GOODBYE TO THE STUDENT AS SPECTATOR
Teachers and students, we do not have to be curators anymore; we can be actors in the middle of life's activity.
The world of Internet is rich and real--with the ideas that contend for the forefront, for ascendence in our society. The Internet is full of people, groups, philosophies, ambitions, and they represent real contests for hearts, minds and power. The Internet is a panoply of activity, alive with action, and teachers and students should be players swimming in this intellectual current. Here is a place where we can see, understand, discuss, and be involved, shoulder to shoulder, so to speak, with the great ideas of the day.These comments and suggestions apply primarily to using the Internet as a teaching and learning strategy in the tradiional classroom.
Once I was kicked off of a listserv for teachers because I had sent the copy of a very long message from Chiapas-L (1) , from the Zapatista's Sub-Commandante Marcos, the leader of the people's revolution in the Mexican state of Chiapas. His message was very long and heroic in the rich tradition of hispanic revolutionaries; it was in glowing, romantic language, tracing the abuse of *los indios,* describing *La Lucha* (The Struggle, The Battle), the farmers at the hands of the rich and powerful landowners, the government and their troops/goons. The rhetoric, even the misinformation, the propaganda, and the attractiveness of the Sub-Commandante's narrative was a wonder! I would have thought that Emeliano Zapata was alive and in the mountains of Morelos today. One would not find a piece of writing with more integrity, nor anymore unique, nor writing more worth reading.
The listowner had a complaint from someone that some fellow (me) was putting long posts on the listserv and that it was running his online costs up. Anyway, what did some crazy latino speech have to do with teaching and learning in the community college? Get him (me) to shut up! OK?
Well, I was dropped from the list, without a word.
I explained off-list to the listowner:
"Hey! Hello, there. I am not especially interested in speeches. I put this speech on the list because it allows our students of speech, and history, and literature,and government, and sociology, and, and... to be present and experience a revolution that is underway, experience it first-hand, now. Do you think this might be a worthy learning experience for students and teachers? The Sub-Commandante is in the forest of Lacondonia, fighting the first lap-top revolution in the history of the world (2), and you can feel the humidity, the starvation, and smell the murder of peasants in their villages. Do you think that this might be a worthwhile experience for our teachers and students? I am bringing your little list on teaching and learning in the community college a revolution. We do not have to be observers, you know," I explained to the listowner.
"Oh," the listowner said, and I was re-subscribed.
A lawyer in Dallas, on another list, wrote me and thanked me for reposting the Sub-Commandante's speech, saying, "Where do we have leaders like this in our country? Where are leaders like him?"
The Internet takes us where we do not ordinarily belong and does it with ease, speed, and while there we run into to new ideas. For example, two weeks ago the a law firm filed in the United States Supreme Court a "friend of the court" brief in behalf of twenty clients who are opposed to the Communications Decency Act. The brief was filed on CD-ROM and contained voluminous examples of valuable current Internet communications which would be illegal under the new law. For a court that has little computer literacy, they have before them a hypertexted document that has video, Real-Audio, Quicktime and other information applications. The point is that the Internet allows one to see what is being argued before the Supreme Court right now; the arguments of the time are available to each of us. The document is located at the website of Schnader,Harrison,Segal & Lewis [http://www.shsl.com]. (Click on "Amicus Brief.") The media of the CD-ROM brief becomes part of the message of the brief;that is, information can be richer, more effective, and more widely available with a tool like the Internet.
Going where we do not ordinarily go is exactly the place where we have the greatest chance to learn something new. It is the same for our students. The use of the Internet is an evergreen activity, building skills that will keep us new and growing.
Working with the WWW Sites, the discussion listservs, the newsletters (alerts, bulletins, or infobots) of groups is a superb learning laboratory in the real world.
AN EXTENDED EXAMPLE OF INTERNET ACTION LEARNING
Here is an example of a social movement emerging in front of us, currently on the Internet; if we are vigilant, aware, and active we can learn about it and play a part in it with our students.
Here is a brief description of the emerging conflict (and the net locations) over the use of the natural resources of the earth. There are many groups on the Internet that are in conflict over this issue. Are natural resources here solely for the wise use of human beings: or, do humans, as the dominant species, have ecological responsibilities?
This is a fight, no holds barred, that is manifest in Congress, the state capitols, and in our own communities at this very moment. The Wise Use Movement is promoted by many groups like The Alliance for America [http://home.navisoft.com/alliance/afaweb/afahome.htm]; concerns and detractions of the movement are promoted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) [http://www.ewg.org].
