It Caught My Attention

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On pedagogy, stupid rules and bubble wraps

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Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes. — Oscar Wilde

This post caught my attention:

[…]there are laws and bylaws and rules in place to make sure that we are ‘protected’ from unexpected harm: Guardrails and warning sign and lit-up crosswalks with pedestrian controlled lighting abound.

In the bubble wrap West we occasionally read or hear about someone who slips right next to a ‘wet floor’ sign or trips on an uneven curb and they end up blaming and suing others: “It wasn’t safe”, “It was faulty”, “The step was too high” or “The railing was too low”. Our day-to-day environment is safe, secure, sheltered… and sterile.

In China, things are different. Pedestrian walkways are a suggested crossing location and give no rights to the pedestrian. White and yellow lines on the roads are mere suggestions for where a pedestrian should stand as cars zip by at speeds up to 60km/hr, the occasional horn blast reminds you not to make any unexpected moves.[…]

And it goes on writing about education.

[…]I think schools have become a bit too bubble wrapped too. We protect the kids from impending harm, bubble wrapping their learning. However I think sometimes we harm them in our attempt to keep them safe. Here are a few digital examples:

  1. Instead of teaching them intelligent searching, we filter websites.
  2. Instead of teaching them online safety we stop them from creating online profiles.
  3. Instead of letting them connect and learn socially, we ban them from social networks where there is potential for bullying.
  4. Instead of letting them seek out experts, we hand pick the guest lecturer.

What we are doing is creating a facade of security, nothing more than an illusion of bubble wrap.

  1. Filters prevent teachers from know what a search will show students at home.
  2. Students create online profiles behind teachers and (more specifically) parents backs and put personal information on the profiles since they have not had any adult advice about how to protect their identity.
  3. Social websites like Facebook, unsupervised, becomes a playground where the bully tends to ‘win’.
  4. Students have no idea how to ‘talk to strangers’ online, but they don’t have their parents or teachers advice when (not if, when) that happens.[…]

Why do we need laws and restraints to keep us from doing foolish stuff? What if, in the end, we’re really expected to be fools?

Here’s an anecdote: an Italian and a Swiss are talking when, at one point, the Swiss one says he owns 3 shotguns and he’s keeping them unlocked in his living room. Shocked, the Italian replies to him “Oh my God, you just can’t keep them unlocked in your livingroom… what if someone takes them and start shooting at people crossing the street?!”. With a sympathetic smile on his face, the Swiss one replies: “you can’t do that, you’d kill innocent people”.

Naivety? Solid sense of the community? Simple respect for the authority?

Take a western student along with a chinese one. Can you expect the same attitudes towards teachers? And what about the laws? What about their parents? What about guns and cars and alcohol and drugs…

Do we have more freedom than chinese have? And is it good for us, the community, the people… or for our economy only? Why do we have more freedom while they have less “useless” warnings?

Talking about online safety then, what about the Great Firewall of China? Don’t they filter out way more stuff than we do, social networks and wikis included? Yes, and they do the same on every level of information and communication; People are indeed in-formed. Their behaviour is formed and controlled with rigid social rules.

There is no digital freedom for them but as the teacher is respected and honored since the early years, students are in fact accustomed to hard intellectual work and discipline, which is the only thing that, eventually, will pay off in their country (and others, as we sooner or later won’t be able to solve a math equation anymore).

They’ve got discipline and restraints. They’re not expected to act like fools. If you leave a gun in an Italian livingroom (you can’t, there’s a strict firearm regulation) expect a fatal tragedy in a couple of days. A couple of minutes if the experiment is conducted below Rome (say Naples).

In the western world, common sense is not so common anymore. We’ve got the wrong mix of freedom, negative messages overload and total lack of positive attitudes or examples (or lack of media coverage to be honest, because scientific and humanitarian efforts make way less audience, therefore revenue, than american galdiators, hot babes or reality shows).

Yes, we’re free to show hot babes on magazine covers and advertisements, Yes we’re free to show violent stuff in games. Yes we’re free to tell people they’re not cool enough because of what they’re wearing, or driving… or earning. Yet we’re forming ourselves to be just like that: uncaring about duties, responsabilities, moral values. No hard work, just a cool life we pretend! And then we blame others because we cannot be cool.

I mean… “cool”? Now we’ve got to care about “being cool”? Hah! And when did being a good citizen and parent stopped being cool? When did respecting your own master and friends stopped being cool? When did being a solid couple in a strong relationship, instead of trying to get laid with the highest number of strangers just for the sake of it, got out of the coolness zone? – “They were never cool in the first place!” said the smartest guy in the room. Right? And he was not a chinese.

In Europe or in the USA, if an educator (can be a parent too) tries to raise a hand against a child, he’ll be arrested faster than he can say “but he was yelling at me with a knife in his hand!”. Teachers are not cool. Stupid guys and big breasted chicks are. But who decided it? Where and when we started to get this message?

Let’s make an experiment. Want to make a study-abroad-student-exchange plan? Try to send english bullies there in China or send southern Italy students to learn Chinese. Not sure we’ll see them again but I’m pretty sure every teacher here will be more than glad to host chinese students. Why?

Respect and discipline are fading away. Here. Now. I’m talking about respect for authority, respect for your own family and friends.

Chinese may have different beliefs, but they have solid moral values (of course, being a billion people nation, I’m not talking about everyone). They couldn’t care less about being cool. But since chinese students couldn’t be cool even if they wanted (comparing USA, greatest freedom exporter, to a left dictatorship regime is not the smartest thing one would want to do) let’s compare other countries, right?

It’s USA vs Finland then. Sweden. Denmark. Maybe even South Korea (with 93% South Korean households receiving boradband connection, now that’s eLearners dream, isn’t it?). They’ve got way higher standards for education. They’re economically strong countries and they’re investing all they can in education and research, all of this while not having to write stupid, implicit rules.

They don’t need to ban and punish something that you would never do anyway. They’ve got common sense. We need it back. Badly! And before thinking about eliminating laws and regulations that we think are obvious and implicit, let’s think about why they were put there in the first place: we expect ourselves being fools.

As annoying as it can be, we’re always forming and educating ourselves. Institutions can do a lot, but the socio-economic context we’re living in, makes the rest. Now go watch a cool tv show like Jackass. And remember: don’t try it at home.


Written by A Different One

September 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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