Sunday, August 9, 2015

Courting the Incidental: Teacher as Curator

Curious (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

For awhile now I've been thinking about the many ways we understand the term, teacher and how in the day-to-day parlance of much of the ed-reform talk, teacher and learner are often situated as oppositional or at the very least distant from one another.  I am interested in George Siemens' (2008) depiction of teacher as curator as this metaphor highlights the ways in which we understand and value knowledge that is occasioned. He articulates an important point when he writes,

A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected.

Creating a space shifts the act of teaching from a causal matter to an incidental one.  This, of course, can be unsettling.  We like to believe in the sanctity, if not the consistency of causation.

I teach x. You learn x.

Limiting teaching to acts of causation is a mistake we cannot bear.

Courting the incidental is a sense of teacher that I want for my own son.  Yes, I want him to learn in spaces where the incidental is revered.  I want him to consistently have the agency to create, explore, and connect knowledge in that place called school instead of spending so much of that time learning things he mostly will forget--things that often are of interest to none present including the teacher.

There are big lessons that accompany ennui.

Teacher as curator is mostly a dream and one that is co-opted by corporate greed, political foolishness, a general absence of curiosity, and frankly teachers and administrators whose own sense of agency have been nullified and limited--by self and other--to causal relationships.

Occasioning learning is teacher as curator.


Not to over simplify the many discussions about school reform, but this difference between being one who dispenses and one who curates seems to be absent in the national discourse about schooling and needs to be a frame used to discuss public education. Much of the reform discussion is constrained by metrics that show how well students performed on narrow tests that can be machine scored and posted for comparison purposes and evaluation.

Standards-based movements are mostly about dispensing a codification of knowledge, using testing corporations to measure how well students performed the recitation of the coded knowledge, and finally awarding scores to students, teachers and schools based on the results of that single measure. Nothing limits learning as much as this understanding of schools as test factories.

Yes, multiple measures are often touted, but it is the high stakes, corporate-controlled test results that matter the most and that show up again and again in the press.  I have yet to read an article in any newspaper that makes mention of any other measure, save the results from the high stakes tests, like PARCC.  We believe the hype and we pander to it and it is costing us. Dispensing knowledge gets rewritten as dispensing test items and we mistake these for learning.

There's a cost to all of this that kids bear. I see this with my son and hear it in the conversations we have had and the conversations I hear him engage in with his friends across the last decade. He understands how we reveal and conceal what is valued by the actions that occur and fail to occur at school and how these sharply contrast with the many ways he actively learns beyond the school day. The affinity groups he and his friends create, foster and join across the Internet--especially ones located in gaming communities serve as sharp contrasts to school-based learning. Within affinity groups, the incidental is valued.  At school the incidental is often situated as teacher and learner mistakes. There is no courting error without first embracing the incidental.

Know this: Our children are not waiting for schools to catch up and make a shift from causal to incidental.  Kids know they are serving time at school as they edge towards graduation.  Opting out of state-imposed tests at unprecedented numbers is a force we need to acknowledge. It is not only time to say good-bye to state tests, but also to state and national standards.  Our allegiance to these ways of situating teaching limits learning and learners.

We need to court the incidental at school. Soon. Now.

Siemens, George. (2008). Learning and knowing in networks: Changing roles for educators and designers. ITFORUM for Discussion 27 January. Online. 

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