Jul 09

The Marketization of Education

red apple with a hefty price tag.The corporation-dominated Global Education Reform Movement, which renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg aptly points out has spread much like the GERM it spells, is a big-money backed movement to dismantle public education for exploitation by for-profit special interests. It is an effort showing clear signs of failure on the education side of its mandate, one that’s especially interested in profit—where the GERM’s success is far more readily observable.

When the private exploits the public

The private depends on the public (Lakoff, 2014). When you research and develop something on the tax payers’ dime its rightful place is the public sphere. When Americans privatize their public education system, they turn it over to Wall St speculators, ultimately the same folks who gave us sub-prime mortgages, austerity, triple-dip recessions, worldwide economic failure, and the shakedown of the Greeks. The link isn’t hyperbole or a vivid imagination. It’s calculated and methodical (see for example Horn, 2009, “heavyweight teams”). 

Further insight can be gleaned from a famous book out of Harvard Business School, alma mater to many of the architects of economic meltdown, entitled Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, Michael Horn, 2008), a book that can be thought of as part of the blueprint or ‘master plan’ to privatize schools. It was first presented to me by a manager, a “director” of information technology who was apparently quite impressed by the book’s “disruptive” revelations, touted on the unabashedly commercial outside jacket as certain to make the reader rethink “everything you thought you knew about learning.”

The promised epiphany turns out to be fellow Harvard man Howard Gardner’s 1981 “Multiple Intelligences” theory and a truism we learned my first day of my first class at teachers’ college in the early 90s. By now it’s an outright cliché within the teaching community that we should be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”

What other revolutionary new ideas about pedagogy and learning does the business school offer? The authors tell us students need to be motivated “intrinsically.” One hopes the disruptive innovation franchise at Harvard doesn’t believe no one published about that before 2008. However the book, in a feint designed for its target audience of venture capitalists, managers and IT directors, not educators who know the history of these things, discusses intrinsic motivation and experiential learning without mentioning John Dewey (1938), and with barely a nod to Noah Webster’s and Horace Mann’s later influence on American education, nor the important role they cast it in preserving democracy and defining the nation’s moral character.

The suggestion of bias in these omissions and distortions is only reinforced by the ahistorical presentation of Thomas Jefferson’s position on public education, accompanied by right wing talking points that evoke Frank Luntz or Rush Limbaugh.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresent Thomas Jefferson’s record and opinion on public education (2008, pp 52-3). They carefully include the famous Jeffersonian provision as governor of Virginia, which was, essentially, to groom a benevolent aristocracy or perhaps a sort of super-culture, nowhere emphasizing for their readers that this, too, was fully intended to be at public expense. Jefferson’s vision for funding, from grammar school to college, was in fact to be split between the public and private sectors, families, and communities, often much in ways that have actually come to pass across the history of U.S education. Yet these carefully picked cherries are topped by the Luntzian reminder the word “education” isn’t in the constitution. Neither is the word “markets,” nor the phrase “supply side economics.” Oops! Can you imagine extending such talk radio logic to other areas of our lives?

…shall be paid by the Treasurer quarterly on warrant from the Auditors … on the public foundation… … as [Thomas Jefferson] explained in his Autobiography, “We thought that … a systematical plan of general education should be proposed, and I was requested to undertake it. I accordingly prepared three Bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, and in their highest degree” (Ford, i, 66). Within a decade after the work of the Committee of Revisors was begun, TJ regarded the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge as the most important one in the Report (TJ to George Wythe, 13 Aug. 1786). The exalted declaration of purpose in the preamble remains one of the classic statements of the responsibility of the state in matters of education. But what was new and distinctively Jeffersonian in the Bill was not its advocacy of public education … what was new in the Bill and what stamped its author as a constructive statesman of far-seeing vision was the object of seeking out men of genius and virtue and of rendering them “by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” This implied the establishment of a ruling élite that would promote public happiness by wisely forming and honestly administering the laws… it saw nothing dangerous or inimical to the liberties of the people in accepting and making use of such a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent; and its unique and revolutionary feature, never yet put into practice by any people, was that, in order to permit such a natural aristocracy to flourish freely, it would remove all economic, social, or other barriers that would interfere with nature’s distribution of genius or virtue. (See TJ’s account of this Bill in Notes on Virginia, Ford, iii, 251–5; see also R. J. Honeywell, Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson, Cambridge, Mass., 1931.)

Footnotes: A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge,
© Princeton University Press.
All rights reserved.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresented a 325 year commitment to public education embedded in the U.S. Constitution (Dennis, 2000). They misrepresent the socially situated nature of learning itself by reducing education to a supply-chain in order to monetize it. They misrepresent the classroom by attempting to mold it to the image of their markets, where business provides a weak metaphor at best. Beth Goldberg, who had 20 years of experience running businesses before becoming a middle school mathematics teacher, observes employees are paid to listen to you, students are not. Employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn also misrepresent the views of their Harvard colleague Howard Gardner.

What does Howard Gardner really say about schooling?

Much of Gardner’s method and the idea of learning styles have retained their traction over the decades, but the science had been widely criticized long before Christensen and company shifted their disruptive gaze from pharmaceuticals to the supply chain offered by education (Klein, 1997; Willingham, 2004). I’ve written here about what I believe may be Howard Gardner’s greater legacy, The Unschooled Mind (1992), where Gardner explained how he came to realize that “even the best students in the best schools do not understand” (p. 1).

By then the seven “intelligences” were already beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995). “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children.” Ethics, consensus and respect are not a large part of the Christensen curriculum; they devote far more words and paragraphs to the importance of separation, fiat and coercion, the so-called “power tools” of disruption (more to follow, even more here).

What can we learn from the disruptive innovation franchise?

The fact of the franchise’s ability to sell books does not negate the relevance and significance of disruptive innovation. What the books provide educators is the set of vocabulary and strategies — “power tools” — that identify a venture’s opponents—whether union, parent group, government, or competing investor—and by which corporate reformers, with cash to pad campaign coffers, can come to dominate policy making, tilt the rules in their favor, all in the pursuit of profit. It’s a must-read for educators critical of GERM’s tactics — a seat at the campfire in the enemy’s camp! I’ve written at greater length here about the divide and conquer tactics the business school offers entrepreneurs and lobbyists who face resistance, why such top down approaches actually make wicked problems worse, why consensus building is imperative, and how to do that.

Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time […] Christensen has not tried to rein in the word’s inflation.2 On the contrary, he has been out-punditing the pundits, publishing book after book—each with many co-authors—in which disruption theory is brought to bear first on this sector, then on that one. In the past five years, he has homed in on the social institutions—schools, public-health organizations, and the halls of government itself—he deems ripe for disruption.
—Judith Shulevitz, TNR

Setting aside more recent revelations to accept these authors’ definition of “results,” which overlooks the lengths to which some private ventures screen and cull their student body to enhance those results, there are examples offered of charter schools and other “innovative” (i.e., “not publicly funded”) programs (or questionable practices) that resulted in higher test scores and other measurables presented as positives. But in the end of the book students sit connected to terminals—not peers and mentors—interacting with commercially provided software the book’s readers are enticed to develop and provide. In the seven years since the book was published blended learning, with varied amounts of teacher direction and highest student to student interactivity, has emerged as a much more powerful model, a fact that was already being observed and predicted by education researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and elsewhere, even as the business school published its free market vision.

Contrast this to the way the word “innovation” is used by a successful community outreach group, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, highlighted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where their primary business is teaching and learning, not profit-making (Warren et al., 2009).

The ideas espoused in Disrupting Class led to corruption and many say away from democracy. More than 15 years of rhetoric that fetishized markets while denigrating and undermining the public system in a manner (approaching libel, or slander, perhaps?) have taken a heavy toll.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
—Diane Ravitch

Is there a vaccine or treatment against the GERM?

The GERM adapts quickly to regional and international differences, and spreads across stock markets. Some in the U.S. are developing a natural resistance to specific strains affecting their local situations. Because they present many of the same symptoms, such as PARCC testing, unfair rent and resource allocation practices, cheating scandals and segregation an agile and versatile response is indicated.

Community schools must once again serve their communities, and become hubs of community-strengthening activity and 24/7 access to public knowledge. Mark Warren and his team at Harvard Graduate School of Education urge us to look beyond bake sales and to adopt “a community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools.” See their 3 case studies that demonstrate ways this can be done without bias of privilege and redirection of financial advantages toward a single sector.

Our teachers’ best qualities—their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals—are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.
—Tim Callahan, spokesman, Professional Association of Georgia Educators

Students must continue and expand their efforts, and teach their parents that standardized testing reduces learning time. They are not assessments of students’ mastery of a subject. Students and their parents should join the grassroots Opt-Out Movement growing rapidly in nearly every state, wherever people witness the terrifying results of the GERM experiment on their own kids’ classrooms.

