Classroom Caffeine

A conversation with James Paul Gee

April 26, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 2 Episode 25
Classroom Caffeine
A conversation with James Paul Gee
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. James Paul Gee talks to us about the economic signaling of schools, our social geographies, affinity spaces, and failure as opportunity. Jim is known for his work in New Literacies, applied linguistics, and sociocultural learning. Dr. Gee has authored or co authored over 200 journal articles and book chapters. He has authored, co authored, or edited over 20 books. Most recently, he wrote What is a human?: Language, mind, and culture. Dr. Gee is an elected member of the National Academy of Education, a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, a Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, and was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Literacy Research Association. Dr. Gee was the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is now Emeritus Faculty at Arizona State University and spends much of his time on his small farm in Northern Arizona.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Apr 26). A conversation with James Gee. (Season 2, No. 25) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests. DOI: 10.5240/9725-5953-48D9-F3AD-D7E0-T

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. But the questions and challenges from teachers practice sometimes don't become the work of education researchers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In a new episode every other week, I talk with an education researcher or a classroom teacher about what they have learned from their work in education, and what questions they still pursue. In this episode, Dr. James Paul Gee talks to us about the economic signaling of schools, our social geographies, affinity spaces, and failure as opportunity. Jim is known for his work in New literacies, Applied Linguistics, and sociocultural learning. Dr. Gee has authored or co authored more than 200 journal articles and book chapters. He has authored co authored or edited over 20 books. Most recently, he wrote What is Human Language, Mind and Culture. Dr. Gee is an elected member of the National Academy of Education, a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, a regents professor at Arizona State University, and was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Literacy Research Association. Dr. Gee was the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University. He is now emeritus faculty at Arizona State and spends much of his time on his small farm in northern Arizona. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite morning drink. And join me your host, Lindsay Persohn, for Classroom Caffeine research to energize your teaching practice. Jim, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

James Gee:

Thank you.

Lindsay Persohn:

From your own experiences and education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

James Gee:

Well, what informed my thinking is I didn't start in education. I have my degree in theoretical linguistics and was a linguist for a number of years working on things like naked infinitives and headless relative clauses, things most people don't care about. And at a certain point, I got more interested in the social aspects of language. And I left my job in theoretical linguistics, I went and took a job in applied linguistics department where you could work on social and cultural stuff. And you and I got there, I discovered the program was in a School of Ed. I didn't know that. The people in the program told me to ignore the educators, they were moving to get out of the school event anyway. They were hard to ignore. And what I really, because I knew nothing, I had never been in a public school at that time in my life. It was like a stranger coming out of nowhere. And strangers, you know, see things that people who take stuff for granted don't see. Right. So they're kind of good at a certain extent. But of course, they can make mistakes. And the thing I saw about the educators as they dealt with me, and they were very nice, is a they didn't feel very good about themselves in comparison to people who did research outside of education. And second of all, the issues they were interested in were just amazing. They seem to mean deeply theoretical problems, deeply hard problems that anybody would want to get after, and yet they didn't feel good about it. Now, this was a unique time in the late 80s, in which having nothing to do with me, but just by accident, it became popular for people in other fields linguistics, anthropology, history to get interested in education, they began to come and steal the stuff, probably because the issues were so big. And at the time, people were looking for that sort of thing. So it wasn't uncommon. And a colleague I met at Harvard, I was at Boston University, showed me some work on early sharing time with kindergarteners, first graders do. And had pointed out a really amazing thing to me that in sharing time, were you just supposed to share something just to start the school day off supposedly. The African American kids often got told to sit down because they weren't talking about it one thing or board staying on topic, and they were just trying to stay up or they didn't make any sense. And most of the white kids and the middle class African American kids didn't have this problem. And educators looked at this as it was a mind blowing problem and it seems really, really weird, and they really couldn't figure out what's going on. And when I looked at it with you know, as a complete stranger, I readily saw that there are African American kids who tended to be the non middle class kids were engaged in a practice that the people who had studied sociolinguistics knew well, and that is they were in what we call an oral culture, oral literature. They were engaged with a type of poetic performance that is very well known across several cultures, but deeply known to come not only come from Africa, but still have deep roots in African Americans. And the problem was the teachers were listening with an ear to just get the news. I went to swimming with my mother, we got up we did this just a blow by blow description. And when they got these kinds of poetic narratives, they just didn't know what to make of them. Right? It was it just not within their cultural score, although it's an ancient cultural practice and practice all over the world. So what hit me is how does a kid show up in school with a practice that is well known to people outside of education that has existed for hundreds of years, that is embedded in the culture of many cultures, but certainly many African cultures, but Native American cultures, Yugoslavian culture, Homer did it. So you bring this ancient practice core to the nature of human beings, since making capacity, you have inherited all the skills for it from your family, and you show up to school and get told you don't make sense. And I thought that's a deeply theoretical problem. How does an institution produce out of something that is deeply senseful in a way that could be well known, something that is senseless to them, and ends up hurting that child hurting their ego, denigrating their family? I thought, well, that that's just an important issue. It is obviously practically important. But it's theoretically important. It's something about how do institutions manufacture inadequacies in people, they haven't got?

