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Philosophers, Innovation and Questioning

Audrey Waters is a highly intelligent, connected and caring philosopher of education and technology.  In her post Against “Innovation” #CNIE2014 she wades into the murky waters of culture and education through a dialectic on terminology, meaning, praxis and ultimately ethics.  Giving a keynote talk to the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference her style, tone and brilliance in crafting an argument are immediately apparent in her cover slide:

Watters suggests that innovation (as a word and conceptual frame) is now loose terminology in education.  She points to the corporate nature of “reform” in education to make this point, calling out the educational technology sector and even the silicon valley driven ethos of entrepreneurialism for both ambiguity in message and means (and even inspiring blatant exploitation of education).   As a philosopher, Watters knows what she’s doing.  As Zizek (2009) posits ” a philosophers place is not to solve problems but to redefine the problems societies face”. To this end, Waters cares deeply about human self determination and has a unique place in the contemporary academic and cultural space to disseminate her thoughts. She is attempting (with much of her writing and speaking) and succeeding in her atempts to redefine the problems we face in education.  To me, Watters inspires a question for all of us in education, technology, industries of innovation, cultural studies and politics (for a nod to Watters).  How “thick” is our understanding and description of whats going on in these spaces?  As Geertz (1973)  wrote in his essay Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture:

The thing to ask about [innovation or educational technology] is not what their ontological status is.  It is the same as rocks on the one hand and dreams on the other–they are of this world. The thing to ask is what their import is….

Why innovation, innovating, inventing, imagination, creativity, knowledge….. may be our keystone question to consider in educational research, theorizing, design, and praxis.  Thus, we need to further critique as Watters has the ideology of innovation hysteria while also illuminating efforts where the why is obvious in innovative educational ecologies (see my previous post Pathways for Interdisciplinarity for examples of exemplar schools and projects). In these examples, communities of learners are imagining and innovating….designing the future of education. I am thankful to Watters for redefining the problems for us, asking us to question and frankly just making us think. It is an uncomfortable time in some schools as entrenched traditional forms of education are under attack and institutional immunity is flaring up. That same immunity can find comfort in some of the technologies Watters points out as those technological “innovations” strengthen rather than change managerial/industrial age methods.  Some in education rightly feel that the last decade has been spent fighting for “innovation” and change to very little systemic effect and to critique innovation of technology may be premature. I will argue that understanding the topographies of culture and education (symbolic, political, economic, historical, linguistic) is vital to serving and contributing to our collective futures. These futures exist in a middle grounds of hope, possibility and imagination for a global civic culture.  To support educational landscapes and learning.that proliferate these futures we must do the hard work of understanding philosophy, innovation and culture.