Confession #1: I had planned on calling this post, “Edupunk or edubunk?”

  • bunk: nonsense- a message that seems to convey no meaning
  • That was before reading this simple, but very powerful post by Jen D. Jones. Now I need to change my approach. My main point sits under Confession #3 below.

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    Confession #2: I am not an edupunk… I’ve always been too much of an edunerd to qualify.

    That said, I’ve always sat ‘outside the box’ looking in. I’ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole. I’m an ‘A’ student who went through my first university degree with a ‘C+’ average. I handed almost everything in late (and almost always with no marks off)¹. I ignored criteria and wrote what I wanted. Sometimes this was rewarded, most times it was punished. When I was disinterested in an assignment I walked a fine, and I might add brilliant, line next to what would be considered plagiarism, it was a great strategy that got me through the mundaneness of many useless assignments. I crammed for exams, and I’d stay awake for 3 days (usually after the due date) writing an essay. I’d go into the library and end up half an isle away from the resources I needed, reading something ‘unnecessary’… my pre-FireFox tabbing.

    On my transcript there is a ‘A’ that I got in a course where I didn’t do an assignment worth 25% of my mark (do the math) and there is also a mark of ‘Zero’ for another course. I appealed the ‘Zero’ and then refused to follow the terms of the accepted appeal. I felt the Appeal Board was scolding me with terms I specifically said would make the timeline for completion difficult for me. I punished myself by refusing to meet their requirements on principle… the irony is not lost on me here.

    I spoke up and I spoke out- I never bit my tongue in class. I worked my butt off in a warehouse the summer before university and decided that I was going to get my money’s worth while at school. It always amazed me when I’d ask an obvious question or ask for an explanation because “I’m lost”, and students would thank me after class… “I was so lost too, thanks for asking”… Why didn’t they speak up? What were they afraid of?

    It didn’t matter if I was in a class of 20 or an auditorium of 200, the professor knew my name by the second or third class… sometimes this was to mutual benefit and sometimes purely my own… but I was not intentionally disruptive and I certainly never ‘sucked up’ though I often had to endure the stares of Marshmallows² who thought I was sucking up… I didn’t care.

    My favourite learning experience in school was not from a course. I had a Wednesday night class in the second term of my first year, and after the first class I was invited to join a few people for coffee. (As I tell this I have to chuckle at the fact that I have no recollection of what the Wednesday night course was.) We were a motley crew that spent the next 12 Wednesday nights discussing Religion and the Meaning of Life over a cup of java. Present at these coffee-shop-talks were a third-year student who was Atheist, his second-year devout Catholic girlfriend, a 35 year old ex-Hare Krishna of 14 years who served as their head chef for nine of those years, and then there was me. My values and beliefs were challenged beyond any classroom ever challenged me. We had our own Socrates Cafe where Big Questions were asked and we all took turns trying to answer them.

    As for classes, well I excelled at classes such as the one on Educational Leadership where the The Tao of Leadership was the text, and topics of study included holistic learning. Meanwhile, I floundered in courses like Environmental Geography where I was lectured to from class beginning to bitter end. I have a box somewhere in my garage with some impressive doodles created in that class.

    I remember taking a Philosophy course on Plato in my first year. Whenever I made a point contrary to my professor, or asked him a challenging question, he would respond with, “Well I think Plato would say…”
    So, I was no longer disagreeing with him or questioning his ideas, but rather Plato’s instead! I lost all respect for him after he marked a paper with a comment that went something like this:

    Very well thought out,
    excellent arguments,
    too short! C+

    I knew the word count quota, but felt I’d said all that I needed to³. So I guess that if I had added about 150 more words of fluff, then and only then would I have earned an ‘A’ or at least a ‘B’ on this philosophy paper? To my Plato-Wanna-Be professor I was no Aristotle. By the end of the term he hated me… that was another fine line that I walked!

    My dissent towards criteria was even evident with my Master’s Terminal Paper, (that I finished just two years ago), which is now used as my advisor’s example of what not to do (…of going too far, and being too long). At one point she asked me to shorten my paper so I edited one paragraph by about two sentences and then widened my margins.

    So, am I an edupunk? To me, the answer is still ‘No’. I’m not a rebel, I didn’t buck the system. I was just a stubborn learner who let my surrounding environment determine when and if I chose to learn… not a lone wolf as much as a disgruntled sheep. The truth hurts, but I’m a big boy now and I can take it.

    – – – – –

    Confession #3: I don’t like the term Edupunk

    Stephen Downes loves the term. Alec finds Meaning and Identity:

    …I am going to take Jen’s advice seriously when she says about edupunk “Don’t dissect the metaphor“. Edupunk, if nothing more, has got many people talking, exploring their beliefs around education, and in some cases, reminiscing of day’s long past. The educational community is much too diverse, as it should be, for anyone to cling on to one single metaphor for meaning.

