Saturday, October 07, 2006

On Education and Tolerance

The Politics of, and in, the Classroom

I always try to be as inclusive and engaging as possible in the classroom, of course. But it's tough to know how far one "ought" to push those who object to certain directions of discussion/thought/action on issues as personal as religion, or basic worldviews.

When does one cross the line between respecting differences and encouraging growth, and forcing one's agenda on others?

Do the power-relations of the classroom--that of teacher/student--mandate that we error on the side of caution, and simply let it go? But wouldn't that be to give up on one of the most basic qualities of an education (to expand one's sphere of knowledge and value)?

Location, Location, Location

It seems that schools (their capabilities, and their populations) are quite different based on regional factors, and the various characteristics of place.

For example, I've recently relocated to Colorado, and it's as though I've moved to a different country (my former life was in in the South). Now I'm living in an area where, according to the last census, over 91% of the population has at least a high school diploma, and nearly 40% have at least an undergraduate degree (vs. 75%, and 18% respectively, in my former location). I know I'll never go back.

However, this experience has brought home the issues of a cultural/economic divide within the nation. Certain geographic regions have drawn the highest populations of college educated graduates. These areas have not only held on to the vast majority of their own graduates, but they are drawing graduates from the rest of the country, and abroad.

It's not enough to say that there are simply more business opportunities there and leave it at that. These grads are seeking more than just jobs. Young people are looking for places that they can feel "home"--that is, they can be themselves.

Certainly, there are a number of factors that come into play regarding where one chooses to live and work...

Dr. Richard Florida's economic and sociological research/analysis of the subject (that is, the distrobution and socio-economic impact of Talent, Technology, and Tolerance) is certainly worth a read. He is the Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University, a senior scientist with the Gallup Organization, and a Senior Fellow with the Brookings Institution. He has taught regional economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, and has been a visiting professor at MIT and Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

I wonder, what could be the role of Social Networks in the promotion of Forida's "3 T's" of Talent, Technology and Tolerance?

21st Century Education, and the Rise of Social Networks

Does social networking provide a new and more powerful tool for the struggle against ignorance?

Whether it's a free place for communities to preserve and share their stories or family histories (such as one finds at Gather, or on Web Biographies), or a way for members of the business community to network and share innovative approaches to their industries (such as one finds on LinkedIn), social networks provide a space to broaden one's sphere of knowledge and associations.

Isn't this simply a 21st Century version/vision of that most basic goal of the educational process?

Shouldn't teachers be USING this new and exciting tool---one which students have already embraced--to help share our stories; to broaden our worldviews; to force us to look at one another in new and engaging ways?

1 comment:

Deb S. said...

Dan, I love the way you think! This is an excellent piece - full of innovative ideas that should be considered. I have seen some successful school programs involving technology, social networking and the teaching of tolerance.

I think it is much easier to teach our kids these lessons than to teach grown-ups. It can be a lot harder to get the buy-in from adults (parents and educators) because we adults can often be so resistent to change.

Ongoing professional development is one way to address this with educators. But I think we've all seen instances where teachers have sat in on seminars addressing tolerance and cultural differences. When they leave and go back to the classroom, it's business as usual.

In my humble opinion, adults are much more likely than kids to perpetuate misinformation. We are certainly much more likely to resist new ways of thinking and behaving. It doesn't have to be that way. Strong leadership at the top can effect positive change.

Your post has prompted me to do some additional research on my own on this topic.

By the way, I'm adding you to my blogroll. You have an awesome blog!