The Division of Knowledge

I was re-reading the paper by George Siemens entitled: Connectivism: A Learning Theory For The Digital Age. While I was reading, something hit me.

Siemens talks about the way the abundance of information in today’s world is forcing us to do things differently. He explains how the continuity that existed for people in days gone by is all but gone. People living in previous generations may have trained for one career and remained engaged with that their life long. Now, however, we have an ever growing pot of knowledge which would be almost impossible for any one person to handle or evaluate.

A solution, which Siemens calls connectivism, stores knowledge across social networks instead. In connectivism, groups of people benefit from laterally stored knowledge, which is then evaluated almost phenomenologically by the collective intelligence of the group.

Now all this is very smart, but where does it fit in to the real world?

Well. Once upon a time, a couple of hundred years ago, there was a different revolution: the industrial revolution. We discovered that we were sitting on an abundance of fossil fuels. Through organisation and the division of labour, the production capacity of what had been until very recently a manual process, grew exponentially.

In the UK, productivity benefits from the division of labour have been commemorated on the £20 note.

In the UK, productivity benefits from the division of labour have been commemorated on the £20 note.

 

This is the information revolution. Our fossil fuel is computing power. As we use one another as a surrogate for knowledge (Stephenson, undated), our modern replacement for the division of labour is the division of knowledge. Just as our industrial ancestors created highly productive patterns out of the chaos, businesses and researchers alike can benefit holistically from team work and effective divisions.

When I hear talk of the knowledge economy, I am aware that this is not merely a transition to office jobs. Those who will thrive will be those who can sift through the meaningless noise and identify the applications that will yield a real benefit.

Being Erdkinder – in relation to politics

I’ve been observing the continuing changes that are taking place behind the scenes to the British economy. That being the sale of many of our public and private services to foreign investors. For example, our train operator Arriva now belongs to Deutsche Bahn and if anybody wonders what EDF energy stands for, it’s Electricite de France. India owns Jaguar Land Rover and goodness only knows where the royal mail will end up.

And then I found it really interesting this week when I heard Max Keiser describe the British enomic climbate as turning to a ‘Neo-feudal’ state. Where you have the wealthy capitol holders and all the proles pay rent for the privilege. It wouldn’t be the end of the world to reach that point, especially since with the advances in medication, technology and greater spread of ownership of capitol goods among the working man (a British man’s home is his castle). However it isn’t what we particularly want either, especially for our quality of life.

So why are we selling ourselves down the river? Well. In university this semester I have been studying the psychology behind education, and have been looking at the Erdkinder model of education described by Maria Montessori. She observed the Erdkinder (german: children of the land) going about their operations, and noted how they understood the relationships between work and upkeep, as well as the relationship between cooperation and upkeep (Kahn, 2003).

An ‘Erdkinder’ school in Germany; Photo credit: erdkinder.de

As society has gotten increasingly more global, that connection has been lost. Even though it should be obvious, the way to get fed is no longer to shoot your own elk, but it’s often to work for a large corporation as only a single small node of the operation, or live on state handouts. Of course there are other options, however these are common examples of how the natural connection between work and upkeep is conditioned out of people. This is psychological behaviourism in action, and it is taught to children from day one of their primary education.

It’s not hard to see then why the (should be) alarming notions of selling our capital goods to foreign countries are taking place. It simply goes over their heads when governments describe it as an academic means to an end of solving our economic woes.

There is a false mediation between work and upkeep, and it needs to change. Schools need to stop teaching to token qualifications, and start demonstrating cause and effect on where things come from. When youth reach adolescents, they start to wonder where they fit in to the world (Rathunde, 2001). That is the point when they need to see how things really work, where and how the things that control our quality of life are produced. Adolescence is a pivotal point, and an education that is in line with the psychological contract described here can set them for life.

What Ruling the World Did to British Education

Image Credit: Blast Media

Image Credit: Blast Media

I’ve recently just finished reading the book: ‘Empire – what ruling the world did to the British’ by Jeremy Paxman. There’s a few ideas in there that I think apply all too well to todays education system.

