Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Games and Greeks or Playing and Plato

So there I was reading John Milton’s Of Education (why is probably another post) from one of my college books and I read the following line that had a notation reference at the end.

“At the same time, some other hour of the day, might be taught them the rules of arithmetic, and soon after the elements of geometry, even playing, as the old manner was.”

When I looked up the reference at the back of the book it said

“Both Plato…and Quintilian recommend the use of games as pedagogical tools.”

Pedagogical tools from Plato and Quintilian? I just had to find out what in the ancient world they were talking about. And since it had been a very long time that I engaged with any of the classical authors, I consulted Google and via The Perseus Digital Libray at Tufts University, here’s what I found from Plato (emphasis added)…

What I assert is that every man who is going to be good at any pursuit must practice that special pursuit from infancy, by using all the implements of his pursuit both in his play and in his work. For example, the man who is to make a good builder must play at building toy houses, and to make a good farmer he must play at tilling land; and those who are rearing them must provide each child with toy tools modelled on real ones. Besides this, they ought to have elementary instruction in all the necessary subjects,-the carpenter, for instance, being taught in play the use of rule and measure, the soldier taught riding or some similar accomplishment. So, by means of their games, we should endeavor to turn the tastes and desires of the children in the direction of that object which forms their ultimate goal. First and foremost, education, we say, consists in that right nurture which most strongly draws the soul of the child when at play to a love for that pursuit of which, when he becomes a man, he must possess a perfect masteryPlato, Laws, Book 1, 643b-d.

And from the research of Lee Honneycutt, Associate Professor in the English Department at Iowa State University from Quintilian (emphasis added)…

There are some kinds of amusement, too, not unserviceable for sharpening the wits of boys, as when they contend with each other by proposing all sorts of questions in turn” Quintilian Institutio Oratoria Book 1, Chapter 3, line 11.

It seems that the Greeks were talking about games in education in the 340’s BC and the Romans in the 1st Century AD. We’re still talking about them today. Now they are framed within the context of video games or edugames. Both David Warlick and Gary Stager have offered their (mostly) differing opinions. The comments on David’s post have some interesting takes as well. Whether it’s Gary Stager’s ignorance arguments, or David Warlick’s thoughts about counter-pedagogies or the approaches that gaming might take in schools from the people over at The Games, Learning, and Society Group, we still have a long way to go in this gaming discussion. Just a couple of days ago, Scott McLeod wrote his latest entry about games and cited a stat about only 15% of “teachers have a more difficult time seeing how platforms generally associated with entertainment -i.e., video games, MP3 players, and cell phones -can be used as educational tools” (slide 15). Definitely a long way to go.

Just how much video games will influence (or not) our current systems of education remains to be seen. However, gaming is pushing its way in and it is having rippling effects, seen and unseen. Perhaps that’s what concerns some now just as it concerned Plato 2400-ish years ago “that those children who innovate in their games grow up into men different from their fathers; and being thus different themselves, they seek a different mode of life, and having sought this, they come to desire other institutions and lawsPlato, Laws, Book 7, 798c.

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May 17, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Advancing Online Learning Conference

The people at Virtual High School, Liz Pape and all, have done a great job with the Advancing Online Learning Conference including some engaging speakers and breakout sessions. Dr. Mark Milliron delivered our keynote Wednesday morning, giving his take on current learners, the future of education and its relationship to the world. At lunch Dr. Jesse Harriott, VP of Research for Monster Worldwide spoke about preparing students for competition in a global workforce. Allison Powell from NACOLand Steven Ruscito from Middletown High School in Rhode Island took part in a panel and broadly discussed among the topics above the October 2007 Blackboard report Learning in the 21st Century: A National Report on Online Learning. Sessions I attended over the two days included Online Instructional Programs & Models; New Approaches to Online Science; Non-traditional or At Risk Students in Online Learning; Current Research in Online Learning; and using Virtual Classroom Tools. 

Today’s (Thursday, 4/11) keynote featured Robert Currie from Michigan Virtual High School who discussed, among other things, Michigan’s online learning graduation requirement and the CareerForward initiative created in conjunction with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning “to help Michigan students understand how to plan their work lives and career opportunities amid the implications of the global economy.” Specifically, students ask and attempt to answer the following “challenge” questions: What am I going to do with my life? What is the world of work like? What will I need to succeed? What’s next for me? 

Those are compelling questions for sure and Mr. Currie gave his presentation in the context of 21st Century Learning Skills. However, are those questions really anything new? Do we see them afresh in the spotlight of the future? Ask Gary Stager about his take on 21st Century Learning and he’ll probably tell you something like those are nothing new. Ask Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, or Wes Fryerand they’ll paint a slightly different picture. Regardless of where you (or they) land, the spectrum seems to support a deliberate and reflective approach to purposeful, relevant, engaging, and meaningful education. Additionally, if you haven’t read Alan November, Scott McLeod, Mike Parent, Karl Fisch, George Siemens, Clay Burell, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Jon Becker, and others to get a flavor of the varying perspectives, you must and soon. Feel free to contribute “must reads” of your own in a comment.

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unencorporating Education & The Purpose of Schools Part 1

I have just started reading the book Unencorporating Education by Dr. William J Cook Jr. Already provocative and engaging in the first few chapters, I haven’t made up my mind yet. The thesis of the book as found on the inside flap and on the website reads,

The thesis of this book is simple: the nation’s fundamental institutions, by intent or by default, have abandoned the historical Western idea of education and thus have opened the door for a hostile takeover by corporate America. The result is an educational system, if it may be so called, that has been robbed of its essential human nature (educare) and turned into a rationalized process designed to produce profitable workers, according to industry specifications. The individual is diminished to servitude; true democracy rendered impossible.

There is no correcting the existing system. It cannot be reformed, reinvented, restructured, or salvaged. It must be utterly destroyed and new systems of learning and teachings created -systems worthy of human beings. The suggestions offered here are an attempt to begin the action.

It’s a compelling, unsettling, and uncomfortable premise to be sure. To borrow from Malcolm Gladwell and his book, Blink, my initial “thin slice” is one of resonance with a measure of caution thrown in. A guest blogger, Greg Cruey, on the Dangerously Irrelevant blog has a post that touches on some of the same ideas. Watch for more to come as I work through the rest of the book.

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments