Odysseas Elytis and the Ed-Tech Revolution
Anyone using Google on November the 2nd saw this:
How many different ways can you read that? Surely it cannot simply be read as an honour paid by the largest internet corporation to a winner of a Nobel prize. Can it not also be seen as a cartoonification of a poet whose work opposed all cartoonification?
On the same day, one of the Greek state TV channels repeated a documentary about Odysseas Elytis. He spoke about his concern for “αυτό που λέμε Ελληνικότητα” (a distinctively Greek culture), saying that this…
is nothing other than a way of seeing and feeling things. Either the broad sweep of things or something humble and close to hand. Either the Parthenon or a pebble. What matters is “ευγένεια”* and quality, in contrast to the size and quantity that count for more in the West.
(* a sense of what is elevated, refined, civilised, gentle, considerate, humane)
δεν είναι τίποτα άλλο παρά ένας τρόπος να βλέπεις και να αισθάνεσαι τα πράγματα. Είτε στην κλίμακα τη μεγάλη, είτε στην ταπεινή. Θέλω να πω, είτε σ’ ένα Παρθενώνα, είτε σ’ ένα λιθάρι. Το παν είναι η ευγένεια, η ποιότητα, σε αντίθεση με το μέγεθος και την ποσότητα που χαρακτηρίζουν τη Δύση.
Later he says that the Greek concern for quality (ποιότητα) is a concern for the spirit (πνεύμα – a Greek word that has not yet died, while the English equivalent, “spirit”, is now used only by antiquarians or human resources buffoons referring to things like paintball afternoons that boost the team spirit of their utterly replaceable human resources).
The most pressing question for Elytis in this interview is what Greece should do about the growing European Union (this was in 1980). First he considers the option of Greece isolating itself, but then decides against that, embracing instead the entry of Greece into the broader European federation, confident that it will be able to chart a new course in European waters that will not sacrifice quality for quantity, and spirit for mere economic calculation (perhaps it was easier to be confident back in 1980?).
And immediately his thoughts turn to education, for how can Greece conserve, promote and develop that concern for what is distinctively Greek – for everything that cannot be cartoonified or reduced to the calculable exchange values of the market – except through education?
This serious and deep education (as he describes it) will be quite different from the current, overly technical education. And how could it be otherwise, since it will have at its centre a concern for culture – for our ways of seeing and feeling things, very particular things – for ευγένεια, ποιότητα and πνεύμα?
Was Elytis wrong? He says nothing about the liberation of the child. He says nothing about fighting indoctrination. So is he completely mistaken? And because he was speaking about a period prior to the digital revolution, are his words now irrelevant?
Those of us who believe that Elytis grasped something essential to education face a task so enormous that it is probably impossible. And to bring home the enormity of that task, it is worth watching the first few minutes of Dan Brown’s Open Letter to Educators.
The young man, who has dropped out of a college seen to be out of step with history, is a near-perfect advocate of the digital ed-tech revolution. He speaks with all the passion of someone who believes they are authentically themselves. And the digital pedagogues – ed-tech entrepreneurs like Marc Prensky and Nicholas Negroponte – want us to believe that young people like this are the authentic voice of a new breed of human being: the digital native. Of course, this is utterly naïve. The passionately delivered words of this man do not rise up out of some authentic substratum of humanity. No, they rise up out of a way of seeing and a way of not feeling created by an entire industry – by an entire economic system.
50 seconds into the video the young man says:
We are in the midst of a very real revolution, and if institutional education refuses to adapt to the landscape of the information age it will die and it should die.
He trots out the old dictum that this is the information age, and he tells us later (2.52) that education is about information.
Education is about information. This has been parroted again and again and again by pseudo-pedagogues on conference podia around the world.
This is the Age of Information, isn’t it? So education must be about information, surely?
No, dammit. Education is NOT about information. It is about CULTURE. Or at least it damn well ought to be.
The digital revolutionaries ignore the question of culture. Why? One reason (see Seth Godin) is that culture is already being handled perfectly well by TV, the music industry, cinema, and the other mass media. The kids get all the culture they want from the culture industry – an industry in which number is the only thing that ultimately matters.
Provisional practical conclusion: Every ed-tech conference must begin by showing the clip of Odysseas Elytis talking about education, culture, quality and spirit, and anyone lending tacit support to the Prenskies and Mitras of this world must be obliged to come up with a convincing argument as to why Elytis was wrong.