The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning
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The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning

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by James Paul Gee
     
 

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One of the first champions of the positive effects of gaming reveals the dark side of today's digital and social media


Today's schools are eager to use the latest technology in the classroom, but rather than improving learning, the new e-media can just as easily narrow students' horizons. Education innovator James Paul Gee first documented the

Overview

One of the first champions of the positive effects of gaming reveals the dark side of today's digital and social media


Today's schools are eager to use the latest technology in the classroom, but rather than improving learning, the new e-media can just as easily narrow students' horizons. Education innovator James Paul Gee first documented the educational benefits of gaming a decade ago in his classic What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Now, with digital and social media at the center of modern life, he issues an important warning that groundbreaking new technologies, far from revolutionizing schooling, can stymie the next generation's ability to resolve deep global challenges. The solution-and perhaps our children's future-lies in what Gee calls synchronized intelligence, a way of organizing people and their digital tools to solve problems, produce knowledge, and allow people to count and contribute. Gee explores important strategies and tools for today's parents, educators, and policy makers, including virtual worlds, artificial tutors, and ways to create collective intelligence where everyday people can solve hard problems. By harnessing the power of human creativity with interactional and technological sophistication we can finally overcome the limitations of today's failing educational system and solve problems in our high-risk global world. The Anti-Education Era is a powerful and important call to reshape digital learning, engage children in a meaningful educational experience, and bridge inequality.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Gee (literacy studies, Arizona State Univ.; What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy) has published widely on the subjects of gaming, linguistics, and literacy. Gee asserts in the preface, "this book is a stealth book about education," and throughout the rest of the work he tries to explain what makes people smart or not. Each chapter is as compelling as a keynote speech, but the discussion is circuitous and the author turns to video games as a forum for problem-solving only halfway through. Since Gee has published widely on the subject of video games, it's curious that this topic shows up so late in the book. Moreover, the points he discusses in previous chapters don't clearly relate. Armchair philosophers and social activists will appreciate this title, but those interested in understanding how new technologies shape learning or schooling will be disappointed. VERDICT A thoughtfully written and provocative text, but not prescriptive enough for parents and educators to heed. The title suggests a greater potential than the book delivers.—Elizabeth Connor, Daniel Lib. at The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina
author of Rethinking Education in the Age of Techn Allan Collins

Jim Gee is one of the great thinkers of our time. His book, The Anti-Education Era, explains how we can all become smarter. His description of synchronized intelligence and why affinity spaces make for powerful learning should radically change how we think about education.
author of Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest Marc Prensky

Jim Gee is a great thinker. The book's concept of the future of education as collective, powerful, effective groups combining multiple brains enhanced by technology around the world-- what he calls affinity spaces, and capital M 'Minds'-- is both original and brilliant.
author of Creating Innovators and The Global Achie Tony Wagner

This book is a wonderful meditation on what it means to be an educated adult in a 21st-century, why this goal is critical to our future as a species, and what technologies can and cannot do to help us achieve the goal of an educated citizenry. It is a powerful antidote to the prevailing belief that more technology, and more STEM courses will save our economy and our planet.
From the Publisher

“A compelling case for reframing methods of teaching and learning.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Jim Gee is one of the great thinkers of our time. His book, The Anti-Education Era, explains how we can all become smarter. His description of synchronized intelligence and why affinity spaces make for powerful learning should radically change how we think about education.” —Allan Collins, author of Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology

“Jim Gee is a great thinker. The book's concept of the future of education as collective, powerful, effective groups combining multiple brains enhanced by technology around the world-- what he calls affinity spaces, and capital M 'Minds'-- is both original and brilliant.” —Marc Prensky, author of Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom

“This book is a wonderful meditation on what it means to be an educated adult in a 21st-century, why this goal is critical to our future as a species, and what technologies can and cannot do to help us achieve the goal of an educated citizenry. It is a powerful antidote to the prevailing belief that more technology, and more STEM courses will save our economy and our planet.” —Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators and The Global Achievement Gap

