Saturday, June 25, 2005

Conversation in a dream

I woke up this morning, astonished at what my sleeping mind could come up with. I was with some of my childhood friends. We were a few who played role playing games long before there was a name or a system for it in Norway, dreaming up stories and dramas, and playing them out in the forests around where we lived.

In my dream we were all adults, but still role playing. Only some of the role play had backfired into reality. I no longer remember every detail, lucid and logical though they were, but it involved pern-type firelizards (miniature dragons), familiars, astral bodies and magic children. So I called in some of the people I had played with for a long time, but who had freaked out because they felt it got too real. The logic was: If they felt it was too real, perhaps they had already experienced these situations, and I had just not listened to them.

Turned out they were no good, their "too real" was on the emotional plane. But one of them brought a long a teacher/mentor, who looked like "the fat aging academic male" in all movies where they need some disposable nerd. And I started discussing educational planning with him.

He claimed that the master study they were planning was created after the structure of herd behaviour: by seeing in what sequence students would naturally choose subjects, they would make the path through the courses as easy and natural as possible. I claimed that what he described was supermarket planning, and that true herd/flock behaviour was non-linear, unless the group was spooked and forced to act in the same sequence. I used birds as an example. While they would, when relaxed, spread all over the red currant bushes in the garden, eating, singing, resting, fluttering about looking for something else, the presence of our cat would make them all fly up at the same time.

The argument was that the natural, unhurried pattern of choice for a group of students would be no pattern at all - unless some outside authority or threath spooked them. Which is what we use exams and assessments for - to make them all fly in the same direction to save their grades.

When I woke up, I felt like I had been having an epiphany. I understood why students want to move things around and direct their own progress, and why I have always felt that was important. That is more how the old Norwegian educational system worked, and how it still works to a certain degree if you go for a free bachelor. I also understood the modifying effect of tests, tasks and exams, and the need for these things to have real consequences. Well, not that I want to need to kill and eat students, but the need for apprehension, fear, tension and the possibility of significant loss at the other end of the process was suddenly clear to me.

It was weird. And interesting, as were the metaphors my mind used to tell me those things.

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