The substance of these two philosophies, the meaning of their reach for power, raises important questions for teachers and students, who are learning about what is operating in society now. Some of these questions about these groups (and other) are as follows:
The Wise Use Movement takes the position that natural resources--water, minerals, air, grasslands, forests, other species--are on earth for humans and their uses. Though it does not propose extinction, pollution, and waste, The Wise Use Movement does not especially regard environmental issues as important. People, what they do and need, are the important issues. If fact, The Wise Use Movement promotes information that says that our environment is not in danger; the environment, in their view, is nearly inexhaustible, in fact.
The Wise Use Movement is a organization made up of the Christian Coalition [http://cc.org], industry, loggers, shrimpers, off-the-road vehicle enthusiasts, mining interests, ranchers, fisher-persons, property rights people and investors, backed by a Who's Who of Fortune 500 organizations (eg. Amoco).
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), on the other hand, tracks the Wise Use Movement's attack on environmental education in public schools. The movement, in very effective ways, constrains environmental education and gets school boards and school administrations to make policy against environmental education and to fear environmental education programming in the schools. The movement has clearly targeted education. I know this to be true in my own community where some schools discourage environmental education related to anything, but especially as it relates to water quality and conservation issues in Galveston Bay. This activity occurs in the shadow of Johnson Space Center, a monument to science.
EWG tracks, geographically, the actions of this campaign across the country. The organization invites all of us to report local activity; in fact, these reports are the sources of their tracking. I can find out in Texas where and what the Wise Use Movement is doing, and you can do the same thing for the area in which you live.
So, were all of us involved in this vital and emerging contest, how would we decide on the use of natural resources? What would we do as teachers and students? Why should we wait until this national policy issue becomes decided without our being involved as participants? Why should we wait, as educators, until it is decided for us? Why should we stand on the sidelines as curators, archivists, codifiers, and the spectators?
This example shows how teachers and students can go to primary sources of information, collect arguments and information, manipulate the information, evaluate it, make decisions, and ultimately take action or form personal positions. The example is not the point; the process of using the Internet in these ways is the point.
So that we realize, we should know that the day is full of ideas-- plotting, thinking, activity, change, collaboration, cheating, preaching, demagoguery, doing, action-taking, contending, -- full of energy. I feel that the learning most valued and meaningful occurs in this vibrant stream. This kind of energy and thought is on Internet in abundance and available to us and our students. The ideas are "out there," but they are not labelled history, writing, literature, science, government, or speech; nevertheless the disciplines are running through the ideas as they emerge in life, real life.
The basic tools of the Internet facilitate our becoming involved actively with the ideas of the day. It is worthwhile to understand the essence of WWW Sites, Listservs, Newsletters as listed above in the contest for the environment. Each of these Internet tools has a unique purpose and it is important to understand each. *World Wide Web Sites* are built for the purpose of organizing, keeping, and developing available information on a topic. Information on WWW Sites is important to the sponsoring builder of the site, otherwise the builder would not spend time to develop the site. The *Listserv* exists to exchange views and to discuss the different these views on a singular topic. *Newsletters/bulletins* exist for the purpose of identifying information that an individual or an organization wants to promote or sell. This tool communicates some immediacy.
Therefore, using these three Internet tools, students and teachers can learn something of the body of knowledge of a single priority topic/area (WWW Site), how people who are interested in that topic behave and inter-relate about it (Listserv), and what is immediately valuable to the group (Newsletter). In such a way, students and teachers can learn about a group of people and its motivations. As we might identify the use of these tools by opposing forces, we have a conflict, opposition, and as one side or the other survives an argument or debate, democratic processes play out in front of us and we understand immediately the result.
The educative issue for students and teachers then becomes how does each of us decide our own positions on the world's ideas, and, to the extent that we can communicate those ideas and justify them, we become informed and educated people. Importantly, we achieve this by being active players in the thoughts of the day, as participants, and Internet allowed us to do that--to join in with the real world where there are always plenty of players, plenty of ideas, and sufficient contention.
Is not our real mission as educators to help students to think by using a process like this: asking these questions, finding some answers and learning the skills of effective communication which require the student's understanding of culture, history, responsibility, his/her personal intent, and perspective?
THE ISSUES OF THE DAY
I am not trying to convince anyone to deal with the subject of world natural resource utilization; rather, I promote the use of this process, using the tools of the Internet, to engage reality. I think it is up to each of us to value what is worth knowing more about. For what it is worth, my list of the important issues is as follows: Free Speech, Democracy, Deciding, Human Rights, Sustainability of the Earth, Conflict Resolution, Community Strengthening, Change, the Use of Wealth, and the Use of Technology.
