Wednesday, June 25, 2008

David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee Reading Summary

Reading Summary
“Before Every Child Is Left Behind: How Epistemic Games Can Solve the Coming Crisis in Education”
David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee

The Crisis
In the wake of the 21st century and all her advancements, the environment for businesses’, workers, governments and states are quickly evolving (Shaffer & Gee). As “old [American] capitalism” crumbles beneath the pressures of a system predominated by a need for American innovation, the endless quest for ownership over the term “new” moves perpetually forward—undermined only by a major flaw inherent to capitalism. American’s have reached a juncture where the laws of capitalism no longer favor the red, white and blue. No, in fact, a high standard of living comes at a heavy price. “Commodity jobs” and labor favors cheaper job markets. The jobs, much like water, travel from high to low behind the whip of capitalism—from the First to the Third World—acting like gravity in this familiar equation.

What actually defines a “commodity job,” argues Shaffer and Gee, is simply the jobs vulnerability to be outsourced. This includes anything from high to low end jobs according to all normative and societal accounts. From the family doctor to the guy that screw’s on J.I. Joe head’s at the factory, any job outsource-able will inevitably be outsourced (Shaffer & Gee).

The New Crisis
The “new wrinkle” that has formed on the blueprint of American capitalism has elevated the ‘crisis’ of old to the status of ‘new’: namely, that highly skilled positions—those once safeguarded by geographical constraints—can now also travel across seas.

Moving on Up!
America has responded to this crisis by orienting training and education in America towards occupations demanding skill and innovation. America looks to hew itself into the image of the cutting edge of the 21st century. America, however, is not alone in this race, as Third World countries also want to become the place of technological dominance. Thus, Americans must “work and learn smarter” to continue to compete in the race towards innovation and discovery.

Schooling and De-Innovation
Cut backs, however, in funding for the sciences, the arts and any fields on the forefront of innovation have stunted the evolution of the American educational system towards this promising direction. Instead, America continues to produce more commodity workers in a nation without a sustainable commodity production job market of its own. As “standardized testing… [produces] standardized skills,” the average Joe America is being cheated out of an applicable educational curriculum, leaving many children behind despite governmental efforts.
Key Insight: “China has 300 million skilled and educated workers, more than the entire population of the United States… Inspired by the goal of leaving no child behind in basic skills, [America is] leaving all of our children, rich and poor, well behind in the new global competition for innovative work.”

As we attempt to approach the “highest levels of the value chain,” American’s in general, which have been focused as a whole on in improving proficiency in reading, have failed to gain other, more pertinent skills—such as the ability to understand a complicated technological symbol system.

Preparing for Innovation
The skills necessary for achieving innovation don’t start in college, but instead, begin as early as kindergarten (foreign language metaphor—better to learn at a younger age). This includes immersing children in technology from a young age. This also includes immersing children in complex conversation even if they don’t fully understand, even at a young age. This type of speaking should be “school based” and not simply vernacular. This school based conversation, in ideal circumstances, would resonate from school to the home. Public schools, however, are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Example: “The Age of Mythology”: Video game dealing with complex problem solving, decision making and spatial skills, being able to modify any component of the game as pleased.

The New Equity Gap
Children’s pop culture, argues the authors, is more advanced than ever before. This represents an avenue of opportunity for educators, as any number of games and technologies that kids might be using in contemporary America generally have more advanced use of technologically relevant subject matter.
Key Insight: This leg up, however, can hinder those American public schools on the more barren side of the digital divide. Without technology being present in many inner-city schools, already disadvantaged students are only hindered more. Overall, Americans are investing more time and labor in get-rich quick areas such as law and business, shying away from more Asian dominated technological fields.

The Solution
With liberals and conservatives equally contributing to, rather than diminishing, the growth of this crisis, the solution doesn’t just lie in economic reform, but in Epistemic games. A good example of an epistemic game is Madison 2200 in which student ‘urban planners’ design a city that will function healthily, to the best of their capability. This requires a deeper understanding of societal, scientific and economical issues (Remember the MIT guy from The Video Game Revolution when he taught is son how to budget on the Sims.) This game has been used with success when applied to “at risk” students.

