Hacking education

Jason Tanz writes in Wired magazine this month about techies who are hacking education.   Of course, it isn't just techies.  The over 2 million homeschooled kids in America include a wide variety of people who have one thing in common: they don't believe the public education system will serve their kids.  

Two points of particular interest from Tanz' article:

There’s something inherently maddening about a privileged group of forward-thinkers removing their children from the social structures that have defined American childhood for more than a century under the presumption that they know better. (And if you want to see how antiauthoritarian distrust can combine malevolently with parental concern, look no further than the Disneyland measles outbreak caused by the anti-vaccine crowd.) I hear you. As a proud recipient of a great public school education, I harbor the same misgivings.

And yet, as I talked to more of these homeschoolers, I found it harder to dismiss what they were saying. My son is in kindergarten, and I fear that his natural curiosity won’t withstand 12 years of standardized tests, underfunded and overcrowded classrooms, and constant performance anxiety.
ndeed, that’s precisely why schools adopt a one-size-fits-all model. Unlike the Cooks, they don’t have the luxury of tailoring an entire lesson plan to the needs and proclivities of one or two students. They have to balance the needs of individual students against the needs of the class as a whole—including kids who come into school with different interests, skills, and abilities. That’s why so many teachers aim for the middle of the bell curve—hoping to have the maximum impact on the largest number of students, even as they risk losing the outliers on either end of the chart.
Of course, there are plenty of private schools, charters, or gifted programs pursuing some version of what’s called student-directed learning. But most unschoolers told me that even these schools were still too focused on traditional standards of achievement. (To be fair, it’s hard to imagine that even the most enlightened private school would be able to stay in business if it couldn’t demonstrate to parents that it was teaching their children how to read or add.) Unless every family homeschools their children—a prospect that even homeschooling advocates say is untenable—it will remain an individualized solution to a social need.
Homeschoolers opt out of the system for many reasons.  Ultimately, the one-size fits all solution in education doesn't work for many.  Even private schools rarely do more than one-size fits all education.  Yet, we know that such an educational system only serves a small slice of the population. In order to meet student needs' better is a complex problem.  It isn't just about providing more individualized education (read change the way we train teachers and provide more resources), but also we have to think differently about the way we measure achievement and success.  We need to not aim for excellent sheep but instead aim for excellence.  Such a change requires a fundamental change in our education mindset - one I hope that is some day achieved.



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