Lindsay Persohn:

That idea of manufacturing our own problems, it really resonates very deeply with me, because throughout my time in education, which has been close to 20 years now, I've seen these problems. And I think, as a classroom teacher, I didn't have the words to put to that. It bothered me, but I didn't know what to call it. And I certainly didn't know what to do about it. And I think that, as you said, it is a practical and theoretical problem. But it's certainly one that I think to this day is is obviously under acknowledged, and under studied, right? Because I think, again, we do continue in schools to manufacture problems for kids. You have this wonderful way of tracing, I think, these very deep problems back to some of their roots, to help us see that this is a problem of education, this isn't a problem of our students, we are making it a problem.

James Gee:

We're making it a problem and to understand that we have to understand education as an institution. And then we have to understand what to do about it. But we also have to understand there are limits to what we can do about it. If we keep the institution of education the way it is, right? It's not a problem that can be solved by tinkering.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right, right.

James Gee:

At all it that we know this, but as you just said, we've been doing this for decades. We all know we do it, thoughtful teachers know we do it, and we haven't done anything about it. So that means the change needed has got to be more radical than minor.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right. And I think that this, as you said, as you highlighted, it's a practical and a theoretical problem, which I think points to problems with legislation that schools and teachers have to deal with, and how that often does not put kids at the forefront. It puts some content or some relatively insignificant skill at the forefront of the conversation rather than the human beings in front of us.

James Gee:

Right. You see, I think that this is contentious, but there is evidence for that our flaw as educators is we make the assumption that schools exist to teach all children in ways that they can flourish. And they're not, they don't exist for that reason. They exist, to a large extent, not a total extent for something that economists call economic signaling. What economic signaling is that employers want to be sure when they hire somebody, that that person is going to be conscientious, conform to the rules, not cause trouble, do what they're told, right? They want that and in for lots of reasons they can't test, for example, to legally use IQ tests and all it's so what the schools do and have done a long time is they buy any kid who is willing to put up with the schooling and the boredom and some of the kind of inadequacies and be conscientious show up do the effort, not you know, ask a lot of questions or cause problems that signals to the employer this is going to be this is going to be an employable person, and it saves employers massive money. Now it's easy to dismiss, well, that's really a stupid thing to do. But if you had a business, and you had 100 employees, and every one of them was a radical diehard that wouldn't conform to roles you'd go out of business. You see business wants this, you would want it to, if that was your sole concern, your own business. And if you're interested in economic signaling, there is a certain advantage to school being boring, or to school asking you to do stuff you don't fully understand, because it signals this sort of conscientiousness to the employer, right. And some economists have argued that about 70% of the effects of school is due to economic signaling. So you're gonna put your head through concrete, if you keep saying to a system whose goal is economic signaling, I want you to have a goal deep learning for all kids that's innovative, and will actually enhance their lives as individuals. The institution isn't there for that. Now, you could go try to change the institution. Or you could do what a lot of my work is done is show that today out of school, there are many, many ways to join what I call the affinity spaces, and learn deeply, in collaborative, innovative ways to enhance human flourishing, and have nothing to do with economic signaling. Right there, and that's the new equity problem to me, because the kids who know how to navigate that system, which could be evil right, because it's so good at teaching and learning, it teaches you to learn bad things just as easily as good things, right. So being able to navigate it and make good choices so that you end up in the human flourishing part of it requires help, and some kids don't have that help. And so their only chance to get that sort of education is the school and they don't get it.