Kirkus Reviews
Thinking about thinking in education and the digital age. The subtitle suggests that the primary focus of the book would be the roles technology can play in the classroom. Gee (Literacy Studies/Arizona State Univ.; What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, 2003) has a larger agenda, as he gives ancillary consideration to the technology involved and instead takes a broad look at ways of thinking and learning. He weaves over the line between the ills and the benefits of technology, finding examples of rapid collaboration and increased agency through online forums, social media, webcams video games, search tools, virtual worlds and similar connections. At the same time, he considers the shifting relevance of traditionally defined expertise as noncredentialed "amateurs" leverage the Internet to produce expert-level work. Gee's anecdotal stories are worthy examples of "thinking outside of the box"--e.g., the project to make modifications to the popular game The Sims in an effort to use it to simulate the life of a poor, single mother. The prevailing tone around these anecdotes, however, leans toward a frustrated lecture about these innovative ideas being the exception to the rule. For the most part, it seems, we have become a culture of nincompoops with the cognitive tools necessary to become smarter, but we're either misusing them or disregarding them. "Do we have the will to save ourselves?" asks the author in conclusion. "Will we each sink in our own boat, however large or small it is, or will we bail water together in a journey to a better future?" Gee makes a compelling case for reframing methods of teaching and learning, but the pedantic tone may put off some readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781137324115
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
01/08/2013
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
983,361
File size:
348 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Anti-Education Era

Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning


By James Paul Gee

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 James Paul Gee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-137-32411-5



CHAPTER 1

Orwell's Question: Why Are Humans So Stupid?


IN HIS CLASSIC FUTURISTIC NOVEL, 1984, GEORGE Orwell raised a particularly interesting question about us humans: why do we so often believe things that are manifestly false? Orwell had in mind the ways in which totalitarian regimes can get people to firmly believe things contradicted by obvious facts. But the phenomenon is by no means restricted to totalitarian regimes. It flourishes in free societies as well. It is a human trait easily exploited by politicians, charlatans, and the media.

Polls repeatedly show that significant numbers of people believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old, believe that dinosaurs and humans were once on the earth together, believe in astrology and think that the stars affect their fate, or believe in ghosts and even think they have seen one. Currently, many Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim and isn't a citizen, and continue to believe, well past the George W. Bush presidency, that Saddam Hussein was one of the agents of 9/11.

But the problem goes much deeper than believing in astrology. We humans are all exceedingly good at self-deception. Nietzsche said, "The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others." I would say that we humans, all of us, are visionaries. We are exceedingly good at believing what we want and need to believe, even in the face of counterevidence.

Research has long shown that humans display what is called a "confirmation bias" (sometimes called a "myside bias"). This is a seemingly built-in mental bias that makes humans favor information that confirms their beliefs. Because of this bias, people seek out and remember information that supports their beliefs and ignore information that does not. The human confirmation bias is strongest with highly emotionally charged issues or deeply entrenched beliefs. For example, in reading about issues such as gun control or abortion, people prefer sources that affirm their pre-existing values and beliefs. When faced with ambiguous evidence, they interpret this evidence as supporting their belief.

The confirmation bias, because it leads to biases in seeking, interpreting, and recalling information, also leads to polarization. People who disagree about an issue like gun control or abortion can disagree ever more vehemently even though they are exposed to the same evidence. They interpret, accept, and ignore the evidence in different ways.

Psychological research has exposed a great many other mental biases that cause the human mind to rush to false conclusions. But outside of such biases (which are probably a product of the evolution of the human mind), humans hold lots of beliefs that are simply "folk theories" long contradicted by empirical evidence.

For example, the majority of people believe that human memory works like a video camera and accurately records the events we see and hear. But research on memory has long shown that human memory is fabricated, reconstructed, and transformed through use. It is not a veridical recording. We are deeply selective about what we remember. Memories can change in light of subsequent events as we replay our memories and use them to make sense of new experiences. Yet our court system invests a great deal of faith in eyewitness testimony and the belief that memory is on a par with a recording of the facts.

This folk belief about memory is just one of a great many cases in which our everyday beliefs, many of which are entrenched in our institutions and our cultural practices, are contradicted by empirical work in science. Yet science has little power, it seems, to displace such everyday beliefs. In fact, in the face of social, cultural, and institutional agendas, science has little impact. The evidence for global warming, and that it is caused in significant part by human activities, is overwhelming. This does not mean global warming is "true" in the way a mathematical proof is true (that is not how evidence works), but it does mean that the pervasive way that evidence for global warming is ignored and misrepresented is a significant indicator of how little scientific evidence counts in crucial areas of life such as government, policy making, business, religion, and politics.

All of these issues about the weakness of human thinking are well discussed in both the research literature and the popular literature on the mind. But this literature does not really get down to how deeply stupid we humans can be, despite calling ourselves Homo sapiens. Human history, up to today, is replete with people torturing, maiming, and killing each other in the name of religious or cultural beliefs. It is replete with greed and corruption that undermine the very societies the greedy and corrupt live in. After the 2008 recession, the largest since the Great Depression, we said the problem was that our banks and other financial institutions were "too big to fail" and had to be rescued at taxpayer expense. But then we made the banks even bigger as we allowed and even encouraged the stronger ones to eat up the weaker ones.

