The Need for a Paradigm Shift toward the Creation of an Avant-Garde Pedagogy

I have presented the notion of speculative multidimensional time-line thinking as a way to change our perception of the world as an enduring and stable entity, much in the same way that the special effects team in the movie made it possible to visualize change over time. But in order to utilize the concept of speculative multidimensional time-line thinking in a practical sense, we need to institute a paradigm shift in the structure of the pedagogy that is traditionally used in conventional teaching and learning scenarios. We need to move beyond a process of knowing established technological “facts” to one of unknowing. In his essay on “Not Knowing” Brown (2013) elucidates this rather well:

Education usually culminates in an examination, which is virtually the only time when not knowing an “answer” is unacceptable. At all other times, “I don’t know” is both honorable and useful, providing that it does not reflect intellectual torpor and that an attempt is made to change the situation. This admission represents the critical identification of an absence of something necessary for understanding. Moreover, students need to become comfortable with, although not accepting of, their own ignorance because, as I have already suggested, the “unknown” greatly exceeds the “known.”

This has significant implications for formal assessment procedures. Speculative multidimensional time-line thinking is not about repetition. It has no interest in the conformity of ideas. It is very much a creative endeavor, an endeavor that promotes experimentation through speculation. It requires a pedagogy of change that favors the interesting over the actual; a pedagogy of heterogeneity that recognizes multiple perspectives as more important than universal narratives; a pedagogy that gives voice to young people; a pedagogy that is recognized, in itself, as being subject to constant change and reinterpretation.

Let me try to put this into some context. I will offer a detailed example of an actual historic technological scenario that will serve to illustrate a pedagogical framework for speculative multidimensional time-line thinking: the actualization of the atom bomb. However, any of the areas discussed in this volume could also be used.

By investigating the various prevailing conditions that enabled the actualization of the atom bomb, one is led to several prior historically important developments. These developments form a linear timeline and might include the following:

  • 1898 Marie Curie discovers radioactivity
  • 1905 Albert Einstein theorizes about the relationship between mass and energy
  • 1925 First cloud-chamber photographs of nuclear reactions
  • 1932 The existence of Neutrons is proven
  • 1934 First patent application for producing a nuclear chain reaction; aka nuclear explosion
  • 1938 German scientists demonstrate nuclear fission
  • 1939 Einstein warns President Roosevelt about the German potential to produce a bomb
  • 1942 Manhattan project is formed to secretly build a bomb before the Germans
  • 1945 The invention of the atomic bomb
  • 1945 The USA drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • (Bellis, 2013)

This timeline offers a perspective on the events that led up to the actualization of the atomic bomb. However, they only offer a partial perspective and do not engage the reader with how things might have been otherwise. By investigating any one of these events as an assemblage, one is able to consider, in much more depth, the prevailing conditions that enabled the particular development to become actualized. In 1898, for example, Marie Curie did not simply discover radioactivity. Like every human being, she had a history that offered alternative pathways. These pathways may have led her to pursue alternative lives—lives that may not have resulted in her discovering radioactivity. Others were also involved in the discovery of radioactivity either by helping her or by influencing her. For example, the discovery of x-rays played an important role in her discovery. It is possible that had things been otherwise, radioactivity may not have been discovered, but while this is an unlikely scenario, it forms the basis of a critical examination of alternative pathways possible at the time and the resultant impact these alternatives might have had on the world today. By creating possible alternative technological histories, one is able to speculate on possible technological futures that offer alternative worlds. Using the same example, if one considers the assemblage known as the Manhattan Project, one can speculate a future that did not actualize an atomic bomb and the possible future worlds that might have emerged as a result.

The conditions that led up to the creation of the Manhattan Project are well known. They include issues such as history, groundbreaking science, politics, war, fear, and curiosity. These various components were brought together to form an assemblage known as the Manhattan Project, which resulted in a change that witnessed the creation of the atomic bomb. A great many factors fed into this event, and a number of alternative future potential pathways were never actualized. How might things have been different, and how might another pathway have emerged? It is now well known that a significant number of the scientists were concerned, to say the least, about the result of their invention.