Lindsay Persohn:

Wow, you know, every everything you say resonates with me as someone who used to work in public schools, as someone who worked at the classroom, school and district level in public schools. And also I'm a product of public education, through and through. But I think that that's part of what has created, at least in me this kind of resistance to schooling as an as an economic model. Because I've seen that not work for kids. I've seen what that does, ultimately to their lives on down the road. Yes, they might have a miserable time in third grade. But where does that leave them as an 18 year old as a 20 year old as a 50 year old? Right? How does that play out in their lives? And so I think that your comments, actually, I'm hoping that you'll talk a bit more about this in response to my next question, what do you want listeners to know about your work?

James Gee:

Well, I want them to know, several things. One is that schools have very poor understanding of language, right? The way they view language is it's a bunch of definitions of words and grammars and essays that have little recipes by which you write them it's not has nothing to do with how language works. I want them to understand that we badly misunderstand learning thanks to the fact that so much of the teaching and learning we get from school through textbooks and other modern equipment comes from businesses that want to sell stuff. Learning with humans, is it from experience. Humans learned from experience. That you need a body to do it, you need feelings and emotions to do it. And you need guidance, because experiences are way too big too much to pay attention to a newcomer. So and we know that you learn from an experience only if you have something to do and an action to take you care about others feeling behind it, somebody helps you know where to pay attention to, and how to assess the success of your action, should I go on or not. In other words, teaching is essential, but a teaching within the context of both an effect that is caring, and experience, which is sensation of the world or media, right, a body's got to be there. And that's how humans learn. And that is not, a that's not an offer at a lot of schools. A core point is this says that you are no smarter than the experiences you've had, right. And if you're missing an experience that would make you smarter, you've got to go out and get it. And it doesn't matter how quickly or slowly you get it, you gotta get it. School uses this is as measured learning time. Right? If you're quicker than me, you get an A. If your proof is shorter than mine, you get an A. But real learning has nothing to do with time when a person is failing in school behind somebody else, it's almost always because the person succeeding had more experiences of the right type, and that the only way the person behind can catch up is to get those experiences. If you say we don't have time, right, which is too bad. You didn't get those experiences in Johnny did, then inevitably you've produced a failure. So no moral person would use time as a measure of learning. Nobody's says that because some physicist took twice as long to get his PhD as another one, that he can't win the Nobel Prize. So not going to say, Oh, we're taking it away, we've found that it took you too long to learn physics, right? So if we believe humans learn by experience, then we first have to know what experiences of our kids had. And how do I give them experiences so that they can catch up with others who've already had, right? Otherwise, we just simply reproduce the same set of class structure of the people who were advantaged already, which we do right? Now, trying to get rid of time in school, you know, everybody's got to furnish third grade at the same time, everybody's got to finish the algebra lesson in two weeks, is hard to do. Because it's an a core part of economics signaling. But you know, outside of school for the most part, if you want to as an 11 year old become an absolute excellent roboticist. You can join affinity spaces, and they will put no limit in much you learn, you'll be mentored by a billion people, you'll be resourced all the way by various mods and technologies. But no one will say if you don't finish, if you don't succeed in 14 weeks, we kick you out, nobody's gonna say that. They're just going to keep you going. Because they know that people learn on different timescales. And that some people have learned slower, have had more experience, they've stopped once in a while and explored that experience more deeply. And they may end up a lot smarter. And then you know, up, I did work on video games a few years ago, which is mainly turned me on to the capacities for technologies and people working together to create new learning systems out of school, you could bring them to school, but school almost always fowls them up.

Lindsay Persohn:

Isn't that the truth and what you've said here, highlighting, particularly language and time in schools has really shifted the way that I am thinking about what we do, you know, we know that schooling and of course, my point of view is very US centric, because that's where I live, and that's where I've taught, that's where I grew up. But thinking about how schools work to standardize time, right, based on industrialized models, everybody moves at the same times. There's a bell, right, we start at the same time we end at the same time, we've worked really hard to standardize those kinds of measures in schools, and that's part of what I think gives us the comforts to work within, right. And of course, those are perceived comforts. But the other thing that you've reminded me of Jim, is how we have worked so hard to standardize language in schools, particularly with scripted curricula and and those kinds of ideas that I think are just pervasive. And if we think about even those two components, and obviously, there's much more to this equation, but if we think about language, and time and standardizing both of those, we are already so far away from a truly productive model of education.