Across large parts of the globe, women are still virtual (and sometimes real) slaves, despite the fact that women are crucial to the success of any modern economy. On television we watch poor people across the globe starve to death from famine, war, storms, and drought — poor people who paradoxically often have a great many children — while we make fuel for our cars out of food (e.g., corn).

We demonize as traitors those who disagree with us. We call ourselves "pro-life" because we oppose abortion and yet oppose universal health care and thus let thousands of children and adults die because they lack health insurance. We claim that Jesus Christ, a dirt-poor champion of the poor and the unwashed, preached a "prosperity gospel" and wanted us all to be wealthy. We ruin the earth that sustains us in the contradictory name of endless growth in a finite world. We seek great wealth when all the evidence indicates that past a certain (pretty moderate) point, greater wealth does not lead to more happiness or wellbeing.

Orwell's problem was "Why are humans often so stupid even in the face of obvious or easily available evidence?" But the deeper problem is why humans care so little about evidence, truth, and the well-being of others even when, in the end, their actions undermine themselves, their societies, and their world. Why are we humans so stupid in such deep and appalling ways?

And yet, of course, humans can be very smart indeed. We have built cities, gone to the moon, made great strides in public health, uncovered mind-blowing mysteries of the physical and natural world, designed great works of art, and engaged in some grand moral and humanitarian feats.

But then again, how smart and moral can we humans really be when we have made a world in which the following things are true (this information is readily available from international organizations like the United Nations): Nearly half of all the children in the world live in poverty and a great many of them die before the age of five. We could send every child in the world to school for less than one percent of what the world spends each year on weapons, but we do not. Almost half the people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day and 80 percent of them live on less than $10 a day. Twelve percent of the world's population (none of them living in the Third World) use 85 percent of its water, as much of the world faces drought due to global warming (something many Americans do not believe in). The wealthiest nation on earth, the United States, has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation. Yet we believe in a "trickle down" theory of economic growth, in which making the very wealthy yet wealthier will cause their wealth to trickle down and enrich the poor.

All of this might matter to you morally. But even if it does not, it should still matter to you because such a world is dangerous. Armies of dispossessed people living amid environmental collapse are not going to be good for any of us. Even in the United States, as inequality grows to ever higher rates, more and more people lose trust in their society and in their fellow citizens. They feel left out. As this number expands, the day comes when rich and poor alike will suffer, and we risk an on-the-ground civil war defined around class and lack of access to full participation in the society.

I myself do care about human stupidity on moral grounds. I care, as well, on the grounds of fear for myself, my fellow citizens, and my country and the world. But I must admit, personally, that I am completely intrigued by how stupid and venal "smart" humans can be.

I am intrigued by how often all of us — myself included — deceive ourselves. I am intrigued by how often we all do things that harm ourselves and others. I am intrigued by how readily we all ignore evidence, get bitten by the world, and continue on our way little changed and little motivated to change. We get bitten by banks too big to fail and we make them bigger. We see that corporations cheat, lie, and steal when we deregulate them, so we deregulate them further. We learned nothing from the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s: we deregulated savings and loan companies and taxpayers had to bail them out for billions, then we blithely repeated the same thing, brought on the 2008 recession, and then bailed out the big banks for even more. Yet many people (who may or may not actually be stupid or greedy) still call for yet more deregulation.

As someone who has lived a life in universities, I am deeply intrigued, in particular, by how dysfunctional and self-defeating institutions can be. We humans complain constantly about the institutions we work in or deal with, but we rarely change them for the better. We join committees where the committee as a group is usually stupider than the dumbest person on it and rarely smarter than the smartest person on it, but we call for more and more committees. We pick leaders (e.g., deans) and corporate CEOs who fail, and we reward them nonetheless with more money or promotions.

No matter how much we loathe many of the institutions we deal with, we have not heretofore been able to live without them. Institutions are essential ways to coordinate large groups of people for large tasks. However, today, digital and social media are allowing large groups of people to organize bottom-up without a formal institution.

Such media are also allowing people with no official credentials from formal institutions to become experts and even compete with credentialed experts in all sorts of domains. Indeed, ad agencies rue the day they encouraged everyday people to make ads on their home computers as a way to involve them with the products the agencies were pushing. People began to make ads that were better than the million-dollar commercials the agencies made, and some people even made counter-ads to undo the work of the ad agencies and malign the products they were advertising. Marketing consultants have called for the ad industry to rise up against amateur spots. But, of course, it is too late. In regard to digital media, the horse has already left the barn.