    Well, it certainly got me reminiscing, so what’s wrong with the term?

    These are not Edupunks, they are Educational Leaders! The reality is that anti-establishment, Do-It-Yourself, transformative, collaborative, networked teachers doing new things, in new ways, in new wall-less, time-zone-less, textbook-less, standardized-test-less classrooms are paving the way for a new kind of schooling. I’ll say this again in a different way:

    These are not Edupunks, they are Educational Leaders! They are our role models paving a new path to a more meaningful educational experience in our schools. They may be on the fringe, but they are also at the forefront. They are leading the way.

    When I went to ContinUO we read Surfing the Edge of Chaos. Here we can find the appeal of Edupunks, but we can see that in reality we are speaking of our new Leaders.

    “The fringes are the source of most truly innovative ideas in cultures, economies and organizations.”

    But a problem arises in,

    “…recognizing when the fringe has created something so important that it no longer deserves to be fringe.” (Alex Trisoglio, pg.31)

    Our so-called Edupunks are figuring out a new path as they go… this isn’t about rogues, it is about adult learners who are trailblazing without a map.

    “As a general rule, adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.” (pg. 14)

    Also in the book, Monsanto’s CEO Robert Shapiro speaks of Foresight (seeing ahead), Insight (seeing deeply), Speed, and Courage (pgs. 82-85). These are all things that I see in the educators being called Edupunks.

    Let’s not put our leaders into fringe categories. Let’s recognize them as the trailblazers they are. They are Surfing the Edge of Chaos (or should I say educhaos)… and what they really deserve is our appreciation, thanks, and respect.

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    Footnotes: As a teacher…

    I guess you could say that at times I too have ‘acted my way into a new way of thinking’. My actions as a learner influenced my actions as a teacher, as these footnotes suggest.

    ¹ As a teacher, I don’t take any marks off for something coming in late. It is my job to make sure that students demonstrate their learning and meet the learning outcomes during the year. All time lines within the year are arbitrary (and usually teacher determined) and not a requirement worthy of penalty. Exceptions may be made where either Personal Planning or Goal Setting are part of the outcomes.

    ² As a teacher, I am very vocal about students needing to speak up and ask questions. “Don’t be a Marshmallow!” was a saying that I took from my Grade 10 English teacher Mr. La Point who used it to symbolize placid students sitting in his class and choosing not to speak up. At first being called Marshmallows in my class was funny, but soon students would catch on that they were not meeting expectations when they were being Marshmallows!

    ³ As a teacher my response to ‘how long does this assignment need to be?’ has always been, “It needs to be as long as it needs to be.” Students hate this answer, but after a while they get it. In a nutshell: I’ve read three brilliant sentences that have said more than three long-winded paragraphs.

    12 comments on “Edupunk or Educational Leader?

    1. I feel such kinship, both in your description of your university days and your teaching approach, (although I think I was sometimes a “disgruntled sheep” in marshmallow clothing – girls were socialized differently).
      Thanks you so much for an invigorating, thought-provoking post.

    2. I enjoyed reading this post. I was a lazy sheep as an Undergrad. Your comments resonate with my post undergrad life (classroom, grad school, and higher ed).

      I think that as the pedagogy catches up to the technology, the fringe will need to become the norm!

      Also, as Plato would say:
      Very well thought out,
      excellent arguments,
      too long! C+


    3. This is a well-composed, thoughtful and reflective post. What a treat to read! I had a very similar undergrad experience, but was too shy to gather with others as you did. I ended up with unofficial withdrawals in most of my courses because I just didn’t go. They didn’t make sense. I wasn’t learning. Maybe those of us who recognized we weren’t learning, will be the ones to transform the field.

    4. Joan,
      I wonder how many sheep like us there are in our schools… who want more but sit, smile and fill-in-the blanks as instructed?
      I hadn’t thought of male/female differences in experience, thanks for the insight!

      I’ll take the C+ without complaint. I can be wordy at times, and that’s why right at the start of the post I offered up that my main point was in Confession #3. I’d love to see ‘this’ fringe learning be the norm!

      Thanks for the inspiration! It was your brilliant, (and far less wordy), post that helped me find the positive focus in this post.

    5. An ANSWER

      Space: A student’s lesson on creativity from a chaotic perspective.
      Place: A Sandbox, the Sandbox

      If you want Art, or some sort of creative endeavour, don’t give someone one of Picaso`s paintings.

      Simply give them a blank piece of paper.

      The emphasis is on `blank“. Blank IS Space. This Space is the room necessary for Creativity to take root and flourish.

