Anti-teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance

My latest little article, “Anti-teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance” has been published by Education Canada.  It is currently available as a pdf download on their website.  The paper puts together some of my better blog smatterings of the past 2 years into one 4 page article.



Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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12 Responses

  1. Hi Professor Wesch,

    I am doing a project for a class on digital rhetoric and writing, and i’m interested in this idea of digital ethnography – I was wondering if you could possible direct me to some sources that might describe what digital ethnography can look like – of course this blog and your classes projects are providing good examples, and i’m really enjoying looking through them. I was just wondering how you’re framing “digital ethnography” in class, what sources you might be reading, and i’m really curious about how your students are positioning themselves as researchers. My area is rhetoric and composition, so recently I’ve been writing about self-reflection in ethnographic texts, and I’m trying to explore different types of ethnography as I prepare for planning my dissertation research (and to write this seminar paper). I’m sure you’re incredibly busy, but any help you could give would be great. If I comment on your students’ videos, will they respond? Is the course still going on this semester?

    Thanks so much,

    Mike MacDonald
    University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  2. Margaret Campbell says:

    Thank you for your words which freshen my thoughts like the blast from a high Sierra melt. I teach with no credential and for very little money in a middle school and I am lost in an old style classroom…in the desks…in the closed doors…in the beginnings and ends of things…in the rights and wrongs.

    I have had a lot of freedom to teach from my heart and natural subversive tendencies…they leave me alone…for now…because the kids want to come to school and the parents are happy and the only problem is that the kids actually act in front of everyone like teenagers…prancing about…cursing..fighting…trying to get away with whatever…no one hiding behind a “goody” persona and then duking it out on the playground…they duke it out in front of everyone…and their “growing up” is not so elegant as parents and administrators would like it to be. But they are happy and vibrant and not hiding and talking and they are opening up and not closing down.

    They are asking questions…asking hard and great questions…and then they just explode into conversation…and I get quiet and step back and let it go and the classroom becomes a mess with chairs pulled over here and tables pulled over there for this project or that thing they tried yesterday and maybe they will abandon it or maybe not..and the admins come in and worry about “waste” and I just pay for everything so that way they can’t come after me for “wasting.”

    I am exhausted…there are only a few middle school curricula for creating and sustaining dynamic learning environments (differentiated instruction…) but they all have that dusty, creepy, keep ‘em down and controlled” feel to them.

    I am full time at CSU Chico to get my degree and credential and say all the right things and fill out all the forms (something I could not do back in the 70s when I tried college the first time)…and keep my mouth shut about what I really think about teaching and school.

  3. Richard A. Allen says:

    Hi there guys, my name is Richard A. Allen and I am a political science student from the state university of Puerto Rico but on my daily life Im a mainly a PHP programmer. I ended here following the links from the professor’s profile @ Youtube (I was going to make a comment there but didn’t want to create an account so. . .) I wanted to say thanks for the great videos. I have been a web developer for only 2 years and I cannot agree more on how XML has changed (and is still changing) the way the data is handled either protocols like RSS/Atom or any other custom protocols. I must agree that ability to divide data and format is more than great in that we can format the same XML or database stored data for multiple mediums, from format agnostic syndication to HTML web pages, Flash animations, and now even cellphones, every display medium using the same data! At the same time, while databases require specialists like me to make connections and retrieve data, XML on the other hand can be crafted by the programmer to be imported to a program by the least advanced users from Microsoft Excel, allowing lets say the members of a research team to collaborate with each other without having any programming skills (which is exactly what I trying to push at a research team on my college).

    I smiled all along the two videos I saw on youtube because I felt very identified both as a social app user, PS student and specially as a web app programmer with the ideas and facts that were presented on them. In addition of passing the link of the video down to a couple IT CEOs and communications students that I know I posted it on my facebook profile.

    Keep up the great job/investigation!

  4. Richard A. Allen says:

    I just read the anti-teaching paper and I think the professor’s ideas are great – after all, now I know reassure I am not alone in my college with the problem of professors that just use students as trash cans: they dump whatsoever information the education system requires them into the students.
    However, there’s always hope, and I am glad that I have met at least one or two similar to Wesch in their interactivity and other qualities, -even when I wish ‘subversive’ were the rule of our times – what really matters here is that the evolution -in education philosophy – is under way even where evolution is a process that considerable time. I thank Wesch and his students for their contribution to ourselves.

