Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
The Veneer of Education
Editor's Note: This seven-part series explores the "veneer" of each channel of culture. It is inspired by the latest Q book by Jason Locy and TIm Willard:
Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society
If these ideas resonate with you, consider
picking up a copy
and diving deeper into this conversation.
How many superheroes will it take to fix our nation’s public education system? 3,500,000. This is roughly the number of teachers we need to educate the 50M children in K-12 public education. The task of every teacher—create engaging lessons that speak to the diversity of learners in a given class of say 20 students—is a heroic one. We don’t have enough of these superheroes.
Most policy makers will tell you that we can solve the problem of a stagnant and too often failing public education system by recruiting and retaining great teachers, and drastically increasing their compensation. A highly effective teacher in every classroom moves the needle. This is absolutely true. But what human capital strategy can scale that to the 3.5M teachers needed in the roughly 100,000 schools in America? None can.
The veneer of education that I see propagated by most education officials is the belief that somehow we can create all of these superheroes to fill our classrooms. This seems idealistic at best. There's no way to know how to manufacture superhero teachers, especially in districts that are reeling economically.
[WATCH: Sajan George's Q talk on "The Future of Education."]
The idea that we can turn every mediocre teacher into a great teacher is like saying there's a professional athlete in each one of us who will emerge if we only respect, pay and encourage that inner greatness. You and I are probably never going to throw a 90-mile an hour fastball no matter how much coaching we get or how much you pay us to practice.
General Electric, arguably the greatest human talent corporation in the world, with all of its market incentives could not produce a great manager for every 25 employees in every corner of the country who could lead a different 25 employees every year across the same goal using only one manual to get there. The very best human capital organizations with all the financial incentives the market can offer cannot make 100% of their employees top performers.
So the real question is how do we create a scalable superhero-making machine?
Davis Guggenheim’s education documentary
Waiting for Superman
suggests that we don't have enough superheroes to leap over the excessively tall buildings of education mediocrity and speeding bullets of international competition our children face daily. Our struggle right now is not for global competitiveness but global relevancy. No human capital strategy in any sphere of society can rapidly scale excellence—the kind of excellence our children deserve—to the level of 3,500,000 people across the country.
But there is hope. The DNA of any great teacher is their ability to personally engage each student where they are and move them through a learning trajectory that taps into the student’s intrinsic motivation, learning style and capacity. This kind of x-ray vision that peers into the unique learning strengths of a student gets infinitely harder to manage and track as you add more students into a classroom and virtually impossible for a single teacher over a class of 20+ students.
We can, however, bring the powerful attributes of learning management systems that engage learning online, one student at a time, while simultaneously arming teachers with data on how their students best learn so that they can focus more on the power that only their physical presence can provide. We can leverage technology in the classroom to finally realize the ideals of our egalitarian system wherein every student excels because every teacher is powerfully equipped to connect with each and every student’s learning needs.
This technology when placed in the hands of teachers willing to facilitate students’ learning by moving solely from up-front lecturing to include more side-by-side facilitation, can stimulate the kinds of exponential leaps in student achievement that we have longed believed possible but have not been able to achieve in our country.
The country that incubated Apple, Google and Facebook must now turn those same scaling talents and technology to the classroom. We must move past the perpetuated veneer of the politicians who seem content to fumble inside a broken model of education. It is time to equip the 3,500,000 Clark Kents already in classrooms with technology we are already using to make other industries from commerce to news to hopefully education, fly.
Do you agree that technology is the key to a better education system? If you saw
Waiting for Superman
, where do you think Guggenheim got it right/wrong?
Funny you should mention this.
">The latest essay in the Future of School Reform project with Harvard and Education Week treats this very topic. Technology is part of the puzzle, but also a reconsideration of the very structure of current education practices.
I would further add that education reform takes a different shape in different contexts: in the poverty-impacted school, the constraints of poverty ask for different strategies than those needed in say, first-ring suburbs, if for no other reason than the latter have more social capital.
