Last night’s talk by David Weinberger was one of those presentations that really registers at the time and then the ideas ricochet around in your head for days after. I wish I had a video or audio of Weinberger to post since this summary will not capture his passion and the full meaning of his ideas. But here goes anyway.
Weinberger calls this the new shape of knowledge and he started with four beliefs that most people have about information:
1. There is only one knowledge.
2. Knowledge can be neatly organized.
3. We need experts to do the organizing.
4. Experts must therefore hold the power of that knowledge. They become the gatekeepers.
But knowledge doesn’t really work that way. There are many ways to group and classify any topic, often depending on who is the organizer. Instead, Weinberger maintains that "knowledge is an unending conversation not a content we all decide on and then move from head to head".
Content that is predetermined and then moved from head to head? Does that sound familiar? It should. That is exactly the premise on which American education is built. [my thoughts; Weinberger hinted at this but wasn’t as blunt.]
Weinberger credits the web with forcing a major shift in the way that knowledge is organized. The Wikipedia and blogs are just two examples of how information is being organized by the users of knowledge instead of by a few gatekeepers such as those at the Encyclopedia Britannica or the New York Times.
In the end Weinberger challenged educators, and society in general, to ask some questions about teaching and learning:
Should we be shoving content into kids heads? Especially since there is no one right way to organize the content.
Should we evaluate student by testing them as individuals? Students often work together socially while being graded individually, which makes for a huge disconnect.
Should we imply that ambiguity is a failure? Science, literature and many other fields of knowledge says the world in general is not precise. Knowledge is ambiguous.
Should we insist on being right?
Weinberger’s talk contained some very powerful ideas even if I haven’t done a great job of conveying them. In the end, however, I doubt most of the people running the American education system would understand, much less accept what he has to say. But it’s true nevertheless.
Which brings up my favorite line of his speech (which I hope I typed correctly).
When the last ones to know that the people in authority are no longer in authority are the people in authority, that’s farce!
Now that you’ve read my summary of Weinberger’s talk, go read his summary. I know. I could have linked to this first. But would you have stuck around? :-)
Update: Will Richardson had the great opportunity to talk with David Weinberger before the keynote and has posted a summary of that discussion.