Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Social Needs of Students

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Mar 09, 2000

Posted to DEOS-L 10 March 2000

Clint Brooks makes an important assertion about the social needs of students, but commits (in my opinion) the error of assuming that social activity is possible only in schools.

The very activities he lists (interestingly, extracurricular activities, and therefore (a) optional, and (b) the first to be cut in a funding crunch) - "Band, Student Government, Student Interest Groups, Newspaper, Yearbook, Socail gatherings (dances, pep rallies, prom)" - can and do take place outside the school environment.

Indeed, each of these examples offers us an interesting comparison between the traditional education and future education:

Band - in school, follows a formalized structure, playing traditional and 'safe' music (usually the music of our fathers); at home (in the garage), follows an informal but close-knit structure, plays edgy music relevant to the students.

Student Government - in school, highly regulated, limited to a selected set of issues (like party decorations), irrelevant, and disempowered; out of school, less regulated and integrated into mainstream political activities (eg., as party youth wings), has actual power (eg., votes at conventions).

Student Interest Groups: in school, formalized and regulated as 'clubs'; out of school, informal and unregulated, cober a much wider range of topics, more closely knit, and more dedicated

Newspaper - in school, subject to strict scruitiny and limited to 'safe' words and topics, restricted to one 'official' publication; out of school, exists as a form of free press, generally unsupervised, covers a wide range of topics and ideas (including the rave review which would never get past the school censor), proliferates and sometimes even profits

Yearbook - see newspaper

Social gatherings: in school: follow a standard format (including location and size of gathering), closely monitored and chaperoned, feature only 'safe' music; out of school, informal and follow a wide variety of formats, loosely monitored, feature all forms of music or even no music at all.

The same arguments could be made of all other centrally controlled school activities as compared to their more community oriented counterparts: thjink school sports versus pick-up sports (or even community leagues)


What we need to do is to encourage students to engage in social activities in the community at large, activities selected by the students themselves, activities which are important and socially meaningful, and in which students are empowered and enabled. We need to foster education (and educational and social values) by offering customized and personalized learning as needed, when needed and where needed as a means of helping students to be more successful at those activities.

And also crucially:

Nothing needs to be torn down for this to happen (though we will be faced with the question of what to do with empty schools). If we use good, smart technology, and if we empower students to thrive in environments of their own choosing, the new educational methodology will evolve out of the old.

Or to use Dr. Saba's analogy a bit: building airports and airplanes did not require the destruction of railyway tracks and locomotives. It offered choice, and people chose, though that did leave us with the question of what to do with empty tracks and used locomotives.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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