    As of right know I am not only a PS Student, and a Web Developer, but also a combat veteran, and this presents very unique and tough challenges to me philosophically as a human being. Things like the legitimacy of our war, things I confront normally on my faculty are constantly challenged by the media we consume in a very strong and effective way, regardless if the whole or partial truth is used and conveniently mixed. People like me then ask questions like are we doing the right thing? Are we patriots by serving? What must we do for our armed forces not be ‘abused’ by elected officials? etc. Yet this kind of question is covered by the media only by convenience and with doubtful opinions. We often find more of these questions here on blogs and youtube and even other people that have the same feeling that us.
    I think we have as students -including myself- and sons of a nation founded on noble ideas the very difficult task of evaluating modern democracy along with economy, culture and international relationships on a globalized context – and refreshing our national policies with whatsoever changes are need in order for our nation to survive, or else. The task is ours (regardless of how much we ignore that fact). The question is, is our education system preparing us to take over our country in this new context?

  5. Richard A. Allen says:

    Corrections =/
    Typo: now I know reassure
    Corrected: now I reassure that . . .
    Typo: where evolution is a process that considerable time
    Correction: where evolution is a process that takes considerable time

  6. Chris Duke says:

    Several conversations have lead me to the “Personal Narrative” rather than the “Grand Narrative.” Your “anti-teaching” publication, your “Crisis of Significance” presentation, Randy Pausch’s description of “finding your passion” in his charge to Carnegie Mellon’s graduates in May, a comment from a video interview presented in a conference session this afternoon and a conversation with two newly found colleagues at Campus Technology’s 2008 Summer Conference (ending tomorrow 7/31 in Boston, MA). This is the early form of this thought; I may be posting more at

    The Crisis of Significance suggests we need a grand narrative that provides a socially, culturally adhesive reason to learn. However, we’re in an era where there’s no grand narrative; there’s no transcendent context which motivates us to learn.

    For me, that suggests the presiding “reason” to learn is learning itself; we are social beings that inherently need and want to learn “something.” However, until now we’ve always had a “grand narrative” that was held significance strong enough to motivate us individually. Perhaps then, the underlying problem is that we’re struggling for the first time, as individuals, as a society and as a culture to learn for learning’s sake.

    That may explain the burgeoning social movement by educators to change the way we’re teaching and learning in formal/traditional learning spaces. That may explain the root genesis for the concept of “personal learning environments:” unique, online spaces and processes created by individuals to facilitate and control their own learning. That may explain the increasing interest in informal learning – individuals learning on their own, on the job or within organically formed groups seeking personal satisfaction.

    For me then, the answer to the crisis of significance may not be to find a grand narrative. Maybe the better answer is to continue down those paths already being created to discover ways in which we help individuals identify their own personal narrative, their passion. As we do that, we must find ways to facilitate the exploration and growth of that personal narrative.

    That does mean that we need to fundamentally alter the way we teach and learn. Our institutions have always served the prevailing grand narrative, and the current formulations, requirements, assessments, mechanisms – everything – surrounding education must change.

    We have to find the significance, but it’s personal rather than grand.
    We have to find the personal passion of which Professor Pausch spoke. We have to understand Larry Friedlander’s (Stanford) comment pointing us to the answer, “teaching is more and more requiring a very deep respect for learners, and an awareness that each learner has a deep inner life that is relevant to the learning process that must occur within an atmosphere of mutual trust.” (taking great liberties with paraphrasing as a session attendee not perfectly proficient at transcribing the video interview)


  7. This is very hot information. I think I’ll share it on Digg.

  8. Trish says:

    Thank you for putting this out there! I think this struggle exists as early as preschool. (The grade level at which I have taught for the past five years.)

    I have worked with some “old school” teachers who always want to blame and punish children, when their classrooms get out of control.
    Instead, they should be asking, “What can I do, so this won’t occur?” “How can I engage my students?”

    I have found when I ask my students what they are interested in, and plan the lessons around these interests…learning becomes MEANINGFUL :)

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