Educators mustn’t look for “IT directors” but should look instead for “idea facilitators” and local experts to collaborate with on inquiries and projects. We must draw upon proven learner-centred success stories, as they did at the Harvard GSE, and mostly ignore Harvard’s BS. #KidsCanCode and #HourOfCode activities of all sorts can help kids and their teachers alike develop 21st century literacies, demystify the software, and help to level playing fields.

Design Thinking, as it influences teaching and learning today, can trace at least part of its lineage to some of the earliest research into technology-enhanced learning, the advent of ethnographic applications in the field of learning, apprenticeship studies, situated and experiential learning, and communities of practice. Those aware of at least one school of design thinking, influenced by the “wicked problems” praxis of Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber (1973; see also Why Horst Rittel Matters), value consensus as a principle of design, and have developed tools, techniques, and frameworks to achieve consensus. We’ve been slow to adopt them.

We all agree that social media and “hyperspace” have permanently disrupted our capabilities and our horizons. We agree there’s a need to nurture different competencies, and that has led may to deduce a role for new literacies. If we believe in Critical Thinking and Collaboration, then let “Consensus-building” join the list of 21st century competencies.

If you self-identify as an “instructional designer,” take a moment to consider Gráinne Conole’s important distinction between ID and Learning Design (LD), which is seen “…as a more encompassing term than Instructional Design, … is pedagogically effective and makes appropriate use of technologies. … Learning Design provides a holistic approach to the design process” (2014). Orchestrate for serendipity… design learning experiences that involve participants in ways that permit for human chemistry to create meaningful bonds with the fruits of their inquiries and projects, that are engaging because they’ve been built on the participants’ own personal stories, and because they provide a safe space and expert support for their telling.

We must command our own set of “power tools.” Use plain language and transparent strategies, engage parents and the community along with our students, and all the while make sure the situation — the learning environment, beginning with the learners (who at any given moment may also be the teachers!) — drives the selection and employment of the tools.

† Although it retains some bibliography, links and images, and perhaps a sentence here and there, this post is for all practical purposes a complete re-write of an older post with the same title, and is meant to entirely replace and supplant the earlier version.


Further reading

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; and Horn, Michael B. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive I nnovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York : McGraw-Hill [HTML]

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States, web site, Bucknell University [HTML]

Fouchaux (2009) graduate school paper, Disrupting Disruption, HTML

Gardner, H. (1983/2003). Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Horn, Michael (blog post: Oct 30, 2009) The power of a heavyweight team to rethink education: A quest to learn, retrieved 2009-12-06 http://disruptingclass.mhprofessional.com/apps/ab/2 009/10/30/the-power-of-a-heavyweight-team-to-rethink-education-a-quest-to-learn

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Lakoff, George (2014) The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Chelsea Green Publishing, 192 pages

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Warren, Mark R., Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.

The Boston Herald (Wednesday, February 27, 2013) Elizabeth Warren clocks big Ben, Hits Bernanke on bank subsidies http://bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2013/02/elizabeth_warren_clocks_big_ben

The Knowledge Exchange (Published: September 27, 2012) How could I miss that? Jamie Dimon on the hot seat, by Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, http://www.sas.com/knowledge-exchange/risk/integrated-risk/how-could-i-miss-that-jamie-dimon-on-the-hot-seat/index.html

Sahlberg, Pasi (2012) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Shulevitz, Judith (2013) Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time,blog post at The New Republic [HTML]

“Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 http://educationnext.org/reframing-the-mind/ retrieved 2012-10-10.

Jan 28

Tools, Practices and Actions – From Information to Knowledge

Screenshot of CompendiumNG

CompendiumNG allows stakeholders to quickly create visual maps on a topic using nodes and links. In this example different ideas regarding a problem are collected for assessment. It is possible to adjust the appearance of links and node labels. Source: www.CompendiumNG.org

Prior to a recent workshop a question was circulated that looked as if it was tailored to get my response. I stumbled on some great answers to this question over the course of my master’s research into project-based learning design: “Compendium; Dialogue Mapping; Let’s Do It!” I said, and they asked for more information. I replied by pulling some key points from the best articles I have into the following message and sending it with the full articles to my colleagues who posed the question. Where will this lead?

Question, brainstorming on Effective Communication

What tools, practices, or actions could facilitate greater collaboration and cooperation between units?

To Whom It May Concern:

At the recent workshop I mentioned tools, practices and actions we can take right away to address communication issues raised in previous meetings and surveys. You asked me to send you more information. Thank you for this opportunity. Please see below:

There are many resources on this tool on line. It’s open source and has been branched by various groups of educators. CompendiumLD is specifically for learning design, but CompendiumNG, aspires to be the Next Generation of Compendium. N.b.: The Compendium tool is suitable for mapping external “focus group” type dialogue involving many stakeholders, a small meeting, or anything in between. The object is to “…work together to build a shared picture with all the stakeholders that accurately represents what we “know,” what different people assert, what we can try and learn from, and what we currently think are the relevant options” (Seybold, 2013, pg. 5).


List of potential uses for CompendiumNG:


Practice—Dialogue Mapping:

Dialogue Mapping “… has been used for over three decades to help the different stakeholders in large, complex projects achieve alignment, make decisions they can own, and move forward” (Seybold, 2013, pg. 1). It is related to other forms of argument mapping, for example the Toulmin Model of Argument (see for example, Intel, 2006), but uses an icon-based graphic organizer to denotes the parts of the argument, called Issue Based Information System (IBIS), “…a notation invented by Horst Rittel and Werner Kunz in the early 1970s. IBIS is best known for its use in dialogue mapping, a collaborative approach to tackling wicked problems (i.e. contentious issues) in organisations. “At the heart of IBIS’s power is the amazing capability of questions, when framed in an open and systematic way, to create new distinctions and new clarity out of the fog of social complexity and collapsed meanings,” says Patricia Seybold (2013, pg. 11). It has a range of other applications as well – capturing knowledge is a good example…” (Eight to Late, 2010). This article continues by quoting the first sentence of the abstract of Rittel & Kuntz (1970, pg. 1).

Issue—Based Information Systems (IBIS) are meant to support coordination and planning of political decision processes. IBIS guides the identification, structuring, and settling of issues raised by problem—solving groups, and provides information pertinent to the discourse.

IBIS was to be “…the type of information system meant to support the work of cooperatives like governmental or administrative agencies or committees, planning groups, etc., that are confronted with a problem complex in order to arrive at a plan for decision…” (pg. 1). It can be said, “From the start, then, IBIS was intended as a tool to facilitate a collaborative approach to solving …or better, managing a wicked problem by helping develop a shared perspective on it” (Eight to Late, 2010, pg. 2).

A Brief Introduction to IBIS (Source: Eight to Late, 2010)

The IBIS notation consists of the following three elements:

  1. Issues(or questions): these are issues that are being debated. Typically, issues are framed as questions on the lines of “What should we do about X?” where X is the issue that is of interest to a group. For example, in the case of a group of executives, X might be rapidly changing market condition whereas in the case of a group of IT people, X could be an ageing system that is hard to replace.
  2. Ideas(or positions): these are responses to questions. For example, one of the ideas of offered by the IT group above might be to replace the said system with a newer one. Typically the whole set of ideas that respond to an issue in a discussion represents the spectrum of participant perspectives on the issue.
  3. Arguments: these can be Pros (arguments for) or Cons (arguments against) an issue. The complete set of arguments that respond to an idea represents the multiplicity of viewpoints on it.

The Seven Question Types at the Heart of Issue Mapping (Source: Seybold, 2013, pg. 11):

  1. Deontic: What should we do?
  2. Instrumental: How should we do X?
  3. Criterial: What are the criteria for success?
  4. Factual: What is X?
  5. Conceptual: What does X mean?
  6. Explanatory: Why is X?
  7. Contextual: What is the background?

Issue Mapping can be used effectively for everyday business and personal decisions, but its potential is vast. Through the skillful use of questions, an issue map has unlimited capacity to represent and clarify diverse points of view, conflicting interpretations and goals, inconsistent information, and other forms of complexity…”
(Cognexus Institute website: www.cognexus.org/)

Compendium is a freeware tool that can be used to create IBIS maps… In Compendium, the IBIS elements described above are represented as nodes as shown in Figure 1: issues are represented by blue-green question marks; positions by yellow light bulbs; pros by green + signs and cons by red – signs. Compendium supports a few other node types, but these are not part of the core IBIS notation. Nodes can be linked only in ways specified by the IBIS grammar as I discuss next.

Figure 1: IBIS elements

The IBIS grammar can be summarized in three simple rules:

  1. Issues can be raised anew or can arise from other issues, positions or arguments. In other words, any IBIS element can be questioned. In Compendium notation: a question node can connect to any other IBIS node.
  2. Ideas can only respond to questions– i.e. in Compendium “light bulb” nodes can only link to question nodes. The arrow pointing from the idea to the question depicts the “responds to” relationship.
  3. Arguments can only be associated with ideas– i.e. in Compendium “+” and “–“ nodes can only link to “light bulb” nodes (with arrows pointing to the latter)

The “legal links” are summarized in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Legal links in IBIS

Yes, it’s as simple as that.