James Gee:

Yes, you are. I mean, if you take language, for example, you don't knowing what a word means grammatically, structurally, as a definition, that is, is next to worthless, right? Knowing what a word means means being able to take that general meaning of the word and apply it in context in different ways. That is to situate its meaning in context, to make it fit in that context to lead those meanings to generate good interaction in that. And so when we say, well, these two kids had the same textbook, and one is so much smarter. The textbook doesn't give meaning to the words, it's the experiences you've had, that the textbook is referring to, that gives me it's like, I often compare textbooks and game manuals, there aren't really any manuals for games, but in the early days, there were and it couldn't understand the game manual if hadn't played the game, right? It was stupid to pick it up and read it for the game. But why? Because the manual for the game is about the game world. Its meaning, every word is associated with experiences in the game world. So unless you've been in the game world, you cannot assign situational meanings that is contextually appropriate meanings to the manual. So you play first and read later. Textbooks are the same way except we read first and play later. Right? And you can see this research by people like Constance Steinkuehler and some other people around games took kids who is supposedly read at a fifth grade level in their school. They were in middle school, early high school. And so so they were behind there are bad readers, but they they played World of Warcraft, and they it was a multi player game, a massive multiplayer game. And it has like all these games, a bunch of websites where people do really sophisticated statistical thinking and moding and then your read guides and you know, all this stuff. And they went out and they said, well, that all at 12th grade level, but they gave the kids test on those books, 12th grade level, kids reading in the fifth grade level. Kids could read it easily, right because they had experiences to go to the words. The only way you can create some sort of bell curve is to be sure that only some people have the experiences that go with the words and other people don't, then you can get failures and successes. If the person has lived in a world they care about, that it's that emotional affect, they have experiences they can marry to those words, and you couldn't get them to fail or any test be impossible, you'd put the reading test people out of business.

Lindsay Persohn:

what a lot to take in and think about, about how we approach our students in classrooms, I keep going back to thinking about what I do with this as a classroom teacher, this kind of thinking, this way of really unpacking what truly goes on in schools, if I ....please.

James Gee:

Let me say two things you could do about it. Again, I want to say teachers you know, are in a system that is not tolerant to them doing their job to their best. But that doesn't stop them as individuals with the power in their own room to do some very, very good things. We put a big premium today at diversity. We certainly think any teacher who does not know about the ethnic or cultural diversity, their kids is not doing a good job. But human identity and diversity is not just about ethnic identity. I just brought up kids who were very, there they were in the culture of World of Warcraft. There are ones that are into anime, or robotics or YuGiOh, or just any interest you could imagine. And that's just as important to their identities. And it's crucially important and experienced they're getting a new language is what linguists call registers, styles of language to carry out activity that they have. So we the kid has, we know cultural knowledge that you may not know about from their cultural and ethnic diversity, but they also have cultural knowledge and language skills, from their identities outside of these big categories of race, gender, and class. And so the first thing you have to know is, what is the kid's whole identity? What is his experiences like? Where are his skills, right? To build up, the second thing is, you you may be trapped in that room. But you teachers should become aware of the rich resources outside of school, the ones that are humane, the affinity spaces, this is where they work with a humane way of dealing with people, on topics that have good context with school like robotics, or filmmaking, or moding games, which leads to computer science, and say, you know, we can tie your interest into the school. But by the way, there's a whole curriculum out there and kids who can help you. And it's like being a geographer, you say, you know, have you tried this city, you know, you should know, the lay of the landscape of what the culture of your kids are. And a great way to do that is ask them, What do you do what really excites you and you find a wow, that site on the Sims where you're designing and architecting, that sounds gotta it's got legs for real skills, I'm going to suggest that Janie who's really into wanting clothes and is really bored with school, maybe she should go over there and look at those design tools, which happen to be digital, and modular and lead to graphic skills. Orientate the kids to the world. The rich parents do this already. Right. They are geographer social geographers for their kids, seeing that they go to all the right camps, get all the right machines and all the right spaces. We have to do that for every kid in school and, you know, you got the kids trapped there. Learn about the full range of the diversity in their backgrounds, and some of them you'll find are, the kid you think, Wow, this kid's got nothing to offer, you'll find out in some area, he's an expert at a PhD level. And let him mentor some other kids into it or let you know, begin to keep an idea what your kids do. And where are the best places and you know, where are the where are the places to keep them away from?