Apple, Google and Facebook are, of course, private for-profit ventures that get their revenues from their users and advertisers. When schools become private, for profit ventures that stop taking their funding coercively from non-users, we will then have innovation and true reform. Until then, reforming the public school system will be like bouncing the rubble. Richard Mitchell warned us in the Graves of Academe that the public school system is, to put it in biblical terms, like the leech of Proverbs 30:15, crying "Give, give" and that is never satisfied. But failing academically, they have succeeded culturally and the post-christian context in which we now find ourselves is the sad result
I concur with much of what you've written here, especially regarding the difficulty of reproducing superhero teachers and the need for better systems. One critical wrong-turn in educational trends driven by legislators and those who "teach to the test," however, is the methodical elimination of music, art and physical education from schools. Time and again, studies of the developing brain have shown that the arts and physical education are paramount for intelligent humans - and people who reach the highest points of academic achievement. Yet we increasingly teach to the test and expect technology to be the savior of the educational system. By doing so, we're gutting the soul of education and stunting the achievement we want.
First, it must be realized that the school is only one setting for change. Schools mimic the societies they are situated in and then spit out most students to continue the same trends and cycles. Policy makers, discussion leaders or cultural change agents, as some like to be called, must dirty their hands with ongoing practice and relationship with the stakeholders they are trying to speak on behalf of, before I believe they can offer meaningful efforts towards change.
As for the role of technology, I believe technology is an important tool that can be used to assist in the creation of culturally responsive classrooms; however, I also caution against romanticizing the potential that the use of technology has to bring about change. The sociocultural experiences of each individual, highly valued human being, being served by schools, must be tended to above all else. Otherwise the use of iPods, iPads, SMART boards, and other gadgets become yet another veneer of education that is relevant for ALL students.
Change...committing to making a change...is more intentional that just making a difference. Change...what will you be willing to change about yourself...and then help facilitate in others?
As a leadership mentor, I find that too many people are not willing to look within at themselves...and too often only want to see change in others or circumstances...and then we'll all be better, they think. But...until change takes place in the mentor, the teacher, the leader, the influencer...we are just talking about ideas that may make a difference...nice to think about...but change begins, first, within each individual.
Therefore, what needs to change in you...in order for a discernable difference to begin to germinate that is life-giving in others?
Technology is a tool that our children need to be equipped to use well. However let's remember that the use of technology has its roots in more fundamental activities: enquiry, creativity, learning about the real world through touch and feel; seeing in reality.
We run a risk that a whole new generation will not have experienced realities such as 'cut and paste', and thus lose touch with reality.
Technology is not the answer to education. It is only on of the tools. Our greatest challenge is facing up to the reality that our educational system is in ruins because our families are in ruins. I am a father of four grown daughters and six grandchildren. Their mother, Memaw, and my wife is a elementary school teacher. They first learned at home and we were their first teachers. The schools cannot take the place of parents and commited adults who raise our children. I know this sounds old fashion, but the reality of a education today will not change til our parents, grandparents, and others take up the primary role of teaching the children in their lives.
This is really interesting, for much of what is written in this piece is extremely relevant to the stage of life I and my wife find our family: two little ones just entering their school-age years (traditionally speaking). One of our priorities is to discover how God has uniquely created our children and equip them to discover the same for themselves. A large part of this includes understanding how each child learns best, which requires experimentation with different styles, methods and tools.
I'm cautiously optimistic as to the value [additional] technologies will bring to the current state of American education, for it's the scope of the technologies' capabilities and their successful implementation by school systems, teachers, students (and parents, I presume?) in facilitating and advancing learning and discovery.
We have made the decision to home school for the foreseeable future. Our children's education is our responsibility, whether in a public, private or homeschool environment. It seems the technology advocated for in this piece should apply just as much to homeschoolers and private-schooled students as it does to public ed systems--true? After all, if the goal is to empower the "teacher" and create a learning mgt system including both teacher and student, why limit it to the public ed systems (acknowledging that they are perhaps the most in need of...all the help they can get)
I recently saw "Waiting for Superman" and I am so grateful it is bringing these alarming issues in our education system to the forefront. Education is so popular as a manipulation tool by politicians, but the reality is that the quality is decided by the people who work day after day IN the system, not necessarily by those who day after day talk ABOUT the system.