(pp. 2-3).

Facilitate Group Meetings Using Real-time Dialogue Mapping (Seybold, 2013, pg. 17-18).

The place that Dialogue Mapping really shines is in a face-to-face group design and/or strategic planning session. It’s a much richer tool to use than capturing ideas on flip charts. Don’t forget, however, that just displaying the flow of the conversation doesn’t really add a lot of value. Getting people to validate the ideas that are captured, to build on them, and to really own the map as an active part of their design process is where Dialogue Mapping really shines.


Continue to Evolve the Group Discussions/Maps Over Time

Today’s design activities are far from “one and done.” Usually you kick off a design project with a vague idea about the appropriate solution and, over time, through the shared dialogue, experimentation, and learning, you evolve your collective thinking and come up with better and better solutions through trial and error.

Asynchronous Mapping In Between Group Meetings. In between group meetings, participants can add to their section of a group map on their own time. They can add links and documents to the map as ammunition to bolster a pro or a con. They can add new ideas, along with sketches, text, or videos to provide really great examples for other team members to absorb at their own pace.

Capture Institutional Memory. One of the beauties of Dialogue Maps is that they can be time- and date-stamped and added to over time. You can then see a history of how your collective thinking evolved. Many of Jeff Conklin’s clients really value the institutional memory that these maps provide over a long period of time.

From Mapping project dialogues using IBIS – a case study and some reflections (Awati, 2011)

: This practice note describes the use of the IBIS (Issue-Based Information System) notation to map dialogues that occur in project meetings.

Design/methodology/approach: A case study is used to illustrate how the technique works. A discussion highlighting the key features, benefits and limitations of the method is also presented along with a comparison of IBIS to other, similar notations.

Findings: IBIS is seen to help groups focus on the issues at hand, bypassing or avoiding personal agendas, personality clashes and politics.

Practical Implications: The technique can help improve the quality of communication in projects meetings. The case study highlights how the notation can assist project teams in developing a consensus on contentious issues in a structured yet flexible way.

Originality / Value: IBIS has not been widely used in project management. This note illustrates its value in helping diverse stakeholders get to a shared understanding of the issues being discussed and a shared commitment to achieving them.

Action: Identify an interested working group to continue investigating applications of dialogue mapping [here at work].


Awati, Kailash (2011) “Mapping project dialogues using IBIS: a case study and some reflections”, International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 4 Iss: 3, pp.498 – 511. [PDF]

Buckingham Shum, Simon; Selvin, A.M.; Sierhuis, Maarten; Conklin, Jeffrey; Haley, C.B. and Nuseibeh, Bashar (2006). Hypermedia support for argumentation-based rationale: 15 years on from gIBIS and QOC. In: Dutoit, A.; McCall, R.; Mistrik, I. and Paech, B. eds. Rationale Management in Software Engineering. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, pp. 111–132.

Eight to Late (WordPress blog: Archive for the ‘Issue Based Information System’ Category, (2010), https://eight2late.wordpress.com/category/issue-based-information-system/ .

Horst W. J. Rittel & Webber, Melvin M., Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning (1973), Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169.

Intel Corp. (2006) Teach To The Future, Showing Evidence Tool Resources, Appendices [PDF: www.schoolnet.org.za/twt/09/M9_argumentation.pdf]

Kunz, Werner and Rittel, Horst W. J., Issues As Elements Of Information Systems (1970) [PDF: www.cc.gatech.edu/~ellendo/rittel/rittel-issues.pdf].

Seybold, Patricia (2013), How to Address “Wicked Problems” Use Dialogue Mapping to Build a Shared Understanding and Evolve a Group’s Thinking, [PDF: http://dx.doi.org/10.1571/br05-23-13cc]

There are shortcomings in the notation and maps can get unwieldy. While it’s easy to get started, dialogue mapping requires considerable practice to perfect (Awati, 2011, pg. 14). These and some other factors have slowed adoption. Some of these factors certainly exist in my workplace. We’ll soon see if the apparent awakening to the existence of different strategies to build more effective communication gains enough momentum to catch on and spread.


Jan 23

What is a “thick learning situation?”

In order to approach learning situations as problems to be solved, rather than topics to be discussed, I’d like to start by defining what, in my view, makes a learning situation “thick.” I’m appropriating the word and concept from Clifford Geertz and the discipline of ethnography, and I’ll attempt to apply it as a lens or framing for teaching and learning, which are, as we know, always socially situated.

From Instruction to Learning

For her chapter entitled Reviewing the trajectories of e-learning [which I summarized on this blog, tweeted, shared on social media, and shared again in my workplace] Gráinne Conole chose the word “trajectory” — a clear link to rocket travel! In keeping with her metaphor, by all indications eLearning has achieved escape velocity and settled into orbit. It certainly shows no signs of falling back to earth any time soon.

…when educators consider the people, places, ideas, and things that might empower the learner or enhance delivery and retention of the content. What technology will I make available to my learners? What have others already prepared that can assist me in explaining things better? Where can I take my learners, both physically and via the web? Can we build something together, plan for synchronicity and serendipity—consider the human chemistry that we are about to incubate? Which experts will I invite to participate? How can we draw out the expertise that may already exist amongst participants we’ve yet to meet?

Conole highlighted what she seems to see as an evolutionary development that’s taking place, from “instructional design” to “learning design.” One concrete way I see this taking shape happens when educators consider the people, places, ideas, and things that might empower the learner or enhance delivery and retention of the content. What technology will I make available to my learners? What have others already prepared that can assist me in explaining things better? Where can I take my learners, both physically and via the web? Can we build something together, plan for synchronicity and serendipity—consider the human chemistry that we are about to incubate? Which experts will I invite to participate? How can we draw out the expertise that may already exist amongst participants we’ve yet to meet?

Storytelling: a catalytic convertor for learning situations

It is becoming increasingly clear that personal and other illustrative stories, dilemmas, scenarios, etc. can act as a “catalyst” that motivates learners to relate to the content. In the language (affectionately?) known as edubabble it might sound like, “foster intrinsic motivation…, enable learner agency…,” or “to construct meaningful knowledge.” I surmise that this might be an added benefit if the educator aspires to create a situation that is memorable and transformational, rather than simply informational.

A situation leading to an inquiry

Supposing you were teaching middle school children civics, and how legislation is created. You might want to talk about “precedent,” and how laws are made or changed—laws we all have to obey. What if you took a piece of case law on a subject you feel your learners may find relevant, and that a legal expert available to your classroom community has told you helped set precedent? What if you engaged those experts and others to present the case to this class as a story, framed in language of fairness and conflict resolution?

Add thickener

So far we’ve not done much out of the ordinary. We could just give a quiz and call it a day. But I believe, and I’ll bet you do too, that that would be a very superficial assessment of some very superficial learning. Instead, what if we ask, “Has anything like this ever happened to you? Do you agree with the outcomes? Who benefits from this law? How?”

I’m interested in hearing from teachers, counselors, and educators of all sorts whether they have tried such an approach, would be willing to try such an approach, or even whether it’s a good idea. Would you care to leave a comment?


More links

Schwartz, Susan and Bone, Maxine (1995), Retelling, Relating, Reflecting — Beyond the 3 Rs, a book that does critical thinking with kids exceptionally well.
Digital Storytelling Toronto
Stories for Change
Knowledge-building community model

The Good Project
Project Zero

Jul 25

Conceptualizing the idea of race as a discourse

Abstract: In this paper I look at the literal and extended meanings of discourse, and at how it can be at once a tool or model that describes, defines, and delineates narrative, and the narrative itself. I look at how that process has presented historically when the topic is race, where a predominantly pathologizing discourse has led us, and what influences are at play in choosing our direction forward. Underlying is the story of an academic coming of age, Cultural Anthropology’s. Having freed us from colonial bionarratives only to abandon us, celebrating our newfound ethnicities, submersed in a whitewash of suppressed but self-perpetuating race-isms, many within the discipline urge greater responsibility for the ways their science is used. I conclude it requires persistent activism in concert with a clear concept of race as a discourse to achieve a post-race society.

Of all the definitions of discourse available on the Internet (e.g., at Google.ca; type definition:discourse) the one I find most helpful is on a list of rhetorical terms one can download in Word format here

Dis • course
spoken or written language, including literary works; the four traditionally classified modes of discourse are description, exposition, narration, and persuasion.

WikiPedia has a reasonably comprehensive discussion of conceptualize [redirects to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept] and what concept has meant to philosophers Plato, Locke, Kant and to contemporary cognitive theorists such as Fauconnier and Turner. According to this account concepts are mental representations or they are abstract objects… or both. According to Deleuze and Guattari’s What Is Philosophy?, philosophy is the “discipline that involves creating concepts” (1994, p. 5). My task as I see it then is to describe the “Idea of Race,” expose its origins and effects, listen to and translate its narration, determine the direction and depth of its persuasion, and bring all that together, using imagery and metaphor, to create an idea of who, what, where, when, how, and why race has described, exposed, narrated to and persuaded us all. Such a discourse will inform where we are, how we got here — and where we can go from here.