Epistemic Frames
(1) MUST NOT be standardized. (Madison 2200 versus standardized tests in sociology, economics, psychology and other arts and sciences)
(2) Madison 2200 (game) taught students how to understand the complexities of city planning, and more importantly, how to carry over that knowledge to other situations. Digital Zoo represents another game detailing other disciplines (Biology and Physics).
(3) These games, above all else, are highly fact-oriented to improve their external effects after the game is over.
(4) Yield innovative thinkers because they are opened to this range of thinking well before college and the professional years.
(5) From Assessment orientation → Epistemic orientation = an improvement. Just because a student can memorize and regurgitate Newton’s Laws of Motion does not mean he can apply them to practical life.
(6) Overcoming the “fourth-grade slump” when children have a problem going from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
(7) The new model for learning in a global society rich in culture and digital culture.


Adrian said...

Most of my comments about this have a lot to do with the state of education in general. I know that as I've seen things like No Child Left Behind come out, I get more and more frustrated with the state of education. Unfortunately, I really feel like the big part of what is going wrong can't be saved by some panacea like video games that are educational, but rather, by actually FUNDING education a lot more than we do. As much as I like where these guys hearts are, I don't think that the solution is anything more complicated than GIVE THE SCHOOLS MORE MONEY.

rtaylor said...

Since I've already expressed my opinion that educational video games may be mostly useless in education, I don't believe that the solution to the education crisis is video games. It's obvious that the disparity in economic wealth between school districts is probably the most likely source. Obviously more funding means more computers and a lower student to teacher ratio, but computers are unimportant to basic learning once Word, Excel, and reserach skills have been developed.

Eric M said...

This article was very critical of the state of our education system and justifiably so. I've never been a fan of the NCLB and still can't see what good it is doing. However, the epistemic games could be an viable alternative to learning, but how effective it would be in enhancing our future job force, I'm not convinced it would be. As stated by my fellow classmates, funding is the critical issue here. NCLB sees that because funding is cut for schools that underperform, if I recall correctly. The problem is that our education system is drastically under-provided for and it's scary.

Sarah. R. said...

Once we started talking about this article in the context of its intended audience, I had better feelings toward it, although I think everyone's right to be skeptical of games and gaming as an sort of panacea. It's obviously just one piece of a very complex puzzle. Also, one thing that the article from today got into that I was thinking about when I read this one is, essentially, "who is watching the watchers"? In other words, these games have rules that are totally constructed. The way the worlds operate, the way the systems behave - there are people controlling and programming that. So just because a complex simulation can be created and run doesn't mean there's anything inherently organic or authentic about it, necessarily.

Maybe an obvious point, but just wanted to add that.

Nick S said...

Reading this article and then the discussion we had with Greg made me wonder if this "crisis" really even exists. It seems there is always something we as Americans need to be worried about. I do think it is unfortunate that some jobs are being outsourced, but the chances of a majority of jobs being outsourced doesn't seem feasible. I do, on the other hand, think we need to look into our education system. I recently saw an article from something where schools were paying their students for good grades. Are you kidding me!? The only way I ever got paid for grades was when i brought my report card into chuck e. cheese.

Jasun said...

Ya know, I'd love to add something to this discussion, but I think it's been said... Go Adrian!

Marlon Heimerl said...

Something that I didn't mention in class that I think deserves some contemplation now is the last several pages of the article. Its almost seems to get over-sold near the end in my opinion, as rather than explaining how epistemic frames could actually be integrated into the curriculum, the authors seem to talk more about its possible outcomes, with lofty sentences bloated with (perhaps, over-stated) possibilities. I feel like this article represents the equivalent of saying, "oh, come on World, just give peace a chance already!" Of course this sounds like a great solution, but it's just not the way the world works. Until there is an actual system for integrating these games, I remain skeptical to the authors main argument.

Jon72585 said...

I think that when I said in class this article felt "bleak," I didn't explain myself fully. While I do feel that they are painting in the reader's mind a future where the American Education System has failed the country, I mainly came away feeling bleak because of the way they went about doing this. The word "crisis" is used a lot, and while I think there is a crisis in the public school system, I don't think that this is anything new. In fact, I think that it is a problem that has existed for a very long time. And again, I have to agree with Adrian's post. Maybe if we were willing to pay teachers what they deserve, and fund the schools properly, huge advances in the way that kids are being taught would be seen.