First, McLuhan. Reminding us that the medium is the message, media constitutes our realities.
The opening keynote to this year’s North American open education conference then confronted us with a rocky, clickety-clackety video art piece. A layered, rock riff of a thing. As beautiful, chummy, and intriguing as it was unsettling. We saw the early Bob Dylan, at what I think (because I barely know Dylan) was his peak, young, beat-poet eccentricity and creativity. An awe-inspiring, insightful, and unbridled artist. We witness him playing with associations among found signage, revealing quirky and playful narratives from a banal cityscape. Pushing the boundaries of the known and possible, this is why the man was so enigmatic and inspiring.
And we see how the phenomenon of celebrity and media fixation tried and tried and tried to commodify and dehumanize this artist. Imposing a distilled caricature of sunglasses and artistic “passion” (e.g. ‘Mr. Dylan Mr. Dylan! Why do you sing?‘). He doesn’t like it. He knows what it is. It’s bizarre. It’s naive. It’s a corruption. It’s theft. It’s violent.
It seems the obscenity and distortion of the media’s image-making of Dylan was setting us up for what Gardner has witnessed in higher education, and though not explicitly, also in open education. He laments the corruption of “insight” through positivist-neuroscientific goggles, neoliberal efficiency and analytical engines, and claptrap learning technologies. A set of systems that ultimately reward students for pretending to learn, managing their education quite deliberately as an obstacle course to navigate for the prize of a credential and a jay-oh-bee.
But he’d never leave us in despair (though I had a hard time shaking it), and turns us to examples of earnest and honest if idealized relationships he continues to have with students. And what educator could contest the romance of the high calling in education? Yet, I didn’t feel like I was brought all the way back. I felt a bit down about it. I feel like Gardner was highlighting how our ideals have been undermined and that education is looking pretty bleak right now, in despite of the hope he’s held and spread in the Web and the Open. He’s struggling with the same tensions as in the Open Ed 2012 keynote, “That is not what [we] meant at all; That is not it, at all.”
Is there room for taking students’ expectations and interests in attaining economic security, gaining access to the material and social conditions to lead flourishing lives? I’m hoping so.