Where we are

Faye Harrison (1998, p. 609) locates us in an age of globalisation characterised by a technologically enhanced compression of time and space, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a mighty few. We have for several generations spoken incessantly and obsessively of sex (Foucault, 1990) and yet within the most recent decades anthropologists have depreciated race, even undertaken a concerted effort to deprecate, disguise, and deny it (Harrison, 1998; Smedley, 1998; Wolf, 1994); racism, however, is not so easily subdued (Goldberg, 1993; Harrison, 1998; Smedley, 1998). It is surreptitious and persistent, with an “ability to reinvent itself in new postcolonial and postmodern forms” (Harrison, 1998, p. 609). As we shall see again in the next section, anthropology owes much of its existence and early growth to the endeavour to establish race as scientific fact (Banton, 2000; Goldberg 1993), and later attempted to undo some of the social and cultural damage enabled by the racializations this premise empowered. Even as society declared itself enlightened and professed to rid itself of racist dogma, race-based discrimination — power allocation with a multitude of restrictions on access and privilege, predicated on categories or hierarchies of physical and biological characteristics, for example skin colour, lips, hair, sexual organs (Gilman,1985) or origin and ethnocultural proximity — endured. The record of anthropology itself bears witness to this complex play between overt and covert racializations, as Fluehr-Lobban (2000) attests in but one example: the case of Anténor Firmin, a Haitian-born scholar educated in colonial Haiti, published in France, a presage of Boas — who remains widely unknown and under-celebrated to this day, due at least in part to his skin colour and ethnic origins; “[Firmin] awaits his reclamation as an early anthropologist” (451).

These colonialist juxtapositions of power and influence are not things of the past. Morbey and Granger (2002, p. 2; also Marchart, 1998) call to light “Two particular ideological viewpoints, among others, are dominant players in colonizing roles: the “American New Frontier” notion, deployed in narratives of cyberspace and standing in the tradition of one of the American founding myths of conquering new geographic spaces, and Japanese ”techno-colonialism”, a technical inter-discourse consisting mainly of “oriental” consumer technologies and objects.”

Many in the social sciences and liberal arts feel a social responsibility and an obligation to address all this (Harrison, 1998, p. 612). Thus we have come to “a moment when anthropologists’ interest in race and racism has been revitalized” (2005, p. 1). It is also a moment when we are poised either to repeat or reject in the cyberworld the mistakes and transgressions of global coloniaism.

How did we get here?

Human beings have not always paid much attention to physical and biological differences, nor based so many social privileges and restrictions on them (Smedley, 1998; Banton, 2000). Deployments of affiliations (Foucault, 1990, p. 106) and relationships to power have always been present, but the ancients tended to rely on kinship and lineage, language and geographical proximity (Wolf, 1994, p. 2) to establish and reinforce these. The practice of expanding territories and subjugating existing occupants necessitated justifying the atrocities of war and later the needs of industry, and explaining the right of one group to dominate another. The Greeks and Romans facilitated this by dividing the peoples of the world into civilized, barbarian and monstrous; Christianity transmuted this inherited trichotomy into faithful, redeemable, and unredeemable (1994, p. 3). Up to this point though, many avenues existed for persons to change stations, including intermarriage and advancement by demonstration of merit. Two discourses emerged to compete for the role of lodestone to the moral compass of the dominant groups (Sanjek, 1994): a) humans share common ancestry and are therefore of equal worth and potential, so may claim equal rights and access to privilege or b) the human species was split into subspecies (“races”) by irreversible physical and biological facts that led ultimately, both by evocations of divine authority and by (pseudo-) scientific reasoning, to the conclusion that one was superior and given the often “divine” role of dominance over the rest (Smedley, 1998; Banton, 2000).

Skin colour was not the first consideration. Harrison (1998, p. 617) highlights Orser and Smedley as just two scholars who have pointed out how “racial Othering” of the Irish by the English narrated those two people’s relationship during the centuries that corresponded roughly with the Age of Discovery (a.k.a. Exploration… or Conquest) and the rise of Imperialism (modern day Colonialism). Lengel (1996) points out that the dichotomous debate I alluded to above, which Banton (2000, p. 53) denotes as polygenist vs. monogenist, was in full swing in mid-19th century Ireland, and quite overt. The monogenist Liberals dominated policy and popular press up to the Great Famine; polygenist essentialists abetted by Robert Knox (1850) and medical science (which as Foucault (1990) has shown was wholly enthralled with pathologism) dominated post-famine. Yet in the closing sentences of his essay Lengel also states, quite emphatically, that it made no difference which narrative one preferred: the English persuaded themselves that the Irish were incorrigibly savage.

It is worth emphasizing in any case that Liberals and racialists agreed on the basic qualities of Saxon and Celt; but while Liberals explained this difference in a gendered discourse of moral inequality, racialists insisted that the ineradicable boundaries of biology would forever separate the two peoples. In both instances, Britain would forever be the master and Ireland the subject. Lengel (1996)

The English reduced humanity to a binary of civilized vs. savage (Harrison, 1998, p. 621), which they exported to the New World where a concurrent narrative of difference in physical features in general, and skin colour in particular, easily transformed into white vs. black (Smedley, 1998). The pathology of Knox and the racialists[1] asserted the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon (not simply “white”) race. Indeed, even the Irish could find partial redemption when they emigrated to a place where there were ample black Africans who appeared even less human than they. Even so, Irish-American “whiteness” was not obtained without a long fight. In 1851 the English satirical magazine Punch referred to the Irish as “A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro.” (Orser, 1998, p. 665). The election of an Irish Catholic president a full century later was considered nearly as remarkable as that of an African American in 2008[2].

Thus “…racism preceded ‘races’: the ‘master race’ was created to make logical and natural its domination over the rest” (Delacourt, 2005). Race was developed as “…a way to rationalize the conquest and brutal treatment of Native American populations and especially the retention and perpetuation of slavery for imported Africans” (Smedley, 1998, p. 694). It was designed and tailored, using a warehouse of interchangeable and complimentary fabrics and patterns, to dress the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethnocultural group for success — and privilege and dominance.

Where do we go from here?

I’ve described a concept of race that is malleable. Race can mean different things to different cultures, or in different regions, or in the same cultures and regions at different points in time. The idea of race is contextual. It exposes power relationships, and is utilized to establish and control them. It often explains how people of different groups interact and “get along.” Yet there is a second aspect of the narrative I have thus far neglected to point out in detail, the aspect Audrey Smedley refers to as “the problem of how individuals and groups perceive who they are—the problem of ‘identity'” (1998, p. 691). The 20th century has witnessed increased emphasis on the concept of ethnicity, which, although it draws from the long tradition of regional, linguistic and kinship based systems that are described and exposed by the concepts of culture and acculturation, expands the narrative to reveal the ways in which groups identify and construct identity for themselves. This seems to present new ways for scholars to discuss the important aspects of societies and their internal and external relationships, ways that may avoid the racialized terminology that now seems so ugly and power/privilege-driven in an age of globalisation. Jumping to such a conclusion ignores the fact that the power relationships still exist, and are no doubt amplified by the same factors that compress time and space and increase the capacity for cross-cultural multiethnic interaction. The higher emphasis on kinship, for example, when coupled with the celebration of common origin inherent in identity construction often leads to nationalistic sentiments presenting consequences far beyond the original self-venerating motives (Wolf, 1994, pp. 5-7).

There is general agreement in the literature that the politics of power has regularly appropriated, and often usurped the science of anthropology in order to construct artificial categories it then turns to explaining and justifying its own actions and intentions. The basic human curiosity and inherent interdisciplinary connectedness that so often fosters a scholarly interest in anthropology[3] comes with a conscience, as evidenced by anthropologists’ well-documented efforts to fight back against the most nefarious ways in which their work is misused. But power is omnipresent and oblivious to truth, thus many writers are recognizing the need for their discipline to take and active stance and a purposeful role in shaping the globalized multiethnic, multicultural society of the near future.


A conceptualization of “race” as a discourse must somehow convey the absence of any real scientific basis or meaning of the word itself, while exposing and undressing the elaborate stitching, the warp, woof and weft of the effects of racializations—the insidious racism—that persist in the minds, institutions, and actions of folk everywhere. From Firmin and Boas to Smedley, Wolf, Sanjek, Goldberg, and Banton we hear an underlying plea to the obligation of the discipline to go beyond conceptualization of a discourse towards an efficacious and effectual effort to influence the unfolding of future interactions. A post-race discourse must narrate the construction of self-affirming identities and yet persuade the affirmed of the benignancy of others’ self-affirmations, the benevolence of affirmation of the Other.