I see education as a means to an end. There is utterly no need for me to learn advanced statistics if I will never, ever need to use them. It’s just a waste. With that principle in mind, I want you to consider the question, what are we educating people to do?

By and large, we all think our career will take us into some type of service based job, which could be at a lower level, for example working in a call centre, or if we do better, a professional job, where we could be doing anything, from head hunting to architecture.

And while we’re all talking about equality and getting out of class systems in Britain, we have an incredibly tiered system as far as academic achievement goes. There’s not a lot between being a professional, and minimum wage jobs. One example would be my house mate, who works in a care home, and who earns less than I do at Morrisons.

And that is what Britain’s job scene and economy have become built around. We have strayed away from factories and manufacturing to professional services. That is to what our education system has been geared. So when Carol Vorderman comes doing the rounds telling us all the kids need to learn better numeracy, that’s what she’s talking about.

Why is it then that we have this system? Why is it that there’s nothing in between the top and the bottom?

We call ourselves ‘Great Britain’. Let’s examine where that name came from. In case you had your head in the ground for the last three centuries, we British used to rule the world. Our empire covered about a quarter of it. And it made us a lot of money, and created a lot of jobs, and so, for a while we wanted to keep it that way.

Where did todays education system come from then? Well, it doesn’t really look any different from the victorian school rooms of the 19th century. There’s still classes of about 30, desks, a teacher leading the lesson, and the teacher is the one relaying information for children to return to him/her during the exam. Those who didn’t seem to be academic left at 14 and went into a manual job, while those with wealthier parents and/or more academic capability stayed on and learnt some theoretical stuff. They were trained to run the empire.

So Britain carried on in this way till something bad happened in Ireland, and something worse in Singapore, when before long, everybody very actively wanted independence.

What to do now? Our income was gone! Britain’s income had come through effective capitalism. Keeping the money at home and the labour abroad. But with no empire, there was no economically productive empire leading jobs anymore. The only thing left would be to work with our hands. Heaven forbid, we might have to do manual labour! This didn’t go down so well, as the 70’s and 80’s showed us, which is why now your iPhone is made in China, but designed by Apple in California. We were war heroes, and nobly civilised people, who had granted the rights of freedom to our colonial brethren. Those job’s just weren’t for us. We still considered ourselves better than them.

Fortunately, we were able to find a new distinction between ourselves and others across the world: academia. So for the last half a century, there has been a huge rise in the number of people going to University. Tony Blair decreed in 1997 that everybody should have a University education. And that view is still touted today. Nick Clegg, and the Vice Chancellor of my University sing the same thing. And it is a lovely ideal, but to what end?

Money comes from adding value to things. If I take a tree, and turn it into a chair, I have added value to it. I have literally made money. You don’t need a university education to make a chair. Sure, it plays a role in the innovation and design of the chair, even in the industrialisation thereof. All those things when used in correct moderation are economically productive, but a University education does not produce chairs.

It doesn’t take lots of people to design chairs, it takes a small handful. You only design the chair once. Production on the other hand (which we western snobs consider an unskilled job) is ongoing. The problem we have is that everybody wants to design chairs, but nobody want’s to make them. Nobody in Britain at least.

We have spent the last 50 years doing as little economically productive work as we can, and since the 1990’s we have taken on copious national debt to finance that lifestyle. Now we live in the world where we have to pay back that debt, and where we have to make redundant those whose jobs do not contribute to our GDP. This is why many people do degree’s to find that there is no gold lined job waiting for them at the end.

The answer is simple: we are not too good to work hard or do work that is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Before there was a dole, that’s what we did. Money is a representation of somebody’s work. We have been borrowing work that we now have to pay back. We need to make lot’s of chairs. The time is come to face the music, and embrace reality. Our education system needs to produce more chair manufacturers, and less chair designers, analysts,  accountants and salesmen.