On Wednesday, Sept. 14, 9 pm ET, PBS and NOVA will air a two hour special called “School of the Future.” The advertisement tells us much. They are warning that the future for children demands that students need better preparation to succeed due to globalization. What they probably won’t tell us is that this future will likely continue to be manipulated by corporations.
This abstract, strange future they speak about (possibly puzzling to the smartest among us), will be about technology, of course.
Their message appears to be that we better address technology that can be used with students, even to study their brains to see if they can learn faster and better. The goal is to close the achievement gap.
The ad has that hint of emergency for which school reformers are known.
Sal Kahn of Kahn Academy fame will be on the program. I don’t mind Kahn’s online instruction, but it is naïve to believe that such a program will replace public schools and real teachers.
And that’s what today’s technology is about. Don’t be deceived by the few teachers that might be shown on this program.
In some parts of the country they are sitting children online in teacherless preschools.
They are replacing elementary, middle, and high school classes led by teachers with all online instruction, even though research shows that more computer time doesn’t work out as well as less screen time.
Many school districts have wasted an exorbitant amount of money on iPads that have not proven to be worth what administrators thought when they purchased them. In some places they sit unused in the closet.
Technology isn’t bad. It can benefit teachers, students and parents. But it should not be made to appear like it will miraculously improve the way students learn used alone.
Many parents understand this. The reasonable use of technology is what Parents Across America recently advocated for in a position paper. They recognize the overarching push many corporations are doing to destroy public schooling by creating all online schooling.
The last chapter in my book Losing America’s Schools: The Fight to Save Public Education is about the technology threat. I believe, like many, that the ultimate goal of the school reformers involves closing public schools in favor of all online–at home or in substandard charter schools set up like warehouses.
Technology might help the homebound student or the student in rural areas, but this is an alternative. It can also provide review for students who need it, or advanced information for students who want it, but it is not as good as brick-and-mortar schooling.
It is also troubling to hear repeated claims that computers will individualize schooling which we will hear about in this program. They might give students lessons at their level of understanding, but truly personalized learning involves real teachers and students with which to connect. The human element is critical.
Having taught in the area of special education and mental health, I am not opposed to brain research. We need, for example, to find what causes children to have learning disabilities and/or autism. Serious mental health problems like schizophrenia have always been a mystery.
But there is something icky about seeing a young child hooked up to wires with the idea implied by the ad, that the child’s learning can somehow be improved—to close the achievement gap.
Really? Will a pill be developed to give low-income children grit and rigor so they can catch up to the wealthier kids from the suburbs?
I doubt this will be mentioned in the program, but brain research might not be reliable in all situations. There are also privacy and other ethical concerns. Care needs to be taken in predicting or making sweeping generalizations about learning based on MRI reports.
The ad showcases Professor Linda Darling-Hammond who many, myself included, hoped would be education secretary under President Obama.
Darling-Hammond is right when she says “inequality is America’s Achilles heel,” but I would argue that a whole lot more could be done to fix our poor schools before tinkering with brain studies.
Failed Public Schools
The program is introduced by the usual claim that schools have failed—the ultimate insult to teachers and a negative reflection on local school boards. The reformers have used this claim for 30 years.
They probably won’t tell us is that our schools are failing due to reforms to privatize them. I am referring especially to high-stakes testing and one-size-fits-all standards.
Finding the Magic
In the program they speak of finding the magic to “enhance learning.”
Abracadabera! What about Finland?
I am wondering if in “School of the Future” they will discuss Finland. Finland has always done well at educating their students. Yet, they are not about high-stakes testing. They don’t start formal reading instruction until children are older. They seem to care deeply about the welfare of the students themselves.
Most everyone knows this about Finland, but, strangely, we see little attempt to emulate what they do here in this country.
Some scoff at Finland’s great education system because there is less diversity. But if it is good for one child, why isn’t it good for all children?
Or, I wonder if they will discuss reinstating the arts in our schools, since the arts give all children something to care about, especially if they are poor or struggle to learn.
Last July, PBS aired another program called “From the Streets to the Stage: The Journey of Fredrick Davis.” I think this poignant, true drama about a boy who overcame monumental difficulties to become a dancer, has much meaning for our public schools and the future.
Where is the magic involved with returning the arts to our public schools?
Public schools should be to find the strengths and weaknesses of all students, not survival of the fittest.
