A great democracy must be progressive, or it will soon cease to be a great democracy.
– President Theodore Roosevelt
Teachers dig Facebook. They like ning and twitter and youtube and social networking. I mean, they really really like ’em.
A TON of teachers who like these online affordances also like to build the case for their inclusion in classrooms and education.
Of the Ton,I get the feeling many, if not most, of them work in schools or districts where those online affordances are blocked, banned, outlawed and censored.
I’m not sure many of those teachers really want the access or understand the shift in pedagogy that use would imply.
I’ve been reading Sam Chaltain’s American Schools: The art of creating a democratic learning community. You should too.
Chaltain holds that American schools should be places of democracy, but are not. No whiner, he then works to outline what he sees to be the keys of democratizing classrooms.
Before I picked up the text, I had been reflecting on the role democracy plays in my own teaching. While I’d wager it’s greater than many, I still struggle moving from compliance to choice.
Most recently, I’ve struggled with accepting the idea that saying, “Pick one of these three options,” isn’t the same thing as choice – not true choice.
Chaltain quotes Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick:
[I]f the world takes our ideas and changes them – or accepts some and discards others – all we need to decide is whether the mutated versions are still core. If they are, then we should humbly accept the audiences judgement.
When the Ton trumpet the use of the aforementioned online affordances in learning, they invariably speak of students’ abilities to choose, create, re-arrange, remix and “like” in the spaces they can inhabit online. In essence, they like that those online spaces would give their students the chance to do what the Heaths say sticky ideas do.
This leads me to question what’s been limiting those options in the physical spaces of their classrooms in the first place.
I know what’s been holding it back in my classroom – me.
No pedagogical prude, I attempt to take learning styles, intelligences and modalities into account as often as possible. I differentiate and modify and accommodate. In the end, I’m realizing much of the work in my classroom is still closer to conformity than I’d like. And perhaps, that’s limiting the contribution of those voices from whom I’m most waiting to hear.
“We should evoke contribution through freedom, not conformity,” Chaltain writes.
To the extent that I work within a system that expects certain outcomes from my students, I agree. To the extent that I have a picture in my head of what my students can do once they leave my classroom, I agree.
It might be fear that leads me to the caveats above, but I don’t think it is.
There are pieces of being able to read and write that I know will prove detrimental if they are not within my students’ abilities when they leave my care. The democratic classroom I envision isn’t one without goals. It’s chock full o’ goals. Those goals are also balanced with choice.
When I write about improving choice in my classroom, I do not mean to imply the abdication of structure or goals. I mean to say I need to give greater and truer choices to my students in how they journey to those goals.
And to the Ton, I want to reference something Jerrid Kruse brought up tonight on twitter. He referenced his frustration with online ed discussions veering toward the tech and not the teaching. I don’t yet know if I agree with his claim that this happens in the majority of online conversations. I do know that it’s complicated my thinking.
If you’re clamoring for these online affordances backed by the argument of the democracy they bring to learning, have you done the hard, uncomfortable work of making your classrooms democratic so your students are better citizens when the tools show up (or don’t)?