Today’s Bookmarks from Diigo 01/26/2007

26 01 2007

Future School  Annotated(10)

You’ve been writing about our educational system for decades. What’s the most pressing need in public education right now?

Shut down the public education system.

That’s pretty radical.

I’m roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”

Why not just readjust what we have in place now? Do we really need to start from the ground up?

We should be thinking from the ground up. That’s different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let’s look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, “We can’t afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve.” There was a big debate. Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce “industrial discipline.”

    How does that system fit into a world where assembly lines have gone away?

    It doesn’t. The public school system is designed to produce a workforce for an economy that will not be there. And therefore, with all the best intentions in the world, we’re stealing the kids’ future.

    Do I have all the answers for how to replace it? No. But it seems to me that before we can get serious about creating an appropriate education system for the world that’s coming and that these kids will have to operate within, we have to ask some really fundamental questions. And some of these questions are scary. For example: Should education be compulsory? And, if so, for who? Why does everybody have to start at age five? Maybe some kids should start at age eight and work fast. Or vice versa. Why is everything massified in the system, rather than individualized in the system? New technologies make possible customization in a way that the old system — everybody reading the same textbook at the same time — did not offer.

    • kjhaflkjashfakj hskdjfha lkjfhslkjhf a hkljsh kljash
       – post by del_ambiguity
    Today, we have a big controversy about all the charter schools that are springing up. The school system people hate them because they’re taking money from them. I say we should radically multiply charter schools, because they begin to provide a degree of diversity in the system that has not been present. Diversify the system.

      It’s a tough juxtaposition. So, what to do? Suppose you were made head of the U.S. Department of Education. What would be the first items on your agenda?

      The first thing I’d say: “I want to hear something I haven’t heard before.” I just hear the same ideas over and over and over again. I meet teachers who are good and well intentioned and smart, but they can’t try new things, because there are too many rules. They tell me that “the bureaucratic rules make it impossible for me to do what you’re suggesting.”

        We’re holding forty or fifty million kids prisoner for x hours a week. And the teacher is given a set of rules as to what you’re going to say to the students, how you’re going to treat them, what you want the output to be, and let no child be left behind. But there’s a very narrow set of outcomes. I think you have to open the system to new ideas.

          You need to find out what each student loves. If you want kids to really learn, they’ve got to love something.

            Integrate the curricula.

            Yeah — the culture, the technology, all these things.

            Like real life.

            Like real life, yes! And, like in real life, there is an enormous, enormous bank of knowledge in the community that we can tap into. So, why shouldn’t a kid who’s interested in mechanical things or engines or technology meet people from the community who do that kind of stuff, and who are excited about what they are doing and where it’s going? But at the rate of change, the actual skills that we teach, or that they learn by themselves, about how to us his gizmo or that gizmo, that’s going to be obsolete — who knows? — in five years or in five minutes.

            So, that’s another thing: Much of what we’re transmitting is doomed to obsolescence at a far more rapid rate than ever before. And that knowledge becomes what we call obsoledge: obsolete knowledge. We have this enormous bank of obsolete knowledge in our heads, in our books, and in our culture. When change was slower, obsoledge didn’t pile up as quickly. Now, because everything is in rapid change, the amount of obsolete knowledge that we have — and that we teach — is greater and greater and greater. We’re drowning in obsolete information. We make big decisions — personal decisions — based on it, and public and political decisions based on it.

              The textbooks are the same for every child; every child gets the same textbook. Why should that be? Why shouldn’t some kids get a textbook — and you can do this online a lot more easily than you can in print — why shouldn’t a kid who’s interested in one particular thing, whether it’s painting or drama, or this or that, get a different version of the textbook than the kid sitting in the next seat, who is interested in engineering?

                I think that schools have to be completely integrated into the community, to take advantage of the skills in the community. So, there ought to be business offices in the school, from various kinds of business in the community.

                  How does the role of the teacher change?

                  I think (and this is not going to sit very well with the union) that maybe teaching shouldn’t be a lifetime career. Maybe it’s important for teachers to quit for three or four years and go do something else and come back. They’ll come back with better ideas. They’ll come back with ideas about how the outside world works, in ways that would not have been available to them if they were in the classroom the whole time. So, let’s sit down as a culture, as a society, and say, “Teachers, parents, people outside, how do we completely rethink this? We’re going to create a new system from ground zero, and what new ideas have you got?” And collect those new ideas. That would be a very healthy thing for the country to do.

                  You’re advocating for fundamental radical changes. Are you an optimist when it comes to public education?

                  I just feel it’s inevitable that there will have to be change. The only question is whether we’re going to do it starting now, or whether we’re going to wait for catastrophe.

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