So, I’ve been thinking about the context of teaching. In the fall, I attended an ADVIS event at which Marc Prensky spoke. He’s the guy who coined the term “digital native.” One of the things that I thought was most compelling about what he had to say was his idea that people are not good at, and don’t necessarily like, the idea of change. People are good at adapting, as evidenced by our continued existence. With that in mind, he suggested that it is worth reframing the discussion to be one of adaptation to a new context. So he says it goes like this, “as the context in which we teach changes, it is important to adapt.”
Then over winter break I read the YA book, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, by Catherine Valente. Cover art and title aside, I have my doubts as to whether this is really a kid book. I think the title and art work suggest a younger audience than would enjoy it, but moving on. At one point our heroine, September, is getting all cleaned up to enter the city of Pandemonium (it’s a little Phantom Tollbooth-y in some of the plays on words) and is told (p.61):
The wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes as the world changes.
Context and adaptation.
I love the idea that it is not just what one does in a new context, but what one wishes that changes in a that context. And, when I think about it, it seems obvious. My wishes are certainly relative. When it’s close to dinner time, I wish for the dinner fairies to come and cook. When I’m at school, I wish for things like time to meet with teachers to think about new ideas. The good advice continues (still p.61),
And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is not everyone can tell when to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.
Now, if you remove the Fairyland parts, I think the you are left with some real words of wisdom, If you don’t update as the world changes around you, you’re likely to be left with regret. Or, wishes left unattended to can easily become regrets. Word it how you want and feel free to share your version.
So, now I’m wondering which of my wishes need a little laundering. I do not think my new office is Fairlyand, but my office is attached to a new job, a new context. What are my wishes now, in my new context? And, what will I do about them, for as the title of the book suggests, I must get there in a ship of my own making.
As I think about my fellow educators, some of whom are unnerved by this new digital context, I worry that their wishes are the wishes of a long ago time. Being the old guard, the keeper of tradition, starts out being charming and the voice of experience. But if that voice does not adapt at all, how long will it have any influence and at what point does it become simply the voice of the past that gets put aside?
Who wants to be put aside? Ignored? Found to be irrelevant? My guess is no one.
I wonder, is some of this concern about adapting to this new digital context at its core about becoming unrecognizable to oneself or to others? Will one’s toughness, or expertise not be recognized? Some more words from my novel. September says, upon meeting someone who recognizes the wrench she is carrying,
You know my. . . my wrench? [this makes sense in the story, insert me/a name here]
Of course I know it. It was not a wrench when we were last acquainted, but ones friends may change clothes and still one knows them. (p.171)
I believe that excellent teaching may, in fact must, change its clothing, be it room design, delivery, or assessment. The context has changed already. It’s time to launder our wishes lest they become regrets.