Monday, January 2

The resistance army

Michigan's Lake Superior State University has just published its banished word list.

One of the choices might surprise us. Then again, it might not. Here it is:

– A five-dollar phrase on a nickel-errand. Value-added into many higher education mission statements. “Not to be confused with ‘school.'” – Jim Howard from Mishawa, Ind.

I use this as forensic evidence in my case against the resistance movement within educational institutions whose counter-revolutionary mission is to squelch informal learning. Howard fittingly deflates university mission statements, and by the same token, the whole business of mission statements, which usually announce clearly what an institution is unwilling to invest in but, by formalizing it as part of the "mission", expects its members will implement spontaneously. However, his idea that "community of learners" is an overblown synonym for "school" shows he hasn't read the literature (starting with Etienne Wenger).

If I were into grades, I'd give both Howard and the Lake University an "F". But as I'm more into communities of learners, I'd prefer extending an invitation to the entire "educational community" (should this term also be banished?) to join the world of thinkers and doers concerned by learning rather than the defense of sclerotic superstructures.

What's nasty about this kind of "humor" (or sarcasm) is that it borders on PC, with the same perverse spirit of manipulation. The "banishing" metaphor is revelatory. But what it really reveals, coming from the academic community, is the refusal to move outside the box of the formal institution ("school") to recognize that, even before technology moved in, learning was essentially a social phenomenon and the campus a social institution, par excellence. More significantly, I see this as an attempt to cut off all discussion of how the social dimension of learning is evolving and may evolve to achieve better performance.

In any case, it provides clear proof that the reactionary resistance movement is well armed, which is sad, because the members of the academic community who pride themselves on being promoters of knowledge would be the first to benefit from the creative and productive role they could be playing interacting with communities of learners rather than being mere lackeys to the established hierarchy.

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