Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Kill Your Idols

Very entertaining TWiT (This Week In Tech) podcast Sunday (www.twit.tv) , that I finally got a chance to listen to today. After some assiduous searching, I finally found one of the articles cited during the program, an op ed about university education (http://bit.ly/oC7m3). The author, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, argues that the university system is producing graduates that are not suited for the workforce, and thus dramatic change is called for.

The TWiT panel expanded on this point, noting that high school doesn't work either. Kids today are being raised on a collaborative model-the old regurgitate what I told you, mass produce automatons model that has been around for 100 years doesn't work with them. Kids expect to interact with their media-and frankly, I do too. Particularly interesting is the fact that the leaders of many high tech companies (Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg) have little if any higher education.

True, the rotten teaching models in high schools are largely imposed by the state, so you can't blame teachers for it. But that doesn't make it right. As one of the panelists says, the person who invents the next Google isn't going to learn how to do that by spitting back the names of English kings on a history test.


  1. Wow! Great Op-ed. I am on board with the kind of massive changes the author recommends.

    It's interesting that a lot of these ideas are becoming more bi-partisan. The whole charter schools/school choice/merit pay for teachers/abolish tenure argument has long been a Repbulican position, but President Obama has embraced many of these changes.

    I'd like to see the traditional model of high schools blown apart, with a new focus on project-based learning. I often have felt that I (the teacher) did too much work and my students did too little. No doubt they would disagree! But, instead of me researching, lecturing, and quizzing them, it would be better if my role was more of a facilitator. They would do the work, and I'd guide them. The focus would be on the skills they learned (researching, critically analyzing sources, arguing with fact and logic, debating, writing, presenting) and less on the facts the memorized. Technology would help so much, but it has to be a means, not an end.

    I think our society will see these kind of changes in small, private schools and in charter schools (which share some characteristics with small, private schools). You need small, experimental schools to explore this stuff before it can be brought into the mainstream. Just another reason to support charters.

    Really great piece.

  2. It was an interesting piece.

    And you are right, of course, that these positions are becoming more popular, as the failure of even good public schools become more widely known. There's a very interesting scene in "The West Wing" where the candidates running to succeed Martin Sheen's character are negotiating with the teacher's union representative, telling them that they aren't going to kowtow to them anymore.

    School choice-ie vouchers for children from poorer performing districts to go to private or charter schools-has always bothered me for one reason-what do you do with the children who are left behind?


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