The Worth of Humanities in a Postmodern World

I have been asked at times to explain my blog’s by-line:

Research and Practice in Postmodern Learning

and have found it as much as a challenge to do so as it is to define postmodernism itself (BTW, I do like Lyotard’s definition in The Postmodern Condition, “incredulity toward metanarratives”). I enjoy researching and living a life of education in ways that challenge the established worldviews.

Case in point, check out the article in yesterday’s NY Times, In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth. The days of believing:

the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice

may be nearing an end, especially as these previously unassailable virtues are now being challenged (such as by the economy, which does not generally pay people for having these virtues). The idea that a humanities background may not be considered particularly valuable any more is a postmodern thought. We have always assumed that this value is beyond doubt (right up there with democracy is always the best form of government, free speech is good, and it is a bad idea to sell wine in supermarkets in New York).

Postmodernism as a philosophy of practice is both critical as well as constructivist (I wonder if any of my students are reading this?), and basically challenges established worldviews as frameworks of power imbalance and limited perspective. I like considering this, researching this, practicing this, and trying to introduce this in my teaching to help my students to see the complexities in the teaching and learning process that are often under the surface of clearly articulated objectives, assessment plans, and nodding heads.

BTW, I also believe it is easier to challenge and knock the humanities after having completed two graduate degrees in the humanities and knowing enough about them to know I really know very little. I suppose this is a little postmodern, too . . .

Lyotard and Baudrillard for Educational Technology

There is a very interesting discussion going on over at SCoPE on the Virtual Museum Project. It made me consider my favorite postmodern thinker, Jean-Francois Lyotard, as well as another colorful character, Jean Baudrillard, and how and why I saw them both as influential thinkers in the history of educational technology.

Any other Lyotard fans out there in the world of adult education and educational technology?

Online Communities and the Removal of Distance

I think online communities of practice and even online classes are changing the ways we think about distance. It almost seems, from the perspective of community, that distance no longer exists. Does it matter if I email colleagues who are spread across the globe? Speak with them via Skype whenever and wherever they may be, as long as I get the timezones correct? Has this flattening of our world changed the way we think about people in other cultural contexts, within national identities, and exotic (and not so exotic) locales?

As my work and research begins to more formally be online, do I  have to be concerned with distance at all?

Further to my point here, what does all this mean for where and how communities form and interact? Leigh asked us to consider what online communities are in our FOC08 class, and I have managed to say exactly what they are not–they are not separated by distance.

I started this post before and finished after having a delightful conversation with a colleague in Brazil, Barbara Dieu. We started speaking (via skype text, which is speaking with the fingers) about Second Life and the FOC08 Course, and the next thing I knew is that Bee asked me what interests me and what I want to learn more about. I gushed about Lyotard’s “incredulity toward metanarrative, Mezirow’s transformative learning, Denzin / Lincoln / Guba’s work in qualitative research, Freire, Brookfield, pugs, cities, theories, technology, and Madame Butterfly.

I think that community is in there someplace. Something about openness to ideas and encouragement to grow and learn and become more present. Something about being with others who share a space next to us along the journey, whatever and wherever it may lead.

This conversation would never have happened without the community focus of this course, and how our different interests and experiences helps to inform and realize them. To all this, community adds and supports, and it has an amazing capacity to do all this without regard to distance.

Perhaps communities of practice help realize the Internet’s claim to make the world a smaller place, though one with more individual possibilities?