Upon witnessing the explosion, its creators had mixed reactions. Isidor Rabi felt that the equilibrium in nature had been upset as if humankind had become a threat to the world it inhabited. Robert Oppenheimer, though ecstatic about the success of the project, quoted a remembered fragment from the Bhagavad Gita. “I am become Death,” he said, “the destroyer of worlds.” Ken Bain- bridge, the test director, told Oppenheimer, “Now we’re all sons of bitches”. After viewing the results several participants signed petitions against loosing the monster they had created, but their protests fell on deaf ears. (Bellis, 2013)

What if the scientists, as one important element of this assemblage, had refused to develop the atom bomb either before or after having witnessed the test explosion? How might that alternative world have become other than the one we know today? It was undoubtedly clear to the scientists that what they were developing was a weapon of mass destruction, one that had an awesome capacity to kill and destroy on a scale never before witnessed. In order to actualize this potential, it would clearly be necessary to have a large group of human beings, settled in some form of community somewhere, in order to kill and destroy—somewhere like Hiroshima, for example. Without this component, the atomic bomb would only have a capacity to kill and destroy. This lays bare a double aspect to the development of this technology: the actualization of a bomb with a capacity to kill and destroy on a massive scale on the one hand, together with the ethical and political question of realizing its potential. It is unlikely, in my view, that the atomic bomb would not have been actualized as part of an unfolding of technoscientific progress. It is likely, however, that alternative possible futures might have come to pass if the decision to use the bomb had been otherwise.

By considering these possible alternative futures, a learner, in the process of becoming technologically literate, is able to speculate about technology in a creative way—one that opens up other possible technologically textured worlds that are open to alternative perspectives, alternative political influences on technological developments, and alternative ethical dimensions, all of which are less concerned with how the technological world ought to be and instead more interested in how the technological world might have been, might be, or might become other.

In terms of learning in this new paradigmatic framework, Guattari, in his essay on the concept of transversality, identifies two types of groups that can be translated into groups of learners: independent learners and dependent learners. The independent learner, the type necessary for this avant-garde pedagogy, he postulates,

Endeavours to control its own behaviour and elucidate its object, and in this case can produce its own tools of elucidation. [It] could [be said] of this type of [learner] that it hears and is heard, and that it can therefore work out its own system of hierarchizing structures and so become open to a world beyond its own immediate interests. The dependent [learner] is not capable of getting things into this sort of perspective the way it hierarchizes structures subject to its adaptation to other [learners]. One can say of the [independent learner] that it makes a statement—whereas the dependent [learner] only that its cause is heard, but no one knows where or by whom, or when. (Guattari, 1984, p. 14)

If becoming technologically literate is considered to be an important aspect of human development, and I believe it is, teaching and learning environments need to change. They need to stop imposing an established technology curriculum onto learners. Rather, they need to work with learners in the creation of concepts about how technology might become other. This means that traditional pedagogies and traditional classroom practices must become open to constant appraisal, reformation, and reappraisal. Becoming technologically literate is thus a dynamic and fluid enterprise comprising porous and overlapping boundaries. Formal methods of assessment, by their very nature, impose strict, impenetrable boundaries that resist change. Resistance to change equates to a reproduction of the same. Reproduction of the same implies a requirement to conformity or, put another way, forms a barrier to creativity. Reproduction of the same, when considered in terms of speculative multidimensional time-line thinking, reveals many hierarchic systems that have existed in the past, continue to exist in the present, and will continue to influence the future. Speculative multidimensional time-line thinking serves to reveal how reproduction of the same can significantly affect a cultures development. It also offers a way to consider how things might have been different if certain hierarchic assemblages had led to alternative possible technology education futures.

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