The US Public Education System

I’d like to share a thought that I heard about at the Council of Chief State School Officers conference I went to this last week (also known as the trip from hell).  What’s interesting is that this quote is not from an educator and not from a corporate person.  He’s a gamer.

[paraphrase] The US public education system is fine… for 1850 and an agrarian economy turning into a industrial one.  The same methods of teaching do not apply to an industrial economy turning into an information age economy.

And actually, the information age economy was last decade.  I’m not sure what to call this new system, but there’s a lot of potential for it.

Anyway.  He’s right.  In the 1850s, you needed a little bit of information.  What wasn’t handed down by your parents (plant peas when the robins build nests) was learned at very basic school (here’s how to write your name).

But now, we’re in an age where anyone with a smartphone has access to more information, “knowledge” (for lack of a better word) than every bit of knowledge produced by everyone (living and dead) on the Earth from the beginning of time until 2002.  The knowledge is doubling at literally an astronomical rate.  It would take you 15 years to view all the video being transmitted across the internet in the next minute.

The goal of school has to change from “getting knowledge into kids” to “getting kids to learning the right knowledge”.

How can we get kids to realize that Dr. Oz is a quack?  That popularity is no measure of validity?  How to choose good sources and realize that even good sources can make mistakes?

There are a few things that were talked about.  The first is opening the internet to schools.  Schools don’t want to because of all the fluff on the internet.  But they let in Harry Potter books?  Schools also don’t want porn, social media, etc in the schools.  I can accept that is a worthy goal, but any unsupervised kid who’s on the internet has seen something (and there are a lot of unsupervised kids on the internet).  Couldn’t we take a minute to talk about how porn objectifies women and such?

Another was the beginning of the shift of knowledge acquisition to the home and the training and practice in the schools.  This has a lot of advantages.  Instead of the teacher giving a canned lecture and then sending kids home hoping that they can do the work, why not reverse it.  Have the kids review a video lecture at home and then practice during school, where there is someone there to help them when they hit that inevitable snag.

But I digress.  There are a few teachers will to take education to the next level.  There are a few parents who do as well.  There are very few schools that do so.

The point is that the 1850s purpose of school is useless.  A few semi-random clicks on Wikipedia and I’m learning about quantum chromodynamics and the history of the forts of the Florida Keys.  Getting knowledge is not the issue anymore.

Critical thinking is.  And that’s what testing, and schools, and everyone else really needs to focus on.

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4 Responses to The US Public Education System

  1. testingpearson says:

    I totally agree… The education we’re giving our children is a mile wide and an inch deep. Standardized tests as they are lead to the regurgitation of information and then, believe me, it’s forgotten.

  2. OgreMkV says:

    Heh. I think you’d be surprised at the direction that the standardized tests are going. Personally, I think testing has the opportunity to lead the way and teaching is going to have to catch up.

  3. testingpearson says:

    I’m a high school teacher, so feel free to surprise me. 🙂

  4. OgreMkV says:

    Here’s a hint. If you have any students thinking they should just drop out and get their GED. Encourage them not to.

    There’s a whole new paradigm being applied to the nextgen GED and it’s going to be… wow. In fact, I’m thinking of writing that up and presenting it at this same conference next year.

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