Lindsay Persohn:

That's such an important idea to keep in mind is that we, when we want to know stuff about kids, we can just talk to them. Right? They will tell us rather than approaching with assumptions, or as you pointed out, kind of a limited view of what a child's identity actually is. Right? We all approach our students with some sort of assumptions about who they might be before we even get to know them. But when we find out what really makes them tick, I have found that particularly for students who maybe don't love school or struggle a bit with the academics, when they have a personal connection with their teacher, it makes all the difference in the world. They will try to do hard things. They will try to work Together, they will try to achieve what school is asking them to do. But that relationship has got to come first.

James Gee:

Well, the fundamental relationship of any teaching in or out of school, even if I, if I'm trying to teach you as an architect to draft, what you'll find out, as I'm an architect, I can teach you to draft but only if you will make a mark in this paper, I can't tell you how to draft you're going to have to make a mark on this paper. And you don't want to make a mark in this paper, because you think you'll embarrass yourself, you'll fail. So the only one only thing is going to make you make that mark in the paper so I can mentor you in experience, not just text, is you trust me. Trust is the fundamental relationship. Now one good way to build trust is not only be interested in what your kids care about, regardless whether that diversity is cultural, ethnic, popular culture, anything, but not only care about it, but show you respect it, and let them talk about it in school. Say, you know, if you really have a passion for designing architecture, for The Sims, then why don't you come in and show us the design tools and tell us what you do. Right. And now this kid's going to be speaking, in an academic register, because gotta talk about design and all sorts of technical things so this won't be everyday language. It'll be great vocabulary building for the other kids, because he's not only going to come in and tell them, he's going to show them. And they're good, they could go home and open up the seat. Excellent vocabulary, excellent a practice at oral presentation of academic language, and also excellent 21st century skills. Design, technology, how to influence people, and interact with them in a creative way. So it's a win win for everybody. And now, the kid feels more important, he's taught, and he knows you value what he knows. And that's a profound way, good way to get trust.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right? Because what does it tell kids if we, if we constantly tell them that what they care about outside of school doesn't matter to school? Right, it creates a renewed separation between outside of school and inside of school literacies and ways of knowing the world? And yeah, what an awful message to send to kids that the knowledge they care about....

James Gee:

Is irrelevant?

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, that's right.

James Gee:

