  I appreciated the questions Will Richardson raised in the first article in the issue, "Students First, Not Stuff" and especially cheered when he quoted Seymour Sarason (2004) who told us, “productive learning is the learning process which engenders and reinforces wanting to learn more” (p. x).

Where is more?


When I ask my son what he might say about learning and technologies, he tells me:  It's about not knowing where you are or perhaps headed. There is no (pre)made map you can consult. And maybe that's why you can't wait to be in it, even when you don't know where in is.

My son would tell you that programming is a key literacy in his life. Java and Apple Script are giving way to an emerging interest in C++ and PHP.  As I listen to him easily list these interests, I understand that it isn't just the languages that matter,  but also the idea and practice of emergence and agency that permit desire to become dimensional.

After Will's article, I find less and less dimension and more prescription.


We, who are so practiced at fixing, need to become unmoored, unsettled, ungrounded. We must remind each other that "the banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream."

We keep getting that backwards, thinking we can outrun the very logic that undoes us.


"Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build," says Heidegger and I wondered who among us dwells and how such dwelling resituates our talk about schooling as learning.


The real plight of dwelling, Heidegger concludes is that in our search "for the nature of dwelling" we "must ever learn to dwell."

That's what is most absent in conversations about schooling and technologes and learning--the raw admission that we too must dwell.


When I think about the changes upon us that I sometimes can name, I understand that

It's less about readiness and more about doing.
It's less about discovering and more about being.
It's less about journeying and more about nomadism.
It's less about expert and novice distinctions and more about participation.
It's less about the dichotomy of right and wrong and more about context.
It's less about the prescribed curriculum and more about the made curriculum.
It's less about the fixed organization of student, teacher, and content be them flipped or not and more about middle spaces where (un)forming has infinite gesture.

Perhaps most startling is that it is less about them, and more about us.
They have already left and we are still unseeing.


We have so much to jettison if we are to see the banks emerge.


  1. problem is the dictates come from those who have not dwelled in schools. Lovely passage. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I so agree, Jane. I grow so weary of all the experts who have never taught and the experts who have taught and never dwelled.

  3. A beautiful passage. The bridge is an apt metaphor for so much--that which "links" the middle grounds: the people, and praxis that swim, live, participate in the middle grounds of our social, economic and environmental day....the mutual humaneness in us....that like anything living seeking survival circumvents the artificial constructs set before.... I suggest wholeheartedly reading-re-reading White's (1991) The Middle Ground Yes, an enthnohistorical work in North America.... but one that affords us a view of genocide, globalization, and the formation of the new in ways which cause wonder for our thinking about learning and life today.

  4. Hi Mary Ann, I have come to this blog post a bit late, but I'm so happy to have found it. I've been working on a couple of upcoming sessions on Student Voices and Open Education and have been reading, thinking, writing, as well as talking with students (primary to third-level) and other educators. I'm amazed over and over again at how much I need to unlearn and unsee. I remarked to James Michie (a wonderful open educator in the UK) that it sometimes feels to me like unpeeling the layers of an onion. I see forms of rigidity or control in my course or in my teaching, think through enabling student agency, discuss with students, make changes. This never stops. The script of "teaching equals control" is deeply embedded in our culture, and in me. With effort and through dialogue, I am learning and changing. But this work will never be done. For us as educators, this is our challenge and our joy. You have written about it beautifully here -- I love the metaphors of the bridge and of dwelling. Thank you, once again.