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The Cathedral and the Bazaar

February 9, 2014

bazaar_pic2I’m looking into online learning, particularly the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) format.  A portion of my responsibilities at school involves guiding instructional technology practice in the Middle School.  So it made sense to join a MOOC to see what the pros and cons are.  So, before Christmas I signed up to Coursera, a MOOC environment and I selected a six-week course called “The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Ed” with Cathy Davidson of Duke University.  Davidson has perhaps come to popular interest because of her book “Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century.”  It was a good book, she’s a well-regarded author and teacher, so I figured she’d be a good person to test drive this thing with.

Just several readings, quizzes, and video lectures into the course I came across an author by the name of Eric Raymond who wrote a great essay called, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar.”  In the essay he writes about the construction of the open source operating system Linux, which as come to be regarded by techies as vastly superior to the more popular Microsoft and Macintosh ecosystems.  Raymond’s thesis is that “old tech” was built and cultured much like a cathedral.  In Raymond’s words, “crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.”  Linux, on the other hand, “seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches […] out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.”

Cathedral_of_Exeter_editMicrosoft and Macintosh OS’s were built-in secret by a few “ordained” professionals and are perpetually hidden behind high walls of patent protection.  Linux was built in the open air market, with people of varying languages, cultures, experiences came together to, according to many, create a vastly superior product.  And Linux users love their operating system like car owners love their Subaru’s.  I drive a Toyota.  I like it, but I imagine it’s like being a Window 8 user.

In the summer of 2005 and 2007 I chaperoned a European History summer trip that took 25 students through most of the major cathedrals in Christendom.  In 2010 I took nine students to Argentina where, among many other things, the kids got to experience the energy of an open-air bazaar.  I don’t have to tell you which experience left the kids with a greater sense of wonder.

Carefully crafted and executed lesson plans are beginning to look to me like elegant cathedrals, interesting to those that love building and appreciating cathedrals (read: not many 10-17 year-olds).  A bazaar is not a completed and perfected product, it’s an experience.  How can we turn our lesson plans into experiences that draw in our students, get them to begin asking themselves the next question, rather than waiting for the next question to arrive?  Silver has given us a great many strategies for doing this.

I imagine that good pedagogy is combining the craftsmanship required to build a great cathedral with the lack of ownership required in experiencing a bazaar.  Classrooms shouldn’t be anarchy, but they shouldn’t be baroque architecture, either.

Guest Blogger: Ted Sadtler, The Westminster Schools, tedsadtler@westminster.net

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