It’s hard to change the culture of education without getting the kids before their thinking processes begin to ossify, but in order to do that, you have to contend with their parents who, however well-intended, didn’t have the benefit of the kind education you’re trying to provide their kids and often see it as more of a threat than an opportunity.
To me, that’s the most interesting piece of this conversation right now, how to move the parents’ perspective of the nascent, non-traditional models of education to one that really embraces the opportunities that online communities and networks are creating for meaningful learning. I know that when I talk about my aspirations for my own kids, and I start going down the road that the traditional college degree is only one of many options for them, that they may be able to cobble together a more meaningful education (depending on what they want to do) through travel and apprenticeships and self-directed experiences and not end up in mountains of debt, most respond with all sorts of reasons why not going to college is a risk, “especially in this job market.” (As if college grads are stepping into great jobs these days anyway.)
Here’s another quote that speaks to this idea, this time from Anya Kamenetz’s new book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education:
I’ve had a number of parents tell me that as much as they truly believe the educational landscape is changing, it’s hard for them to sanction their own kids being a part of that change. “To some degree I lack the courage of my convictions…I’m developing very strong convictions that the existing system is fundamentally and probably irreparably broken, but I would not yet take my kids out of their school,” Albert Wenger at Union Square Ventures said. “It’s one thing to experiment by investing money in start-ups or reading books, and it’s another to experiment with your own children.”
There are so many levels to this from a parenting perspective that it’s hard to know where to begin. Most parents think their kids schools are doing just fine based on the assessment systems we currently have in place. Most parents see the traditional track from high school to college as success. Most parents are ok with “online courses” and can use them to check the technology box since they don’t radically disrupt the status quo. Most parents have no clue as to what that change they might be sensing really looks like. They don’t, as Jim Groom writes, see education as “the biggest sham going.”
The roll your own education “movement” is obviously not just a disruption to parents; it’s a threat to educators as well. The question of how to help them find opportunity here is one we’ll be struggling with for decades, no doubt.
But isn’t the bottom line here helping our kids take advantage of the opportunities? This comment by Michael Feldstein about how kids don’t have the ability to direct their own learning echoes the ridiculous expectations floated by Mark Bauerline in the Dumbest Generation, that somehow, these kids today are supposed to learn this all on their own:
It’s not like student-centered education was created by the edupunks. And yet, students fail to learn in these classes all the time. The high drop-out rate in community colleges reflects a lot of different factors, but on major one is surely that many students who go there do not have the skills to take charge of their own education, no matter how much you try to empower them. I have no been given reason to believe that the digital version of this approach will be wildly more successful than the analog version.
Is it any wonder they can’t “take charge of their own education” when that self-directed love of learning on their own was driven out of them by second grade, when no one has ever allowed them to or taught them how do that? And are we at the point where we can begin to give them reasons to believe? Are we? (In fairness, Feldstein accedes to this later in the thread.)
The irony here is obvious: right now, as it’s currently structured, traditional schooling is in many ways the threat, not the opportunity that many still see it as. How we make that message digestable to parents is, I think, the most interesting question of all. And how we do it in ways that don’t drive people to the edges but instead help them work in the messy middle and make sure we ultimately keep in mind what’s best for the care of our kids is the most challenging part of all. To that end, I love this quote from a recent must read Mark Pesce post:
There is no authority anywhere. Either we do this ourselves, or it will not happen. We have to look to ourselves, build the networks between ourselves, reach out and connect from ourselves, if we expect to be able to resist a culture which wants to turn the entire human world into candy. This is not going to be easy; if it were, it would have happened by itself. Nor is it instantaneous. Nothing like this happens overnight. Furthermore, it requires great persistence. In the ideal situation, it begins at birth and continues on seamlessly until death. In that sense, this connected educational field mirrors and is a reflection of our human social networks, the ones we form from our first moments of awareness. But unlike that more ad-hoc network, this one has a specific intent: to bring the child into knowledge.
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