Conceptualizing & illustrating race as discourse



Banton, M. (2000) The Idiom of Race: A critique of presentism. In Back and Solomos (Eds.) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Delacourt, J. (2005) Weaving Identities: Refugees, Immigrants, and Local People in a European World of Differences. In Harrison (2005) 191-208.

Fluehr-Lobban, C. (2000) Anténor Firmin: Haitian Pioneer of Anthropology. American Anthropologist 102(3), pp. 449-466.

Foucault, M. (1990) The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage.

Gilman, Sander L. (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry, 12(1) “Race,” Writing, and Difference, 204-242.

Goldberg, David T. (1993) Racial Knowledge. In Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Power of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Grant, James (1844) Impressions of Ireland and the Irish. 2 volumes (London: Hugh Cunningham), 2, pp. 186-191.

Harrison, Faye V. (1998) Introduction: Expanding the Discourse on “Race” American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 609-631.

Harrison, Faye V. (2005) Introduction: Global Perspectives… In Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. 1-34. Toronto: Altamira Press.

Knox, Robert (1850) The Races of Man. London: Renshaw

Lengel, E. (1996) A “Perverse and Ill-Fated People”: English Perceptions of the Irish, 1845-52 Essays in History [On-line serial], 38. Available: http://esoterictexts07.tripod.com/Irish.BritishPerception1800.htm Retrieved: 2013-07-15.

Marchart, O. (1998). The east, the west and the rest: Central and eastern Europe between techno-orientalism and the new electronic frontier. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 4(2), 56-75.

Morbey, Mary Leigh and Granger, Colette A. (2002) Cybercolonialism in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia: Does it Matter? Available: http://www.yorku.ca/irlt/reports/2002CybercolonialismSHM.pdf Retrieved: 2008-11-11

Orser, Charles E. (1998) The Challenge of Race to American Historical Archaeology. American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 661-668.

Sanjek, R. (1994) The Enduring Inequalities of Race.

Smedley, Audrey (1998) “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 690-702.

Wolf, Eric R. (1994) Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People. Current Anthropology 35(1) 1-12.

Jul 25

Conceptualizing and illustrating the idea of race as a discourse

Abstract: In this paper I continue looking at “race” as a discourse, how that discourse describes, defines, and delineates narratives of race and the narratives themselves. I look more closely at how this discourse permeates the iconography of our culture, and how it presents around ideologies and such notions as identity, agency, and normalcy. Any discourse develops a grammar that helps shape and reinforce the narrative. Yet the discourse of race is unparalleled, save perhaps by that of sexuality, in its ability to partition power and privilege.

As Robert J. C. Young states so clearly, “…Foucault’s notion of discourse offered an alternative way of thinking about the operations of ideology, both as a form of consciousness and as a lived material practice. The result is a more robust and comprehensive understanding than previously offered by, for example, Marx’s elevation of mainly economic factors” (1995, p. 159). The basic techniques, Young explains, include analysing literary texts, travel logs, memoirs, academic and other writings produced by a subject group during a period of interest. An important goal is to determine “what could be said and what recognized as truth” among these subjects of culture and history (pp. 159-60).

There’s a certain obviousness to the idea of divining the “operations of ideology” from the idioms of the operators, yet it is of course not without implications and potential pitfalls. With discourse and discursive analyses these can manifest in both philosophical and linguistic terms. Before I attend to these it may prove fruitful to provide some illustrations of how conceptualizations of discourse casts both light and shadow upon such understandings.

Popular iconography

Sander L. Gilman (1985) is ideally illustrative—he analyses illustrations; his iconography, “Black Bodies, White bodies…” exposes the imagery or symbolism of a body of art specific to the late 19th century1. Gilman establishes the fact and power of myth within the “overlapping and intertwined systems of conventions” held by classes or groups (p. 224). He draws linkages between the conventions of aesthetics and those of medicine to relate how the latter’s elevation to the status of science extended the implicit authority of that status, discursively, onto works of art (Goldberg, 1993). Discussing the obsession with pathology, in particular a pathology of sexuality, that drove 19th century medical discourse Gilman demonstrates how the Hottentot female came to represent all black women, and how black women and prostitutes came to represent all sexualized females. This manifests throughout the artwork of the period (Gilman, 1985, pp. 223-8) but is perhaps most eloquently revealed in the Hottentot-esque derrière of Manet’s 1877 Nana and Picasso’s 1905 parody on Manet’s 1863 Olympia, in which a naked black Olympia is offered fruit by two naked men (p. 253).

In a more recent iconography of a particular period of cinema, known as the peplum or “sword and sandal” period, Richard Dyer distils “…characteristics applicable to all muscleman films and even to most constructions of white masculinity” (1997, p. 289, emphasis mine). Dyer develops two constructs within his conceptualization of the cinematic discourse—body image and colonial narrativity—and then applies them to “other images of white men.” The continuity of discourses within a culture is implicit in his comparison of peplum hero Maciste in a particular scene to the painting of Adam by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Dyer even comments that this particular icon would be all the more recognizable to the Italian movie consumer (p. 292). This same concept of discursive continuity becomes explicit in the long discussion of Mussolini and Fascism. Mussolini understood and utilized well the power of physique, spectacle—and whiteness—that the producers of sword and sandal cinema mirrored and emulated (pp. 294-9). The specificity of ‘race’ as a discourse is exemplified throughout Dyer’s discussion but is perhaps most tellingly revealed in the perpetual casting of whites in lead roles and blacks as primitives “possessed of a slave mentality:” in various plot lines the white lead actor eschews slavery only to see the blacks in supporting roles choose subaltern positions anyway (p. 307). The discourse maintains, and more importantly sustains the idiom that this hierarchy is not man made but results from the natural order.

The “embedding of transforming racialized distinctions into the ordinary processes, categories and outcomes of reasoning, into Reason itself” become “conceptions of what sorts of behavior morality requires… who is capable of moral action and who is subjected to it, who is capable of moral autonomy and who should be directed,” examples of “conceptualizing the logics of racializing discourse and racist expression” (Goldberg, 1993, p. 148). David Goldberg illustrates how such conceptualizations fuel processes that extend themselves subtly or surreptitiously into the formalized knowledges production—or reproduction—that form our academic discourse: one of the pitfalls of discursive analysis I mentioned above (p. 148). Texts of analysis are no less “framed” in the racialized experience than the subjects they attempt to analyze. Another set of texts populates the domain of racist discourse; Goldberg calls these “expressive” (1990, p. 297). The forms of expression, as we have partly seen, include the scientific, economic, bureaucratic and linguistic, among others, a discursive formation that “consists of a totality of ordered relations and correlations…” (p. 297). Goldberg (1990) makes special note of the linguistic nature of the field of racist discourse by devoting a bold titled section to the grammar of racist discourse. By pointing out how racist discourse informs and infects many others, for but two examples the discourses of colonialism and of sexuality (Foucault, 1990; Stoler, 1995; 2002), Goldberg calls attention to a certain uniqueness of this particular discourse: it can not be so easily unified as it “does not consist simply in descriptive representations of others.” There is no “singular trans-historical stylistic or normative pattern” to racist expression. “The grammar of racist discourse assumes coherence and uniqueness only when compared from the vantage point of the discourse as a whole with another discursive field” (1990, p. 300).

The linguistic nature of any discourse contains obstacles besides the necessity to identify a coherent grammar and syntax. The very vocabulary itself can be suspect. Precise language can illuminate and clarify, such as when Daniel Yon (1999) speaks of the importance of understanding “difference between and difference within” (p. 625, emphasis mine) or even more pertinently reports that “students contest both the “black” and “community” in notions of ‘The Black Community'” (p. 626). Similarly Morris (2005/07), referring to Thesen (1997), spotlights “the way much discourse analyses neglect individual agency and ignore how identities are shaped by practices of labelling and relabelling. […] Language alone is not sufficient for accounting for human experience, nor are subjects merely an effect of discourse” (Morris, 2005/07, pp. 138-9). Beckett and Hager (2002), citing Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon, have the following observation and resulting advise:

Language affects how we view the world, and how we make sense of the experiences we have. But it is also true that much of what we experience remains unnamed, and cannot be reduced to its articulated meanings. I urge people to be receptive and attentive to the inarticulate too, not just what is named (Thayer-Bacon, cited in Beckett and Hager, 2002, p. 167).

