A Post Modern View
In the United States, the role of technology has been well-defined and publicized as that of the natural, rational, scientific outgrowth of man's continued, progressive development. From the mid-19th century to the present, technology has been part of a discourse grounded in logical positivism, social control, and system management. (Muffoletto 1994). Technology, as defined by Webster (1988), is:
1. The science or study of the practical or industrial arts, applied sciences, etc.
2. The terms used in a science, etc.: technical terminology
3. Applied science
4. A method, process, etc. for handling a particular technical problem
5. The system by which a society provides its members with those things needed or desired.
Education in our country is a process that governmentally subsidized and controlled at the national, state and local levels, is mandated as a right, indeed a legal requirement, for every individual (at least through grade 12), and is currently a process under fire from almost every corner of the country. Webster defines education as:
1. The process of training and developing knowledge, skill, mind, character, etc. esp. by formal schooling; teaching, training.
2. Knowledge, ability, etc. thus developed
3. Formal schooling at an institution of learning or a stage of this
4. Systematic study of the methods and theories of teaching and learning.
Educational technology, then, can be seen as both a study and an application of methods and/or processes for handling the problem of education, in light of what society needs or desires to train and develop students' knowledge, skill, mind, and character.
According to Callahan (1962) technology, as a set of rational procedures, has provided the format for educational change over the last century. To his way of thinking, educational technology is not a set of machines or devices, it is actually a means or a way of structuring thought and action: it is a system "rooted in positivism and empirical science, social engineering, and other social discourses related to vision of progress, economic interest, and control" (Muffoletto 25) Lyotard (1991) sees it in this light as well. He says that the narrow function of the technological curriculum is not to provoke original insight but the absorption of standardized facts. Memorizing the authorized knowledge is the goal, and obedience is the performance criteria monitored.
Yet, as we know, educational technology is seen as one aspect of the solution to what is seen as a technical problem; that of providing education to all of this nation's students, in support of a capitalist consumer-driven society whereby all citizens are expected, at the end of their state-funded education, to be productive in the extreme, regardless of the human costs of that productivity. As stated by Yeaman "Forces for industrial production dominate. To be rated as worthwhile, all activities must be financially profitable or directly useful" (Yeaman 1994 20). There are also those who confuse patriotism with the need for whole-hearted acceptance of educational technology, and see it as a means for social control within the context of what is termed a "unified nation" (Yeaman et al 1994).
How does this technological solution affect those within our society? And if our society insists, as it does, that 'our way' of solving this technical dilemma is the 'right' way, and is determined to force this solution on others in the global market with whom we have contact (as well as a certain level of power and influence), how does this solution play out in the larger global context? Is there only "one voice" with which to speak? (Postman 1992) Focault (1983) feels that the human tendency to dominate others as a means of control is a paradox:
The major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism...the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. (xiii)
In this paper, I will explore the ramifications of the use of educational technology as an appropriate solution from a political, ethical, and sociocultural standpoint, focusing on the postmodern view of what the field could be under an expanded or different set of ethics and pedagogy. By using critical theory to deconstruct educational technology as we see it today, I hope to uncover some of the inherent underlying assumptions that are not necessarily obvious in the application of the devices, methods and processes employed in our field.
One can come up with many definitions for the concept of school; a word which is both noun and verb: a place of learning, an institution, a social meeting place, the process of being educated, a particular way of thinking, etc. I feel we can all agree that schools provide an environment in which information is communicated. The question is whether it is communicated accurately and effectively, and to whose benefit.
Using the Shannon-Weaver Model of communication, one can become lulled into a sensation that communication, whether person-person, person-machine, machine-person, or machine-machine is a linear process whereby message sender and receiver are getting the same message through a predefined, packaged process. The cleanliness of the model can hide potential problems, for example, "the false appearance of consensual meaning. The illustration of flowing communication hides the fact that social roles and purposes can be coercive" (Nichols 38).
American conservatives might see education in light of their basic philosophy to tend to preserve established traditions or institutions and to resist or oppose and changes in these. The question is what is the baseline for these established traditions and institutions? Epperson (1985) says that changing the human condition for the conservative involves the following:
The conservative appeals to the spiritual nature of man, believing that man's problems arise because of the nature of man himself. The solution to the problems of the world lies in the changing of man himself. (367)
Politically speaking, conservatives tend to want a laissez faire style of government, one in which market forces dictate how the country as a whole is doing. Their bent is towards less government, less legislation, less central control.
Liberals hold a substantially different view than conservatives. It is a democratic ideal that includes the notion that education should belong to the people, be free, and favor reform or progress. One must ask whether these reforms are strictly defined by the liberal camp, or whether there is room for other voices. An assumption is made that all 'freemen' will be in agreement as to what those reforms should be. Again, Epperson (1985) adds to the definition as follows:
The liberal appeals to the materialistic nature of man, believing that man's problems arise because of the environment. The liberal's solution is to change the environment so that man will be happy. (367)
Furthermore, the liberal platform of reform and progress is deeply involved in the need to plan for the future, today. It is interesting to note that Thornburg (1994) says "A futurist is just an applied historian." But 'to reform' implies that there is something wrong with the system as it stands. Suchman (1988) states that through projections or reconstructions, social facts are used to plan for the future and retrospectively account for the past. And:
It is in the past that current reformers see failures, and it is in the future that reformers see solutions. (25)
Regarding style of government, liberals are more likely to be interested in centrally financed social services, which in turn requires a greater degree of governmental management. This is consistent with their view that it is the environment, rather than the individual that is to be controlled.
How do these future views help us get on with the business of education today? It could be argued from either the conservative or the liberal standpoint that schools have a clear and important role in how a child grows into their future role as a functional member of society. However, the form that that education takes might be very different. And the design and application of educational technologies would be most assuredly different.
In summary, conservatives seek to effect change in the human condition by creating a relatively univocal set of societal principles and ideals to which individuals can aspire. By aspiring to these principles, man has the power to change himself from within, and is not affected by the external environment. In fact, many conservatives see man's role as controlling the external environment rather than living as an integral part of the environment.
Liberals seek to effect change by re-creating the environment in a manner more suitable to the needs and desires of man as they change and progress over time. It is a view of man-and-nature, which is interested in the relationship between nature (or environment) and man rather than man-over-nature.
These views will be used to provide point/counterpoint with regard to the politics of education, the nature of intelligence, ethical concerns, and the socialization process both within the United States, and in the larger global context, especially as these topics relate to educational technology. They are important to the field of educational technology because each view affects the manner in which education is conducted, and the role that educational technology plays in the process of education.