Sometimes, of course, school, I mean, early on, when I was doing the game stuff, we had a little kid who was, you know, in probably early middle school. And he was, you know, they had a keyboarding class and all this stuff in there, he had already learned to mod games and had hacked in even to the Sony Corporation. And that's how good his computer skills were. And he's sitting there, you know, doing keyboarding and low level tech stuff, and he can't pay attention so they says he has ADHD. You know, an interesting thing when he, when he was caught hacking into the Sony system, because he wanted to find the algorithm by which they gave good drops in a game, they caught him. And they call this father and it's that we call your kid hacking into our proprietary network, and we're trying to decide either to send him to jail or hire him. The kid went, by the way, with this ADHD in his back, he couldn't pay attention to University of Wisconsin, and he knew so much computer science, in his freshman year he was co teaching. Imagine what he thinks of your assessment, when you're telling him he has ADHD, and he shouldn't be keyboarding. And he, he's already a computer scientist. See, you got to realize, today, an 11 year old can learn, so can have any other adult, but the outside of school you don't get, you don't have to have credentials. There you can be 12 years old and biggest expert in the world. People come to you for advice and teaching. So you could have kids in that room that know so much more than you do about something. And when you treat them as if they're not Knowers, they suspect something's wrong with you. Right now, in the old days, it wasn't easy for kids to do this. But modern media has let anybody learn whatever they want, as long as you want to pay the dues. And almost always do it collaboratively. You can go as far as you want to take any amount of time you want, and you don't need a credential. And so the thing that I would be concerned about a teacher because you know, when we were talking about economics signaling before, that is telling the workplaces who's going to be a compliant worker. That was an okay deal back in the days when we had unions and living wages. Now, it's not a very good deal. You're going to be a compliant worker with no living wage. I'm absolutely convinced that kids will have to be, have developed passions for something that require really going into depth to something collaborative, people getting real knowledge and other people don't have being able to share it and teach it and then collaborate with people with different passions together to do something even bigger. And I would be very concerned about kids who are not developing passion. And usually it's because either their ego tells them they won't be good, but because you know, other people have made them believe that stupidity is not a property, the institution but of themselves, or they just haven't been able to find it that because they haven't been able to navigate the landscape. You want kids out there in school and out of school, trying lots of interests, sampling lots of interests. What's the lay of the land? It's fine, you know, it's fine if they only go into something and do it, prolong it, they're sampling the interest. Then you'll hope that was a little flame that comes out of this I want to do, I want to try this out a little longer. And I in the modern world, with next to no decent jobs, tremendous, massive inequality and uncertainty about what the future is going to be, I think if I was a parent, I would really want my kid to get a passion. And it doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it requires deep practice and learning that enhances not only skills, but the ability to flourish as a human being for yourself and others. Right, you know, the core property we're going to need for the future world, which looks very imperiled is resilience. Right? You know, resilience means being able to change with change in a better way, right? It's not sustainability, sustainability meant being able to sustain core properties you liked through change, too late for that now. Resilience means being able to change the change, even if you have to give up some things that are important to you, and make it better, or make it livable, and resilience for families for individuals is going to be very important. It's hard to do that if you haven't sampled a lot of interest, don't know how to collaborate with other people, and can't bring anything pretty deep to the table.

Lindsay Persohn:

That's so true. And while you were talking, Jim, it reminded me of really what I saw my mission as as a kindergarten teacher, my job really was to help kids find out what they're good at. And you can do that at five years old, you can you can decide, are you a people person? Are you a text person? Are you a connections person? Are you into technology, you know, what is it that you really enjoy so that you can pursue that passion?

James Gee:

I think the issue here is not being good at it is what do you care about? What really gives you an emotional, affectual charge? That's what keeps learning going on and you'll be good at it. You could you you could have tremendous skills, but without any deep caring about it, they won't develop.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, I think you're right, I think you are right about that. And that's probably what my intention was. But at that point, you know, I may not have put it in those words. But I think that is really important. Because if we care about something, we can really develop many different kinds of skill sets, right?

James Gee:

It keeps you in the game. Caring keeps you, see nobody learns anything deep without a lot of time, a lot of practice and being able to persist past failure. So the two crucial things to do that is one you must care, there must be an emotional charge must be connected in some way to your identity, or an identity you want to grow. And the second thing is you have to view failure as a form of learning, not a judgement about the self. That will if you don't have those two things, and I don't care whether you're rich or poor, you're going to be not very successful in this world.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, and I think you've hit on another, another thing that we tell kids in school is that failure is a judgment call. Right? Not rather than a learning opportunity. And so here, again, we have real learning that happens in ways that are very far removed from the way we set set up systems in schools.

James Gee:

You know, the motto of one of the major tech firms, IDEO and in America is fail early and fail often. That's their motto. Failure is a way to map the maze. Do it quickly. You know, if you look at video games, they're hard and failure is integral to them. No one would buy a game if they succeeded all the time. Every video gamer knows that failure is part of the fun, it's part of the learning, and that you persist past it and they wouldn't accept a game that didn't have failure. All they demand is that as they fail, they get feedback about how much progress they're making, right. But anybody who is unwilling to fail, or who takes it as personal judgment is already crippled from the beginning and they didn't cripple themselves. They picked up the stupidity about failure from the current schooling we have.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, that that's, that's so true. Schools do tell kids that failure is just that failure. And you know, you'll, you'll go again, doing the same things that you fail that before, right, we're just going to do it again and probably do it a lot harder, right. You're gonna put more minutes into that thing that didn't work for you or, you know, there's some other kind of intervention that looks just like the thing we did before and we're just going to keep doing