Makonde sculpture

Fig. 2.
Makonde sculpture, Mozambique

photo P. Deramaix “…it recalls the community of the village, clan was supported by the patriarch and overcome by the mother”

To understand how language itself, and all the cultural constructs that accompany language—idiom, metaphor, double entendre, “wax and gold2“—frames every conversation and influences understanding one need only consider the familiar predicament of attempting to tell certain jokes to someone who grew up speaking another language. Certain things don’t translate, and when translated their meanings may change… and when their meanings change neither party may know or recognize the extent or direction of the miscommunication. Perhaps, as Robert Young (1995) challenges us to ponder, all knowledge really is phantasm, and knowledge production necessarily creates the reality it attempts to describe. This is why, he tells us, Spivak chooses to “focus on the kinds of exclusion produced not only by colonialism itself but by current forms of understanding… an interrogation of, as she sees it, the increasing commodification in academia of the category of ‘marginality’ itself” (pp. 162-163, emphasis mine). This sounds much like the conclusion Karl Popper drew, that “Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme” (1976, p. 151). But he continued, “And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin” (pp. 171-2). This is precisely what Young means by, “at worst [this controversy produces] a certain lack of historical specificity. At best it has resulted in greater attention to the reality of the subaltern thorough the history and testimony of those colonized (1995, pp. 160-161).

In illustrating the conceptualization of race as discourse it has been impossible not to refer to other discourses, a function of the interweaving and interdependency of all discourse. Yet no discourse commands quite the power as that of ‘race’ to partition power and privilege, and none has inspired such energy to contrive and control ideologies of difference. Race has increasingly become the whispered discourse, while that of sexuality is louder than ever. Yet there is no mistaking the relationship between the two. Stoler (2002), summarizing Foucault (1978/90), states that “racial discourse was a part of the technologies of sex that arose in the eighteenth century to regulate sexual conduct and by which populations could be expanded and controlled” (p. 149). If Foucault missed the significance of an “imperial politics of exclusion… reworked… on colonial ground” (Stoler 2002, p. 151) he nonetheless referred to the “symbolics of blood” to illustrate how one discourse literally shaped and steered another (Foucault, 1978/90, pp. 148-50), all the while fuelled by, and fuelling, a cultural machine—itself a machine of culture. Hegel’s dialectic is one of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; Marx stands that dialectic on its head. In such a picture it seems to matter little whether “modern racism appears as a consequence of that class body in the making” or race was “constitutive” of the making (Stoler, 2002, p. 152).


Fig. 1 This image, from WikiPedia, of a popular “Sword and Sandal” film poster and its caption demonstrate how well understood the concept of period artwork as discourse revealing ideology and conventions is within our society.
Fig. 2 – Makonde sculpture, Mozambique
“…il évoque la communauté du village, clan soutenu par le patriarche et surmonté de la mère.1” photo P. Deramaix, coll. privée3



  1. Gilman’s understanding in 1985 that “visual conventions [are] the primary means by which we perceive and organize the world around us” (1985, p. 223) was prescient of more recent revelations about the way Web 2.0 technologies, especially visual/video-based technologies, enhance understanding in modern day communications (WOW Project, 2007; Churches, 2009).
  2. I’m referring to Levine, Donald N., (1965) Wax and Gold: Tradition and Innovation in Ethiopian Culture, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, of which I was unable to obtain a copy for this essay. This book moved me deeply when I read it as a teen; I did not then understand that it is a discursive analysis of the highest magnitude, presaging Young and others. From a publisher’s description: “Using the insights and the tools of several disciplines, Professor Donald Levine looks on Amhara culture as history, as an outlook on life, a way of growing up, a social structure, a kind of psychological orientation, and, finally, as a “combination of opposites.” […]The author has found one key to Ethiopian society in its poetry, where the “wax” is the obvious meaning, the “gold” the hidden meaning. He finds reflections of this ambiguity at all levels of Ethiopian culture and holds that an appreciation of it is essential to understanding the problems facing Ethiopians in their movement toward modernization and their unique role among African nations.” [Amazon]
  3. Photographer’s caption: “…it recalls the community of the village, clan was supported by the patriarch and overcome by the mother” http://www.amigos-de-mocambique.org/cine/desob.htm retrieved 2009/11/21

Analyzing race and representation



Banton, M. (2000) The Idiom of Race: A critique of presentism. In Back and Solomos (Eds.) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Beckett, D. and Hager, P. (2002) Life, Work and Learning: Practice in Postmodernity, London: Routledge.

Churches, Andrew (2009) ICT Tools and the Visual Learner http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/ICT+and+the+Visual+Learner, retrieved 2009/11/15.

Dyer, Richard (1997) “The White Man’s Muscles” in Race and the Subject of Masculinities, ed. Harry Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 286-314.

Foucault, M. (1978/1990) The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage.

Gilman, Sander L. (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry, 12(1) “Race,” Writing, and Difference, 204-242.

Goldberg, David T. (1990) “The Social Formation of Racist Discourse” in The Anatomy of Racism, ed. Personal author, compiler, or editor name(s); click on any author to run a new search on that name.Goldberg, David Theo, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Goldberg, David T. (1993) Racial Knowledge. In Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Power of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Haraway, Donna J. (1991) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, Donna J. (1990) Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge.

Harrison, Faye V. (1998) Introduction: Expanding the Discourse on “Race” American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 609-631.

Harrison, Faye V. (2005) Introduction: Global Perspectives… In Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. 1-34. Toronto: Altamira Press.

Morris, Gayle (2005/07) “Performing Pedagogy and the (Re)construction of Global/Local Selves” in Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics, Michael W. Apple, Jane Kenway, Michael Singh eds., New York: Peter Lang.

Orser, Charles E. (1998) The Challenge of Race to American Historical Archaeology. American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 661-668.

Popper, Karl. (1976) Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography Glasgow: Fontana/Collins.

Sanjek, R. (1994) The Enduring Inequalities of Race.

Smedley, Audrey (1998) “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity American Anthropologist 100(3), pp. 690-702.

Stoler, Ann Laura (1995) “Placing Race in the History of Sexuality” in Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura (2002) “A Colonial reading of Foucault” in Colonial Knowledge and Imperial Power, Berkley CA: University of California Press.

Thesen, Lucia (1997) Voices, Discourse, and Transition: In Search of New Categories in EAP, TESOL Quarterly 31(3), 487-511.

Wolf, Eric R. (1994) Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People. Current Anthropology 35(1) 1-12.

WOW Project (2007) Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Learning Styles http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Web_2.0_and_Emerging_Learning_Technologies, retrieved 2009/11/15.

Yon, Daniel A (1999) ‘Pedagogy and the “problem” of difference: on reading community in The Darker Side of Black’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 12 (6), 623-641.

Young, Robert: Colonial Desire: White Power, White Desire (London: Routledge, 1995).

Jul 25

Analyzing race and representation

Abstract: In the final paper in this series I discuss representations of race and consider how perceptions of such representations must be different across gender, age and cultural differences. I discuss research showing how symbolism can be appropriated across these artificial boundaries. I speak of my own evolving sense of White Privilege, with anecdotal examples, and speculate how it benefits me, sometimes to the detriment of others, whether or not I am aware of it or complicit.

Merkato, open air market Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEducators, business people, and many others in potential leadership roles are for the most part quite familiar by now with the assertion that it is important their classrooms, businesses, and organizations are representative of the communities they serve. This can be reflected in many ways, for but a couple of examples, in the pictures they hang or the people they hire. But the apparent simplicity of such a description of problem and solution falls away quickly when one contemplates even the simplest scenario. Let’s say I’m a teacher and I know I have black students in my class, and I wish to display photographs representative of the “black community.” Shall I hang a picture of Barack Obama? …Nelson Mandela? … Michaëlle Jean? …Michelle Obama? …Sean Combs? All are black, but what does each “represent?” And what possible justification could I have for assuming they represent the same things to my students as they do to me, or that they represent anything at all?

. . . identity is formed at that point where the unspeakable stories of subjectivity meet the narratives of history, of a culture . . .

— Stuart Hall (1987, p. 44)

Identity is about belonging, and how we choose where we belong, but also how that is chosen for us. Narratives, our interpretations and retelling of history, shape our views of ourselves and our worlds, so “discourses [can be regarded as] formative, rather than expressive, of identities” (Hall, 1987 referenced in Parker and Song, pp. 583-4).

Vanilla IceWhat is representation?

In the first several pages of Urban Portraits of Identity: on the problem of knowing culture and identity in intercultural studies Daniel Yon exposes the highly complex and deeply nuanced topic of identity and representation from the point of view of a number of adolescents attending public school in a diverse and cosmopolitan city, Toronto (Yon, 2000). Adolescence is widely understood as the stage in human development when we begin to decide what we will do with our lives, and consequently not just what, but who we will be when we grow up, so this is a very good place to begin an analysis. Reading Yon, it soon becomes apparent that, far from being a “simplistic reading of bodies,” (p. 143) the students being interviewed construct identities not only from the corporeal universe within which they dwell, but also from the vast cache of stories and imagery they encounter there. Representations of identity are “more spontaneous” (Parker & Song, 2009, p. 584). Our attempts to contain real students in neat “visible minority” boxes fail because their own view is much “thicker” (see Geertz, 1973). Regardless of any obvious or predictable connection their constructions often “defied neat reduction” to nationality, race or ethnicity (Yon, 2000, pp. 143-5).

