We Know How to Fix Education, but Everyone Needs to Help

“Those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach… teach gym.” – Dewey Finn, School of Rock

The short version:

  • The knowledge that schools provide is increasingly available at no cost.
  • Technology allows the betterment of the education experience (factual and social), reduce the number of teachers, and give a raise to those that remain.
  • You can’t just throw a kid online and expect him to understand everything, some guidance is required.
  • Pretending the current education system isn’t horribly obsolete, even with minor adjustments, isn’t helping anyone.
  • Businesses thrive on creativity as much as knowledge, therefore students should be taught both.
  • Colleges (as we know them) are in trouble and I don’t feel one bit sorry for them.

The long version:

I find it interesting that the initial goal of many of my classmates is to be a teacher. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a teacher, we’ve all had a few help us to where we are today. Over the next few years, however, I see the number of teachers declining… a lot. The educational world is going to undergo some major changes. Which way it goes though, is still up in the air.

If it continues on the path it is now—which is to say zero or very slow change—then we’re all in trouble. Not because the current system didn’t work at one time (we’re all products of it right?), but because things like budget cuts have been threatening its very existence anyway. The system we’ve had for decades is no longer practical, and that’s blessing in disguise, because it’s obsolete.

If it goes the route of Khan Academy, which has proven successful in every instance it’s been implemented so far, and similar teaching methods it will be a great leap forward.

I find it difficult to feel bad for schools—especially post-secondary schools—when their budgets are cut.
On average, students who attend four-year public schools pay $7,605 per year (and $27,000 at private schools). What the hell for?

  • Buildings? OK, that’s fine for a percentage.
  • Computers? Everyone could buy a darn nice laptop for a few thousand.
  • The college president’s salary? Why is he making 3x as much as teachers, almost $250K a year, anyway?
  • Teachers? We can eliminate most and improve the educational experience (keep reading)
  • That building filled with thousands of dollars in workout equipment I’ve never used?

No, it’s for a piece of paper that represents you have paid a bunch of money to be exposed (who can say if you’ve actually learned anything?) to a number to topics, most of which you’ll never use again, and all of which can be found online (and mostly for free).

If somebody owns a business and they hire a guy with that paper, rather than another guy with a resume that shows he has actually done something with his knowledge, then he won’t be in business very long.

So don’t tell colleges, but businesses (or at least the good ones) are going to start figuring this out. And the prospective employees (or at least the smart ones) are going to figure out that the degree is not a prerequisite to showing you can do something with your knowledge.

I write a blog that gets a few hundred visitors every day. Almost 1,200 people follow it on twitter.

How much have I learned in school that helped in this? Well, school did teach me to read and write (+1 for grades 1 to 5). Editing Wikipedia responsibly taught me more about writing well (+1 Internet). Exploring the internet on my own gave me the know-how (+1 Internet). Doing work gave me the rest (+1 Internet). +0 for grades 6 to college.

So again, if you’re a boss and can hire a guy with a Communications degree or a guy who has gone from zero to 1200 twitter followers that care in six months (not that that’s a huge accomplishment, but it’s a start), which one do you hire to watch your social media? One with potential or one that’s already done what you want to do?

Why haven’t I quit school yet? Because we aren’t quite there (I was born too early, give it a decade).

Being extremely conservative, within five years you will be able to learn everything a K-12 student would learn on Khan Academy. You can learn everything right now on Wikipedia, and its references (there’s also a large percentage on YouTube, iTunes U, and various other college sites).

Ever since I started watching lessons on Khan Academy I have found myself constantly sitting in class thinking, “This lesson would be vastly improved if it were a video” (and it’s happened in every class).

There was a situation the other day where my teacher taught a two-part lesson in a computer class. The first part took a half-hour in one program, while the second part took five minutes in another program. Already having a good grasp on the first program, I had the knowledge to complete that part in about ten minutes, but I was forced to watch the lesson for 20 more minutes, bored out of my mind, because I didn’t know how to get through the second part.

Had both lessons been done as a video walkthrough, I could’ve skipped to the second lesson, finished the whole project in 20 minutes and had 15 more to explore it further or push on to the next topic. By the time I got there though, class was over and I had homework.

The ironic part was that the kid sitting next to me spent the entire class on facebook and came in the next day with a project way ahead of anybody else. I asked him how he figured all that stuff out. “It was easy,” he said, “I just watched a YouTube video.” Then he proceeded to explain me how he did it in great detail.

And that’s a class with a good teacher.

I’m not anti-teacher, but the concept of the teacher in all grades needs to change though.

If you walk into a classroom and are told to pick out the smartest one in the group, the one that has all the answers, the one who is superior to all the others, it’s going to be one person 99.9% of the time: the teacher. It doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it. Walk into a business meeting and it’ll never be a single person that often.

Seth Godin nailed it the other day when he wrote, “If you view the people you work with as coaches… it can transform what you do each day, starting right now.” However, he points out that we are trained to give them what they want—and no more. By doing this, we never surpass them, which is what students should be striving to do.

Think of a sports team, where the coaches are rarely the most skilled players of the game, but by working with players who have more skill than they do, the collective team can be something great. Except nobody sets out to be a coach. Kids don’t spend time in the backyard pretending to hurdle the dugout railing because they have finally figured out that championship-winning lineup. Yes, some teachers are great, but Babe Ruth did more for baseball than Miller Huggins (the coach of arguably the greatest team in history).

Just a side-note: the teachers who act like they are the smartest one in the group and think they have all the answers are 99.9% of the ones that suck. The ones that act like coaches are ahead of the game and are better teachers.

At some point though, somebody has to step in and guide students. A ten-year old kid is not going to wake up every morning excited to advance his collection of knowledge. How far we take it is up for debate (should high school students be required to learn through Calculus? Trigonometry? Geometry?), but it should be material guided, not age-centric.

Like-wise, there should still be an effort to produce well-rounded students. I never would’ve taken a science class this semester if it was up to me, but I have learned a lot in Biology.

If you look at the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers, you see a team that won the championship. It doesn’t get any better than that. But on any given week, the online discussions about the team were largely negative because while they were winning often, a number of fans thought that they should have been better than they were.

In a way that’s what education in this country is, it’s decent, but even if we were ranked as the champions of the global system (which we aren’t even close to being) we could still be better. So we can screw it up and come out thinking we’re not so bad. But even the champions can be better.

To reach that point, though, we need everyone to be teachers, students, and doers.

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