Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Issues

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jul 04, 2011

Responding to Martin, who in the comments of this post says "I do worry that this kind of fine hair splitting/navel gazing is ultimately unproductive and offputting."

Martin, I don't think these issues are fine-hair splitting. They represent, from my perspective, the major philosophical divides in 21st century education. The divides are:

- commercial vs non-commercial? What is the role of the private for-profit sector in learning? Is open education the the final full flourishing of public education, or is it the end of it?

- directed learning vs self-directed learning (or, instructivism or constructivism; or, formal vs informal; or, control learning vs free learning) - or to put it another way - does the education system serve the interests of the providers, or of the learners?

These are not easy issues. They are hard issues, and it is not always clear on what grounds they will be decided. That's why David's arguments and mine appear to hang on a hair - nobody is sure what argument (if any) will break the debate open.

It's also difficult because neither perspective is an absolute. In a strict sense, as Richard Hall said the other day, there are no public and private sectors - it's all a blend, so the issue is really in how to manage that blend. And similarly, both the interests of providers (aka society (and to some (undetermined) extent the private sector) and the interests of learners must come into play. But how?

And these issues have eminently practical consequences. I cannot overemphasize how large the stakes are.

Brian Lamb today summarized what's at stake with the first set of issues. The potential for the private sector to usurp education, the way Rupert Murdoch has usurped journalism, is too great to be ignored.

And this plays directly into the second issue. Education can at the drop of a hat become propaganda unless there are safeguards in place, but as the banking crisis has show we are as a society all too liable to be conned into giving up our safeguards.

There are days - most days, I fear - when I believe that David Wiley doesn't see these issues the way I see them, doesn't even see these as the dividing lines at all. That was the purpose of our day-long debate, to try to at least come to an understanding about what the issues are.

I see him as too naive, trusting in the good intent of the corporations and the private sector, not realizing that when the economy collapses and the environment degrades completely, that he along with the rest of us will be thrown under the bus, grist in the mill as the wealthy and powerful close ranks and save only themselves.

And I suspect he sees me as too cynical, too sceptical, too willing to believe in the corrective role of government, too willing to believe people can steer themselves through and out of crisis.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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