Last week, our reporter Julianne Hing attended a two-day conference about the future of education. Also in attendance: former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Newscorp’s Rupert Murdoch, along with online education evangelist and Khan Academy founder Sal Khan. As state funding for schools crumbles, corporate money is looking more and more attractive to a lot of folks — even to people who’d ordinarily reject anything offered by the head of Fox News and a Bush brother.
As with all of her education reporting, Julianne kept her mind open and her priorities straight, and the result is a smart, nuanced piece of reporting that sidesteps kneejerk ideological reactions and gets to the heart of the issues. (Spoiler alert: the future of education is still terrifying, no matter how you feel about Fox News.) And it inspired some great conversation here on Colorlines.com. Here’s what you had to say.
I used to teach in a school that started out using a similar system to Khan’s, then drifted into a more traditional model. The thing about having students teach themselves at their own pace is that if that system worked, there would be no need for teachers in the first place. We would have figured it out a long time ago if Khan’s system were really better for students.
When I first heard of the Khan Academy model, I was immediately not a fan for the simple reason that pedagogy that utilizes technology as a primary teaching tool, rather than supplementally, is harmful in a school environment. Even more, because the idea that it’s the teacher’s role to zero in on students’ weaknesses during homework time flips traditional teaching on its head, and not in a good way. It undermines parents’ responsibility to follow what a child is doing, and the child’s responsibility to study on their own time, to problem-solve, to come up with good questions, and making class time a time for learning and collaboration with their peers. Teachers are then able to come up with more targeted exercises that build on the homework. These are the very experiences that train them to be successful in the real world environment.
The most seemingly enticing case that Khan has made is that it makes education accessible. Making education accessible through electronic means also further undercuts a communities responsibility for taking care of their people and the next generation. So while he was able to help his cousin from a distance, and Youtube offers many do-it-yourself lessons, it can never completely substitute for human-to-human contact and teaching. If his cousin had the resources that she needed in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to resort to technology, so saying that it undercuts a community’s responsibility is not absolving state and federal governments of their duties. Education is a national priority.
I really appreciate you thinking through these issues. It is fascinating to watch as our country attempts to reinvest in urban education at the same time as it dismantles government! But, I do also think it is key to make some distinctions between "digigogy," which is indeed seductive in some ways (although it is far less useful in the humanities), and privatization. We can change pedagogy without undermining public education, because teachers are NOT resistant to change.
And I think it is also necessary to distinguish between the charter movement and corporatization of schools. There is, in my opinion, a difference between non-profit charters and for-profit charters/education industrialists. Perhaps it is not as big a difference as it should be, but it is there.
I think the Khan Academy is a GREAT supplement for classrooms. It’s like having an on-demand tutor to help a student review what they didn’t get in class.
This does not replace the activities and group projects that add so much meaning, understanding, and, dare I say, "fun" to the classroom.
If classrooms were to continue as lecture halls with students doing practice problems on their own, like the school that Mr. Murdoch attended, then yes, why not just plug kids in. If Mr. Murdoch were to look at what kids are doing in modern classrooms, I suspect he would rethink his plug-in-student scheme.
I think that instead of moving toward a dystopian vision of drone children plugged into individual "learning" cubicles, we are going to see an exciting reinvention of classrooms where teachers know that new technology has made the lecture and homework practice obsolete. Instead, teachers will "flip" their lessons, asking students to view a video lecture at home and use their valuable time together in class for discussions and projects.
I wonder how Paulo Freire would respond to Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Khan?