James Gee:

Yeah, exactly. You know, when I was at Wisconsin, I it. was the Morgridge Chair of Reading and the Morgridge family had given it John Morgridge ran Cisco, which at the time was one of the biggest corporations in America billions and billions of dollars. He was a billionaire many times over. Here's how he got his job at Cisco. And when I was just starting out some venture capital, some starting this little company, and they had to find somebody to run it because the founders didn't know how to run a business. They were looking for somebody who could run a business. And they demanded a guy, though, who had these high tech skills, but must have failed at some startup, must have failed once. And up steps, John Morgridge, who left a perfectly comfortable management job at Honeywell failed in a startup and that and then became a billionaire. Wouldn't had been hired at a not had on his resume. I failed.

Lindsay Persohn:

That's interesting. And certainly, Cisco obviously saw failure as an opportunity for learning and for growth.

James Gee:

Well, the venture capitalists did, because they said, you know, look, if you haven't failed at it, once you don't know some stuff you need to know. Remember, in startups, with all these people you hear that may cause money startups, the vast majority of startups fail. Very often the guy that got the billions of dollars, he has three failures behind. Right? And we don't see the failures. It's like, you know, think Dustin Hoffman once said, you know, yeah, it was an overnight success. It only took 20 years. You don't know the dozens of movies that you in that were failures, right? So failures, the background for most stuff. And sometimes the most important thing you learn is when you fail, you see something you never would have otherwise seen. If you hadn't taken the opportunity now, to let kids fail, there has to be some moratorium on judgment. Right? It can't say, Well, you really stood try stuff out here. But if you fail, you get an F. See, when you put this moratorium on judgment for a while, it allows people to take risks, it allows them to innovate, try different things. Without that you can't know the lay of the land, you can't get a feeling for the space you're in. So if you make failure, so consequential you get tunnel vision, first and never understands the lay of the land, they won't take any risks. They won't try anything. You're producing a stupid person.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yes. And that actually reminded me have something else we were talking about that trust in, in again, in schools in teachers. Kids have to feel that they are in a trusting environment in order to take those kinds of risks, again, without that judgment, but I think that that's, that's hard to do in schools right now. Because there are so many measures that you must meet and and other obstacles, all of those institutionalized kind of obstacles.

James Gee:

Right? Yeah, you build trust by getting to know people, understanding their situation, that takes time that takes time off of doing your science lesson. And yet, in the end, it's got the biggest payoff, because you get the emotional commitment to the science. Let me just put a little proviso here, there is some research showing that different cultural groups of people work differently. Some cultural groups will not learn from somebody they feel, doesn't like them, or will oppress just will not do it, and some cultural groups will, the ones that will feel I'm gonna get this knowledge out of you, whether you like it or not as a way to get back at you, right? The other ones feel geez, I don't want my humanity demean by this person. But it does vary. But in no case is since teaching is a personal relationship, of somebody designing experiences for me, as a learner in the way parents do for their kids, a very personal experience, because that experience is going to connect the neurons in my brain, you're going to furnish my mind and make me who I am. It's a very personal, very intense, very moral relationship. Therefore, if there's no trust in it, there is a certain profound immorality in it the way you would get with a bad parent and abusive parent.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right. Right. Which, of course, causes a mistrust of education. And I think in many instances, for very good reason. Right?

James Gee:

Yeah. I mean, I don't know why a kid would trust. He sees all the controversies, parents yelling at teachers. He sees you know, all this stuff going on in school, the chaos teachers leaving, the tremendous disregard that society has for teachers, almost distain. What message have you sent to the children? I mean, it or any of them show up? By the way, it's a very, you know, there's a lot of work outside of education, on the evolutionary history of human beings and also on evolution in general for animals that shows that teaching is absolutely indigenous and essential to all social animals, not just humans. Teaching is evolutionary. It's natural. It's indigenous. It's necessary for the formation of the human mind. So what country denigrates its teachers?

