Rather than teachers delivering an information product to be ‘consumed’ and fed back by the student, co-creating value would see the teacher and student mutually involved in assembling and dissembling cultural products. As co-creators, both would add value to the capacity building work being done through the invitation to ‘meddle’ and to make errors. The teacher is in there experimenting and learning from the instructive complications of her errors alongside her students, rather than moving from desk to desk or chat room to chat room, watching over her flock.

I love this vision of teaching from Erica McWilliam, articulated in her 2007 piece “Unlearning How to Teach” (via my Diigo network). I know the idea isn’t new in these parts, but the way she frames it really resonates. And it speaks to some important aspects of network literacy and the teacher’s role in the formation of and the participation in those student networks. At the end of the day, as she suggests in the quote above, we have to add value to the process, not simply facilitate it. Here’s another snip that gets to that:

A further point here – if we consider the student’s learning network as a type of value network, then, we must also accept that such a network allows quick disconnection from nodes where value is not added, and quick connections with new nodes that promise added value – networks allow individuals to ‘go round’ or elude a point of exchange where supply chains do not. In blunt terms, this means that the teacher who does not add value to a learning network can – and will – be by-passed.

I think that’s one of the hardest shifts in thinking for teachers to make, the idea that they are no longer central to student learning simply because they are in the room. When learning value can be found in a billion different places, the teacher has to see herself as one of many nodes of learning, and she has to be willing to help students find, vet, and interact with those other nodes in ways that place value at the center of the interaction, meaning both ways. It’s not just enough to add those who bring value; we must create value in our networks as well.

Another interesting point in the essay suggests that because of our emphasis on knowledge in the schooling process, we are actually creating a more ignorant society. I greatly admire Charles Leadbetter‘s work (If you haven’t read “Learning from the Extremes” (pdf) you need to), and this somewhat extended quote really got me thinking:

In a script-less and fluid social world, ‘being knowledgeable’ in some discipline or area of enterprise is much less useful than it was in times gone by. In The Weightless Society (2000), Charles Leadbeater explains the reason for this by exploding the myth that we are becoming a more and more knowledgeable society with each new generation. Leadbeater’s view is that we have never been more ignorant. He reminds us that we have a much less intimate knowledge of the technologies that we use every day than our forebears had, and will continue to experience a growing gap between what we know and what knowledge is embedded in our manufactured environment. In simple terms, we are much more ignorant in relative terms than our predecessors.

But Leadbeater makes a further point about our increasing relative ignorance that is highly significant for teaching and learning. It is that we can and must put this ignorance to work – to make it useful – to provide opportunities for ourselves and others to live innovative and creative lives. “What holds people back from taking risks”, he asserts, “is often as not …their knowledge, not their ignorance” (p.4). Useful ignorance, then, becomes a space of pedagogical possibility rather than a base that needs to be covered. ‘Not knowing’ needs to be put to work without shame or bluster… Our highest educational achievers may well be aligned with their teachers in knowing what to do if and when they have the script. But as indicated earlier, this sort of certain and tidy knowing is out of alignment with a script-less and fluid social world. Out best learners will be those who can make ‘not knowing’ useful, who do not need the blueprint, the template, the map, to make a new kind of sense. This is one new disposition that academics as teachers need to acquire fast – the disposition to be usefully ignorant.

As a parent, and I know I keep coming back to this lens more and more these days, I want my kids and their teachers to be “usefully ignorant.” It’s the basis of inquiry, and that type of learning can’t happen unless we give up this notion that we can “know” the answer and that it can be tested in a neat little short answer package. The world truly is “script-less”, and the more my kids are able to flourish with “not knowing” the more successful they will be. Just that concept will require a lot of “unlearning” when it comes to teaching and schools in general.

So how are you unlearning teaching?