The time has come to stop playing defense and change education
Today was a huge day on twitter. Here’s the play by play:
- Someone posts this article on Hacker News. If you haven’t heard of it, Hacker News (HN) is one of the most interesting communities for serendipitious discovery and thoughtful discussion, read mostly by very intelligent geeks, nerds and hackers.
- As most articles on HN do, this post generated a lot of comments.
- This time, Sal Kahn joined in on the comments: here, here, and here.
- Then @21stCenturyChem makes this comment And,
- Boom, Sal responds, and the discussion takes off, when eventually Frank Noschese weighs in, and Sal responds again, this time a bit on the defensive, concluding with this challenge:
If you truly believe you have a far better way to teach physics, you really should let the world see how you do it. Make Youtube videos and point us to them. We’re looking for other great teachers that are consistent with our mission and resonate with students.
First, let me pause for a moment of awe at the power of the internet. Witness Frank writing a few posts and tweets (ok, a lot of tweets) about Khan Academy, and then a few weeks later, engaging in a dialogue with the founder of Khan Academy himself. Holy cow! I’m still amazed that educators and people I stood in awe of just a few years ago are now people that I consider colleagues (heck, just today, Rhett Allain spoke to the 12th meeting Global Physics Department at my invitation, and we’re hosting the authors of the 3 leading physics textbooks). It’s like the Kevin Bacon game, played with famous teacher superstars in my world like Dan Meyer, and the Bacon number is always less than two. It’s astonishing.
But now on to the substance. Dan’s right—if we’ve got a better way to teach, we need to show this. I think all the blogs I read do this wonderfully, every day, but I don’t think that’s going to be the breakthrough that changes the public perception about education. But the great thing about these blogs is they have an uncanny way of launching everyday teachers above their usual horizons to form connections with other teachers and grab just a tiny bite of attention from the world at large. Witness Shawn Cornally’s (author of ThinkThankThunk) just released TEDx talk (this is a must watch):
Now this is a vision—a change the whole face of education vision that you will never hear coming out of the mouths of people like Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan or Salman Kahn.
Let me sum up Shawn’s idea in a few points:
- Many kids are trapped in a mind-numbing race with no room for error to accumulate grades as signifiers of quality to earn spots at top colleges that should somehow guarantee them successful lives. Witness the ridiculous sums of money parents in New York City spend on tutoring for specific classes so that students can earn the grades they think are necessary for their child to achieve admission to an elite college.
- Along the way, students give up their love of learning and creativity.
- Often, students are punished for doing something truly meaningful.
- And, most importantly, a great teacher go a long way toward changing this.
- But if we’re going to create real change for all students, you need to think about structural change:
- Transforming the schedule to allow for time for students to pursue self-initiated meaningful work.
- Transforming how we motivate kids: moving away from extrinsic, over-justified rewards like grades, and toward intrinsic rewards that value creativity, guided by meaningful assessment that informs specifically students of what they understand, and gives them a path to improve that understanding.
- Transforming the goals of students away from GPAs and SAT scores toward meaningful accomplishments that stand on their own—witness Rebecca Black.
(Note to Shawn: if you ever end up running a school, give me a call. I would move to a cornfield in Iowa in a heartbeat to work with you, and you could pay me in bacon).
So what is the solution? What’s the strategy for offense? This is something I want to write about and explore more in the coming days and weeks, but here are a few things I think will be critical ingredients:
- Teachers must be a part of the solution. Demonizing teachers is a popular pastime for the Waiting for Superman ed-reform crowd, but I know every person can think of one teacher that made a difference in his or her life. Those teachers need to be brought together to share, be a part of the solution, and stand up to the uninformed teacher bashing currently in vogue.
- We must celebrate the process of learning, and its most critical ingredient—failure. Whatever future system of education we develop, it must teach students that you don’t learn just by absorbing the “right” ideas, you learn by making many mistakes, examining your failures, and moving forward in fit of starts and stops.
- The product students create must be much more than just a score, a badge, or an admission letter. Students can produce works of intrinsic and obvious value that are vastly more significant than any standardized test score. And if they do so, they will find the current stresses like the college process simply melt away, as they are swamped by colleges trying to recruit them.
- We must use technology to build connections and share. The sharing I’ve done on this blog has made a bigger difference in my teaching than anything else I’ve ever attempted. Sharing across classrooms, between student, teachers, parents, and the public at large, in your neighborhood, across your town, and across the globe will be the key to helping students unleash their creativity and helping teachers guide them.
- The solution must focus on stories and data. Nothing is a personally moving as student sharing his or her story of learning, especially when backed up with data that is truly meaningful.
Most importantly, there is nothing in the current education debate—not Race to the Top, Merit Pay, Kahn Academy, or firing substandard teachers—that is going to bring about the vision I’ve outlined above. It’s going to take us working together with students and parents to create an alternative vision.
All of this reaches up to a new level of idealism and fuzzy changetheworldism, even for me. But that’s what happen when I get hopped up on TEDx talks and and caffeine late at night.