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, it's a sad state, for sure. Which actually segues right into our next question, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

James Gee:

Don't give up. I mean, all of us are in the same situation, right? The world is deeply imperiled because of human stupidity. We see around us stupidity, almost breathtaking. You know, we have whole people and think politicians are lizards, that, you know, John Kennedy, Jr. is going to come back to rule with Trump, that Democrats drink blood of children. And so this is all stuff people believe, non trivial numbers. By the way, and fairness, and people believe stupid things when they're very fearful, when when all sort of trust in their society and other people have gone. It's a sign of illness. So we're all in a position where the world is in chaos. We don't see intelligent adults doing much. We cannot predict the future at all. And so we're all in the same sort of situation a teacher is, and I view it like I do a video game. We've got to finish the game. Let's finish it with some dignity. In my view, there is in life, no cost to failure. The only failure, the only thing you're graded on is trying. If you've tried, you've won the game. Right? What I admire and what good teachers do, is they get up and say, Hey, this is a very challenging game. And every day is a boss battle, these people have made this one of the toughest games to play. I certainly couldn't design a better game, just the game I'm in. And if I get into that room, I can furnish these kids' mind a lot better than the textbook guy, or the thing that they're going to do without me. You're in a little revolution. You're behind the enemy lines. But when you're in front of those children, you're engaged in this profound task of teaching, and you will exit the normative structure the school, behind your closed door, and in those moments where you form a personal caring relationship with that kid, you are changing the structure of the mind, perhaps forever. It's a moral stance. There's no good when we're in the final days of the battle for you to desert post.

Lindsay Persohn:

What a inspiring and somewhat somber message, but I think that that's so important for teachers to. I know, I hold teachers in the highest regard, I believe that we would not have there would be nothing left of our democratic society without teachers. And yeah, you're right. I mean, it does feel like we are nearing the end of a video game. And it is not time to throw in the towel. It is time to keep at it. Let's let's find those solutions. Let's make it to the end.

James Gee:

Yeah, I'm old enough to remember Yogi Berra saying is not over till it's over. Dr. James Paul Gee is known for his work in New literacies, Applied Linguistics, and Sociocultural Learning. Dr. Gee has authored or co authored over 200 journal articles and book chapters. His articles have appeared in publications such as Teachers College Record, Journal of Multicultural Discourses, The Educational Forum, International Journal of Learning and Media, Educational Leadership, Research in the Teaching of English, Games and Culture a Journal of Interactive Media, Review of

Lindsay Persohn:

Right. Research in Education, Linguistics and Education, Journal of Literacy Research, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, the Journal of Learning Sciences, American Educational Research Journal and many others. He has contributed

James Gee:

And there's no point in quitting before the last two books such as the Routledge Handbook of Language and Dialogue, the Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies, Discourse and digital Practices Doing Discourse Analysis in the inning. You only get one life, we can play it to the end. And Digital Age, and Reading at the Crossroads. He has authored co authored or edited over 20 books including an Introduction to you don't, the very fact that we have gotten so complex that we Discourse Analysis, Theory and Method the Social Mind, Social Linguistics and Literacies, Ideology and Discourses, can't predict, is also hopeful. No point giving up. Let's see Literacy and Education Teaching, Teaching, Learning and Literacy in our High Risk High Tech World a Framework for Becoming Human, Introducing Discourse Analysis from Grammar to Society, and most recently, What is a Human Language, Mind and Culture. Dr. what the end of the game is. And in the interim, you know, let's Gee is an elected member of the National Academy of Education, a at least make some other people's lives better. Right. So I think people have to realize little things are important. fellow of the American Educational Research

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, thank you so much, Jim. Association, he was named a regents professor at Arizona

James Gee:

Thank you for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, thank you for your message. And thank you State University in 2014, and he was recently awarded a Lifetime for your tremendous contributions to the field of Achievement Award from the Literacy Research Association. His work has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation, the education. Thank you very much. Spencer Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. Jim holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of California Santa Barbara, and a Master's and PhD in linguistics from Stanford University. Dr. James Paul Gee is emeritus professor of literacy studies and a Regents Professor at Arizona State University. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. Listeners are invited to respond to an episode, learn more about our guests, search past episodes, or request a topic or conversation with a specific person through our website at ClassroomCaffeine.com. If you've learned something today, or just enjoyed listening, please be encouraged to talk about what you heard with your colleagues, and subscribe and review this podcast through your podcast provider. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.