I love acronyms…
This is yet another one of my early-morning 5am concoctions…
Democratization Of Internet and Technology-based Worldwide Education, Learning and Literacy a.k.a. DO IT WELL
This blog was triggered by an experience I had yesterday. No, it was not entirely “new”, as I have experienced similar discomfort in my life, many times. When one has a last name that resembles certain ethnic-racial-religious individuals, who are world renowned for acts-of-crime-against-humanity, it is inevitable that one would face all sorts of difficult situations in life.
I recall my first encounter with such situations. It was 1990. A certain country was being invaded by a certain individual, whose last name happened to rhyme with my last name. Needless to say, I experienced the same immature and unfair verbal hazing “game” that I remember enduring way back in elementary school – the type of teasing you get when kids make fun of your name. Only at that point, in 1990, I was not in elementary school, the people who chastised me were not kids, and the topic was not funny.
Yes, I know, everyone gets teased about stuff like that. And we all learn to shrug these things off, and eventually laugh about it, 40+ years down the road.
Or do we?
There was a period of my career as an educator when I was traveling extensively to various countries, including underdeveloped and less-than-stable regions of the world. My passport was quite colorful, filled with entry and exit stamps from all sorts of places, containing records of my movements in all forms of languages. At the time, I thought that was cool – having such a passport. Unfortunately, I learned later, that such records worked against me, as it made it hard for me to gain access to some other countries – those that have beef with certain other countries.
This was my second wake up call. Prejudice goes beyond a namesake. I learned that even governments play the same elementary school “game”.
Then yesterday, I woke up to a message that I received in my email. It was one of those automated G+ notifications that you receive when someone +’s your name into a post. FYI, ever since I began my G+ “binge learning” experiment 8 weeks ago, I have had a steady flow of incoming push-notifications. Although I had already begun to learn how to not let the barrage of incoming email overwhelm me, this particular incoming notification was one that I was not prepared for.
It was a post from an acquaintance (or should I say online-colleague) whom I had read about in one of the many MOOCs that I had participated in the past 9 months. The content was heartfelt, sincere, and full of enthusiasm. My initial reaction was – Wow! Good for this person. What enthusiasm and sincerity this person has for lifelong-learning and self-development. I admired the passion and innocence of the post.
Then, minutes later, I received a follow up email. Someone had reacted to that initial post, and since I was on the list, I had I received a push-notification. An hour later, I received another response-post, and through the day, I saw quite a number of subsequent follow-up messages, circulating in cyberspace. Unfortunately, since I had set my email to auto-receive push-notifications, my poor work-email inbox was inundated with an avalanche that day. This would have been fine if all the posts were “appropriate”, but unfortunately, one of the push-notification emails happened to pop up on my computer screen, right at a time when I was giving a demo at work. Needless to say, it was quite uncomfortable.
You see, the “innocent” post included certain cultural religious content. Based on the language structure and message, I was able to immediately see that English Language and contextual understanding were barriers in this situation. The person posting was from another culture and totally unfamiliar with the “social norms” that dictate what (we in) the Western “developed” world consider to be academically “appropriate”. Having had extensive experience traveling to many regions of similar cultures, I knew that the “innocent” post was truly “innocent”. But I also knew that great damage and potential problems could occur if such “innocent” posts were seen out of context and/or misconstrued.
THIS is the crux of my blog today.
I know… tl:dr… too long, didn’t read.
But for those of you readers who have made it down to this point…
the point that I am trying to make here is…
I realize today, that leveling the playing field in education will take MORE than just pedagogical strategies and instructional design innovation. MOOCs, OERs, social networks, or any other online methods… NONE of this will be successful, unless we find a way to calibrate and bridge the cultural-syntax divide. Great wars have erupted from similar misconceptions. Language and literacy goes BEYOND just communicating an idea. It is amazing, incredible, and dangerous that simple things such as a person’s name, or a cultural greeting, can incite so much prejudice, or be misconstrued as a representation of opposing beliefs.
and… I sincerely hope that we will DO IT WELL…