Collaboration or Cooperation

Collaboration is all the rage. I keep reading about how we need to be teaching collaboration to kids. For many, this means students working with other students in class to complete projects. For others, it means students talking to and working with their peers from other schools, communities, or countries to learn about another culture or solve a global problem. There are many great programs and projects that rise from the push for more collaboration.

The problem is, these cooperative projects don’t always rise to the level of collaboration. Collaboration requires people working with a shared vision towards a shared goal. For true collaboration to take place there must be a shared passion and a shared trust. This does not happen every time we work with other people, and that’s not a bad thing. I work with many people. I work productively and collegially with many people. I consider only a few of these people collaborators. 

Cooperation is an important skill that all students must experience and grow comfortable with. We can ask kids to do this, we can teach kids to do this. We cannot force kids to collaborate as we cannot force adults or even ourselves to. Collaboration happens organically. It grows from working together, but it requires more. At best, we can only cultivate collaboration by nurturing environments that promote trust and passion.

Inventing Economies

I know as I write this, that there are many educators who will immediately dismiss any argument that ties education directly to the idea of creating a workforce. While I am sympathetic to that argument, and have supported it in the past, I think decoupling the ideas of education and employment in an industrial or post-industrial society is naive and does a disservice to students. Work, in our society, is one of the two most important factors (along with relationships with others) that provide meaning in the lives of most adults. To be disinterested in whether students can succeed as working adults, is to be disinterested in their future health and well-being.

That being said, the real case against current economy driven arguments for educational models is that NO ONE knows what the economy will look like when our students enter the workforce five, ten, or twenty years from now. Often, we hear that we are training students for jobs that don’t exist yet. Perhaps you’ve heard that current models of employment are unsustainable and the next generation will be predominantly self employed. Some even believe that manufacturing jobs will be returning to our shores. There are hundreds of theories and predictions, and for every model there is someone advocating for an educational reform that will serve that economy.

The thing we tend to forget, however, is that we aren’t the ones who will determine the next economic model. Our decisions (or at least those of our corporations and politicians) will set the stage for it, but our students will be the ones to inhabit, shape, and define the economy and every other aspect of a post-industrial society. We aren’t just educating the workforce of the future, we are educating the people who will create the system that redefines what work is.

Publish

The act of publishing is not the thing itself that gives student work greater meaning. The decision to publish is the final step in thinking critically about your work.

Collecting “Likes” is not a substitute for an impassioned process of creating, editing, reflecting, discussing, and re-creating. Meaning and value are generated in the process, not the product.

First, help students to create work of great meaning, then publish to share that value with an audience.

Abstraction

All communication is abstraction. Thought never correlates exactly to the structure of language, image, or symbol.

When we instruct kids, we often attempt to correct this disconnect between our ideas and the output through careful dissection and increasing precision.

Ultimately don’t we just increase the abstraction, and move further from the goal of their understanding? We call it scaffolding, but I worry that the scaffold is just another obstacle we put between the child and the door we hope they will enter.

Content

In discussions about education, I find that we often come around to a debate over skills vs. content. I think most of the time we’ve oversimplified the meaning of content to serve our purposes.

For the folks who are gung-ho about skills over content, the word content generally means facts. Bits of information that were once valuable but are now easily and freely accessed using modern technology.

The counter argument, it would seem, of those who support content first is that we need to cram kids’ heads with names and dates. I don’t think there are many teachers who still believe this, even those who support a content focused curriculum. So what are they advocating for? I think it is Ideas.

I think it’s easy to dismiss those who advocate for content when we see that content as facts, but when viewed as ideas, it becomes harder. When content is seen as ideas, there is a clear and equal place in the curriculum for content and skills.

The real debate is about what ideas we value and should education be designed to impose our ideas on kids, or allow kids to develop ideas on their own even if they don’t match the ones we hold most dear?