I have been wanting to jump onto the topic of edupunk for quite a while now, but I am happy that I waited. Since Jim Groom’s initial post, there has been a lot of debate around the term … but I won’t get into that. This post is really not about entering into that conversation. The term resonated with me, so please let me indulge in this bit of selfish, and very incomplete, introspection.
D’Arcy Norman proclaimed me an edpunk, and I am in excellent company. This proclamation resulted because of the work I did with my recent graduate course, EC&I 831 where I (with the help of Rob Wall) broke a lot of rules regarding course “delivery”. I have spoken about the course quite a few times since it has formally ended, and the question I am asked most often is “how did you get away with that?”. To Rob and I, the facilitation model came naturally, it made sense to be open and transparent. I hardly remember there being another way. Yet, I do not fully understand how I came to see the world this way.
The term edupunk comes to me at an ideal time. It is a term more relevant to me than most people would realize. I spent my teen years and early 20’s heavily into the punk scene, and I have vivid memories of these times. I have met dozens of punk and alternative band members over the years, many of whom are still my rock heroes. This post is not about generalizing what edupunk means to any one else. I am writing because I want to better understand how these musical, political, cultural, and social experiences have influenced the educator I am today.
So, here are the things I learned from punk, and why I embrace the term, edupunk.
Non Conformity – Yea, I know, I am a professor at a University, with several degrees including a terminal one. What would I know about non-conformity? But I wasn’t always this way, I was the kid with a mohawk in Grade 10. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office. I missed a LOT of school. I had a list of speeding and traffic violations before I turned 17. I didn’t do anything bad, I just wanted to be noticed, and I wanted to be different. Well, different enough to get noticed. I was also very lucky to have been born gifted both academically and musically. I excelled at everything I attempted and my grades were at the top of the class even though I missed a lot of school. But I was bored, so incredibly bored.
And while I could go on and list dozens of punk rock anthems that deal with non-conformity, I’ll take a turn here. Rather, I’ll refer to Angelo Patri’s “A Schoolmaster of the Great City”, a book I read a few months ago. Even in the early 1900’s, Patri saw the issues of school conformity and student engagement.
Many parents believe that this is education. They covet knowledge, book knowledge for their children. Rich and poor alike want their children done up in little packages, ready to show, ready to boast of. They fear freedom, they fear to let the child grow by himself. Because the parents want this sort of thing, the school is built to suit – a book school – one room like another, one seat like another, each child like his neighbor. (p. 37)
I could not be sedated then. And while I have conformed in many ways to trade off the security that comes with this, I better understand dissent in society. And I rebel and innovate when I feel it is best for the learning experiences of my students, and for my own personal and professional growth.
Do-It-Yourself Culture – If I were to use one phrase to describe my approach to the design of courses, it would be DIY. While DIY culture was not born specifically of the punk movement, this is where it was exposed to me. My University gives tremendous support for course design and development. And while I do lean on these terrific people from time to time for graphic and multimedia design, I have done almost all of my course development myself. I am what Bates would call a Lone Ranger. And I have thought about it from time-to-time. Why don’t I just get the help available to me, to produce some really nice course materials? Why do I resist?
According to Holmstrom, punk rock was “rock and roll by people who didn’t have very much skills as musicians but still felt the need to express themselves through music”. In December 1976, the English fanzine Sideburns famously published an illustration of three chords, captioned “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third. Now form a band.”
When it came to course design, this is how I felt. I didn’t have the skills to begin with, but the more I pushed myself, the better I became. I learned, discovered my art, had fun, and witnessed my students learn along with me. And this I discovered in bands like the Ramones, where none of the members were talented in any technical sense, but the band was able to influence the music scene and forever change the world.
Critique of Power Relationships … – For my PhD dissertation, I defined the term open thinking as follows:
… the tendency of an individual, group or institution to give preference to the adoption of open technologies or formats in regards to software, publishing, content and practice. Open thinkers critique, question and seek to reject technologies or formats that compromise the power of adopters, especially in the freedom to use, reuse, edit and share creative works and tools. Open thinkers value group-based problem solving and give preference to tools that enable social collaboration and sharing. Open thinkers actively strive to replace adopted technologies and formats with open alternatives. Open thinkers advocate for the adoption of open technologies and practice. (2006)
For the past 7 years, I have been a strong proponent of free and open source software, and then later, free and open content. As you can see in the definition above, my approach has been to critique and question the tools, content, and formats educators use on a daily basis, and to look for free and open alternatives. While much of this influence comes from more contemporary sources (e.g., Stallman, Torvalds, Raymond, Lessig, Downes, Lamb), for me this is only a reawakening of ideas I first discovered through punk rock.
In closing this post, I am going to take Jen’s advice seriously when she says about edupunk “Don’t dissect the metaphor“. Edupunk, if nothing more, has got many people talking, exploring their beliefs around education, and in some cases, reminiscing of day’s long past. The educational community is much too diverse, as it should be, for anyone to cling on to one single metaphor for meaning. I learned the lesson of community complexity when I studied meaning within open source communities. Gabrielle Coleman’s quotation still resonates with me:
The meanings, aims, visions, and aspirations of the open source community are difficult to pin down .… closer inspection of the movement reveals a cacophony of voices and political positions: anarchic ideals of freedom, “tribal” gift-economy rhetoric, revolution, Star Wars imagery, web manifestos, evangelization to the corporate sector, the downfall of the “Evil Empire” (a.k.a. Microsoft), grass roots revolution, consumer choice and rights, community good, true market competition, DIY (Do it Yourself) culture, science as a public good, hacker cultural acceptance, functional superiority, and anti-Communist rhetoric are but a number of the terms, images, and visions promulgated by and attached to the open source community.
The discussion around edupunk has forced me to think, and inspired me to write. Whether you agree with the term or not, it’s brought you this far with me. Thanks for reading.