Teachers Teaching Teachers Talk with James Paul Gee

I had the opportunity this evening to be a part of a conversation with James Paul Gee about his most recent book, The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning.

I asked him to expand on the idea of collaborative cognition — his notion of the big-M Mind and why it’s so critical for students to learn to think in networks and also to talk a little bit about how he sees technology supporting this imperative.

I wish, however, that I had had a chance to ask him about how we shift the culture of schooling so that teachers in classrooms feel empowered to create the affinity spaces, the collaborative problem-solving opportunities and authentic learning experiences about which he spoke so powerfully tonight. I wanted to ask this because, these are big — and sort of scary propositions — for a lot of people.

In his book, Gee talks about “institutions of frozen thought”. Schools are frozen — they perpetuate themselves. They exist, under NCLB in America, anyway, to test children. But, as Gee said tonight, they don’t have to exist for this reason. Schools don’t have to be the way they are — that is, places that make many children feel they don’t measure up. It’s just that for people who grew up in these schools and who teach in these schools —  when all you know is the way schools are, it is often difficult to even imagine how they could be different. If this frozen institution is all teachers have known, how can they be convinced to embrace the data that shows why schools have to be be different?

I wish I had asked him about how teachers can come to embrace ideas that challenge their identity and about how teacher educators can empower teachers to trust in the evidence, and to reject outright, testing mandates that undermine the kinds of authentic learning experiences that would make schools better for children and society in general. Gee did talk about crisis as catalyst — and how the inequalities in American society may well lead to the kinds of change that he advocates.When the change comes, however, I think it’s essential for teachers to be leading it.

As a teacher educator, this conversation has empowered me to advocate even more enthusiastically than I already do for inclusive, authentic, responsive experiences in schools that will produce the kinds of human beings that society needs — people who are connected, resilient and smart in the face of challenge and complexity.

[The conversation really starts at about 9:00]

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