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two problems with The Matrix

Posted By: Scott Metzger on December 10, 2004
This discussion of metaphors for schooling is philosophically interesting, but I'm not sure of its implications in practice. Metaphors may help us think in different ways or offer different kinds of evaluations, but they don't change the inherited structure or mechanics of schooling or the limits on resources for altering that structure. "The Matrix" metaphor for education is imperfect for two reasons. In the movie, Neo is given a choice to pursue or reject liberation: he can take one pill and will wake up back in his bed, returned to his "normal" life; or he can take the other and will wake up in "real" life, but with no promises he will prefer new reality. In some ways, this is the most ancient paradox in education: how can a teacher who values knowledge because of his experience expect a young learner to value that which he does not possess or experience? Neo only traded in his "old" life because he was disatisfied with it and innately perceived there was something else. Also, in the film Morpheus and Neo are in actual, physical danger: their unconscious bodies can be killed if their computer-avatar mental projections are destroyed, and the Machines are a killer menace both in the virtual-reality Matrix and the future "real" world. Neo is compelled to learn because he must cope with real danger.

That's the crux of the problem with the Matrix metaphor for schooling: students are not given a choice, nor is danger faced (at least institutionally) as a motivation for learning. Students may resist being in school, but they do not have Neo's luxury of taking one pill and returning to being unschool children forever. While schools do try to convince kids that what they are learning is important, I doubt many ever try to argue school information will save their lives (except maybe during STD education). Some educational systems in the past did use physical danger as part of learning (consider the ancient Spartans), but schoolchildren today don't have Neo's secret war to fuel their learning.

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 two problems with The Matrix by Scott Metzger on December 10, 2004
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