- Epistemology is the construction of personal standards for telling fact from fancy, truth from fiction, and certainty from doubt. Ontology is the construction of theories of what exists. Ethical constructions remind us of what we think we should do even if we don't want to, and why. Everybody has them, and normally no two of us agree on them. The epistemology of Prussian-style education is, the King and his ministers are always right, and even if they weren't you would have no business questioning them. Or, at the classroom level, “It's true because I said so, now shut up and sit down!” The same attitude is common, even usual, in ontology and ethics as well. It's real because I said so, You have to because I said so.—Edward Cherlin
Cherlin paints a grim picture. While the theoretical layer of didactic methods has advanced, unfortunately, in much of the world's formal education systems, there has been little progress. The computer serves as a power tool for getting new pedagogical approaches into the system. While getting computers into the hands of more children is undoubtedly of benefit, the question remains, “how does one maximize the learning that occurs?” The question often is framed in terms of “teacher-centric” approach versus “child-centric.” This dichotomy is a false one; while we should not be proscriptive, we should be striving for a “learning-centric” approach, where teachers mentor students as they engage with powerful ideas, “teaching less and learning more.”
While we want to give children access to knowledge—through media such as electronic books, the world-wide web, and multimedia—we also should try to skew the odds toward children and teachers appropriating this knowledge by putting it to use and engaging in critical dialog. That is not just going to happen by itself; we have to try to make it happen by giving them tools that put them in the roles of consumer, critic, and creator within the context of a learning community. Learning is not a service—it's a process of active appropriation.
One of the forces being unleashed by the one-to-one computing initiatives—where children have access to computing “anytime” and “anywhere”—is the change in the way software developers and computer-makers think about the education industry. A combination of strong and capable leadership—by technologists and epistemologists—and cross-community collaboration is necessary to ensure that the ideals of freedom, sharing, open critique, and transparency will be part of the interface to learning that touches children in the world’s classrooms. While community collaboration may seem unrealistic from the vantage point of a model of economy as a machine, which individuals are single-purpose cogs wheels and gear, collaboration—and the resulting synthesis of ideas—is the most efficient means of invention and subsequent development. The “intelligence is in the leaves” and those who unleash that intelligence will prosper.
These ideas are embodied in the culture of free software, which is a powerful culture for learning. It is possible to instill in the education industry some of the culture, technology, and morals of the open source movement. Such a transfer of culture could greatly enhance the education industry and its ability to engage teachers and students: empowering them with both the freedom to act and the freedom to be critical. Criticism of ideas is a powerful force in learning and in fostering economic development; unleashing that is an important part of the mission. Conventional wisdom suggests that teachers don't want to learn (and change); to the contrary, teachers perhaps more than any other constituency know that the status quo is failing.