Power and empowerment: reflections on my week’s readings

I have always thought about education in terms of power and empowerment.  It is no secret that learning and formal education have throughout much of human history has been reserved for the elites.  Moving forward to present day, the public schooling in this county is plagued by the idea that we do not offer equal education for all classes of our nation’s children, so much so that we wrote a law indicating that it was time to stop leaving children behind.  As I look around at the ebb and flow of our societal preconceptions, I can’t help but notice the way we have privileged instant access to knowledge: google, twitter, facebook.  All of these services make easier our access to information, whether it be what the world’s largest mammal is or what my best friend from second grade is having for dinner.

I have blogged about the Google-able question before, and it comes down to the fact that we have to consider, as David Warlick asked, “what are the pedagogies of information abundant learning environments?”  But, in fact, there might be a bigger question that we should be asking as educators.  Yes, the information is abundant, and more easily accessible than before, and both of these aspects should be considered as we think through our most valuable pedagogies.  The question, however, elides the role of the learner.  What purposes for the information?  And in what ways is the addition of the information transformative for the learner?

This week, we were asked to read Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virutal Loot, by Julian Dibbell.   A great read, it chronicles the economies of virutal worlds and one man’s quest to harness those virtual economies.  I took away from this that, really no matter where a human mind ventures, we tend to re-create the familiar.  Does it blow my mind that someone could make their living trading virtual suits of armor? Not really.  As Dibbell discusses, modern currency systems rely on the valuation of something representative.  During the financial crisis, I kept wondering, “but where did the money go?” We lost billions of dollars, trillions.  Where are they? Our own modern financial system is as unreal (or actual as real) to me as what occurs in a virtual world.

The other main text we were asked to read was Young World Rising: How Youth Technology and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up, by Rob Salkowitz which added to this conversation.  In short, young people and the ways in which they are NOT locked into traditional forms of adding to the economy are, in turn, transforming the way we do business.  Much like Play Money, this text chronicles the way technology changes the landscape of what we understand as economy and highlights some remarkable entrepreneurs.   Clearly, our immersion with new technologies, be it mobile devices to the ways so much of our lives are lived online, is going to change the way the world does business.  But what does it mean for education?

Back to the relationship between education and power, what new technologies have done is removed the barrier to information that was once in place for those who are disenfranchised, whose voices are not those privileged.  I will say, however, that this transformative access has only been harnessed by a few.  There are large swaths of the world population, and even the US population, who recognize the unfettered access to information, but have no idea how to harness it for their own economic empowerment (I am focusing here on economic empowerment since that was also the focus of this week’s readings).  The most ready language I have for this is the language around literacies, that there are new literacies, new economic literacies even, that need to be taught to students in order to fully empower them to take advantage of the rapidly changing economic landscape (and any juicy opportunities that arise).  Just as decades ago in the US, a person not fully able to read and write would be at an economic disadvantage, a person today not fully able to read and write in the language of virtual worlds, programming languages, content creation (harnessing social media or otherwise) is at the disadvantage today. So it is not about avoiding the Google-able questions or sticking to a standardized curriculum, but it is about how we teach the new literacies in order that our students are fluent and empowered.

Professor Zhao asks us to bring questions to class, so mine this week is this: What are the new economic literacies are students needs to be economically empowered? What are the pedagogies of these new literacies?

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One thought on “Power and empowerment: reflections on my week’s readings

  1. great thoughts, questions, contemplations…i guess i am curious about the intersection between self-reliance and community. how do we teach our students to be curious, to seek knowledge, and to teach themselves while also instilling a sense of community and compassion for others? there’s a delicate balance, it seems.

    i was talking to a teacher yesterday who said, “i’ve got to get used to this middle school model of making sure students succeed. i’m so used to the high school model where they either do it or they don’t — and it’s up to them.” ouch! seriously? i’ve taught 7-12 over the years, and my thought: discipline leads to self-discipline. it’s our job, as teachers, to help “discipline” (and by this, I mean nurture, guide, empower); those who “get it” undoubtedly had parents who provided the discipline. Those who don’t, need us.

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