To use the current lingo of the kids, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast is LIT! Considering this is episode “42”, I knew I wanted to sit down with my great friends, Art and Rob, who are English teachers at my school. We talk about why we love literature, its value in today’s day and age, as well as some of our favorite authors and poets. Please listen and share with other teachers or fans of literature in general.
Thanks again for listening, everyone, and have a great week!
Friday afternoon I had the good fortune to speak to my middle brother Brad for over an hour and a half after school. He is a busy world traveler who works as a high level executive for one of the world’s major technology companies. He and I are alike in many ways, although our professional lives diverged when it came to what we chose to do.
But he is deeply committed to education, whether providing one for his own children, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the people on his team, or constantly learning himself, he thinks a great deal about what education is and what it will become in the future.
Our conversation largely revolved around what will happen to education when machine learning/artificial intelligence can supersede our own cognitive abilities. What will we “teach” our students then? Brad then sent me this short two-minute clip of Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba, sharing his vision of education in the future.
Every teacher I know laments what public education has become: a non-stop testing regime that has largely sucked the life and joy out of education. People my age and older had the good fortune to “learn how to learn” for lack of a better phrase. With tests and “data-driven instruction” being the hallmark of today’s education—all in an effort to demonstrate what a student “knows” (or perhaps how well a student “tests”)—we’ve created a rather inhumane system in which teachers and students are the central components of a commodified, monetized education machine.
What happens, however, when machine learning and AI become more advanced than us? What will education look like when computers can “know” anything instantaneously, make calculations faster than any human, or anything else that machines can (and will continue to) do better than the most intelligent, most capable of us?
Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba (China’s Amazon, basically), believes that we need to educate our children about what makes us human—to be creative, to think critically, to empathize with others, to work collaboratively—and get away from teaching “knowledge” for which machines will inevitably have far more computational power than any of us.
While I might not see this radical shift during my tenure/career as an educator, I think I’ve been doing some of this in my own classroom for the last 7 years at least: focusing on the human experience; trying my best to exemplify love, compassion, gratitude, generosity, and patience; genuinely caring for each and every student who becomes a part of my life; inspiring kids to love learning intrinsically/for its own sake; using mindfulness techniques to manage stress while being in tune with one’s own mind…the list goes on and on, but it is these soft-skills that are far more important than the “facts” they can look up on Google at any given moment by consulting their smartphones.
Having slept on it and thought about this challenge all day yesterday–and as much as I love the ideas put forth by Jack Ma–I don’t think he’s completely right (or at least his comments don’t provide enough nuance for the entire educational experience). While I would concur that education fundamentally needs to be about teaching kids how to learn, adapt to and thrive with change, as well as focus on what makes us inherently human, there is still a place for some fact-based knowledge.
Here’s Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame to share why (it’s cued up to start at 7:16, but the whole talk is worth watching):
As a teacher of the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, Theory of Knowledge, I am fortunate enough to teach the kind of class that Jack Ma talks about: one that instills the value of conceptual and critical thinking while constantly asking “how do we know?”
Knowledge is tricky and complex. It is dynamic and we can never know anything with absolute certainty. And while Jack Ma has a clear / important point about fact-based knowledge being important in our world for the last 200 years since we started compulsory public education in the West, I agree with Ken Jenning’s point that the bits and pieces we carry around in our heads (in TOK we call this “personal knowledge”) is critical for our own self-identity and our shared cultural heritage.
Hopefully the future of education falls somewhere between these two views. Either way, the future of education is perhaps a return to the past: a time when we didn’t incessantly test our children in the name of accountability and to make a quick buck; a time when we focused on educating the child how to be human rather than a machine that simply produces particular outputs based on the bubble sheet in front of him or her.
The latest edition of the Teacher Voice podcast turns away from school board races and back toward the state level, featuring Debbie Katt, a software engineer from the Valrico area who is campaigning for the HD57 seat vacated by Jake Raburn-R.
Among the priorities Debbie would like to address in Tallahassee, public education funding is the top of her list. We also discuss her vision for sensible gun control; a regional approach to investment in the Tampa Bay area’s transportation infrastructure; how funding for the arts has been decimated in recent years, and the negative financial impact that brings to other local businesses. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in House District 57.
As we discussed during the podcast, if you’d like to learn more about Debbie or her platform you can visit her campaign website. Debbie is also on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her on social media.
Thanks again for listening and supporting the Teacher Voice podcast, everyone!
P.S. – Sorry for the background noise in the first half. Apparently librarians get real rowdy once they go on break in the staff lounge…but I guess that’s to be expected after being quiet all day!
The latest guest post on Teacher Voice is written by Dr. Joel W. Gingery, PharmD. He is a retired clinical pharmacist who has since gone on to become a public education advocate. He is a current member of the St. Petersburg NAACP Education Committee, which focuses on economic and educational development in south St. Pete within Pinellas County.
Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Plutarch
Imagine: You’re in New York City on the fifth floor of the The Museum of Modern Art, looking at Le Domoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.Picasso is a Spanish artist, but he’s in Paris when he paints this. The title translates to ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’, which refers to a street that’s not in France but is in Barcelona and associated with prostitution. What we’re looking at is a brothel.
Les Domoiselles d’Avignon is one of the monumental works in the genesis of modern art. The painting, almost 8 ft x 8 ft square, depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.
In its brutal treatment of the body and in its clashes of color and style, Les Domoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective.
For many art historians, this painting is seen as a break with 500 years of European painting that begins with the Renaissance. It is a reaction to the oppressiveness with which post-Renaissance culture, its mannerisms, the Baroque neoclassicism, the academies of the nineteenth century, all weighed on the contemporary artist. This painting is the foundation on which Cubism is built.
Picasso was one of the greatest and most influential artists of the twentieth century. He is the inventor of collage, but, most of all, he is associated, along with Georges Braque, with pioneering cubism. Considered radical in his work, he made use of any and every medium.
His total artistic output has been estimated at 50,000 separate works: 1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings; and multiple other works, including tapestries and rugs. Picasso continues to be revered for his technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy.
Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, into a middle class family. His father was a painter and art teacher who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. Picasso expressed his artistic talents early. At age 16 he was admitted to the most prestigious art school in Spain. But he detested the formal training, and, shortly after arriving, he left the school to make his way on his own.Picasso would have never become the creative visionary that he became by continuing in formal schooling. The only way for him to become ‘Picasso’ was out of school.
The Purpose of Education
In 1911, about the same time Picasso painted Le Domoiselles, Fredrick Winslow Taylor stated in his book “Principles of Scientific Management” that the duty of enforcing standards of work rests “with management alone.” This attitude still permeates most of our organizations, whether we realize it or not.
Taylor felt that only management had the right and ability to see the big picture and make decisions. This “command and control” mentality proved more effective when businesses were organized as hierarchies. When the work is routine and only requires obedience, compliance, and perseverance, it is the type of work that is easily automated.
In today’s inter-connected, networked enterprise, everyone has to see their portion of the system and make appropriate decisions of their own. Their work increasingly deals with more complex tasks that require creativity, curiosity, empathy, humor, and passion; the type of work that is difficult to automate and humans are good at.
A new skill set and mindset is required. Employees need to learn how to be more adaptable, courageous, and resilient, as well as how to connect, collaborate, influence and inspire others. More importantly, a sense of curiosity and thirst for learning and innovation is essential.
Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions are not sufficiently preparing learners for this new world of work; of shifting learner attitudes and mindsets from passive entitlement to active accountability.
To compound the situation, in our naivete’, we supported accountability initiatives that demand standardization. We asked: “How can we hold schools, teachers, students, parents, etc., accountable, so they’ll give kids the education we want them to get?”
The result has been a rigid, technocratic, highly systematized and numbers-driven approach to reform, built on big new bureaucracies, costing millions to grind out and analyze countless billions of data points whose connection to children’s real educational success is tenuous at best.
Designed as they are to make the public education system dysfunctional, is it any wonder that these accountability systems fail? They are impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people. People are curious, interested creatures, who posses a natural love of learning; who desire to internalize the knowledge, customs and values that surround them.
These evolved tendencies for people to be curious, interested, and seek coherence of knowledge, would seem to be resources to be cultivated and harnessed by educators as they guide learning and development.
Too often, however, educators introduce external controls, close supervision and monitoring, that create distrustful learning environments. Essentially, they reflect external pressures on teachers that motivation is better shaped by external reinforcement than by facilitating students’ inherent interest in learning. Under such controlling conditions, however, the feelings of joy, enthusiasm, and interest that once accompanied learning are frequently replaced by feelings of anxiety, boredom, or alienation. They create the self fulfilling prophesy so evident in many classrooms, whereby students no longer are interested in what is taught, and teachers must externally control students to “make” learning occur.
America needs to rethink what it really wants from schools.
Answering this question takes creativity and insight, and courage, because answering requires us to rethink who we are and what it means to be human.
If we are truly passionate about an education system that supports the development of a learning environment in which the learner can grow into his or her highest future potential, we need to challenge ourselves to explore the reality of our situation and follow through with the appropriate action.
Half a century ago James Baldwin warned against this giving in to the tendency to minimize its importance: “This collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.”
Education is by and for the people. People whose purposes in life can’t be standardized or captured in numbers and technocratic systems. People who are embedded in a bewildering variety of relationships and communities that shape who they are and what their lives mean. People who cannot be the one-size-fits-all interchangeable cogs that our technocratic, educational accountability systems need them to be to function.
Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, if you’d like to be a guest contributor to the Teacher Voice project (or discuss education issues on the podcast), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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