On distinctions between “change” and “becoming”

Jean Baudrillard made some important points that reflect well on the discussion of technology and educational change (the rest of his conversation provides enough basis for about a decade of controversy and offense to many):

We are changing our system of values, changing all our identities, our partners, our illusions, and so on. We are obliged to change, but changing is something other than becoming, they are different things. We are in a “changing” time, where it is the moral law of all individuals, but changing is not becoming. We can change everything, we can change ourselves, but in this time we don’t become anything. It was an opposition put forth by Nietzsche, he spoke about the era of chameleons. We are in a chameleonesque era, able to change but not able to become.

This quote gets to the heart of much of our problem in changing schools, colleges, universities, or corporate training. We have, I think, a vague sense of what we don’t want to be. We recognize that we are riding a wave of tremendous change. And we are grasping for clarity on what we are becoming. We simply don’t know. Sure, we have a few who say they know the path, and find ample reward in their prominence and speaker fees. If they end up being right, it will be more a function of luck in predictions than of intelligence and awareness on their part.
Why don’t we now what we are becoming? The answer is complex…but centre on the following:

  1. Technology change – new tools, new software, new networks
  2. Conceptual change – new theories, new research (particularly in regard to cognition
  3. Ethics – we’re quite close, if nanotechnology, neuroscientists, and biology enthusiasts are accurate, to blending humanity and technology in unprecedented ways. Our capacity to innovate exceeds our ability to understand implications
  4. Global and political pressures – Brazil’s, Russia’s, India’s, and China’s economies are expected to overtake G8’s combined economies in the near future. African nations are building educational, medical, and financial infrastructures. The Middle East is rapidly developing. If someone says they understand the impact of those tremendous shifts, they’re guessing.
  5. Rise of everyone – people have voices at an unprecedented level. What happens to our expectations of government, schools, and religion when we function with democratic tools in how we engage and interact with each other and information?

Those are only a few of the changes, but their interplay is hard to predict. The difficulty of making these predictions creates an environment of perpetual not knowing. To function, we need to elevate from cause-effect thinking to (surprise) network adaptive thinking. As educators, our emphasis needs to be on increasingly learners ability to function in unknowing environments. A lesson we first need to learn ourselves.
“Change” is not “becoming”. The act and end result of becoming has many dimensions – who I’m becoming as a person, what our schools are becoming, what our society is becoming, what the world is becoming. How does one begin to impact change to the point of becoming? Shall we fatalistically be tossed about by these tumultuous changes and make our task one of accepting the final result? Obviously not. While many of the change pressures are well beyond our control, education has always played a dual role in society:

  • Reacting to emerging trends, adjusting our approaches to influence learners, etc. Those who advocate for “teaching to the millenials” see this part of education’s role. Our task here is primarily about understanding our learners, embracing their tools, and trying to speak their language. That’s why educators fall over themselves trying to use blogs, wikis, Facebook, iPods, etc. The mindset is: if they use it for fun, maybe we can get them to use it for school. Not a bad idea with technology and curriculum (i.e. change what and how we teach to prepare learners)…but a disastrous idea when applied without thought to the structures of society. If our only metric is utility, then much of what it means “to be human” is ignored as we seek to only produce employees.
  • Impacting society, changing society toward high ideals. I find this aspect of education to be most rewarding. People have a sense of beauty, idealism, and excellence (how’s that for a sweeping statement?). Many positive changes in society – such as public schooling – arise from this desire to impact society, to make a better world. I’m concerned that the voice of what education should be is lost as we scramble to react to trends. Perhaps this is why we are changing, but not becoming today. We are unclear on our higher ideal. We don’t know how we want to impact society through our education systems.

8 Responses to “On distinctions between “change” and “becoming””

  1. OK! I don’t know how much of this is what you’re saying, and how much of it comes from what I’m reading into it. But there’s a formula that occurs to me.
    Change / (reaction to emerging trends X quest for higher ideas) = Becoming
    Does this make any sense to you?
    – dave –

