Cold Dog Food

Safeway Dog Food Display, 1960's
Imagine all your life you’ve only eaten cold dog food. Day in, day out, that’s what you’ve come to know and expect.

One day, someone comes along and gives you some warm dog food. It is quite an improvement. Warm dog food seems great.

The bar is low. Your expectations are low.

Education gets served a lot of cold dog food and, occasionally, when we get some warm dog food it seems great because we’re comparing it to the poor quality products and services usually categorized as “educational1.”

Think about educational videos, ppts, educational video games, the LMS etc2.

The bar is set amazingly low. When we see bad, but not bottom of the barrel, it seems decent. It is education after all. What can we expect? They did warm the dog food up for us.

We need to start comparing our products to things people use and participate in when they are not coerced and when they feel they have options. Things involved with learning don’t have to be of poor quality. We see people learning and enjoying themselves in real life all the time.

We know what good media is. We don’t have to accept less simply because we’re in education. We have not set the bar high enough for a long time. Companies continue to crank out absolute drek and we pay for it. We subject our children to it. All the while, knowing it just isn’t very good.

I feel like education needs to do some positive affirmations.

You are good enough Education. You deserve better.

The other side of this coin is we also have to start comparing the things we do and the experiences we create to a higher standard. Don’t compare your presentation to the boring guy down the hall, compare it to a real speaker that people want to see. What is the experience in your class like? Is it something people would make an effort to attend?

1 I think this is why whacky fonts and clipart are seen as such great options to improve crappy worksheets/ppts.

2 I’m sure you can add some more.

Comments on this post

  1. Trip Kirkpatrick said on December 2, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Good analogy, and I think your key statement is “The other side of this coin is we also have to start comparing the things we do and the experiences we create to a higher standard.” It’s impossible to do something about what’s “out there” unless we do something about what’s “in here”. If we produce junk, we shouldn’t be surprised when others do as well. If we pay for bad culture, we shouldn’t be surprised when bad culture replicates. Conversely, I can’ t expect that if I support what I consider good culture, it will replicate. That’s a lifelong struggle. But it certainly won’t spread if I don’t support it and help make it.

    • Tom said on December 2, 2010 at 11:51 pm

      It is as cyclical as I am cynical.

  2. Jim Groom said on December 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I think a part of this can really be understood in terms of the paucity of design we have come to know and accept—as you make clear. What I am realizing is that how feel people really think about the experience of learning as a kind of rock concert, like you noted about mara Scanlon’s stuff. How few work hard to build a sense of purpose and excitement about what it is we do. I’m not seeing that it is easy, but I am saying it should be a part of all this. We should be sharing the coolest ideas we have for teaching, which you regularly do, and the whole game should not be a grind, but a lab. We are gonna try this out today—get your googles on kiddies!

    And that’s the problem, we have taylorized the whole thing, it has become a factory line of expectations, and given the “financial crunch”—we have bulked it to the lowest bidder of crap. We’v e wholesaled the process, gotten rid of any sense of the art, and left a shell in the place of a respected and honorable profession and career. it is time to reclaim this profession from the ashbin of contemporary politics and history. I’m cynical to a degree, but also hopeful that this stuff can happen in unexpected ways now that we are unexpectedly connected to all sorts of crazy shit.

    I mean the Superpunch blog was a constant source of inspiration for me this last semester (thank you, Tom), and it stands exactly outside of this paradigm. It stands for the simple, yet powerful, idea that design and effect matter, when did we lose that in education? Dog food indeed.

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