Friday, April 24, 2009

The Value of Print in Education and John Audobon's Birds

Print stops time.

Birds in motion are a joy. Watching them soar, dive, glide and gather is like being part of a great conversation. But they are moving too fast to see. Audobon didn't have the benefit of stop action cameras, so to study them, he had to kill and stuff them. Once so fixed he was able to do the exquisite paintings that could be printed and shared. His images use the information artifact that is print to stop time so that it could be used for learning about birds.

Information is transferred in time. In the classroom and on the web it moves too fast to step back and let the words rumble through the student's head. Learning happens when disparate words and feelings combine in unexpected ways. That needs the time to reflect. Time is a measure of the relative simultanaiety of events. There is no better technology so elegantly stops the flow of events. When representations of events are fixed by print, it stops time.

Schools were designed in the States to train agricultural workers to be able to work in factories. It was not about content. It was about moving people from farm-time to industrial-time. Back in the day when industrial-time was similar to business-time and corporate-time it worked good enough. But today industrial-time is more like business-time. Corporate-time is not fast enough for the interconnected world. It has lost it's economic advantage. It is withering away. If people trapped in corporations are allowed to function in business-time, the corporation will thrive. If people remain trapped by corporate-time, the business will wither.

As corporate-time dissolves the jobs they supply will disappear. SMB lives and dies in business -time. That's where one finds new growth. But only some of our schools have made the transition. Bottom of the pyramid high school kids naturally live in business-time. That's where they live and much too often die. The problem is that managing business-time, in schools and in corporations, is made very hard because people are busy being busy. They think they don't have the time to reflect.

But print stops time. It creates the moments to reflect. It fixes the conversations to enable compare and contrast. Compare and contrast is at the heart of learning. Writing for print fixes new understandings in time. When learners see what they've said, they know they've learned something. Learning that you've learned is the way to get to love learning.

That's why print is the key to fixing education. That's why the huge new opportunity for print is the same opportunity that lead to the Renaissance in Europe starting in the 1500's.

It's only common sense.

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