“Ye Have Need of Patience”

I’ve been vexed all week. Really, vexed.

Here’s a selection of the blog posts I didn’t write this week: “Why Open Education Won’t Save the World,” “Lurking and Ignorance in Qualitative Research” and “The Malignant Delusion of Educational Assessment.”

Like I said… vexed.

I don’t know how to take the mass of largely useless lecture notes that is open education today and turn it into something that will create intrinsic value for universities AND actually contribute to the self-actualization of a micro-entrepreneur in Mozambique. I don’t know how to get useful instructional direction from formulaic “objective” statements or how to write a test item that actually taps higher-order thinking (heck, the textbook can’t even do it!) Let alone how to change the morally and logically bankrupt system that says standardized tests somehow indicate the worth and quality of schools, teachers, and children. All the problems just seem too complex, too convoluted, too entrenched, too intractable, too freaking HUGE.

David told us a story this week about a time when everything got to be too much and Stephen Downes just sort of disappeared for 6 months. He got choked up talking about how it changed things, how he needed that foil, that critique. I haven’t struggled with these problems long enough, let alone come up with any ideas or opinions significant enough to be needed or missed, but I was vexed this week. And sad. And already tired.

Last night, I thought of that story, and I listened to this. I still don’t have any answers. Nothing is any clearer, brighter, or easier. But “we are not of them that draw back,” are we?

Nope.

  1. SaraJoy, you’re not alone, and it doesn’t stop upon graduation. The best advice I can give you is to blog your thoughts, no matter how ill-formed they may be at the time. Donald Campbell (of Cook & Campbell) used to eat lunch with his grad students at U of Chicago. He encouraged them to toss around any and every idea they had in hopes that the ideas would either develop into something useful, or die as they should. He called it “evolutionary epistemology.”

    Will Open Ed *not* save the world? I thought it would 🙂 Without you getting your ideas out there – even in blabbering form – we’ll never be able to talk about it.

    Is qualitative inquiry messed up? In educational research it is. (You should know that David Williams and Charles Graham, my dissertation advisor, kicked me out of their IP&T course on qualitative methods… long story.) I just posted some of my feelings on the issue ( http://brownelearning.org/blog/?p=265 ), but I hope that if I’m wrong, that someone chimes in and helps me learn that I am.

    Is educational assessment an unrecoverable disaster? I can’t say much without more information, but because you included some detail… I’d say, “No, it isn’t a disaster.” Tests, portfolios, performance assessments, etc. are just tools. Be sure not to confuse them with the policies governing how a few of them are used. I teach educators how to administer standardized tests and interpret the results to individualize instruction for children with special needs. In these cases, testing is a huge blessing.

    These are just some examples of discussions that can happen if you start them. Post some of your attempts at higher order thinking items and let anyone interested help you refine them. Rant about ethnographies, critical incident analysis, and the obscenity of No Child Left Behind, but let your voice be heard. The problems don’t get smaller, and our feeble ability to address them only increases slightly, but the more we talk about it and come to understand our own understanding, the more comfortable we become with our place in the chaos.

  2. Lisa

    Sara,
    I know I’m no expert on any of this, but I was just thinking about some of your delemas and noticing that, in a much simpler way they are similar to some of mine. Trying to guide Ethan in using his agency wisely seems horribly daunting at times, but I know that he has been blessed with the ability to figure it out on his own, regardless of what I do. If I can provide him with controlled opportunities to learn, he might learn faster and more comprehensively, but I think he would learn just as effectively on his own.
    I guess what I was thinking was that even if we can’t test our knowledge to see exactly how much we have learned, at least we know we are learning. And I am very grateful that the Lord has blessed us with the ability to choose and to act upon what we have learned.
    You’re right, we are not of those who draw back. I think I have learned that it is important to let those you are responsible for know you love them and that you are trying your best to help them. Then, most human instinct will push them to help you find better ways to help you help them.
    Sorry if that was nonsensical and confusing- You know I’m no good with words.
    Just keep going and I know you’ll save the world eventually. 😉

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts here and the others posted — as I think they articulate what all of us frequently feel, and I also enjoyed it because the vexation itself is an indication to me of how deeply you care.

    I’m a big believer in the statement, “Our biggest problem is usually not what we think it is. Our biggest problem is that we think we shouldn’t have any big problems.”
    Maybe the bigger the problem, the bigger the growth?
    It would be nice if there was some alternative divine instructional design strategy than, “here is a problem, you figure it out.”
    But it seems like God probably knows better than me on this on. 😉

    I like this semi-related quote:
    “There are two ways of meeting difficulties; you alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them.”
    ~Phyllis Bottome

    Even when I try with the best intelligence and heart I have and then I seemingly fail for the moment, I don’t see that as a real failure.
    Giving into the temptation to permanently give up, throw in the towel, in the face of problems that seem overwhelming — that seems to me like the biggest failure.

    Of course, all this is much easier to say when things are good than to believe and live when things get tough.

    But I like your concluding thought — after all — why draw back just because a task seems to be overwhelming and impossible?

    That just seems to be more reason to dive in, and enjoy the swim.
    (Just don’t forget to come up to get air every once in a while)
    🙂

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