30 Oct 98.a
Jan Spears

Although I do not pretend that I understood half of the quarter of Barab & Duffy's paper that I think I read, I agree with Bruce Jones that there are some important questions buried within it. Too many people who are involved in the "formal" educational system focus on the content of the instruction with only a passing thought to the changes we wish to bring about in the whole learner.

Sasha Barab [28 Oct 98] said "If one acknowledges that interactions with the world, in general, and schools, in particular, produce meaning and identity, then educators need to place more emphasis on what types of interactions and, hence, identities are being created within the context of schools." This seems to me to be right on target.

Neil Postman (1996) proposed a similar idea in his book The End of Education: At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living. Yet schools, colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure not to educate, but to train. Students now come to the university to obtain a degree, not an education. The extent to which we in higher education have already bowed to this trend is worrisome.

Below the level of graduate schools, we no longer have an educational system which encourages student-mentor relationships. There is a pervasive, feedlot mentality that places value primarily on graduation rates and standardized test scores. So I ask, is there a realistic way to implement Barab & Duffy's ideas in the real world where undergraduate classes routinely have 100+ students per section?

Barab's question, "...how do we want to take this development of identity into account in the design of our learning environments?" should be: Within the context of the current system, can we take this development of identity into account?

Jan Spears

E-mail: jspears@faculty.wtamu.edu