In the preface and beginning chapters of James Paul Gee’s The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning, Gee points out several things that humans do that aren’t really “smart.” During our team reading of Gee’s book, I was assigned Chapter 12 on Imagined Kin. While I was reading, I did agree with the observations that he made about how there is “the desire to bond with to others who we believe ‘like us’ even to the detriment of other people” (Gee, p. 103). I know that given very stressful situations, I am more likely to side with friends or family than someone I don’t know. This is a problem. I should take everything at face value and hear all sides of the stories.
So I am not a perfect human; no one is really, but how does this play a role in my life? Gee states in his preface that “[o]ur formal institutions of education have, by and large, given up the task of deep education for the short-term goals of test passing and tuition payments” (p. 7). So my career has given up on integrating various life lessons to make their students successful, smart adults in exchange for test scores and money. This book brings light to all of these shortcomings. So we are stupid—now what? Well in the latter half of Gee’s book, he suggests several ways of changing our society.
My favorite of his suggestions are with affinity spaces.
Affinity spaces, at their best, are key examples of synchronized intelligence. Multiple tools, different types of people, and diverse skills sets are networked in ways that make everyone smarter and make the space itself a form of emergent intelligence. (Gee, 2013, p. 174)
During our time in Galway, we were able to see one of these affinity spaces at 091 Labs. Despite our time being short, I could see how this could make such a difference in society’s thinking. In this space people are free to think and ask questions and everyone is seen as an equal. There are some leaders, or people that are slightly more knowledge is a particular topic, but always willing to bestow their information on someone else. Gee confirms this idea by stating:
[T]he presence of perspectives unfamiliar to others in the group . . can increase creativity. Furthermore, groups in which everyone is a stranger or is new to the project and groups in which everyone knows everyone else or has worked together a good deal are both less creative than groups in which there is a balance of the two. (p. 193)
All of the problems that Gee points out can be seen as wicked problems. There is no one solution that is going to solve our society being dumb, however we can implement several strategies to get us to a place of equality and where creativity would prosper.
So what does this mean for me as an educator? Well I can take Gee’s suggestion to our wicked problem of a dumb society and provide an affinity space for my students. It doesn’t have to large area, but certainly an area for my students where they are able to let their mind wander and bring in thing to create by themselves or collaboratively with others. With this, my hopes are that my students continue to become life long learners and “smart” adults.
Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.