When it comes down to it, we have to place value in hiring teachers who value excellence above pay and their own personal agendas. If this means homeschool, charter schools, private or public schools, then so be it.
I definitely think we can hope for progress, but it is our individual decisions that will drive that progress. It will do us no good to hope someone else somewhere else will do something that will trickle down to a change in the classroom of our children.
I don't agree that technology is the answer. Years of research spearheaded by Ethna Reid has shown that the best teachers employ a short cycle time between teaching material and testing. This allows the instructor to verify that the material was absorbed and allows for correction if there was a misunderstanding. Furthermore, the skills of excellent teachers can be learned and used by any teacher who chooses to learn them. Technology can be an aid at best, but should not be the centerpiece of education.
I was a public school teachers who was continually frustrated the fact that the institution neither prized the students or education. Consequently when it came time to send my own children, I decided not to sacrifice them on either the altar of public education of the altar of Christian private schools because both were a failure in my opinion. The public schools in our area were so white, suburban, and upper class, and the Christian schools were elitist and hopelessly legalistic. I wanted the world to be my children's classroom and for them to have a heart for the world rather than seeing those outside of the church as an enemy to be feared and hated. It took me 22 years to homeschool my four children but by the grace of God they are completely colorblind, have amazing work ethics, and are passionate about giving back to the culture around them. The biggest problem we have in education is that it is no longer an artform. It has been reduced instead to merely teaching to a narrow range of outcomes that will be tested in standardized tests. When such reductionist ideas are applied to something as multifaceted as education, teachers become frustrated and students get lost in the boredom. If we could get politicians fingers out of the classroom and stamp out the love affair with standardized testing that has destroyed true education, we would be much closer to regaining quality education in this nation once again.
"...Ignorance and Want..." - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Yes, Ignorance and Want are the true leacherous parasites of America...of the World. Having instructed (grades 9-12) classrooms inhabited by a populous of well over 30; I must emphatically and collectively renounce the alleged productivity of the current American educational system... and it IS dwindling to nothing...
Much of the "side-by-side" instruction (cherished only by a miniscule percentage of truly bright and industrious students) is thwarted by incessant, negatively charged behavioral outbursts and/or technologial "advancements" that innundate cell-phone towers and various internet providers ... Teachers must play baby-sitter and/or prison guard insted of TEACHING... I can also verify, first hand that the econmic polarities are in favor of football and economics. There were 0 financial allocations toward ANY sort of Arts program whatsoever in the county where I was employed (and raised)....the issue... The Arts is where my extensive certification, experience and diplomas seek resolve. I was teaching a foreign language.
My solution...?! MOVE THE EDUCATION SYSTEM INTO THE HOME ... we definately possess the technological capabilities- all we need is a little logistical and administrative organization here... Require parents to educate their children at home by LAW until said child decides whether or not to pursue a higher education (University and Post Graduate Studies and their alleged relevance in American society- yet another topic of sore and extraneous discussion...lol).
I just adore the fact that I can download over 100 entire BOOKS at once on my NOOK... Instead of wasting money on families that place no value whatsoever on education- for whatever reason (at school OR inside the home); let's equip families with the technologies to succeed in life (and at THEIR leisure)...
First, to move away from veneer, we must admit that the issue of education isn't going to be a silver bullet answer. Home-schooled children are only as brilliant as the adults they interact with; traditionally-schooled children are only as brilliant as the adults they interact with. We learn to live by seeing how people live; and living is a complex project.
So I would espouse a guided learning environment that merges many of Charlotte Mason's ideas and incorporates technological advances. The more kinds of life-environments we can mentor children through, the less apt they are to be crashed by an unexpected environment later in life. So, whether or not you're a fan of Hillary Clinton, she was accurate when she said, "It takes a village to raise a child." It is our American communities that are broken; the school mess is really just a symptom of the primary disease.
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