>> EdId99 >> Wrap-up on “Identity ” & Future of Education


This is my final article on my series of articles on Education and Identity as part of Twitter group #edsg’s  thematic tweets project.  However it will certainly not be the last time I talk about identity.  Today’s article is Identity as an Analytic Lens for Research in Education, by James Paul Gee.  (Again?!?  Yes!)  Gee goes beyond some peoples’ favourite view of identity as gender, race or socio-economic class to give four perspectives on identity, namely:-
1.  Discursive Identity     (D-identity)
2.  Affinity-Identity         (A-identity)
3.  Institutional Identity  (I-identity)
4.  Natural Identity         (N-identity)

A Framework for Identity in Education

We have learned that identity is important in education (see here, here and here).  I believe by combing insights from Gee, Sfard, Lave & Wenger and Holland, we can arrive at a Framework for Identity in Education, which is not just for research, but for designing and thinking about education in general.

In the real world, including institutions and affinity spaces, people figure out themselves how they fit in.  Figured worlds are what people make out their world to be, and they act/react accordingly, taking on different identities.  Learning _is_ bridging the gap between (current) actual identity and the designated identity.  But the latter is not cast in stone.  A lawyer may want to make a career-switch to become an entrepreneur, for example.  This sets up a new designated identity, and thus a new episode in a life-long learning journey.

Identity Mindmap

Identity Framework.  Please click to enlarge.

Natural identity arises from what one is born with (e.g. sex, race, and perhaps parents’ social class).  Gee’s Affinity-Identity comes from “who you are” in some informal/voluntary special interest groups, professional learning networks, or even Twitter group #edsg.  Institutional identity arises from one’s position in an institution (e.g. student in school, child at home, ADHD patient “certified” by the medial establishment). One’s role and participation in communities affect one’s institutional and affinity-identities.   One can, for example, choose to be a lurker, inactive or active participant.  Computer games as well as online forums discussing games are also spaces in which people can develop their A-identities (see here, here and here).  Discursive identity includes not only the way one talks (little “d” discourse), but also things like beliefs and values (big “D” Discourse).  These beliefs (what one regards as true and right) and values (what one regards as important) lead to choices/decisions and actions, which, when repeated over time, form habits (including habits of mind), which in turn, form “character”.  This gets condensed in the life story of that person, as if it becomes a solidified “real” object (“reified”).  In the final analysis, one’s identity is one’s legacy, what one is reputed for and remembered for.  This is quite a sobering thought, considering that when we are young, we do not like to think about these things.  The misbehaving kid in your classroom thinks he lives forever, and most likely does not give two hoots about about the legacy he leaves.  Unfortunately school systems worldwide tend to emphasise and just measure skills and content knowledge.  Skills are an outcome of deliberate practice, although luck and genetics might help a tweeny weeny bit.  Content now is cheap – a lot of it is just a click of a mouse away.  What educators should do actually is to focus on habits.

The Future of Education: Quo Vadis?

So where do we go from here?  Skills and content are only the tip of the iceberg.  It is also difficult to push down from the top, because we are fighting against the buoyancy of students’ identities.  (“I want to be who I want to be, stop telling me what to learn!”).  Even if educators are successful in drilling students with the skills and concepts, the learners may not have acquired the right attitudes, practices of metacognition (e.g. planning, self-regulation), processes of learning how to learn.  Worse, skills might get obsolete as the job market changes, and the learner would have nothing valuable to fend for himself/herself with.

iceberg 1

Educational desiderata.  Please click to enlarge.

Education should come from the bottom up, with teachers supporting students and getting their buy-in on how they want to develop their identities.  This is true especially in today’s ever-changing world.  Focusing on the learner’s identity as the core, learners should acquire the right values, dispositions (habits, habits of mind), epistemology (how to seek and verify knowledge, critical thinking) and adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to learning.  This is not just about knowing different subjects or topics, but about adopting the practices and worldviews of scientists, mathematicians, historians, authors, … etc (including collaborating and sharing ideas in a community), and bringing these to bear in real-life situations.  With identity as the core focus, the upper five layers (attitude, metacognition, processes, skills and concepts) ought to follow as a by-product, because these are learnt while doing things repeatedly in context, so it feels natural.

We also need to help students to figure out who they want to be and what role they would play in society and in the world, hopefully as a useful and contributing member and not as a terrorist or robber.

There is actually a lot more that can be said, but let us not drag on too long.  I hope the outline above can serve as a useful tool to begin to think about educational issues and/or education reform.

Questions to ponder
Q1)  Finland recently annonced a shift away from “subject” focus to “topic” focus.  Do you think this is the same as multi-disciplinarity?  Please explain.
Q2)  How would you analyse recent popular educational movements like the Maker movement and Coding movement?
Q3) If your country were to adopt an identity-based educational curriculum, what changes must there be made to teacher selection and teacher development?  Are your teachers ready?  Are the parents ready?
Q4) If an identity-based educational curriculum is adopted, what changes must be made to assessment?  How can this be implemented?
Q5) “I am not a maths person, because I am not Asian.”  Analyse this fallacy using the above identity framework.
Q6)  You are a career counsellor.  A 25-year old college dropout with poor maths skills and poor language skills (actually no skills to talk about) comes to you, habitually complains about his home, complains about the government, complains about his friends, and says he wants to get a job and earn as much as Mark Zuckerberg.  How would you advise him?
Q7)  Technology is an integral part of the 21st Century.  But, how does technology fit into the above framework?

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