Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Canadian Apology for Residential Schools

I wrote earlier this week about the historic apology that the Canadian government issued to the country for the Indian Residential school experience. I was very glad to see this happen and I hope that it begins a new era of respectful relationships in Canada.

One of the most horrendous effects of the Residential Schools policy was the forced relocation of people from their families and communities. While this was clearly a policy decision, based in part on an agenda of cultural genocide, it was also a feature of educational practice of the time.

In order to offer the industrial model of education, as it was organizationally structured at the time and as it continues to this day, students and teachers were required to physically congregate in specific geographical locations for significant periods of time to be exposed to the intermediated "teaching". This arrangement was an artifact of the organizational realities and applies to all participants in the industrial model of education.

One of the most powerful features of technology mediated communication is the elimination of the necessity to be physically present for learning to occur. If people have the equipment and the necessary bandwidth they can participate in dis-intermediated educational opportunities on their own terms with out having to leave their community context. Furthermore, people can participate in the construction of their own educational experience and they can do that in collaboration with an extraordinary network of resources.

Each individual can become a node and a connection in a network of collective intelligence as has never been possible before. Self-education has always been a viable strategy but web-mediated social networks have taken this into an entirely new dimension. The possibilities for self-determination and emancipation are enormous.

The human race has been severely limited by an economic system based on the control of scarce resources and this has created most of the repressive structures that we all labour under. Two percent of the worlds population controls 90% of it's material wealth and the means of production. However, in an information economy scarcity is no longer and the cost of the means of production for web-based resources is dropping as fast as the usage increases. This has been extremely threatening to the hegemonic institutions of education at all levels.

Institutions have had to resort to some pretty draconian schemes to maintain this positions. One mechanisms is to have society become increasingly reliant on credentials as an measure of the worth of individual intellectual contribution. Credentials are controlled by institutions that have a vested interest in manitaining control over the granting of credentials. They are able to control the conditions of education including an continued reliance on the bricks and mortar model of education as place based, calendar driven.

These institutions have been driven by a the capitalist economic model which is designed to squeeze the maximum amount of money out of any venture. This model is pervasive in society and is increasingly becoming a feature of the Internet. Everybody is trying to figure out how to monetize their contribution. Older mainstream institutions such as the press and entertainment industries have always been able to manipulate conditions in a scarcity economy to make a buck and have into the digital market place and continue their piratical practices.
The issues of intellectual property and copyright have been taken over by the money making machine which has been looking for a way to skim money from every online interaction. They have been very effective at this but the model calls for more, more, more. Stockholder returns must be maximized and people are increasingly being herded through the paygates of the Internet.

The apology of the Canadian government for the Indian Residential schools rang a little hollow with the introduction this week of legislation designed to lock down the internet into a paygate fleecing operation. Instead of figuring out how to increase access to bandwidth and information for the benefit of the population, the government has succumbed to intense lobbying efforts of the American entertainment industry and has introduced legislation that effectively prohibits the sharing of many types of web-based resources. The free and open sharing of online resources is one of the foundations of a distributed education system that would allow Canadian people to participate in their communities and on their terms.

So apologizing for forcing people into one oppressive form of education while imposing another form of oppression that amounts to the same thing is very disheartening.

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