Monetization of Mindfulness?

“Throughout the twentieth century, particularly after the Second World War, we had a slow-moving river. Stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo defined our culture, and progress was carefully controlled. This environment influenced both education and technology” (Thomas and Brown, 39).

I don’t agree with this claim.

I think that the lack of stability, continuity, and maintaining the status quo continually influences education and technology.

I do agree that there’s more to education than teaching someone how to fish, so to speak.

Relevantly adapting to change in an education setting takes mindfulness, a broader awareness, of “what will come next” (Thomas and Brown, 43).

But thinking about teaching someone how to fish brings up a common discussion: what is the purpose of education? Is education a way to learn a new trade, a means to an end, so to speak? Or is education valuable on its own?

“To most people, [reading Harry Potter] doesn’t sound very much like ‘real’ learning” (Thomas and Brown, 44). Langer’s seven pervasive myths of education portrays what “real” learning might look like.

Yes. If the purpose of education is to eventually get a job, then it’s harder to explain how Harry Potter is going to help achieve that goal.

Yes. If the purpose of education is to do education (whatever that means), then reading Harry Potter instead of the “classics” seems more like “fake” than “real” learning.

If the problem is educating more effectively in a “constantly changing world,” and the answer is play and imagination, then the trouble is convincing students, parents, and policymakers to buy into this alternative learning style (Thomas and Brown, 48).

The college student has to weigh whether or not a course that fosters play and imagination is going to be worth her tuition. (And in an ideal world, if she adopts the purpose of education to mean that education is valuable in its own right, then she has to weigh whether or not this course visibly increases her education).

The parents have to either pay tuition (at any age level), accept the value in play and imagination (if this was integrated in the public school system), or both. That may be difficult to sell if parents want “the best” for their children, especially if that means well-being, i.e., job security. Showing the connection between Harry Potter and a job opportunity might be difficult.

The policymakers have to be convinced and convince politicians (and decision makers at every level) that play and imagination is worth funding. Quantifying a mode of education that minimizes the use of tests could also be difficult.

I think that quantifying how play and imagination lead to problem solving skills in a workplace setting is a viable option that fits in “education as a means to an end” purpose. “Mindfulness creates a rich awareness of discriminatory detail” (Langer, 23). Perhaps this discriminatory detail is a visible problem solving skill that finds worth in a workplace setting.

But what is mindfulness’ purpose?

If the purpose of mindfulness is to teach sideways learning, then mindfulness is just another means to an end.

If the purpose of mindfulness is to just increase awareness of discriminatory detail, then mindfulness might have an invaluable quality that teachers and employers may find useful.  

Mindfulness

Mindfulness

(At the end of the day, the increase in use of “mindfulness” is just one example of cultural appropriation that exists in a larger West meets East phenomenon, c.f. yoga. Mindfulness, like education, will never be non-teleological).

Correlation, No Causation, in Observed Changes in Education

Thomas and Brown write as though there were a self-apparent change in the 20th and 21st centuries, specifically in the context of education. “What happens to learning when we move form the stable infrastructure of the twentieth century to the fluid infrastructure of the twenty-first century, where technology is constantly creating and responding to change? The answer is  surprisingly simple.” Well, I simply disagree. Not only is this question self-fulfilling in that obviously, a fluid infrastructure is preferable and effective to the assumed stability found in the 20th century, but what other assumptions are Thomas and Brown operating under? Their subsection called “Sam’s Story” epitomizes the early 2000s ubiquitous techno-optimism I ranted about last week. Where is the data that shows a connection between effectiveness in learning and new forms of media like Scratch?

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Carnes writes, “Last fall [of 2010], President Obama warned that the United States could not succeed in a global economy so long as it ranks as low as 12th in the percentage of young adults with college degrees. ‘We've done OK in terms of college-enrollment rates,’ he explained, but ‘more than a third of America's college students’ fail to earn degrees.” In other words, if adults with college degrees is an acceptable proxy to measure effective in learning for Carnes, then how have new cultures of learning positively impacted this conceivably measurable change? I admit that new types of media require new ways of learning in some instances. But does that translate into a paradigmatic shift in how we learn? I don’t think so.

