Perhaps Ken Robinson best captures a common problem that also concerns Wesch and Langer; a dominant culture of education in the U.S. that is targeted toward conformity and compliance. He states that we hold a mechanistic model of education, treating it as an industrial process that can be improved with more data; more data from standardized tests that can accurately measure improvements in student learning. Langer’s version of this is that we’ve bought into the myths of learning that involve memorization, deference to authority, and breaking down a task into discrete elements, each of which can then be practiced and mastered. So things become second nature and automatic; mindless. This leads to a performer of some sort that is technically proficient, but who’s actions have a mechanistic quality to them. The problem Wesch sees is that the structures of higher education classrooms and courses are oblivious to the individuality of students, seeing them as soulless containers that will be filled with facts and information. No wonder, then, that students become bored and unmotivated when we educate them not to genuinely think, but rather for “low grade clerical work.”
Instead, they argue that real learning involves seeing human beings as radically diverse, each with their own questions about “who am I,” and “what am I going to do”? Robinson argues education must involve a culture of creativity, based on the concept of education as an organic system, not mechanistic. Langer argues for teaching that fosters mindfulness; “teaching in a conditional way [that] sets the stage for doubt and an awareness of how different situations call for subtle differences in what we bring to them” (16). Wesch gets to this more humanistic model of education by creating learning environments in which a student’s unique “gifts” and talents can be engaged as a source of motivation and learning. He speaks to environments that can recognize the heroic dimensions of each student that also fosters compassion and “to build a life worth living,” resources to get us through the dark night of the soul.
So I think these arguments are all quite important. My primary concern is that they are silent on the broader social and political forces that are institutionalizing industrial forms of education. To be fair, Robinson comes close to this broader problem when he invokes the mechanistic model of education, as an industrial process. He also speaks to the need for a broader curriculum, including the arts and humanities. But beyond this, the solutions they offer seem to be premised on the problem that teachers need better teaching methods. This may be true, but it leaves unchallenged the structures that have perpetuated Langer’s mindless myths, Wesch’s abysmal classrooms, and Robinson’s “culture of compliance.” What about the notion of politicizing their audience? To urge them toward at least some collective action to challenge the corporatization of higher education? Don’t we need to speak at much more loudly to the broader structures and ideologies that are creating a generation of students that are left with small answers to small questions?