Here is this week's blog prompt for Higher Education in the Digital Age:
Is the role of educators changing in the 21st century? If so, how? Is
the role of the university changing in the 21st century? If so, how?
What role does technology play? How does this connect to learning?
There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.
Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate
the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present
system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes "the
practice of freedom," the means by which men and women deal critically
and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the
transformation of their world. -- Richard Shaull
The struggle between the two kinds of education described by Richard Shaull in the quote above is not a new one. Because of the power that any entrenched system of social relations has to reproduce itself, education as the practice of conformity continues to be the norm. It will continue to be so, as long as the social relations responsible for the present system continue to exist.
Where there is oppression, however, there will be resistance. Efforts toward education as the practice of freedom go back at least as far as the progressive education movement, which began in the late 19th century. During the 1930's, at a high point in the struggle for working class democracy, the largest longitudinal educational study of its kind was conducted -- the Eight-Year Study of thirty high schools given the opportunity to experiment with progressive approaches to pedagogy and assessment of student learning. The study demonstrated the efficacy of humanizing educational approaches in high school as they related to student success in college. This study could have been part of a broader effort for educational reform, but only in the context the struggle for democracy in general. Unfortunately, WWII and then the right wing backlash of the McCarthy era buried this research away for over half a century.
The technological revolution offers tools and possibilities to the movement for democracy that have never before existed. Nothing illustrates this better than Field Notes for 21st Century Literacy, a collaboratively produced educational resource created in an intentionally democratic, non-hierarchical classroom. Like the free software movement from which it draws inspiration, Field Notes offers a glimpse of the possibility of a society of freely associated producers.
Ultimately, whether the role of educators and universities in the 21st century is changing or not will depend more on campaign finance reform, the voting rights struggle, and the struggle for openness in government than it will on the existence of any particular technology, though information technology does offer the democratic movement a powerful tool with which to potentially impact each of these other struggles.