Ideology and EdTech (or, the Skunk at the Party)

Jim Groom, in a nicely organized post:

Wow, there’s a mouthful. But if you have gotten this far, the question is not so much that ideology is dead, but that our moment is projected back to us as one without alternatives.

That’s exactly right. I’m not sure if Jim knows the history here, but it bears him out. Our current climate is largely the result of two successful political movements: –

  1. The retroactive creation in the 1950s of a cultural conservative political tradition. Created by writers such as Russell Kirk, the attempt here was to pull threads of history together and posit a non-ideological stream of history that had as rich a tradition as liberalism. More on that “non-ideological” bit later.
  2. The rise of free-market conservatism, which claims that it is governed not by ideology, but by natural forces. In this way it stands with communism, fascism, and other 20th century isms in its assertion of its naturalness. But whereas those ideologies hung their hat on a notion of capital-H “History”, free-market conservatism presents itself as existing outside of history, and even outside of results — approaching at times the status of religion — free markets produce the best of possible worlds, and we know we live in the best of possible worlds because the free market produced it, and free markets produce the best of all possible worlds…

What movement conservatism was able to do in the latter part of the 20th century was to make “ideology” the enemy. Cultural conservativism and free-market conservatism were able, through this mechanism, to lump liberalism in with communism, fascism, and the Reign of Terror all at once (quite a feat!). The conservatives were able to take over control of government, cutting student aid while simultaneously claiming the universities were “politicizing” education. Discussion of gender roles was decried as “bringing ideology into relationships”. And so on.

It wasn’t a new thing, this push to see capitalism and tradition as non-poltical, ideologically neutral entities. But it was a very successul iteration of that push. At its height, several years back, one of the most consciously ideological governments in American history was popularly regarded as ruling from the gut.

I’ll write more on this soon — but it does point out something interesting about the whole edupunk phenomenon, something I think Jim is getting at — among many of those uncomfortable with the term there seems to be an idea that the problem with the term is it is injecting ideology into a non-ideological space.

If that is the case — if people really feel that the edtech space is non-ideological and non-political, if people feel their ad hoc decisions about technology and vendors and design are not being governed by an ideology, explicit or implicit — *that* is a huge problem, and edupunk, as Jim Groom’s divine goof on the community, may be more significant for surfacing those “non-ideological” ideologies than for any coherent philosophy it brings to the table of its own.

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2 Comments on “Ideology and EdTech (or, the Skunk at the Party)”

  1. Hi Mike, I think the discussion that follow’s Ken Caroll’s post captures all that you are talking about here. I thinkits a wonderful snapshot into the political arena that we have.

  2. Jared Stein says:

    I don’t think folks are denying the ideological aspects of our identity or our choices in this discussion, but I do believe people prefer not to overtly dwell on ideology unless absolutely necessary because ideological discussions are usually more disaffecting or divisive than they are productive. By ignoring the ideological currents and focusing on more neutral commonalities such as learning outcomes, I think folks of radically differing persuasions can collaborate comfortably and effectively. I know some people believe we need to be uncomfortable and confronted in order to affect change, but not me. I prefer change on a smaller, more incremental level, based on little agreements and disagreements.


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