Friday, February 19, 2010

The Beginning of the End?

A recent episode of 'The Simpsons' featured a popular new teacher, who gave assignments by iPhone, and didn't believe in memorization, since it 'is simpler and easier to just google it'.

I laughed, until I started an on-line exchange with an instructor at a private college. I learned that there is a new breed of teacher, coming mostly from colleges of education. They use phrases such as 'training life-long learners', 'having students take charge of their education', 'learning to use the correct tools, rather than learning how to do things', 'cite sources, rather than memorizing' and 'communicating with podcasts, instead of writing'.

I have seen these methods tried in mathematics and science education, and they simply do not work. Even if they do work in other subjects (doubtful), the bad training carries over to the technical fields, hampering the learning anyway. That should be the end of the matter, except that these ideas are dangerously attractive:

Weak or lazy students like them, since they can get good grades without actually mastering anything. They also get the comfortable illusion of learning, without the pain.

Administrators like the idea, since they can then eliminate or reduce the cost of libraries and textbooks, and replace experts in subject matter with general 'communicators'. All teaching is then a higher art, being removed from 'mere content delivery'. This last is a phrase that I heard used by a colleague in our college of education.

Lastly, parents and politicians love the idea, since education costs can be brought down, and performance is way up, at least on paper. Never mind that the Pacific Rim countries, still using the 'old-fashioned' techniques, are outperforming us, year after year.

How much longer until we have the world of Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451', when books are actually banned, because reading makes some people feel inferior?

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