You can dream all you want about schools of the future, but we have students in schools today that are not only being ignored when it comes to their needs, they are being mistreated. Until this country takes care of what is real and fixable now, it is ridiculous to postulate about the future.
Still, I’ll watch this program to see if I misjudged the ad—that’s only fair. I will see if there is something salvageable for students that I missed. And even if the program is just as Orwellian as I think it will be, it is important to be informed.
“School of the Future” is sponsored by the following:
- American Graduate
- Carnegie Corporation of New York
- Cancer Treatment Centers of Amerca
- David H. Koch Fund for Science
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Wendy Samford says
Thank you! I will be sure to watch with my fingers crossed that this is not a slam to public education.
Nancy Bailey says
You’re welcome, Wendy. I hope it’s not too.
“teacher less preschools”? Fact check please
Nancy Bailey says
Emma Brown of the Washington Post described UPSTART and I give the link in my previous post. Here is the program link. http://www.waterford.org/upstart/
Sheila Resseger says
Again I would like to refer readers to
Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance, by Nicholas Kardaras.
Those edtechpreneurs and all of those pushing the all digital all the time mantra have chosen to ignore the mounting scientific evidence that getting hooked on screens early negatively impacts children’s physical/neurological/social/emotional health. This is a larger threat than second-hand smoke or even lead in drinking water. And it is being pushed on all public schools, down to the youngest children. Yes, technology can afford miraculous avenues to engaging learning. But the student needs physical and cognitive maturity to benefit, and the materials have to be teacher guided, not produced by software companies tied to flawed standards and administered mindlessly by flawed algorithms. This is not even mentioning the tremendous potential harm from the data that will be incessantly vacuumed up with every keystroke and every hesitancy that the children provide when using these digital wonders.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks for the reminder, Sheila. I am curious to hear his solutions.
The fact that you think more technology in education simply mean computers and kids staring at screens is naive and short sighted.
Howard Phillips says
And it’s all due to “globalisation”.
Nancy Bailey says
So they seem to imply, Howard.
It’s actually “globalization”
Globalization or Globalisation — which is correct depends on whether you are a Brit or an American.
Please reserve your judgement until you actually SEE the program!!
Nancy Bailey says
I wrote this based on the video and write-up about the program which I think says a lot. But if I misinterpreted it, Robin, I will eat my words.
Apologies — it wasn’t clear you had watched the entire 2 hour program, I thought you just saw the trailer.
Nancy Bailey says
No, you are correct. I only watched the trailer. I thought it quite telling.
it’s not telling – it’s a trailer/teaser and the objective is to get people to watch, not to cover all the topics or show the thesis– it’s not fair to judge based on that – especially in a public forum
Get your plate ready. I thought it was an excellent peice that highlighted real problems education faces and some of the innovative solutions educators themselves are attempting.
leonie haimson says
American Graduate – one of the co-sponsors listed above — is funded by the Gates Foundation. See this:
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has launched American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen — an initiative to help combat the dropout crisis in this country. Local public radio and television stations, located in 20 “hub markets” where the dropout crisis is most acute, are at the core of the American Graduate initiative.
Nancy Bailey says
How interesting, Leonie. I did not know. Thank you for sharing.
Nancy Bailey says
This reply is for Robin.
If you follow current education reforms you will know that there is a heavy push for competency-based education–or disruptive innovation as it is called. This trailer has the tell-tale signs of that.
I said in the post that I hoped the program proves me wrong, I said I will watch it, and I encouraged others to do so too.
Mary Hiniker says
It might be a good idea for you to make it very clear, in each post about the film, that you have only seen the trailer.
In addition, not all corporations that sponsor a program like this do so for inappropriate reasons. In many instances, a corporation can donate funds to help this documentary become a reality, just for the exposure their corporate name receives.
Nancy Bailey says
I perhaps should have used the word trailer, but i specifically highlighted “advertisement” and provided a link to the trailer in the first paragraph. I think that’s pretty clear.
It depends on how you look at corporate involvement of public schools as to whether you think corporations used the program for inappropriate reasons. Thank you for your comment, Mary.
Right — and these are the annual funders for NOVA and are kept very separate from any editorial decisions like all journalistic outlets.
