There’s a cracking guest editorial in the latest issue of the British Journal for Educational Technology, written by Neil Selwyn and titled “In praise of pessimism — the need for negativity in educational technology”. (Unfortunately you’ll need a subscription to view the full article.) I’ve seen occasional plaintive calls before for a more critical attitude to what can be achieved with technology in education — and to my mind this is only the worst pocket of uncritical proselytism in educational research — but this article is particularly clearly and constructively written, and comes from somebody who very obviously knows the literature from the inside.
The attitude that Selwyn advocates is summed up by a quotation from Gramsci’s prison notebooks about being “a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will”. In the context of educational technology, this means considering how it does work in the non-ideal real world rather than how it should work in some ideal world: hoping that ways can be found to deploy it successfully but not believing that this will inevitably be the case. It seems to me, though, that there’s a wider application. Pessimism of the intelligence but optimism of the will — has there been a better encapsulation of the attitude needed to survive as a classroom teacher?