This. . . is. . . Sparta! The Culture of Education 2.0

As I write these words, the culture of Education 2.0 is coming into being. This culture will bind and guide students, teachers, technology providers, consumers, parents, and children, well into the century ahead. Cultures are built using models – paradigms and ideals against which we compare our new community. Just as the American culture in the 17th and 18th century was woven from the strands of England, Republican Rome and ancient Greece, we now have the opportunity to ask, what should be our models for the culture of Education 2.0?

One controversial nominee: Sparta. Not Athens. Not wisdom for wisdom’s sake. Not a respect for the depth and complexity of thought solely in proportion to its depth and complexity. Not a model that assumes a distinct hierarchy between the teacher and the student or where the student is more-or-less passive, a vessel to be filled. Instead of these more “Athenian” virtues, we’d want our young Spartans to be:

  • Brave – To fully participate in the web is to expose yourself to the slings and arrows of dreadful slander, calumny, and misrepresentation. It is to know the genuine feeling of injury – to be attacked and to defend yourself. The web is not a gentle place and its future will be less so. We should raise our students to have thick skin – when we expect that skin to be exposed to the breadth and depth of the world itself.
  • Determined – the Web is big. As Douglas Adams would phrase it “vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big.” The intellectual ground to be explored by today’s ten year-old is as vast as the Louisiana Purchase. Each must find their way to the sea and to do so they must have resolve far beyond what the students of a decade ago were expected to possess. Day in. Day out. Tenacity.
  • Honest – web-based relationships are tenuous. On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. Because of the anonymity of the medium, we risk more when we choose to trust. But we have to trust each other if we are to realize the potential of the medium. If we are to raise full citizens of the web we must teach them that honesty is non-negotiable and that credibility is the web’s most fragile and most valuable commodity.
  • Resourceful – They should be able to make do. We can be confident that the next five to ten years will be a time right out of Dickens – the best and the worst. Whether we are on the road to genuine economic recovery or whether darker storm clouds in Europe or the waning impact of the Stimulus package are portents of darker days to come, the undeniable truth is that most State budgets are in ruins. As sad as it is true: we can’t afford to give our children the technology they deserve. We can, though, provide them with what they need: A can-do spirit and a disciplined optimism.

All this and more is what we want for our new Spartan children: We want them to be fierce on the way to wise, tenacious on the way to smart. We want them to be canny and clever – the web is filled with half-truth and lies. We want them to grow beyond passivity, docility, or subservience at any age and praise them as they show courage, resolve, and fighting spirit. Does this mean we encourage rebelliousness? Of course not. We want their martial spirit to be collaborative – we want them to fight effectively in teams and to play reasonably well with others – but we want them to be able to discover what they really need and defend it with unrivalled ferocity. We want them to live, breathe and eat DIY – to be digital pioneers and frontiersmen (and women). We want them to be Makers, in Dale’s sense of the term – to charge into a sea of knowledge and swim for their very lives.

Education 2.0. Should. . . be. . . Sparta.

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  • Reinout van Rees

    I liked this post more and more as I read it. Especially the last paragraph.

    My kids are 5 and 7. They see their teacher show them a youtube movie (some children song or so) at school and they (at least the oldest one) know darn well how to find that exact video back at home behind the computer.

    They’re wandering freely on the Internet. I cannot monitor everything, though both me and my wife watch the screen regularly when they’re busy: the computer is in the living room. But still: they wander freely online. We’re *not* letting them roam that freely outside our house. (“Don’t cross the busy road!”)

    So: yes, I want my kids to be smart, resilient, clever and resourceful. Especially online.

    • http://radar.oreilly.com/robt Rob Tucker

      Dear Reinout,
      I really like your example about digital freedom versus physical freedom — really interesting and true with my 6 year-old as well. The Web brings up all sorts of interesting issues about how much freedom to give children, at what age, and in what ways. As the Web becomes more pervasive and functional, these questions get more and more complex. I certainly don’t want to suggest with this post that we neglect the proper care of young people, but what “proper care” may look like on the Web is a bit more rough-and-tumble than we are used to. Thx!

  • w4p+p8t5uoh

    You sound like Richard Heene. Look where it got him.