Out of the “Four things lecture is good for,” I agree with Talbert that “sharing cognitive structures” is soundly dependent on the lecture style of education. But the successes of modeling thought processes, giving context, and telling stories are not solely dependent on the lecture style. That’s just my opinion, but in any case, these three styles (and even sharing cognitive structures) presumably work well in other alternative, non-lecture styles of education. The uses and abuses of technology are just one of these alternatives.

The general assumption of this week’s readings posits that technology somehow unprecedentedly changes education in ways that non-lecture styles of education were not able. I disagree with this assumption, primarily because the “somehow” is widely left unexplained. Moreover, the assumption operates in the limited realm of “new technology requires new ways of learning.” This is different than arguing that new technology causes a paradigmatic shift in how we learn. I would accept the former assumption as true--returning to what Thomas and Brown call surprisingly simple--of course you need a new learning manual to operate your new iPhone for the first time. But just because everyone has an iPhone now does not mean that the change in the United States’ ranking in the global economy, nor college graduation rates, can be attributed to the wide-sweeping social phenomenon of “new media.” Assuming that these rates are proxies of education, regardless of whether or not they go up or down, there can only be a loose correlation made on a macro level between tech’s effectiveness on education.

Look, another way of understanding my skepticism is to consider the “tragic” scene of walking into an undergraduate classroom where all the students are on their laptops and phones (as Allia Griffin puts it). I have discussed this pre-class scene several times before. While I did not live during the pre-internet/pre-smartphone era, I have been told by plenty of professors who did live during that lost “Golden Age” when students still had newspapers, books, and other forms of distraction that kept them from talking to one another. (Or perhaps people were always just unfriendly and the sinister, nefarious consequences of digesting social media only make that social truth more plain than it was before). Yes, there will always be an anecdotal life experience that contradicts this perspective, but this doesn’t seem to be any different than people who claim that on an individual level, there are serious changes taking place when we consume digital media. Other than the simple fact that change is in fact taking place, there isn’t some sort of new culture of learning in this century that polarizes us from the previous one.

We’re not somehow smarter or more effective at learning just because we all have access to iPhones....

 

Eschatological Expectations in Education

All of my writings here should be taken with a grain of salt. So let Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall wash over you as I take a hypercritical approach to this week’s authors’ myopic problematization of education.

Education is a loaded word, but I think we get some kind of consensus on its meaning from Michael Wesch and Tim Hitchcock: self-improvement. But for me, the three words that come to mind when I think of education are eschatology, meritocracy, and techno-optimism. This is especially the case after watching and reading Wesch and Hitchcock because they ascribe to the impact of blogging without regard for how these three biases might negatively shape education.

Eschatology brings to mind doom and gloom, judgment--the end of the line of what philosophers might call teleology. Think of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “motivational” quote, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Yea, well, Romanticism is perhaps the opposite of teleology (at least in this instance). Eschatology is really concerned about the destination: the future really doesn’t look to good. In fact, life’s journey should be so fixated on preparing for the destination that you need to find some sort of salvation before getting there. If you’re not scared enough to come to Jesus, than you’re not aptly anticipating the destination’s severity.

For most people, life itself presents people with any variety of doom and gloom destinations. We can call these societal pressures, self-imposed challenges, or familial expectations. Most people might agree that some combination of financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction makes up what we might call “the meaning of life.” #eudamonia To achieve the optimal rankings in those categories (as well as others not listed here), you need to have been dealt a good hand in phenotypic, physical, and ideological identities. That is, if you weren’t born a White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Heteronormative, Abled-bodied, “Middle”-classed individual, then you are starting life’s rat race from a deficit. In an “ideal” world, if you are born a WASP-HAM, then all you need to do is just play the the game of life “straight up.” Go to school, get educated, and reap the benefits of “working hard.”

