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Education, technology and the almost forgotten skill of craftsmanship

January 18, 2012

John Naughton is I believe one of the UK’s finest writers and thinkers on technology and its gravitational pull on media/culture/business and education.

In his article about technology and education in I smiled a wry smile, as Naughton gave his perspective on how out-of-step current education is with the modern world, as we currently know it. Having just taken my dyslexic son out of state education, because the systemic way it wanted to school my child was too painful to watch from the sidelines any longer. I nodded along with his assessment, whilst reaching once again for my credit card, rather than reaching for the phone to the deputy head (the big head wont see me I am not important enough).

Reading the article I also reflected on the work of Henry Jenkins, and a report he authored for the MacArthur Foundation in which he argued that to be real contributors to our world. Children needed some real skills and competencies. these are listed below

* Play – the capacity to experiment with your surroundings as a form of problem-solving

* Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

* Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes

* Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

* Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.

* Distributed cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities

* Collective intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

* Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources

* Transmedia navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

* Networking – the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

* Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

I thought of these because what Naughton is touching on is extremely important especially the idea of what Johan Huizinga described as the felt fingering space of play – this is where we learn to become craftsmen and women. We English like to talk about tinkering,

When utility rules adults lose something essential in the capacity to think, they lose the free curiosity that occurs in the open, felt fingering space of play.

Naughton writes,

he goes on

The current curriculum undermines the authority of the education system by revealing to tech-savvy children how antediluvian it is. But, more importantly, the curriculum is disabling rather than enabling for most kids, because it is preparing them for a technological world that is vanishing before their eyes. Training children to use Microsoft Office is the contemporary equivalent of the touch-typing courses that secretarial colleges used to run for girls in the 1940s and 1950s – useful for a limited role in the workplace, perhaps, but not much good for life in the modern world.

Right on, just ask my son. And he points to the fact that we are being still, still trained to be passive consumers rather that active engaged learners and citizens. Sadly, less Enlightenment, more factory ready. And so Naughton celebrates the Raspberry Pi (pi blog) project that it is hoped, will once again provide, as Naughton describes it as, a “licence to tinker”. In No Straight Lines, I argue for the principle of Craftsmanship, the ability to learn through trial and error, to perfect acts of creation, Huizinga’s most artful description of the ‘felt fingering space of play.’

Why Craftsmanship? It is Social Philosopher Richard Sennett’s contention that “nearly anyone can become a good craftsman” and that “learning to work well enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens.” This line of thought depends, among other things, upon the Enlightenment assumption that craft abilities are innate and widely distributed, and that, when rightly stimulated and trained, they allow craftsmen to become knowledgeable public persons.” Tinkering might have more to it thaan meets the eye?

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