Conflicting educations

Kids nowadays are getting two educations: one from the culture and one from school. The two are at odds and the students are caught in the middle. This has always been the case, but I believe today's "education from culture" is more profound than in anytime since the start of the industrial revolution.

Every generation learns from friends, shopping, socializing, playing or watching sports and participating in family functions. Recent generations have received a second education from movies, TV, radio programs, recorded music (LP's cassette tapes, CD's) and games. What's different for this latest generation is the immersion and interactivity.

Text messaging and picture phones intensify superficial interactions. Computer games and online shopping heighten involvement, choices and consequences. The ability to customize one's list of friends, playlist of tunes and tags of favorite finds online -- give the current students more power at their fingertips than any previous. The adoption rate of new technologies (iPods, camera phones, Tivo, etc) have soared beyond any previous changeover to new tools and toys. Outside of the classroom, kids are in control of many experiences, getting worshiped as consumers and learning by making choices everyday.

Meanwhile classroom education is changing at a snail's pace. There is a perpetuation of the existing social order by means of schooling. Stephen Downes sees clearly how this occurs:

Perhaps it makes more sense to direct our efforts toward the reform of government and industry, content to allow school to follow. But there is a risk in this. The conflict between new and old is being waged at the level of information: who creates it, who controls it, who distributes it. It is a conflict not of machines and ammunition, but of people and ideas.

Schools - or more generally, education - is the 'ground zero' of any conflict involving people and ideas. If people grow up believing society should be ordered a certain way, it becomes very difficult to change that view. That is why such change takes generations.

Students are now caught between incessant stagnation and rampant innovation -- slow change in school and fast adoption rates for new technologies. Schools and advertisers are both battling for their hearts and minds. Experiences of captivity and freedom are both making lasting impressions. Contradictions abound and questions multiply about which education to value more. Stephen continues:

You write, "The ways industrialized democracies have governed and educated their citizens will not make sense to children raised in the freedoms of vast networks." But if they do not actually have such freedoms, then they will not come to such views.

I'm seeing the children having these freedoms in abundance already. They will come to these innovative and resourceful views naturally, unimpeded by their controlled classroom experiences. I'm expecting cultural learning is winning out over the classroom induction into "asking to be kidnapped".

The freedoms outside the classroom are giving credibility problems to instructor led teaching, content delivery systems and push marketing models. It appears like spin and hype to media-savvy kids. It calls into question what is being taught, how its being sold and the value that can be extracted from it.

We are naturally convinced by what we learn from our experience, especially if it contradicts what we are being told. When in doubt, we follow the feet of the two-faced leader, not his/her flapping lips. Actions speak louder than spin, as if our immediate experiences never lie. The kids are in good hands when they see through the games played out by classroom command and control systems.


  1. I think a key question is, "Are they getting any education from their parents?" Maybe, a good education from parents will balance out what they get from school and from culture. Honestly, I'm a new parent (with a 14 month old) and I'm scared of both kind of education: culture and school. Are there any other planets out there that we can take our kids to for education?

  2. Wonderful idea for the key question herman. I'd expand it to include other possible, positive influences, like a mentor, friend, neighbor -- anyone that can value the learner, understand her/him without fear and get into authentic conversations.