Garrett A. Hughes says
THE GOAL OF SCHOOLS OF THE FUTURE
While watching the program on PBS, I objected vociferously to many of the statements and conclusions of each segment. So much so that my wife complained that I was not allowing the program to play out. Well, having seen the whole thing I haven’t changed my mind: the program is loaded with partial solutions, none of which will accomplish the goal of providing a well-rounded education for kids. All these organizations and institutions are playing the blind man and the elephant analysis game: each group seeing education from a different and narrow perspective.
The program itself is a superficial look at American education with the purported goal of answering the question about what formal education for pre-K through high school will look like in the future. The answer is: none of the above.
It is frustrating to watch and read media like this because taken together they are so tantalizingly close to seeing the big picture, if they would (or could?) simply combine their analyses in a coherent fashion. They need to rise above their individual trees on which they are focused, and see the entire forest plus the many pathways through it. Unfortunately each group is intent on building its own tree school-house.
There are only three criteria for providing kids and young adults with a good education: self determination, self pacing, and subject mastery. It is that simple. You cannot provide a good education for kids unless an education program includes all three. Although simple to state, the reasoning and research behind each of these criteria would fill several books. In that respect they are not unlike Maxwell’s equations for describing the theory of electromagnetism. Or you can think of it in more familiar terms as the E = MC^2 of education.
To solve the motivation problem and allow individual creativity to flourish, kids need to direct the course of their own educations. That’s the biggest hurdle for parents and educational bureaucrats to get over. They just have no faith that kids have the ability to make “good” choices, i.e., the choices that the parents and educators think are best for the kids. Yet, after years of directing kids’ every moves, they expect those same kids to be able to wisely direct their own lives once they leave the formal education environment. This is the biggest non sequitur of our existing educational system. The biggest caveat in adopting this approach is that it should, (better, must) be implemented from the day a child enters a formal education environment. You can’t expect human beings of any age, who have been treated like prisoners all of their educational lives, to adapt to freedom of choice overnight – say in high school for example as the XQ Project is wont to suggest. (I won’t go there because at its roots the XQ Project is more focused on accountability than education).
All kids learn differently; they develop cognition at different rates; Piaget demonstrated this in in the early twentieth century; yet we continue to treat kids in school as a commodity separated into age cohorts. If ever there was a recipe for failure to educate, this is it. Kids need to learn at a pace relevant to each and every one of them, in a style that is suited to each and every one of them, if they are ever going to develop to their full potential. As we saw in the PBS program, competition can be deadly, and is. We don’t need to develop automatons ready to compete in the global environment. All that has done is to foster a human history of warfare. We need kids to learn how to cooperate with one another so they are able to help build thriving, peaceful societies. Competition is our worst enemy in this regard. We are alive, as human beings, because billions of cells have learned to cooperate with one another in a very complex system. If cells can do it, so can we.
You would never remain a client of a dentist who managed to correct problems with your teeth 60 percent of the time (colloquially known as a D minus grade), or even 90 percent of the time. You want to be satisfied with their work 100 percent of the time. We should expect no less of our kids when learning to master a new skill. It only penalizes kids’ futures if we allow them to continue with only partial mastery of skills that continually build on one another. We accomplish this by allowing kids in school to fail, and learn from their mistakes without penalties. (See: Tim Harford’s “Why Success Always Starts With Failure.) GRIT is not the answer. Powering through is a poor strategy for problem solving. It is another thinly disguised form of competition.
Where does the teacher fit in all of this? The PBS program touched on this in one of the segments when they referred to teachers as facilitators. Their role will be more important than ever as they provide students with views of the world outside of school, assess student development to assure subject mastery, and work with students individually or in small groups to demonstrate how to solve problems of interest to the students. It is important to understand that problem solving and decision making capability are two of the most important skills that students will take away from the school environment. In that regard students will need to learn how to analyze a problem, state it in their own terms, gather resources to solve the problem, solve it, and convince others that they have solved it in a satisfactory manner. In the world outside of school there is no answer book, only authority, which would have you believe they have all the answers.
The goal of schools of the future should be to help students learn how to be healthy and happy individuals, who are capable of making informed decisions about how to care for themselves and others.
Naomi Jeffery Petersen says
I am visiting a “School of the Future” in Madrid, Spain next week. I am trying to find out more, and I wonder if it is related to what you describe. Since the September thread above, have you found anything else about it?
I am primarily interested in the role of the teacher and whether the curriculum addresses more than the essential subjects, e.g. social justice, ethics, and emotional competence.
I am also interested in how the teachers are certified.