Saturday, June 04, 2011

Educational Myths & Assorted Rambling Solutions

One of my pet peeves is the continued propagation of myths about education and the enterprise that provides educational opportunities that misguide us toward solutions that, while well meaning, are based on false assumptions. The danger here is that truth is a slave to perception; not vice versa.

Even more precarious is designing solutions for problems defined by these perceptions. Most of all, when people from outside the industry start suggesting they have the answer that will solve all educational problems & ills with panacea-laced language, and they base those solutions on false assumptions, they risk harming the entire enterprise, in no short order.  When all is said and done, we should be wary of those who claim to be experts and suggest unequivocally that their solutions is the right pill to swallow, after all, it's not the known unknowns, but the unknown unknowns that come back to bite.

Thus, the point of this post is to aggregate the myths as they occur, to cast aside the illusion that any one person can remedy the situation that it took a whole society to create. In the end, the fix for modern public education from pre-K to graduate school will require full society engagement, not the lone superman who will come to solve the ills only to succumb to whatever Kryptonite sours the solution.
  • Myth 1 - You need a college diploma to be successful. Sure, the research says in general, using the law of averages (and a few correlation coefficients), that if you only hold a high school diploma your earning potential is substantially lower than those holding college diplomas of many stripes, but there are numerous examples of extremely successful individuals who are absent degrees, and doing quite well (even if you cast aside Zuckerberg, Gates, and Jobs ).  What we really need is a much more inclusive, embracing & holistic definition of "success" that moves beyond the simple measures of fame and fortune/net worth as iconic and indicative of what matters in our society as proof of a successful life lived.  In fact, we may even need to take it a step further - that the only real, legitimate measure of success would involve and equation that is absent the fame and fortune variables.
  • Myth 2 - All schools today [can] produce functional citizens educated to a minimum base line.  As the tag line for this blog indicated, there is a serious difference between an equal opportunity for an education and an equal opportunity for an equal education.  The key words to this phrase are "opportunity" & "equal."  Expecting an education is very different than earning an education, and an education doesn't necessarily require a school-based experience, although it's customary to assume the existing industrial model is the right treatment for all people.  The opportunities for quality educational experiences vary greatly, with typically disadvantaged populations egregiously and continuously receiving the extremely short end of the resource stick.  While all students may have an opportunity to earn an education, it may not be an equal opportunity; which the race to the top clearly highlights by the criteria by which they allocate resources.

    The critical assumption here is that if you introduce a child to school, then that simple exposure will result at the far end with an educated, fully functional adult as if there was nothing going on between input to output. This is simply not the case. The throughputs matter, and the student is a vital ingredient to success in the production of a quality education.  In other words, what is done pedagogically to a students is subservient to what that student does her or himself.  For this reason, I always advise new professionals in the field to avoid positions that ascribe any kind of responsibility for ensuring student learning in the job description because it leaves out a critical component of the learning paradigm, the student.  Invariably, the bottom line responsibility for quality education rests with the student rather than the teacher, and many times over happens despite the teaching.  In fact, many recall cases where our schools and their functionaries do harm to the students, and the students learn despite (in spite of) these disadvantages.

    Beyond reinventing the means by which we finance traditional education operations such that they are sustainable, supporting high quality operations across the board (to ensure an equal opportunity for an equal education), and not subject to the whims of political favor and the wild swings in our economy, what we need is an expanded definition of what constitutes "school," what qualifies as high quality pedagogy, and full involvement in the whole of society in the occupation of "teaching."
  • Myth 3 - A diploma earned will convert to a job obtained.  The common assumption is that there are some diplomas that provide professional educations that should lead to certain occupations - say, the JD is to lawyers as the MD is to physicians.  However, all diplomas yield no promise of related employment (e.g. the number of MBAs who are not working in business administration, or MFAs working in coffee houses).  Over the course of the last few decades, many have been led down the primrose path with the assumption that any brand of education will lead to certain and diploma related employment.  Prospective students should be wary of false promises of jobs at the far end of degree receipt.  In fact, prospective students should be skeptical, and ask specifically about what the curriculum will or should provide, not what might come after the program is concluded.  What we need is a redirection for what qualifies and serves as a measure of successful completion of a degree program from what happens after the "education" is "obtained" (as in job landed) toward what happens to the student during the program (the transformation of the individual as measured at the beginning by setting a baseline, and measured against their progress at the far end).  Because all students learn differently, any new (or old) measure of successful learning must be customized and tailored to a person, and should be balanced around what the "educators" expect to occur during whatever curriculum (hopefully balanced around clearly defined learning outcomes) they believe to be valuable at whatever school they build.
  • Myth 4 - All student success can be measured by standardized tests.  I'm not the first to say this, but "there is nothing more inherently unequal than the equal treatment of unequals."  Most of us are unable to remember the days before there was widespread standardized testing across all schools.  The results of the standardized testing experiment should be readily apparent at this time.   Balance that with the current suggestion that schools were better in the days of yore versus today, and we should ask are you satisfied with the result?  If you agree that all students learn differently, why should we subject them to the same test at the same age?  Perhaps more inciting, the very suggestion that tests should be standardized carries with it a subliminal message that we don't trust our highly educated teachers to know and understand their pupils such that they can customize tests based on their intimate knowledge of the children they are teaching.  In the days ahead, where conversations about our near possible ability to customize drugs to a person's own DNA, why can't we customize tests to the individual child? The assumption that tests must be standardized as if we had no ability to do otherwise, is wholly false.  What we need is to push out the multi-billion dollar standardized testing industry to allow for non-standardized teaching and testing so that customized education occurs at levels closest to the students that meets the learning styles of all. Granted, this is an expensive approach, but we should all find the mediocrity that our current system produces unacceptable.  If we saved the money we poured into the testing industry and spent it educating our children, we might get a better quality result.

1 comment:

martberg said...

Why do we test at all? I'm partly joking but partly not. Assessment can take all kinds of forms but we like the idea of testing, as though we have science envy and the use of something that sounds science-like when it rolls off our tongue gives us the sense that we've done our due diligence. The irony is that science is moving away from this sort of positivistic approach, to assessing anything with such qualitative properties, at the speed of light.