Being Subversive

I am having loads of fun being subversive.

I am a bit of a non-conformist. That bit did not change since my school days. What changed is that I usually kept quiet, kept my head down and accepted the way of the world over mine. No longer: I have lately become aware of my mortality - that I am old and don't have much time left to let the world go by - and now refuse to give up and go quietly.

Being a non-conformist has its own problems. You become sensitive to the fact that everyone may have an opinion - a different opinion. Since you expect your opinions to be heard, respected, you start respecting everyone's points of view too. This makes you an indefatigable learner. This opens your mind, stop you from being a bore, forever. However, at the same time, this may drown you down, and crowd you out. I must admit that this has happened in my life quite a few times, particularly in my life in England: It is a masculine world where you must push your views around to be heard. I paid the price for being far too sensitive.

It was a difficult path converting my non-conformism to true, interesting subversion. Technology came to my rescue. Technology can disrupt the power structure and mould it irreversibly, a fact I lately realized. Intelligent deployment of technology can truly transform even a rather stable environment based on patronage and privileges, and bring in a sudden openness. This subversion is fun: It is like opening a window and letting sunlight into a room which was closed for years. It is almost that transition from being dead to coming alive.

As I follow all this discussion about using technology in education, whether or not it enhances learning, whether or not it improves behavior, and think this completely misses the point. We try to discuss whether we can, with technology, achieve yesterday's goals in education: conformism, predictable behaviour, transference of a body of knowledge. But, education does not happen in a vacuum, and the ultimate goal of education is enabling the learner to be a man in the society. So, it must move lockstep with society, which means new goals should emerge. In the context of a society so deeply disrupted by technology, where the power structures are crumbling, and we are zooming towards an inflection point, offering better education should not mean reaching outdated goals but inventing new ones.

Like, being able to extend our cognitive realm with new ideas and innovation. If education is meant to facilitate this, it will be hard put to achieve this objective within the bounds of the established power and authority of tutorship. I am currently experimenting on using technology to achieve an intensely student centric environment, where only loose rules and common courtesy will be accepted as a given, and everything else will be invented, moulded and discovered. This will be, if I get my way, the core of a larger project - the World College - where inverted power relationships will put the existing body of knowledge in various fields in a truly global context.

Let me explain by using a discipline like Physics. I choose this because truth in this area is likely to be least sensitive culturally. However, a discipline is not just about the body of knowledge, but also a related process of inquiry, and this is more culturally sensitive than we would like to believe. The cultural sensitivity of the methods of inquiry in physics is actually an opportunity rather than a problem, because there must be more than one ways of reaching the truth, and even there is a possibility of more than one truth, even in the physical world. Today, a power relationship, an established authority, a select set of journals and publications, a particular language, guard the entrance of the discipline and keep all subversion, and therefore, variety and newness out. But new possibilities are already emerging: New people are joining the enquirers and creating new knowledge, like the amateur astronomers of the past, who contributed significantly to the body of knowledge and changed our understanding of the physical world. Technology made this possible (in this case, it was the telescope). Inverted power relationships, facilitated by technology, may change things yet again.

Apply this to a more 'humanistic' discipline, like business or education, and you know the possibilities are endless. But it is no good exporting business formulas across countries and applying them mindlessly. The idea of a world college is to create a core of student centric curriculum first, and then apply the bits that fit. And, technology and technology alone, can allow us to subvert the command and control systems of public education.


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