  2. Hi David – becoming, in my perspective, has a more intentional dimension than reacting. We can change based on emerging trends (which I think many edubloggers are doing), but there may not be much intentionality (i.e. we are not going in a particular direction of intent under the guidance of higher ideals).
    In fact, I would suggest that becoming has little to do with emerging trends, and is much more about the higher ideals. Blogs, wikis, social networking, and podcasts may not be cornerstones of tomorrow’s education. Things change rather quickly. Facebook and myspace weren’t on our radar three years ago. What is important with these tools is what they represent in the interests of our students – namely the ability to connect, create, have a voice, participate in democratic models, and so on.
    It matters little what the tool of the day is (i.e. change). What matters is found in our higher ideals (principles which shape who we are and what we aspire to become). For example, the ideals of democracy and individual freedom, which found only partial instantiation in Ancient Greek society, has been a somewhat constant presence over the last 2500 years. During that time we’ve changed much – new tools, medicines, technologies, structures of societal organization. But what have we become? Have we become democratic? That’s debatable. Have we become more human in our treatment of each other? While we haven’t fully attained what we desire to become, our pursuit of higher ideals have made us “better people” than what might have occurred had we simply pursued changing with the changes of each era.
    Does this clarify my initial post?

  3. Pat Parslow says:

    For me, becoming is the end point of change, but as business people like to say we should be in a state of perpetual change (and, indeed, connectivism would tend to point the same way) I don’t think we complete the process of becoming, these days. Perhaps we are becoming transient?

  4. Deborah Steinmiller says:

    Half-million dollar government grants are being doled out to school districts to develop 21st century classrooms with the intent of increasing the scores on standardized tests that are more reflective of 20th century practice. With the focus on the bottom line, the primary intent of these grants is to use “technology” to produce employable citizens who can compete with their foreign counterparts. At the same time, might the thoughtful and intentional use of social networking become an opportunity to move secondary (pre-university) students toward “becoming” human beings more sensitive to their role in a global society?

  5. Calliope says:

    Hi George,
    I was intrigued by your concept of a state of ‘perpetual not knowing,’ – how do you think that conflicts with the expansion of information available via technology? If our rapid cycle of technological change has both expanded knowledge (by making information easily accessible and by increasing our ability to gather new kinds of information) and restricted it (by creating so many new factors that events are impossible to predict), how do you think that conflict will develop as we move forward? I’m having visions, for example, of individuals and organizations *thinking* they know exactly what they’re doing, thanks to all the information out there, and acting without caution, only to be undone by events or circumstances they couldn’t have predicted. Do you think this is a new phenomenon? Haven’t we been in a state of perpetual not knowing since we first grew lungs instead of gills?

  6. Hi Deborah,
    I agree that social network tools potentially provide learners with a more global perspective. But we need to teach the value of diversity. I see many who have used social networking to surround themselves with people who think as they do. So we have “liberals only” and “conservatives only” groups in facebook. It’s fine to connect with people who share our world views. But for me, the hallmark of a civil (global) society is to understand others who hold dramatically different worldviews from our own.
    On a slightly related note – I’m a bit apprehensive of 21st century skills movement. The term is already launching books, consultants, and conference speakers. I’d like to see a more solid research-based, not hype-based foundation. It may exist (I’ve seen ALA produce valuable documents on this)…but I’m afraid the principle is being adopted by many who use it to advance a technological deterministic view of learning.

  7. Kurt Xyst says:

    Technology is nothing new, technology is literally what what has made us human. It will always be with us because it is us. Technology creates the clearing in which our essential creative energies as a species emerge.
    Due to the constancy of change, the biology of temporal beings, we are always becoming. In response to Pat’s comment, we have always been “transient beings.” Our gift is one of self-consciousness that imbues us with agency and the ability to shape the way we are becoming, but since there is no endpoint to that process, we never know what we are becoming.
    Instead of trying to predict, the challenge is to lift our gaze from the engrossing kaleidoscope of shifting networks – the technology of the moment – the wide-openness of the 21st century digital savanna in which we are currently staggering forward – and refocus on the role education plays daily in our collective/public lives. I agree with George that by educating we transform ourselves into the embodiment of our ideals – just as by acting democratic, by being democratic in the world – we transform ourselves by that very act into the essence of democracy. The tools, the technology, are important, ultimately, as they are necessary for our creativity and our continued existence as a species, though the tools will not deliver knowledge and wisdom on their own. That must come from continuing to act educative, and as the landscape heaves and roils we hold true to our belief in the power of doing so.

  8. [...] most users have about the ideology of software. While we spend much time talking about change, the “becoming” aspect is overlooked. What are we becoming due to technology? Is it what we want to become? Which parts should we be [...]