Now, digital and social media (just like books before them) can make us smarter and allow more people to participate and fight back against the way market-based societies marginalize them in the name of profit. But they can make us stupid, as well, and can lead to duping and manipulating people in the name of profit or ideology. It all depends, of course, on what we do with digital and social media and who controls them and how.

This book, then, is devoted to my own version of Orwell's question: how can smart people — like me and you — be so dumb? I pursue the question because, as a human being, I find it so fascinating. My own stupidity, not to mention yours, amazes me. But you will now ask, "If you are so stupid, why should we read a book you have written?" Good question. The answer is that whatever is smart in this book isn't me, or just me. It is due to my plugging myself into good tools and other people to make something bigger than myself. And this is, indeed, the way out of the perils of our human stupidity: if we plug into and play with good tools and other people in the right ways, we can be smart and moral, and we can save our world.

Like many people interested in education, I have been dismayed by our schools and colleges. I do not think that our schools and colleges prepare people to face the modern world with deep thought and problem-solving skills. I don't think they prepare people to participate in a true democracy where their votes are based on considered arguments backed by evidence. I don't think they prepare people to feel like — and actually be — important participants in society, people who count. I do not think that our colleges and universities are change agents preparing us for the future, but agents of the short-term thinking and short-term profit seeking typical of our contemporary society.

We are all, when left to our own devices and to our own desires and fears, stupid. It has to be the job of some institution or social organization to help us become smart. We don't come smart out of the box. Yes, we are capable of being smart, even wise and moral. But these virtues need to be drawn out of us; we need to be educated, but not indoctrinated. Our 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.

In the end, I do not care if people believe, for example, that high levels of economic inequality are good (and moral) or bad (and immoral), though I have my own view. But I do care that, whichever they believe, they have arguments for their position based on both evidence and a moral vision. I care that they have confronted people and texts who disagree with them and that they themselves have searched for disconfirming evidence. I hope they have also gone beyond evidence to form a considered vision of life and the world based on wisdom from the past and the present, including wisdom from outside their own local comfort zone. And, finally, I hope they remain open and committed to a public forum in which they will deal respectfully with opposing, but well-considered, viewpoints in the hope that new and better ideas can emerge out of the clash of old ones.

Whether liberal or conservative, people who do not accept these values are, in my view, mere ideologues and, if they seek to impose their views on others, thugs. The public forum in which a wide array of ideas clash and emerge, where evidence is gathered and honored and moral visions developed and sharpened, should be — should have been — our institutions of higher learning. But, if they ever were this sort of forum, for the most part they no longer are. We are all, conservatives and liberals, the poorer for it.

Being smart, especially in a fast-changing and complex world, requires people to beg, borrow, or steal new ideas. It requires that all of us, young or old, remain open to discovery and grow to be distrustful of long-held and cherished beliefs that we have not closely inspected for a long time, if ever. In the modern world our minds need oil changes every so many miles or they cease to work well. With modern media and digital technologies, including the Internet, we can all get such oil changes regularly, but we have to beware of the quality of who or what is doing the change. We need to be sure to get high-grade oil.


IN THE NEXT CHAPTER, we start Part I of this book: How to Be Stupid. We cannot learn how to get smart if we do not first understand what makes us stupid and how we can reverse it. We start Part I by discussing how the human mind, since its origins, has been tightly tied to living in, and acting on, the world. One key way to make humans stupid is to break this active tie between mind and world. This will be a key theme of the book. Respecting the world and using digital media to enhance our contacts with the world is smart and good. Disrespecting the world — by disrespecting facts, for example — leads not just to stupidity, but to being bitten, sometimes badly, by the world.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Anti-Education Era by James Paul Gee. Copyright © 2013 James Paul Gee. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James Paul Gee has been featured in a variety of publications including Redbook, Child, Teacher, USA Today, Education Week, The Chicago Tribune, and more. He was formerly the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is now the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is a founder of the Center for Games and Impact at ASU which orchestrated a national conversation on games and learning for the White House Office of Science and Technology. Described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as "a serious scholar who is taking a lead in an emerging field," he is the author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.


James Paul Gee has been featured in a variety of publications including Redbook, Child, Teacher, USA Today, Education Week, The Chicago Tribune, and more. He was formerly the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is now the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is a founder of the Center for Games and Impact at ASU which orchestrated a national conversation on games and learning for the White House Office of Science and Technology. Described by The Chronicle of Higher Education as "a serious scholar who is taking a lead in an emerging field," he is the author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

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The Anti Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
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davidfourfold More than 1 year ago
This person has opinions on the state of education, which I happen to share. Beyond bias, I found this book delves deeply into what is wrong relative to us individually and what we might do.