One would have to know that these issues are contentious as they run through the discourse of Libertarians, Communitarians, Progressives, Liberals, Conservatives and the confused (who populate all groups without discrimination). One does not have far to go to find opposing views on the Internet. In this instance they marshall forces on one side: The Heritage Foundation [http://www.heritage.org], The Cato Institute [http://www.cato.org], The Alliance For America [http://home.navisoft.com/alliance/afaweb/afahome.htm], and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise [http://www.cdfe.org] which are opposed to People For the American Way [http://www.pfaw.org], The American Civil Liberties Union [http://www.aclu.org"], and Essential Information [http://essential.org]. Teachers and students could always count on these groups to oppose each other generally, in fascinating and compelling ways.
HOW DO WE FIND THESE SOURCES?
The best way to find sources like these is to work together, identifying and building resources, cyber-bibliographies, putting them on a website somewhere, available for everyone to use. Who, for instance, has a list of resources on any of the issues of the day mentioned above? Where are the Internet sites that bring us to the frontline action? We should collaborate on identifying and using these. How can we work together to build these kinds of primary information sources for our students? Each of us has special skills to bring to the venture.
We really collaborate too little as teachers and students; most of our communication is at a basic level of cognitive exchange--what does your school do about XYZ, what is your policy for ABC, or (this is deadly): What is your teaching load? We might offer especially helpful sources of information instead.
I would like to offer a few here. The Institute for Global Communication has a comprehensive list of sources organized by issues on The Issue Page [http://www.igc.org/igc/econet/index.html]. In addition, there is a strong list of resources for activists at Netaction [http://www.netaction.org], a non-profit organized in the Fall of 1996 by Audrie Krause. It is a place where computer science talents learn the skills of activists, skills that seldom are learned in computer scientist studies. Also, very useful tools are located at Activism: Internet Resource Collection [http://www.igc.apc.org/igc/issues/activis/or.html].
As a general approach to finding information, I learned a valuable lesson years ago from Albert Shapiro, a teacher at the University of Texas, College of Business Management. Albert said that one can find almost any information that one wants by posing a crisp question, and then thinking carefully about who might have a chance to know the answer, then calling that person, or place. How many phone calls would you think it would take to find the answer to your question? Albert Shapiro and his students conducted the research.
It takes an average of three calls. The key is that one must ask a clear question, one question, then selecting the most logical source that might answer it; the Internet is basically a big, low cost phone system. Finding answers to questions is faster, more effective, and cheaper than it ever has been, but one still has to ask the question and think about who might have a chance to have the answer. Try it. See what happens. Maybe we need to ask more questions.
As teachers and students become actors with the ideas of the day, how we might use new knowledge.? This is, indeed, another area where we need to work together. We can publish our thinking, write for local and campus publications, refine them on listservs among ourselves, collaborate across the Internet with other students and teachers, take action, enjoin citizens, and otherwise develop intellectual vitality and fervor in us and our students.
The ideas used here to exemplify the process of learning with Internet were just that--examples. What I am lobbying for here, however, is that teachers and students, no matter what they are learning, should use the Internet to go to the places of action; that is what it allows us to do. If you are interested in gardening, go to the horticultural researcher. If you are learning about disease, go to the people who have it, or the people who are battling it, scientifically. Dig and search with the archeologists. Read the log written this day by the scientists in Antarctica, the log of marine scientists in the Gulf of Mexico.
We should no longer wait for others to tell us about developments, or to read about things, rather we should go to the place of action, the primary place; we should interact and learn in that place.
For instance, we do not have to wait for a book about the insurgency in Belgrade, Serbia. When it is written it will be hashing over old information, interpreting nuances, and have great scholarship, but it will have lost the vibrancy of getting the news today from Belgrade, from the Serbian Renewal Movement [http://www.spo.org.yu], and reading the background of the growing rebellion, understanding new dimensions of freedom, or the lack of it. Click on "Info" and "biography". There are also links to news from all parts of Eurasian, the Eurasian News Service [ ].And if one wants to, write President Vuk Draskovic [http://www.spo.org.yu/contact.htm], the uninstalled President, or anyone of his leading party members. They are overwhelmed with world interest and support, however, and are only able to answer 10% of their correspondence.
One can be almost as much a part of the changes in Belgrade as one wants. We live in a new time with new possibilities for learning and involvement. It is a breath-taking time for learning, exciting for students and teachers.
It is truly a fond Goodbye To the Student As Spectator.
We do not have to be curators anymore; we can be actors in the middle of life's activity.
TCC Online Conferences