  • Nemo

    It is an interesting piece of blabbing propaganda. Unfortunately, it shows how little the author knows about ancient Greece.

    • http://radar.oreilly.com/robt Rob Tucker

      Nemo, your comment is a good example of why kids who will explore the Web will need thick skin :). My point in the post is that cultures look backwards for models. They take some things and leave others. It is fair to argue that Sparta prided itself on a different set of virtues than their northern kin, and that a fair read of certain virtues provides a valuable template for a courageous and tenacious community of learners in Web 2.0. As for propaganda, perhaps — if by that you mean my efforts to encourage ownership and self reliance as educational values for the Web, I prefer to think of it as encouragement, but I’m confident there will be those who read it differently.

  • Sandy

    Briefly, (and no malie intended but…) Nemo is right – Socrates would be outraged to think that his teaching style was being described as teacher-lead/Passive student…. just the opposite… the standard definition of inquiry based learning/student-centered learning is refered to as the “Socratic Method” :o) The student isn’t a vessel to be filled, but a lantern to be turned on.
    That mistake aside, I like this conversation, but it doesn’t go nearly deep enough. The children have no problem with this – they LOVE the internet and all that it offers. I applaude Reinout and Tucker for supporting their children and to be a part of the web. Children that grow up in the web will be better critial thinkers, more persistent to find what they need, and far more cognizant of the possibility that they are looking at misinformation. The honesty piece is difficult – the only thing that you can really trust on the web is that you can’t trust… we must always look for collaborative evidence to support what we are looking at. I’m a huge fan of things like Wikipedia – but it’s the safegaurds that have been set up into it that make it a reliable source. If there were no checks and balances, it wouldn’t be so great.

    • http://radar.oreilly.com/robt Rob Tucker

      Agree with everything Sandy says about the Web, particularly the really interesting part about honesty and verification. I think that teaching kids canniness is unexpected but unexpectedly necessary and beneficial on the Web. To tackle the more tangential discussion of Athens (which drew an unexpected amount of attention on this post :) ). Obviously, what we know about Socrates and the Socratic method is derived almost exclusively from the Platonic Dialogues. These dialogues use as their central method the rhetorical device of getting fictional characters to slowly “agree” with anything that “Socrates” — e.g., Plato — has on his agenda. Carefully read, there are many instances where, as a reader you say, “Doh! Phaedrus — why would you agree to _that_?” etc. Plato clearly set himself up as the guy with the answers. He wanted to be the philosopher-king, for goodness sake. His commitment to actual democratic pluralism in the context of education is suspect, at best. Admittedly, we have created this warm fuzzy picture of Socrates that really believes in open dialogue. I think the historical reality is to the contrary, but this is tangential to the point about teaching resilience to kids as they enter Web 2.0. Really fascinating dialogue on this post — thanks!

  • Kevin Riggen

    I think that Education 2.0 should not even be dependent on the web. We need physical interaction to make a serious impression on our community.

    There is a WHOLE lot to learn now that we have the internet as a resource. Use that, build a school in your community, and network those schools together through the web. BAM!

  • Joeflash

    This phrase is an awesome call to arms for the legions of people out there who are the Champions of Free Thought everywhere, for the true master aspirant of life knows that one never stops becoming a student, and that the truth can only be known through incessant imagination, creativity and inquiry.

    The new “DIY” philosophy reminds me of the Hacker Ethic as summarized in Steven Levy’s Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution: hackers were not subversives nor lawbreakers by nature, but their insatiable curiosity into the inner workings of machines (mostly computerized) of all kinds led them to be mis-branded as criminals by the media who did not understand the mindset, when in fact they were merely ahead of their time. Should we all be so fortunate as to be Hackers and Champions in the Art of Life.

    Now we understand. Now we know what to fight for: not the cliche’d “life, liberty and (ahem)”… but for freedom of creative expression and unfettered Access to such tools.

    The current spate of right-wing paranoia and police-state evolution of modern societies throughout the world is merely a sign that the ageing dinosaur attitude for control of information is on its last legs. The battle must be fought not for some artificially created and purposefully inflated notion of nationalistic security. It is the unparallelled love of creativity of the human race that we must fight to protect.

    THIS. IS. SPARTA!!

    Love it.