Being Serious

Being Serious

The last blog was a venture out on a limb to reclaim some of the ground for ‘dilettantism’ in work and in study. The intuition comes from looking at trends in the careers for modern Western professionals (especially those associated with tech – and who is NOT associated with tech in at least some way these days?) and is supported by the informalising of relationships caused by social media and the levelling of hierarchies that the web of knowledge is bringing. White collar, middle class workers across a great spectrum of jobs are being asked to loosen up, throw off formality and get more playful and creative.

But amongst my students there are many for whom this will look like flippancy, if not plain silliness. A student from a developing nation who wishes to return to their country of origin to be an engineer, or to work in education or in instigating health programmes must very often, I think, feel that this talk of play smacks of a lack of seriousness in the enterprise, that we are trivialising issues which should not be trivialised. They may even find in this attitude a decadence which is distasteful. Even more serious intellectual discussion around important intellectual movements of the last 50 years such as social constructionism and postmodernism can seem disconnected from the educational concerns of many students for whom ‘play’ is for children and something one grows out of.

The search for a vision of higher education which can satisfy both this sort of student and a student from the Western ‘google’ generation is not easy.

Part of the solution is simply to keep the conversation going – to outline the different requirements of different students and to keep all stakeholders aware of what is going on in any educational project. Another part of the solution is a discussion about respect. With greater informality and a levelling of hierarchies comes often a greater risk of lack of respect and inappropriate calls about who is best placed to make a judgement or decision. There are no quick fixes here. Those with greater authority – teachers, experts, politicians etc – must find ways to engage sensitively and decently with students, patients, voters etc whilst also knowing how, diplomatically, to draw a line. But students, patients etc must understand also that experience and position counts for something – not in an arbitrary way, or simply by dint of having the position – but because experience is often the best teacher of what counts. When everyone is ‘playing’ it is harder to keep the level of respect that comes more naturally in traditional hierarchies and this means that all need to be tuned in to this issue of respect.

Finally, it is worth noting that even while we play we can be serious. We can be serious about our intentions of finding good solutions and we can be serious enough about drawing necessary lines and respecting one another. Our play need not be trivial, though it can be infused with delight. But those of us in the Western, postmodern, google-driven classes need to bear in mind that our attitudes and perspectives on education and work can look odd indeed to many of those with whom we may wish to interact closely.

Photo under CC license from Benedict Francis’ Photostream

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