Monday, December 20, 2010


I didn't start this thing by thinking, "Hay! The INTERNET needs to hear what I think about Education!" Even if that's what it will probably end up turning out to be.

No, it instead started out when a friend of my family's sent me this video:

Cute, right? Kind of like a more-information-rich version of the UPS commercials. The people who told me about it were really impressed with it, but I thought it was kinda weak sauce. So I was wondering what I should do, tell these people that I know reasonably well that the thing they liked so much was too trite and not really coherent?

While hemming and hawing I watched it again, to identify exactly what I thought was wrong with it. And the big thing, beyond the non sequiturs and red herrings, some of which I will admit are probably due to editing an hour-long talk into an 11 minute video, is that there really isn't anything new in this talk. Think about what the point of this talk is, if you can find it. If I had to create a one-sentence thesis, it would be something like, "Education should be centered on the personalities and abilities of the students and fit with the culture at large." This thesis is where the mismatch happens, because while your average person seems to think, "student focused education? That's unpossible!" I, and every other education major that didn't sleep through their Curriculum and Instruction classes thinks, "Well, duh!"

Let me give you an idea of how well-tread this idea is. Here's John Dewey, in 1897, laying out his principles of education. See if this sounds familiar:
"We are told that the psychological definition of education is barren and formal - that it gives us only the idea of a development of all the mental powers without giving us any idea of the use to which these powers are put. On the other hand, it is urged that the social definition of education, as getting adjusted to civilization, makes of it a forced and external process, and results in subordinating the freedom of the individual to a preconceived social and political status."
The whole thing is worth a read, but anyone who's as geeked out about education as I am has probably already read it, and those that aren't don't want to wade through late Nineteenth Century philosophical prose. I certainly understand.

Here's my point: Sir Ken Robinson spends some time talking about the things we "need" to do, and the best of his ideas are over a century old and widely known. Knowledge of the problem, which is all he offers in the video, is apparently not enough. If he has some real ideas about how to actually implement any of this in a successful, widespread way, I would like to hear them. Until he does, he's just being patronizing to cover up the fact that he doesn't know anything, because effectively educating people is stupidly hard and no one really knows anything.

I have other criticisms, but this really is the big one. Education doesn't lack for theory, it's practically overflowing with theory. It certainly doesn't need some dude selling warmed-over theory (that Pink Floyd did better, by the way) as some new great thing. If it needs anything, it's some engineering, maybe a little marketing as well. Theory is nothing without practice. Put up or shut up.

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