The RSA has posted a nice animated talk from Ken Robinson. The thrust of the talk is that education is highly standardized, and while this may be efficient for moving many, many children through the institution of education, it’s not terribly helpful for most of them. He talks a little about the rise of public education, the increase of incidence of ADHD (I disagree with some of his suppositions on ADHD), but the main point is that our schools have become like factories.
The specialization into separate subjects, segregating children by age group, and so on, looks more like a factory to Robinson than a school should. He makes the point that some kids learn well in large groups, some in small groups, some on their own, and virtually all at different paces in different subjects. “If you’re interested in the model of education you don’t start from a production line mentality.” So the change of paradigm he’s talking about is individualizing education to each student, rather than standardizing it.
The difficulty here, of course, is measuring what you’re doing, ensuring that each child is getting a good education. Standardization of education lends itself well to testing. Of course, in his thinking, standardized testing is part of the problem. And I agree.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I had a teacher who was obviously more concerned with her students learning than getting high marks. This professor encouraging use to share our ideas with each other and collaborate on the writing topics before composing our papers was a truly unnerving experience — I’d come to view the people who sat around me as nice, but also as competition, and the idea that I should share my own ideas with them, effectively erasing some of my competitive edge, felt odd. Assuming the goal was for everyone in class to have the best chance of understanding the material, this was a fabulous idea. It wasn’t until I really explored the unnervingness of this experience did I realize how alien it was … how I’d spent my whole life being subtly told that those around me are competition, that my goal was to succeed, for them to come in a distant second, third, fourth, and so on. The perversity of this notion really bothers me. Education should be about collaboration, understanding, acquisition of knowledge and skill. Removing the aspect of competition can only improve education.