That expectation of playing the game well by education and the consequent employment is textbook meritocracy. But I want to discuss a more insidious type of meritocracy. When you’re not born a WASP-HAM, how do you approach the game of life? Is playing a matter of looking past how the game is rigged against you? Is it sticking it to “the man?” Is playing the game a way to defy stereotypes? (Should we try to find our inner hero, like Dr. Wesch suggests, in these pursuits?) Assuming that everyone wants financial stability, job security, and relationship satisfaction, what’s so wrong for non-WASP-HAMs to buy into the promises of meritocracy, to play the game, to buy into education?

Perhaps the problem is making the assumption that meritocracy is a one-size-fits-all solution to self-improvement. Meritocracy works really well if you’re a WASP-HAM; just work hard and climb life’s social ladder. But if you’re not a WASP-HAM, how high can you truly rank in social hierarchies--even when you buy into meritocracy? Glass ceiling much? In other words, can education ever be free from meritocracy? If education is self-improvement (to one degree or another), is that improvement ever free from social realities like racism, sexism, genderism, ableism, classism? Is the education process itself free from biases? Is the end result of education free from biases? Education is something that you quite literally buy into, philosophically and monetarily. There’s the expectation that the doom and gloom destination can be altogether avoided (for WASP-HAMs) if you just work hard enough. Education is a part of that process; pay for that piece of paper and everything will be fine. But for everyone else, the everyday doom and gloom like sexism, racism, and ableism isn’t simply earned by getting educated. Nor are the long term doom and gloom destinations improved through education.

Unfortunately, this salvational characteristic of education is exacerbated by techno-optimism. While I want to add the (obvious) caveat that there are certain technologies that can be of great use to some populations, there shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to any type of technology. Nor should there be an expectation that technology unilaterally improves, or saves, us from the impending doom and gloom of life. While I don’t think that Seth Godin and Tom Peters should be accused of suggesting that blogging is a universal good for self-improvement, highlighting the fact that two white men who have played the game of life very successfully are telling us to buy into blogging should warrant some skepticism. We shouldn’t be skeptical of blogging itself. Rather, I find it difficult to view blogging as something outside of the scheme of self-improvement masked as self-expression.

I can hear someone saying that blogging is “about the journey, not the destination.” While this may be true, the Internet as a whole has evolved from its “simple” beginning. Take Ben Schmidt’s blog, Sapping Attention, as an example of skepticism. Hitchcock claims, “[Schmidt] has crafted one of the most successful academic careers of his generation – not to mention the television consultation business, and world-wide intellectual network.” Well, allegorically, we might say that the internet no longer remains as innocent and simplistic as Blogger’s interface--the template that Schmidt still uses today. That is to say, the list of -isms that exist IRL unsurprisingly exist on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter alike. (Anonymity may lead to an increase in the severity of -isms, but anonymity isn’t mutually exclusive to social media). Nothing published on the web goes unnoticed...

Hitchcock writes, “By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.” This blind, naive optimism placed on technology’s educational (and social) impact might have been appropriate during Blogger’s heyday over a decade ago. But Hitchcock’s 2014 publication date mirrors the blind trust that’s placed in meritocracy: there’s no regard for the people who don’t fit into WASP-HAMs one-size-fits-all online. Despite the internet’s invitation for faux-sense of individuality and accessibility on social media sites, we’re never really free from the social biases that tell us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. I mean, what’s the point? #slacktivism

So, maybe we should listen to Pink Floyd’s lyrics: we don’t need education. But on the other hand, if education is self-improvement, then look no further than Socrates: “Know thyself!”

(And yes, I know that ironically, I have to be in a position in education to name drop Socrates…and write everything above).

cliché galore

thu-berchs-st-louis-destroyed-cityscape-14.jpg Eudaimonia? 

Eudaimonia? 

WASP-HAM

WASP-HAM

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