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To educate educators!
But the first ones
must educate themselves!
And for these I write.

Nietzsche[1]

Hello . . . .

R and V begin their dialogs, which take place in various parts of A Place to Study. Here, they discuss the germinative thoughts that lead to the project. R offers his vision of a place for persons to explore their own self-formation and what they spontaneously seek to learn, excited by their curiosity. V's questions lead to their reflecting on the historical relationship between education and technology, setting the context for work on A Place to Study.


R1 — Hi. Thanks for stopping by.

V2 — A friend suggested I'd find activity worth some effort here. I like your motto up there. I've had it with with being told what to do. Call me V.

R3 — V, I'm R. Glad to introduce what we do. We work to strengthen cultural activities that social media are disrupting. To do so, A Place to Study provides free resources, inclusive and well-organized, to persons seeking self-formation and liberal learning in the digital commons.

V4 — Well, frankly, the bits about free resources and the digital commons aside, that mission sounds like that of most any university.

R5 — Right. As I said, we strengthen things the new media disrupt—humane culture, the liberal arts, a sense of justice, the courage to face intractable problems together. Throughout history, persons have pursued self-formation and liberal learning, humanizing life as best they could. Innovative disruptions won't stop that.

V6 — Got it. You don't offer viral novelty. But in the midst of cultural disruption, what do you do here? You do educative work online, but as I understand it, people have been busy with computers in education for decades without changing much by way of major improvement.

R7 — Agreed. I have 40-years experience trying to improve existing institutions—schools and universities, formal educational efforts—with networked multimedia. It's been disappointing.

V8 — What else would you do? That's where the action is.

R9 — True. Educational systems need improvement and if persons working in them see ways to use A Place to Study, that's great! They should go to it! But we're trying something else.

V10 — You're losing me a bit. What else is there—, uh, what else do you have in mind?

R11 — It's not obvious, I understand. First, we oppose the dehumanization of education. Institutions like schools and colleges aren't "education" and statistical abstractions like age cohorts don't get educated to be better at math or reading or anything else. Persons, every person, each person, acquires their education.

V12 — OK, I've got it that here we are going to talk a lot about persons and engage in our activities as persons. But I'm still not clear how you want to use digital technologies outside of existing educational systems.

R13 — Well, to catch on further, don't think first about "new media in education." Think about the well-established technologies used in current systems of education. In preceding generations, how did educators take advantage of their new technological resources to get us where we are now? Start with that question.

V14 — Hmm. OK. Over preceding centuries, printing, bureaucratic organization, standardized classification, time management by the clock, motorized transportation were all transformative technological developments. People built existing educational systems by steadily finding pedagogical uses for all that.

R15 — Right. We needn't rehearse details here, but we should push our questioning a step further back. Before they constructed the big systems of formal instruction, how did most people get educated?

V16 — Hunh! Beats me, but let me try. If I ever asked myself, I sort of assumed a person went to a school, only not for very long and not to a very good school. But I suspect you'll tell a different story.

R17 — Very few persons would have gone to something you might call a school, but most, in different ways according to where they fit in the hierarchy of power and status, got their education through a mix of live-in apprenticeship in household communities, enriched with religion, superstition, storytellers, folklore, and the life skills appropriate to their station. These basics initiated most into the work and leisure in pre-modern life. You get glimpses of it sprinkled through literary depictions of life across cultures and eras.

V18 — OK. Should of thought of that. Let me guess your next point. You want to suggest that the builders of our formal instructional systems did not apply their technological innovations to the dominant educational activities of their time, all that apprenticing and storytelling. Instead, they used their transformative technologies to unlock the potentialities of the few miserable schools—the pedagogical weeds among the households, workshops, and courts of the culture. In a sense, they created central institutions of post-traditional modernity from out of left field.

R19 — That is the narrative. And it suggests the narrative we want to prototype here about the construction of postmodern education. It will come from out of left field, outside of all the formal education. It will emerge slowly and A Place to Study will be a central component of it.

V20 — Whoa! A million questions! My friend was right, you have complicated, unexpected, and possibly worthwhile aims, a lot to ponder. I'll hold many of them until I see more what you are up to. I think the mechanics of getting around A Place to Study should be pretty familiar since you use the software Wikipedia developed for itself.

R21 — Yeah. There's a lot here and much more to come as people get involved, but the structure is pretty simple: an active part and a reflexive part. The content consists of the resources with which users of the site can support their pursuit of self-formation and liberal learning that participants, the volunteers constructing the site have identified and organized on it. In constructing the site the participants will need to work out many questions about what content to include, how to present it, and why. The reflexive part will build up as they cope with those questions.

V22 — OK, I'll check it out. But first one of my questions. I get the feeling you are putting a lot of effort into A Place to Study, expecting much of the persons who volunteer in making it succeed. Why are you taking that risk and why should others do so too?

R23 — Well, that's a big question and the proof of any answer will be in a great deal of history yet to come. We are going against the grain. People find their time constrained and their attention distracted. They heed the din of portents—poor job prospects, slow advance up the ladder of success, trapped by disappearing work, social instability, civic and cultural chaos, all the tough choices that those in comfort and power demand that others make. That is the state of mind of many people. Our aim is not to change that. We think of Frost's poem, "The road not taken," and resolve to offer a meaningful alternative should they choose to take it.

V24 — Fair enough, but something's still not clear to me. I'm pretty sure that everyone distinguishes between individual and social goals. Does what you call self-formation and liberal learning pertain only to a person's individual interests?

R25 — Well! I hope not! Personally, I'm skeptical whether persons have individual interests. In my opinion, people have personal, interpersonal, and social interests. Social scientists postulate "the individual" as an abstraction. But that's my view and other participants may see it differently. As the site develops, those constructing it will work out what answers to questions of usage like this will best support users' pursuit of self-formation and liberal learning. Right now, the site has very few participants and it will begin by reflecting the capacities and limitations of those few. It looks bookish now, because the initial participants are bookish. But it will morph.

V26 — I won't ask now what you mean by "it will morph," as I suspect it wouldn't yield a simple answer. I realize it is meant to become a large site, one that develops slowly over a long time—that's the reason for using MediaWiki. I'll explore it to see for myself trying to get a sense of what it might become. I'm sure we'll bump into each other to talk more.

R27 — Maybe when you have become familiar with the place. we can discuss a bit how forms morph. But it's good to see things for yourself. That's what we're all about.


References

  1. The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Penguin Books, 1968) p. 50, Walter Kaufmann, trans.