Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Twitter Book Club: E. M. Forster (1909) The Machine Stops

Tonight for Twitter Book Club I am reading EM Forster's The Machine Stops.less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

When I chose this book for Twitter Book Club I thought I had not read it but after reading the first page I realized that I read this book a couple years ago in graduate school as an introduction to a class on the "Cutting Edge of Education Technology." However, I believe at that time I just skimmed it. I was glad I reread it. E. M. Forster presents a chilling look at what might happen in a future when people become too reliant on their own technologies that they cease to use them for their own ends but instead are themselves used to serve the machine.

Typically, or at least lately, this book has been touted for what warnings it gives us today about the Internet and the proliferation of the digital world surrounding us. However, I would like today to view Forester's machine through the lens of another man made system which in itself is a technology of it's own, the education system. When I posted these quotes in Twitter this was not my initial intention and this may not play out but bear with me as I give it a try.

--------------------E M Forester------------------------------------------------------ch1 the air ship-------------------------------------less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

"I want to see you not through the Machine," said Kuno. "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

I think, applied to the school setting, that the school "machine" imposes artificial roles on it's users that often inhibit real human communication and dialogue. How often did you want to talk to one of your teachers without the relational boundaries imposed by the teacher-student relationship? How often as a teacher have you wanted to step out of that role and speak frankly. Machines always place an interface between their users. Sometimes this interface is a screen, sometimes it is an agenda, sometimes it is a level of control or access.

"Oh, hush!" said his mother, vaguely shocked. "You mustn"t say anything against the Machine." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

"The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

How often do we hear people make distinctions between school learning and real-world learning? When you look at the classroom do you see people or do you see students? By assuming the artificial roles the "machine" imposes are we really ourselves in these environments?

"she fancied that he looked sad. She could not be sure, for the Machine did not transmit nuances of expression." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

"It only gave a general idea of people - an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Wow! Talk about the limitations of data to give a picture of a student (or a teacher). This is why many people have been arguing for the elimination of grades and why so many oppose standardized testing. These assessment measures tend to reduce people to the narrow picture data depicts.

"next move was to turn off the isolation switch, & all the accumulations of the last three minutes burst upon her." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Ok, this sounds too much like Twitter to have been written in 1909. It also depicts the situation our students face when they take time off or fall behind and have to catch up.

"Above her, beneath her, and around her, the Machine hummed eternally;" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

The culture of schooling permeates all aspects of society. Ivan Illich very eloquently pointed this out in his book, Deschooling Society.

"she did not notice the noise, for she had been born with it in her ears." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

"for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

" It was kept up, because it was easier to keep it up than to stop it or to diminish it" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Doesn't this describe perfectly the problem people run up against whenever they want to make even modest changes in schools? Change is hard and it is usually easier, it is usually the path of least resistance, to continue with unnecessary or even harmful traditions than to reform the system.

---------------ch2 The Mending Apparatus----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

"You think it irreligious of me to have found out a way of my own. It was just what the Committee thought" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Think of how we demonize the practice of dropping out or how most school teachers view practices like homeschooling or online education.

" I feared something far more intangible-doing what was not contemplated by the Machine." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

How many times are we asked to "think outside the box" but when we let our own thinking go beyond the limits conceived by the system we are punished? I have come to interpret "Think outside the box" as "Think outside your box but within mine."

"machineries neither came in2 the world w us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we r here" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

"it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine?" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

"We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

----------------ch 3 The Homeless----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------less than a minute ago via Twitterrific

"The second great development was the re-establishment of religion." than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Many modern writers have come to equate the modern school as today's church. It serves the same purpose today that the church did in pre-enlightenment Europe. Indeed there does seem to be a reverence many have for the procedures, structures, and artifacts of schooling. In fact, a couple months ago when I wrote this piece for Dangerously Irrelevant calling for the inversion of the power structure in schools one person on Twitter even called me a blasphemer.

"They described the strange feeling of peace that came over them when they handled the Book of the Machine" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

If formal education is the new religion, what would be it's equivalent to the Good Book or Book of the Machine? What are formal schooling's sacred tests? Bell Hooks? Madeline Hunter? Horace Mann? Perhaps it is the standardized test booklet.

"all who did not accept the minimum known as 'undenominational Mechanism' lived in danger of Homelessness" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

Well, a high school diploma or its equivalency has long been a prerequisite for most jobs and increasingly a Bachelors or Masters degree is required.

"the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended" than a minute ago via TwitterBar

I have had a sense for a while now that we are on the verge of the schooling machine breaking down. I still don't know how it will happen but I think we have been seeing signs. I think the more our economy limits the ability for people to further their education the more the system breaks down but also the emergence of other more transparent forms of powerful informal learning are contributing to the revealing of the myths of the school machine. It is why so many lately, myself included, have been calling for a dramatic change in how we do schooling. Who knows, perhaps Sugata Mitra's work will put the final nail in school's coffin:

1 comment:

Mrs. Tenkely said...

The quotes you shared make a lot of sense to me with school = machine. It certainly feels like a machine.