I have been either a student or a teacher for most of my life. The way I’ve taught all my class is with me standing in front of the class and leading the class though a “curriculum.” And in most cases, I find it mind-numbingly boring for both the teachers and students. (The key reason it is so boring is student is that the student is forced to learn at the teachers pace.)
Fortunately the world has changed. And the changes are for the better.
Here are a few videos, from apparent experts in their field, that will help describe some of the things we need to consider. (The fact that I can embed a link to these video is a perfect example of what I am talking about. I will try to explain this more fully throughout this post.)
#1 – Schools have access to “Virtually” infinite amounts of information because we have “Domesticated the Electron.”
We are in a 21st Century Information world. In our 21st Century world, access to “virtually” unlimited amounts of information has dramatically altered how we connect with others and as a result it may even have dramatically altered the way we think.
From the beginning of time to the 1800’s electrons were free! They existed and did their thing with little interference from us. Around the time of the bronze age (3300 BCE) we started to domesticate atoms. Electrons just came along for the ride. They were what economists might call “free riders.” We had no idea that they were important and needed to be domesticated.
But that changed in the 1700’s. It was then that smart people like Franklin, Faraday, Watt, & Volta started to understand how powerful the electron is. They are the ones that figured out ways to store, move and use electrons to do work.
Here is a brief list of some of those people:
Some of the early notable domesticators of electrons were Luigi Galvani, Alessandro Volta, Hans Christian Ørsted and André-Marie Ampère, Michael Faraday, Georg Ohm, James Clerk Maxwell, Alexander Graham Bell, Ottó Bláthy, Thomas Edison, Galileo Ferraris, Oliver Heaviside, Ányos Jedlik, Lord Kelvin, Sir Charles Parsons, Ernst Werner von Siemens, Joseph Swan, Guglielmo Marconi, Tesla and George Westinghouse.
Some of their names should be very familiar; Volt, Ampere, Watt, & Ohm are all very common terms used to describe the storage and movement of electrons.
When you consider that the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron age lasted from the beginning of our time to around the 1700’s (what’s that? a few hundred thousand years) and that the electron age has only been around for a couple of hundred years, it’s amazing what progress has been unleashed as a result.
After the initial successes in the demonstration of the electron in the 1800’s, the 1900’s brought us the key improvements that bring us to today. Thomas Edison, Ambrose Fleming and Lee De Forest‘s work on vacuum tubes was an important step forward.
In the 1940’s and 50’s new names emerged in the ongoing improvements in domesticating electrons, John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley developed the transistor. Then, Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce at Fairchild Camera came up with the integrated circuit.
The final piece to the puzzle of fully domesticate the electron was to come up with a way to use electrons to store information. Up until the use of the electrons we used physical devices, like ropes, paper, beads, and punch cards
Then in the 50’s and 60’s we discovered that we can make electrons “remember” stuff.
And domestication of the electron was complete.
The term I use to describe this total domestication is the “Cloud.” We can now store information anywhere and everywhere and move it around at the speed of light with and without wires.
Learning can now take place without the limits of proximity. In the old days, before the domestication of the electron, one had to be physically connected to the books and teachers. Today, Schools are no longer limited to a physical presence.
Education has always been about focusing on what is important and filtering out what is not. Because of the domestication of the electron we have “web filters.” These web filters bring information forward rapidly and make all data accessible.
Of course all this data comes at a cost. The Internet does not guarantee diversity; “echo chambers” reinforce existing beliefs. Long-form, structured lectures are giving way to messy networks of knowledge acquisition. This new way of thinking is called “networked learning.” This differs from “pyramid learning.” This new type of learning means it is harder to force conformity to existing paradigms. Thus new ideas abound and are tested in the marketplace of ideas.
#2 – Religious and Political Structures are no longer monolithic
Throughout most of human existence we lived in relatively small homogenous communities. We were a farming community. We were a fishing community. We were a hunter/gather community. These communities existed within a dominant social system that lasted for hundreds of generations. (I wonder if it could have even been thousands of generations in the very beginning.)
Conformity to the particular system was believed to be critical to success of the community. Schools were established to promote that conformity. Schools existed to teach the status quo.
When these communities were small, this conformity was relatively easy. But, as population grew and functions within the community became more diverse so did the difficulties of keeping a single social system functional. Farmers need different social systems than merchants [3. Clearly some systems may be the same between farmers and merchants. But not all. For example, farmers deal in seasonal transactions, while merchants tend to deal in single event transactions.]
The benefits of decentralized systems quickly become clear. Over the last few years decentralized systems continually show themselves to be more productive and agile than rigid, static, top-down ones.[3. This leads to a great discussion of F. A Hayek and Central Planing, which is in the Political Science Modules.]
But the transition to decentralized systems is not without significant resistance. The powers that be, particularly in the religious and political institutions that direct the education industry are wedded to a educational model based on what today is reflective in the “Common Core.”
And yet the dominant model of public education is still fundamentally rooted in the industrial revolution that spawned it, when workplaces valued punctuality, regularity, attention, and silence above all else. (In 1899, William T. Harris, the US commissioner of education, celebrated the fact that US schools had developed the “appearance of a machine,” one that teaches the student “to behave in an orderly manner, to stay in his own place, and not get in the way of others.”)
#3 – Basic needs are not the focus anymore
Education has moved way beyond the “3 R’s.” Today education is specialized and highly focused.
In the old days there was a need for basic literacy in math, science, and language. And also in the past, those three basic curriculum were enough to get you a good job and keep you pretty well off.
Today, however, because of the mass customization brought to us by the Industrial Revolution, we have needs for very specific knowledge. Education systems in the past could easily prepare everyone of just few productive roles in the community. Today, however, jobs in our community are very specialized and require unique curriculum to prepare individuals in the community to perform those jobs.
#4 – The traditional “Pyramid of Knowledge” has become a “network of knowledge.”
Knowledge networks facilitate the development of ideas by groups rather than by individual exploration. Networked expertise evolves from large, diverse, interactive groups of people.
Broadband networks [5. This is an applied example of #1 above: The “Domestication of the Electron.”] allow for realtime networking of video as well as text. And these broadband networks can share dynamic knowledge better than traditional pyramid knowledge structures.
My thinking here is that new knowledge can, and should, be able to affect any other knowledge in the community.
#5 – Diversity is the Rule, not the exception
In all days leading up to now, diversity was discouraged and avoided. Perhaps it was the internal combustion engine that gave people the mobility they craved, perhaps it was the growing middle class that allowed a wider range of people to more fully participate in the community. Or perhaps it was the printing press that helped more people become aware of and integrated into a new world of differences.
Today diversity is the rule; not the exception.