I’ve been an admirer of Mike Wesch, anthropology prof at Kansas State University, ever since I saw his very cool and slick video The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version)

He then had some of his Cultural Anthropology students help him make another YouTube video to tell the world what they think of their education: A Vision of Students Today.

I subscribed to his blog, and watched his presentation where he talked about the background and meaning of his videos and his anthropological interests. His blog just got updated with a couple of entries, in one of which he revisits the “Vision of Students Today”.

With rare exception, educators around the world expressed the sad sense of profound identification with the scene…Surely it can’t be as bad as the video seems to suggest, I thought…By the end of the summer I had become convinced that the video was over the top, that things were really not so bad, that the system is not as broken as I thought, and we should all just stop worrying and get on with our teaching. But when I walked into my classroom for the first day of school two weeks ago I was immediately reminded of the real problem now facing education. The problem is not just “written on the walls.” It’s built into them.

This picks up the theme he wrote about in “Anti-teaching: confronting the crisis of significance” in which he writes “The most significant problem with education today is the problem of significance itself”, i.e. that so many students fail to find significance in the education they are getting.

I have come to the conclusion that “teaching” can actually be a hindrance to learning.

I’m reminded of a colleague, a teacher of education, who, back in the days when we actually had discussions about pedagogy, used to repeat, “Don’t teach! Don’t teach!!” Perhaps his words need to be taken in the context of Japanese further education: we have a population who have been largely stunned by 10 years of compulsory education, most of which is 1-way; students don’t ask questions because teachers don’t like to be asked questions and most make that plain; in this vertical society, teachers are much higher than mere students, so the flow of communication can really only go one way.

My university is now having its “FD week”, 10 days or so of peer observations. I went to see this colleague’s class today. He is having some success with having students read then discuss a difficult text about educational discourses. When I spoke to him a couple of years ago about teaching, he said that he encouraged students to express themselves by using no textbook but having them take part in small group discussions after a simple “show-and-tell”, in which each student had to bring in some article or book or experience about education and present it to the group. Students are so accustomed to being passive in class, he said,  that had he started by using a textbook, students would immediately have clicked into their intimidated mode and would not have been able to express any meaningful responses to it.

While I find Wesch’s videos a trifle too slick, and risk becoming the message themselves, instead of transmitting it, he certainly knows how to make ones that challenge people’s thinking and provoke rich responses. What do you think?

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