Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Noman's land.

The lines are drawn up, the roles are defined, the territories are determined.  At one side of the class-room, stands a teacher. The students are grouped together waiting for any lull in the content offensive to engage leisurely conversation.

The teacher draws up a plan of action for the new campaign on the board. The exercises are ready, the instructions are well-rehearsed, the number of future failures are statistically modelled. Survival is for the fittest. Success is for the elite. Cohorts of students are evaluated, streamed, trained, tested, decorated. Competition is good for the character, team-work is carefully regimented, unsupervised collaboration is suspect.

I was a reluctant RAF cadet, the uniform was scratchy, I was a poor shot, I loathed dehumanising drill. Taking orders from a teenage moron who gleefully made us march into a brick wall killed  off my Action Man dreams of becoming a commando...  

A breezy Anglican church school, the bravery of fallen heroes in the World Wars was celebrated here, the dates of battles were memorised; critical analysis was viewed dimly. 

Glorious were the victories on the rugby field, the cricket pitch,the hockey shore!

Somewhere else,further afield, Paolo Freire would write,

"Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

Technology plays a vital role in enabling the change of relationships in society. With the railways came massive industrial expansion, the public school, the public holiday. With the machine gun and heavy artillery came the trenches, the Somme.  With the railways came mass-mobilisation and monumental casualty counts. The 'in between' enemy lines, countries, or classes  would become 'No man's land.' 

  • No man's land is a term for land that is unoccupied or is   under dispute between parties that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. Wikipedia  

This space, allotted for daily butchery during the Great War was also spotted with odd outbreaks of peaceful dialogue. Bizarre truces would be negotiated when troops from the opposing sides would exchange presents, souvenirs and a passion for football. Such events remain eery tributes to the absurdity of a system. 

With new technologies come new challenges, new opportunities for transforming societies or maintaining conformity. Ubiquitous connectivity enhances peer to peer communication, disrupts old hierarchical organisations, blurs the lines between work and play, challenges the roles of teachers and learners. It is not sure that we are for the moment in any way freer.

If drones have replaced soldiers, shiny interactive tablets might deliver expertly conceived global uniformity to hungry pupils. Games which let you win engage. Such edutainment however seductive does not necessarily enhance independent criticism or creativity. If predictably achieved 'educational outcomes' are reassuring for the stake-holders, they may be useless to the individual in the long-term. Curiosity requires peace to develop. 

Should we venture into the Noman's lands which exist between individuals, between informal and formal learning, between physical and virtual presence,between generations and cultures, we might aim to imagine a more diversely sustainable future.

"Through dialogue, the teachers-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teachers cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-students with student-teachers."
Paolo Freire.

Learning together, Noman's land might just become Everyman's land. Lines can diverge~converge. Conversation, however leisurely will inevitably be more essential than content.

Paolo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed 1968

1 comment:

  1. A few years on - talk of disrupting hierarchies makes me choke. No disruption only reinforcement.