This orientation towards community assumes relationships between “personal identity” and “cultural identity” as unproblematic. Either the relationship is imagined as being smooth, or where there is disjuncture then either identity or the culture is constituted as a “crisis.” Education is perceived as the means through which the crisis may be resolved. This is the same discourse that incites desires for curriculum that “reflects” the identities of the learners. In school-based efforts such assumptions about culture, identity, and community are therefore crystallized in a discourse of “inclusive education.” It structures, for example, the call for “African-centered curriculum” as an alternative to “Euro-centered curriculum” while generally offering little or no critique of the structures of knowledge or the meaning of culture that produce these “centerings” in the first place. In these various ways cultural relativism, and the discourse of community as inheritance that it produces, has come to privilege differences “between” while suppressing engagement with difference “within” communities.

Daniel Yon (1999, p. 624)

It’s worth a pause here to consider that none of those three terms is itself neatly reducible; nationality often connotes citizenship, yet ethnicity may allude to that, but contains an element of DNA and a suggestion of tradition and ritual — race has a pseudo-scientific legacy in the realms of anthropology and biology but nonetheless has been applied as a synonym for either or both of the other terms… culture underpins them all (Smedley, 1999). These collisions, this flux between self-identifying and identifying self, is the starting point of my analysis.

The subject is a web of tensions and release, and just as “discourse structures the possibilities for thinking and acting” thinking and acting shapes the discourse. Thus, culture is deemed to be elusive, “…emergent, both product and process” (Yon, 1999, p. 626). Representation, then, can be seen not only as a marker of “social hermeneutics” used by those attempting to read a particular culture from the outside, but also as a tool by those within (or in proximity to) a culture to define and partition the boundaries of the culture, to decode the relationships of themselves and others to the culture (e.g., membership), and similarly to encode or declare their own relationship to a culture (Hall, 1997; 2007). We must, to quote Hall (1997), quoting Richard Hoggart (1958) “…try to see beyond the habits to what the habits stand for, to see through the statements to what the statements really mean…” (Hall, 1997, p. 43).

This is a challenging undertaking, as representations and their symbolisms can be insidious and pervasive—and contradictory, subject to interpretation. It is accepted that observers bring their own baggage to observations. In researching identity this may mean biases and preconceptions, or pre-established categories constructed around them, resulting in research and reflection that becomes an attempt to justify the choice of those particular categories. Lucia Thesen observes that “…identity can be seen as the dynamic interaction between the fixed identity categories that are applied to social groupings (such as race, gender, ethnicity, language, and other, more subtle representations that are activated in certain discourse settings) and the way individuals think of themselves as they move through the different discourses in which these categories are salient.” (Thesen ,1997, p. 488) Thesen draws a useful distinction between discourse (systemic, societal, institutional) and voice (individual). She too acknowledges the tension and flux I alluded to above, as “…linguistic representations of the fundamental tensions between structure and agency in social life.” (1997, p. 494) She cautions, “…discourse theory downplays agency in the sense that new identity categories and combinations of categories, generated by research subjects themselves, fail to emerge in educational understandings.” She advocates for “…research that brings the locus of interpretation closer to students to find out in which discourses they perceive themselves to be operating.” (1997, p. 507) Both Yon, in what he termed an identity “snapshot,” (1999, p. 626, 2000, p. 144) and Thesen in her “exploration of identity in movement, over a period of time” (1997, p. 506) encounter agency and uncover students’ ability to negotiate multiple discourses, even to self-identify using multiple representations, as in the initially surprising case of a Serbian student who self-identified as “Spanish.” My category (“Serbian”) refers to an ethnicity or a geographical origin, but the student perceived, negotiated, and appropriated for herself certain specific representations around music and apparel she perceived as “Spanish” (Yon, 2000, p. 147). My category prepositions the student, furthermore I could undoubtedly deduce it from paperwork and never need to meet with her to do so. Were one to ignore the young woman’s perceptions and the process by which she achieved this appropriation—her agency in the construction—one would not only dismiss the person, but miss the point of undertaking the analysis.

hoodieWhat about race?

I said earlier that race underpins representations of nationality and ethnicity, and that is for a variety of reasons both objective and subjective. Having grown up and attended school during the 60s, and for the most part in the United States, I spent most of my life believing there are three distinct races differentiated by distinct physical characteristics including skull shape, facial features, and skin colour. I was raised to believe such things made no difference as to how people of different races should be treated, and I was astute enough to recognize this wasn’t always the reality. I travelled, and at some point during the 70s I began understanding and using the word “ethnicity” to describe a more general concept I understood to mean not just race, but to encompass culture, language, and other things I had probably associated with “nationality” prior to acquiring the new vocabulary. Not until perhaps two years before taking this course did I even hear the hypothesis that race was an entirely a cultural construct, with no scientific basis, and I was sceptical. How could this be? What about pigment? What about eyelids? What about hair?

Upon reflection I soon came to accept that race is a construct, that these are variations on a theme—but that they represent many other things in many other contexts. It had been, as Goldberg exposed it, “comfortable” to think of race, and in racialized terms (Goldberg, 1993, p. 150). My travels resulted in an extended stay (1970-1974) in a “Third World” country (Ethiopia) and there’s no question in my memory that I understood it to be “primitive.” I learned it was more “advanced” than many other “primitive” countries—the proof was offered in such facts as having the only airline in Africa in the 1970s that could boast of all Ethiopian pilots and maintenance crew, from shop foreman to the most junior mechanic. I don’t recall ever hearing explicit reasons given for this bit of trivia, but I know that I inferred from somewhere that it was due to three things. First, Ethiopia was a “Christian country since the 4th century AD.” Second, Ethiopia is “one of only two countries in Africa that were never colonized by a European power” (see e.g., ImperialEthiopia.org or Henze, 2000, rev.). And third, Ethiopia was an ally of the United States. While it’s also very true that I heard of Emperor Haile Selassie’s stirring 1936 speech to the League of Nations, and I knew that, many years before my arrival, he had insisted English become the language used in all school and schooling beyond grade 7. I now recognize that I probably never fully credited the emperor or the Ethiopian people for any of these creative ideas or accomplishments; my knowledge was racialized, the Primitive internalized, and the Otherness of Africa was a given (Goldberg, 1993, pp. 150-7).

In the post-colonial Africa of the early 1970s, even in a country occupied (by Italy, 1936–1941) but never colonized, I experienced and benefited from White privilege. A 15-year-old boy might carry the only white face in the Merkato, but in 1974 he could walk anywhere without fear, and command attention, authority, and respect—though he might not ponder its especially British Colonial legacy. Many years later I considered what representations I likely manifested meeting narratives of colonial history—unconsciously, unwittingly, and unintentionally, through the same accidents of birth—and I understood that my “burden of representation” (Alexander, 2009, p. 465), while undeniably present, was relatively light.

White privilege

I’m now aware I have benefited from, and I continue to benefit from, white privilege—every waking hour of every day of my life. I have from the moment of my birth, and very well may until death. At 21 in California I stood patiently in line at the unemployment insurance office, spoke to the educated white workers in educated white English, quickly decoded the system, mastered the rules and collected full benefits weekly for the maximum number of weeks I was eligible. I can say with a clear conscience, however, that by 21 I didn’t believe for one second the African and Hispanic Americans in line (who usually weren’t “eligible,” and certainly weren’t as eloquent or composed) were to blame for their frustration—I remember thinking I’d be just as desperate were I held in that cycle of perpetual unemployability, just as rude and angry if I were being treated as I saw they were. When my benefits ran out I dressed just as appropriately and spoke just as eloquently at my next job interview, and quickly rejoined the world of the employed. As a white male I’ve enjoyed that level of freedom all my life, and exploited it often, sometimes without even knowing, other times with blatant arrogance.

A more recent example is when the Canadian born woman, whom I identified by my limited knowledge of accents as being of “Jamaican” heritage, accepted my expired health card and told the very next person, who spoke with a Caribbean accent similar to her own, she needed to see proof of his citizenship, which he then produced. How many times in that man’s life has he been asked to take just one more step to get to the finish line than I’ve been? Good thing she didn’t ask me, I’m an immigrant from the USA—and I didn’t have proof of my permanent residency! As a white male with no perceptible accent I’m identified as Canadian—included, eligible, okay. And while there may be little difference between a Canadian and an American in one context, there may be other times and places that a differentiation might be desired. That’s systemic, it’s about racializations and subliminal attitudes we all carry—yet none of us is “a racist.”

Implications for the 21st century classroom

The 21st century classroom is distinct because it’s often situated, at least in part, in cyberspace, and so is defined and restricted by a different set of boundaries (Parker & Song, 2009). The asynchronous nature of this classroom enables the emergence of “post-colonial subjectivities” providing multiple points of reference enhanced by global communications. “These emergent cultural formations cut across any simplistic binary between ‘pure’ old ethnicities, and multi-dimensional, progressive ‘new ethnicities’” (p. 600). Educators can benefit by becoming aware and respectful of these sensitivities. Framing the design of learning situations as opportunities to draw forth and empower multiple representations may be a powerful approach to engagement and community building that reaches far beyond more traditional perceptions of what classrooms are about (Parker & Song, 2009; WOW Project, 2007; Yon, 1999, 2000).

