Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

A Utilitarian World (2)

Imagine a world in which the daily experience of attending school does not exist. Take that a bit further and imagine learning as an experience that is both lifelong and not constrained by institutions, not necessarily located within institutions, but fundamental to everyday life.

In a utilitarian world, learning is sequestered to one place or one time.

Learning, in my opinion is by definition never finished. Of course there is a narrative to the learning experience — a beginning and an end, but the entire process of learning is always temporary and crucially, contingent.

In a utilitarian world, learning is first of all ‘located’ to some place and then given a particular time, fit into a schedule.

Even online education which should be open and less linear has in many instances been structured into a sequential process. If the digital age has so far taught us anything, it is that sequence should be based on multiple pathways and diverse strategies to learning. Learners want to map their direction based on a vast number of factors from state of mind, to the demands of everyday life.

This need to take control — manifested most fully in the rise of social media — has its own problems. For example, given the wealth of information that now suffuses everything that we do, how can we distinguish between good and bad information? This is a major issue for parents whose children are exposed to any number of questionable web sites and problematic claims from many different sources. But, the need to take control is also essential to the learning experience. After all, learning if it is to be valuable must also be seen to have value. Value is gained when learners feel some degree of empowerment from the process.

In this context, teachers have become curators as well as mentors and guardians of history. The word curator is derived from the Latin, “curator” which means overseer, manager and of importance to this discussion, guardian. Curator also comes from the word, to cure. The challenge is that curators have to be able to teach critical thinking.

In a utilitarian space, there is less and less time for historical and critical engagement with ideas. The rush is on to achieve a great deal as quickly as possible and the notion that for example, it might be important to spend some time on areas of study that seem peripheral to a set of pragmatic goals becomes less and less attractive.

In my next post in this series, I will explore contemplation which marks out a territory that is far more speculative than an overly utilitarian approach could ever permit.

Part 1 can be found here.