Week 2 – Enforcing Independence #Rhizo14


2012-07-07 06.39.44My jaw practically dropped as an undergraduate when I asked my English teacher what a word meant and he told me to look it up.

What? Can he say that to me? I thought. He’s my teacher.

The rationale was that by taking an active interest in my own learning, I would be more likely to remember the word. It was a small way of enforcing independence, but it is effective.

ENFORCING INDEPENDENCE is, as David Cormier acknowledged, an inflammatory way of stating something that encourages the students to think critically and take responsibility for their own education. We could also call it what bell hooks did, Teaching to Transgress. Liberatory education.

The classroom, with all its limitations, remains a location of possibility. In the field of possibility we have the opportunity to labor for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom.

I really had a Cheshire cat grin on my face when Cormier brought up this idea of forcing learners into being dependent. He mentioned that his audience is often 40-50 which is the same age range for students as mine. I’ve never worked in k-12 or with twenty-somethings on a regular basis, so at 26 I tend to be the mirror in which I consider millennial learning differences through. However, I do not believe that all 40-50 year old buy into the centralized power structure in the traditional classroom. In my cohort at Royal Roads the average age was around 43 and I believe the majority of people were very independent learners.

However, in the vocational training that I develop, hand-holding learners is often the norm. I’m the training development coordinator, so I mostly interact with subject matter experts, but I do advise students on a distance course in written communication. These have intersected for me in strange ways at times.Being one of the few non technical courses I moved away from the need for multiple choice tests for compliance, and sometimes the other advisor is not a fan of my work.

But they’ll be frustrated!

They are supposed to be at least a little uncomfortable (at least if they aren’t used to thinking about their communication skills). Given that considering your audience while writing it is a whole new way of looking at the world for some people, I would be surprised if they didn’t feel ill-at-ease. In the same way I felt a little jolt when told to look something up for myself.

Our differing perspectives have cause me to reflect a lot. For my students I like them to flail a little, not fail, but maybe panic a tiny bit. I think they come away knowing that they are able to think for themselves.

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5 thoughts on “Week 2 – Enforcing Independence #Rhizo14

  1. As a teacher of sixth graders (11 year olds), the conformity identity is, unfortunately, set in motion already by standardized testing and expectations. Instead of instilling learning for the love of discovery, it is often about how to pass the test. So, I guess, our worlds are not all that different. Like you, I do a lot of hand-holding, even as I try to break the mindset of young students who are afraid already to follow their own path and vision.
    Kevin

    • Hello Kevin,
      Yes that’s true. Many of my students are used to the idea of learning because you have to, not learning because it’s fun/interesting. However, once in awhile I am able to tap into their interests and that help a bit. Pity education has such a focus on testing. I am able to move away from that a little in the written communication course but the majority of tests are based on compliance so there’s not much I can do about that.

  2. As if being comfortable ever led to anything interesting.

    Let them be uncomfortable. If you’re 43 years old and you’ve carved the time out of your life to learn something, make the effort. That’s the line i use with my students… and, if delivered to mean “hey, you’re a busy person, why waste your time” i’ve found it to be very effective.

  3. When I saw the Week 2 topic title (it was before the other materials were posted) I resisted, probably because of the word ‘enforced’. I can see that as a teaching tactic enforcing independence can be effective but probably only in the short term. Are learners truly independent if their independence is always enforced? To work, I would guess that enforcing independence would have to be rare. An independent learner could start to question the enforcing. I suppose I am wondering what happens next and if the teacher could in the position of having something enforced by the students. Anyway, enough of my rambling.

    • I know enforcing is a harsh word. I assume Dave used the work deliberately in order to challenge our thinking. I also think that sometimes learning is manipulation. We encourage people to see the world another way and that means a certain amount of coercion is sometimes at play.

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