I believe an important first step is to acknowledge that the pathologizing concept of “race,” while lacking evidence to support its claims on our biology, is still part of our psychology, and is reflected in our attitudes, behaviors, and in our political systems and our policies. We must work as individuals to address the first two. We must work as societies to fix the last. It is—deeply and fundamentally—an education issue.



Alexander, Claire, (2009) “Stuart Hall and ‘Race’”, Cultural Studies, 23: 4, 457 — 482.

Banton, M. (2000) The Idiom of Race: A critique of presentism. In Back and Solomos (Eds.) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Beckett, D. and Hager, P. (2002) Life, Work and Learning: Practice in Postmodernity, London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant (1999) ‘On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason’, Theory, Culture & Society 16: 41–58.

Foucault, M. (1978/1990) The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage.

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, pp. 3-30, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, NY: Basic Books, 470 pages.

Gilman, Sander L. (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry, 12(1) “Race,” Writing, and Difference, 204-242.

Goldberg, David T. (1990) “The Social Formation of Racist Discourse” in The Anatomy of Racism, ed. Personal author, compiler, or editor name(s); click on any author to run a new search on that name.Goldberg, David Theo, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Goldberg, David T. (1993) Racial Knowledge. In Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Power of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Hall, Stuart (1987), ‘Minimal Selves’, in Identity: The Real Me, ICA, London, p. 44.

Hall, Stuart (1988) ‘New ethnicities’, in Black Film/British Cinema, London, ICA.

Hall, Stuart (1997) ‘ “The Centrality of Culture”: Notes on the Revolutions of Our Time’, in K. Thompson (ed.) Media and Cultural Regulation, vol. 6 of the Culture, Media and Identities Course Books. London: SAGE and The Open University.

Hall, Stuart (2007), Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy and the cultural turn, International journal of Cultural studies, 10(1):39-49.

Harrison, Faye V. (1998) Introduction: Expanding the Discourse on “Race” American Anthropologist 100(3):609-631.

Harrison, Faye V. (2005) Introduction: Global Perspectives… In Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. 1-34. Toronto: Altamira Press.

Henze, Paul B. (2000), Layers of Time – A History of Ethiopia, Christopher Hurst & Co. London, pp 372.

Hoggart, Richard (1958) The Uses of Literacy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Parker , David and Song, Miri (2009), New Ethnicities and the Internet: Belonging and the negotiation of difference in multicultural Britain, Cultural Studies Vol. 23, No. 4 July 2009, pp. 583—604

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Stoler, Ann Laura (1995) “Placing Race in the History of Sexuality” in Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Duke University Press.

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Mar 17

Reforming Education Reform

Educators can be leaders in Education Reform, but one sector, whom no one denies is a needed stakeholder, just wants to throw money at the problems—and at defining the problems and overwhelming the Public’s perception of problems. They venture to extract even more money by solving the problems, and to that end they’ve invested in a system of collecting numbers that “prove” the problems persist. skewing the outcome towards a single perspective. As the array of multinational conglomerate logos in the images show this is part of the landscape across the world, in North America in general, but it’s especially true in the United States, where the textbook, testing, school supplies industries are entrenching a new status quo. Logos of corporations and others interested in reforming education.

A retiring principal in New York state recently said,

Apple! McDonald’s! Microsoft! Starbucks! Google! None of these endeavors or companies were started by excellent test-takers! I fear that our present cadre of educational reformers – the non-educators noted above – are creating children who are great little test-takers, who can select A, B, C or D as an answer with the best of them, and whose performance can be placed onto a nice little spreadsheet. But we must ask ourselves, at what price?”
(Don Sternberg, 2013, quoted on Diane Ravitch’s blog)

But there’s a flaw in Dr. Sternberg’s statement as written: educational reformers do not create children, are not in classrooms, and won’t be the ones hired to create engaging alternatives to classrooms, or powerful digital enhancements to classroom instruction, or plan how to use all those things effectively in authentic projects then do so. Parents create children. Educators educate them. I argue these two groups have the most invested, both in tax dollars and in interest in the outcome, and therefor must remain strong allies. Corporate strategists must also believe this, as some go to great lengths to divide parents and teachers, and conquer each group separately.

The only counter to this is a truism: The Private needs The Public in order to survive.

Such an assertion requires evidence, and educationists are the ones to provide it. (Rodríguez-Romero, 2008)

The education sector can find its own cohesion by encouraging and promoting use of Public Buildings. The president’s jobs plan includes rebuilding schools. Be active, and support activists in your community by making noise, let everyone know you want to build and rebuild schools in your area. Build them as optimized Public Spaces, usable 24/7 if your neighborhood can benefit from that, at cost-recovery prices or less, during hours that attract the most people in your locality. Invest in putting Kids, Students, Parents, Communities—all the local experts—first.

We can tell it’s the right way to look at it because the people who use the system most, all those I just named are 1) both main users & main investors in system (taxes) 2) the experts on how and what works and what is needed first 3) the ones whose daily lives and futures are affected by the decisions being made.

We all stand to profit from a Student/Parent/Community-centric approach. Local Business knows dollar profits mean nothing when Talent goes undeveloped, withers, becomes easily undercut from outside, is forced to move away. We all can understand that not all value and profit is in dollars and cents. Democracy thrives in knowledge—nurtured by scholars, and sense.

Teachers need to stay focused on good pedagogy, but even those many great teachers who are still too busy to Tweet and blog now need to add some level of social networking and DIY technology. It’s not just about time spent teaching, but more practical, as communication with Parents and Community. A teacher who collaborates with the school and community to expose the exciting learning situations that are happening, make the thinking behind them transparent and visible, see the Learners and their Learning recognized, applauded and celebrated, is the best advocate for public education anyone could hope for. A parent who is a programmer, mechanic, shop-owner, assembly-line worker, a lawyer or any local business that does Something Kids Find Engaging—a potential career path, hobby, or even passing fad—all of these are valid 21st century situations where learning is already taking place. How do we tap in, without skipping a beat or losing stride?

DIY tech, like your class blog or web page, projects you share in real time on the Internet, all these are ways to bring people into your classroom, into your building and into a growing sense of sharing a common purpose. Just do it. We’ve talked for 40 years about “situated” learning. It’s time we start thinking about learning situations and the situations where learning happens—and then create them and share them Publicly.

Kids and Parents can once again come to think of the School as a place that’s good to go evenings and weekends, to meet friends, be in clubs… again, there are too many places where total renovation is required first So be it those are real jobs that people could count on and real investments that benefit ourselves and future generations.

I believe we have to rely even more on our own agency. Don’t just cultivate a personal learning network (PLN), try to join and grow a Community of Practice (CoP). It’s a subtle difference in the role of give and take, a slightly different take on the value of ideas that may be at the periphery of your main interests, but I think a meaningful one. It’s especially meaningful in

Be the best teacher you can be but don’t do it alone. From the ground up, advocate for technology and uses of technology that bring more energetic, engaged and engaging people into your situation. Class trips and parent visits are two-way now, either can be virtual or physical, and your classes’ videoed presentations can be viewed from the business meeting in Ottawa or when mom gets home tomorrow morning after night shift.

When parents view themselves as a collective group and their families as a community bounded by similar interests and desires, a foundation to act collectively and to become more powerful agents in the school emerges. Relationships are at the core of bringing this power to parents.
Warren et al., 2009
[Can the same not be said of any stakeholder group in education? And isn’t the thing about corporate reformers that irks us not so much their money but the way in which many of them have gone about spending it, siphoning and harvesting, rather than planting and growing? –RF]

Then, corporate reformers and venture capitalists will be forced to compete with the kind of value we’ve Pulled From Within Ourselves. It forces them to spend their money on the things the true leaders have demonstrated work, are working, and that get People Where We Are Going . History shows—Public spirit shall overcome.



  1. educationist [ej-oo-key-shuh-nist] noun
    “a specialist in the theory and methods of education…”
    …but that doesn’t really do justice to the way it’s used nowadays. For me the word connotes a certain devotion to teaching and learning that goes beyond theory, into truly transformative pedagogy. Praxis is about changing behaviors in meaningful ways, expanding not only knowledge, but renovating views and beliefs that were held before the new knowledge was obtained.

Reference and further reading

Rodríguez-Romero, M. (2008), “Situated Pedagogies, Curricular Justice and Democratic Teaching”, in OECD, Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate, pp. 113–136, OECD Publishing.

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Don Sternberg, Ed.D. Principal, February 26, 2013, letter to parents http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/11/retiring-principal-stop-the-madness/

Mark R. Warren, Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.