      Draw Lines for people. Hook up dots. Offer shapes. Prepare questions. Print out worksheets. Outline guidelines. Create expectations for responses, and participation. Dig deep ditches for your boundaries, and erect massive walls for your territories. Explain and articulate beautifully to your heart’s content.
      But if you want to illicit conversation; if you want to foster creative response to your own creativity, then save space, or loose face. Because the intellectual sand box of communication that you create in your blogs only has as much Space for others to play in as you leave them. You could do two things. You could nudge over and make room for others. This would leave you with less space to explore your ideas, but would leave others joining in conversation with more space to explore ideas. Or, you could just invite others to play in a larger Sand box -expanding your intellectual horizons. Either way, or no way, in my mind is best. I do not know.
      What I find really interesting is it depends on Why YOU are doing what you are doing. Are you exploring, expressing or are you guiding? Again, I don not feel I know.

      Space is the only way we get what’s inside, outside. So, An Answer I DO have for you Dave is that our worlds of communication are only limited by the “horizons of interpretation“ (Langdon) we experience internally when we erect language as a product of our creativity. Creativity seems to mysteriously be a journey of becoming that “meaning“ goes through as chaos becomes meaningful. Our creative impulses ARE NOT answerable to chaos though. But chaos IS answerable to our creative impulses. In fact, ONLY chaos is answerable to our creative impulse. Chaos IS Space. It is a lacking of meaning, a lacking of certainty or a lacking of “answers“ that leave room intellectually for people to explore the dynamics being presented. Otherwise for many, their just isn’t any room in the sand box to comfortably get in, sense what all the ideas could mean to them, and then create new connections with what ideas they already had handy.

      Conclusion ?
      Share a Sandbox or get a new one ?

      I am unsure.

    6. I had lunch today with Darcy,
      He is a friend and former student currently working with a neighbouring community centre. He works with and connects with many students from my school.
      I mentioned that my blog seldom generates many comments… he said he’d check it out and give me ‘An ANSWER’… this is noteworthy as I often tell Darcy that he readily asks questions, but seldom answers them! 🙂

      Well I got an answer that leaves me with many questions. These quotes will keep me thinking for a while:

      …Because the intellectual sand box of communication that you create in your blogs only has as much Space for others to play in as you leave them.
      What I find really interesting is it depends on Why YOU are doing what you are doing. Are you exploring, expressing or are you guiding?

      I have often said that I write this blog for me first… and perhaps I’m really only making the space open for me?
      And like Darcy I’m not sure if I’m exploring, expressing or guiding?

      Maybe because I am unsure, I create a difficult space for people to make meaningful connections?

      As has been the case many times before with Darcy, the student has become the teacher. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    7. Kia ora David

      I’m not an edupunk either, but I read what you say and agree with it. I also agree with Jen Jones’s metaphor, for I identify with edupunk the same way as she (apparently) does; it takes me back – more than 20 years!

      You say “the student has become the teacher”. I follow this too. I follow the Zen proverb, ‘when the student is ready the master appears’. It is often misunderstood and sometimes even ridiculed through misunderstanding.

    8. I think you make the point well when you say:

      These are not Edupunks, they are Educational Leaders! They are our role models paving a new path to a more meaningful educational experience in our schools. They may be on the fringe, but they are also at the forefront. They are leading the way.

      I’m not a fan of the edupunk term either. I think it marginalizes those who definitely need to not be marginalized. At the same time there is a tension here between those who push against convention and the bureaucracies that try to constantly establish and maintain that same convention. What’s interesting here is that like in the 1960’s, many of these so called “rebels” however they are labeled, are coming from power positions in our universities and learning institutions. Personally, I see that as a good sign, one that will help to give them the same non-fringe status that the name is trying perhaps to take away, although that “status” in itself is a tension.

      A great post! Thanks for writing.

    9. I always find these sort of posts interesting. Partially because they do exactly what Jen’s post says not to do; read too much into the metaphor. Even Jim Groom has his questions about the term, mostly because what happened was not at all intended.

      While it is true that I too read too much into the metaphor, it’s in a different way, sarcastic. Punks are the people who disrupt the system, and are called that by those in charge of the system. When the system becomes static, good teachers and innovators become punks by system definitions.

      With the original plans for edupunk to pull on the zine culture to pull those who the system might call punks together, I find it fitting. However, I do agree that the term is not suitable for serious use. It’s too tongue in cheek. Truth is, I think Jim Groom fully agrees with the view that those people are leaders, not punks.

    10. Hi David followed here thru link from Diigo bookmarked by another in reference to previous post-“My blog is my Phd” In response to this now old post Ill go for it regardless…
      I think (at the time of your post)you’re naturally navigating a new zone,tho very familiar to yourself -like putting out feelers to see if there’s any life below. But in some ways this is truly ‘space exploration’…unknown unknowable the space inside each persons head/heart. I see your head/heart space placed waaay out here and not everyone is comfortable to reciprocate.I suspect your style demands reciprocity of head/heart encounters just by its very authenticity. I have enjoyed these two posts. Cheers Ruth

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