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Power and learning

December 1st, 2008 by Graham Attwell

No, not the power of learning. Power relations and learning.

I worry sometimes that those evangelists (said in a nice way, I am one myself) of a new way of learning, ignore the power relationships in society. Education itself, will not change the world. Power remains unevenly distributed.  More problematically, it is not in the interests of those who run a our society to allow us all to learn for ouselves, unfettered by control – be it control to access ot learning or control of what we learn. Contrast these statments:

“Over the last ten years, this model has been seen in many quarters to be obsolete. We have seen the emergence of a new model, where education is practiced in the community as a whole, by individuals studying personal curricula at their own pace, guided and assisted by community facilitators, online instructors and experts around the world.

Though today we stand at the cusp of this new vision, the future will see institutions and traditional forms of education receding gradually, reluctantly, to a tide of self-directing and self-motivated learners. This will be the last generation in which education is the practice of authority, and the first where it becomes, as has always been intended by educators, an act of liberty.” – Stephen Downes

I wish I was as optimtistic as Stephen. But read this from George Roberts’ newly launched work blog: “Irving Wladawsky-Berger, (read his blog) President Emeritus of the IBM Technology Academy and visiting/adjunct professor at MIT and Imperial College, argues, for a mixed mode of social control in which participatory governance models and hierarchical governance models share the challenge of institutional survival in a social darwinian market environment where, “… you make mistakes you die”.

Capitalism is adapting to new economic relaities of Open Source and global markets. Learning is powerful and education forms part of the ideological state apparatus. Power will not be ceded because we have a better idea of organising universal access ot education. Educational technolgits must understand these realisties and better still join those fighting for economic, social and politcial chnage.

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6 Responses to “Power and learning”

  1. Andreas says:

    I am with Stephen, admittedly, and I think he actually is doing something very important to fight for economic, social and political change — advocating libertarian education, fighting for it, talking about it everyday, for one; and providing technology to make learning accessible and independent of institutions and authority, for another. So am I, on a much smaller scale, in the much smaller niche of non-formal education.

    «You make mistakes you die.» Indeed, and we see this with the financial crisis don’t we? The current generation of authoritarian-educated decision-makers (including Wladawsky), with all their greed, lacks the capacity to deal with the crisis they have stirred up themselves; lacks the complexity and the integrity to do anything substantial about it.

    I agree with your call for educationalists and educational technologists to take on a stronger political role, but alongside should be a call to all activists fighting for economic, social and political change to take a stance on education – we may have ignored it, but education has never been apolitical.

  2. Andreas says:

    From yesterday’s OLDaily:

    When an Economic Crisis Hits eLearning, What Do Managers Have to Say About It?

    OK, first things first, we as a community have to learn not to preface everything with the phrase “In these troubled economic times…” or some such mantra. Not only is it the sort of thing where hearing it over and over makes it true, it is the sort of thing that is not helpful, because the economy has not changed materially since before the crash. This is important to understand, because what it suggests is that the loss of wealth was of wealth that did not exist in the first place – it was largely fictitious wealth created by (shyster) credit markets. Real harm will be caused, though, if we act as though nothing is of value any more. We need to, for now, continue creating, selling, producing and consuming. But we also need to retool, because our economic patterns are not sustainable. The only way out of this is to replace, in relatively short order, fictitious value with real value. We don’t do that by pulling in the reins, managing conservatively, being ‘fiscally prudent’. GM cannot save its way out of bankruptcy; Nortel cannot improve its $0.00 stock valuation by cutting back. We can, all of us, build an environmentally responsible, socially just, and progressive market economy based on fairness and humanity. Real value, produced by real people. To proceed in any other direction will most certainly unleash substantial and needless misery throughout what will have formerly been called “the developed world”.

  3. Ken Carroll says:

    Power exists because there is such a thing as human nature. Ridding our society of power imbalances would require an enforced denial of human nature – we’ve seen how utopian/egalitarian upheavals end up as bad than what they replace.

    Capitalism doesn’t create power imbalances – it erodes them. Tyranny has been there for a very long time. The default state of human society is ignorance, poverty, tyranny, and disease, but the history of capitalist countries is the history of ever greater freedom, improved living quality, medicine, technology, and erm, democracy (amongst other things). They capitalist democracies are not perfect, but they do not explain the origins of power imbalances. Capitalism would help places like Africa immensely, both from a pwoer perspective and from that of alleviating misery. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

  4. Andreas says:

    I have trouble discovering anything but spitting irony in calling the incarnation of capitalism in our times like a pretty good deal. In any case, I don’t care so much about capitalism, I do care much more about the notion of *profit* — one which is, currently, defined purely monetary. What we need is an understanding and protection of profit and gains that do neither destroy our environment nor our society. As long as profit means a lot of money flowing into the hands of a few, the problems will only multiply!

  5. Stephen. With a ‘ph’.

  6. Graham Attwell says:

    sorry Stephen – have corrected

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