Tag Archives: Khan Academy

Tenure Bender

Caught Michelle Rhee on Real Time with Bill Maher the other night. She’s the reform educator who closed low-performing schools in the Washington, D.C. school district.

One of the comments she made was that, when she visited a school early one morning, she found classrooms with five students, seven students, three students in them. Wondering where all of the students were, she chanced upon one classroom with thirty students in it. Leaving the school a short time later, she found herself walking behind a couple of the students who had been in that classroom.

Tapping them on the shoulder, she asked what was going on. The students told her that, while their first period teacher was worth the effort of showing up, their next teacher was not worth the effort of staying. Rhee said that, while people noticing these kids hanging around instead of attending class might think they are not motivated, she took away something entirely different from this encounter.

Rhee said that what she realized was that, these students were motivated enough to get themselves up, dressed, and to school in time for the first class of the day. Once they were there, though, they weren’t motivated enough to stick around. In other words, they were being savvy shoppers of their time.

Rhee’s comment on the whole situation was that teachers make a difference. I have something to add to that. Since even students in the worst schools can figure out whether they are learning anything or not, let’s chuck the whole tenure thing, the whole standardized testing thing, and let the students decide whether a teacher is worth his or her salt, or salary.

Set up each teacher with a classroom of thirty students. At the end of six weeks, if the teacher can’t manage to retain at least twenty students in class, that teacher is fired immediately. All of the other teachers keep their jobs until the next semester/quarter, when the process is repeated. And repeated, and repeated, each year.

Instead of tenure, where teachers keep their jobs until they are forced out, make them provide something worthy in order to keep their jobs. Impossible! you say? Anecdotal, you say? The kids will pick the teachers who make life easy for them? Not so. I will repeat my main point: children are programmed from birth to learn. Given their druthers, they will learn.  They must learn. Learning to be productive in the society in which people find themselves is the only way for the species to survive. It’s in our genes. Students will gravitate to the teachers who teach—it’s human nature. That desire must be stomped out of them.

Look at the Khan Academy, which is a corollary to the main point. We lost teaching when we went from requiring teachers to know their subject to requiring teachers to know how to teach. Sure, aspiring teachers need a few pointers on how to engage a class, how to deal with unruly children, and how to create an effective lesson plan. But those pedagogical aspects have overrun the absolute need to be fully conversant with the subject you are trying to get across to the students. Know your stuff, and the teaching will come. Know everything about teaching, and you still can’t teach celestial navigation if you don’t know it.

And Michelle Rhee? She didn’t get tenure, she got fired.


Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Politics

Beating That Dead Horse Yet Again

Image Courtesy of naypong/freedigitalphotos.net

So what is the first step in reducing the size and scope of the overweening government we’ve set up for ourselves? Stand up that poor old roan against the wall, and let me get my whip. Education, of course. It all comes back to a knowledgeable citizenship, who vote based on reasoned decisions about the logical outcome of any particular course of action. Citizens who do not hesitate to buck human nature and halt unnecessary expenditures on failed experiments, regardless of how much time, money and effort have already been invested in them.

Without an educated citizenry, we are doomed. Ask yourself whether the public education system we’ve got now is doing the job. No, wait, I’ll answer that one for you. Ever hear of the old story about the fox guarding the chicken house? Right now, we have believers in big government teaching the people who will be working for the government, while teaching our children. Indoctrination is inevitable.

And what’s worse is that those who most need an education are the ones who are not receiving it. Ever wonder why those students most likely to go to and succeed at college are the products of college-educated parents? Most likely to come from two-parent family? It is because having college-educated parents who are still married to each other confers benefits that our current educational system is not able to duplicate.

The fact that those who least need the public education system in order to succeed are the ones who are succeeding ought to be telling us that our method of schooling has failed—but somehow, the mantra is “More money”, as though we are thisclose to doing the job that we have set out to do. Hate to be the one to break the bad news, but we are nowhere near.

One reason that the gap between the highest earners and the lowest keeps growing is not that the wealth has been unequally redistributed: it is because those at the bottom are not receiving an education anything like those at the top are getting. And it isn’t because we aren’t spending enough. It is because we, as a culture, have decided that inculcating tolerance and socializing our children according to the best doctrines of political correctness are to be the goals of our education system. Teaching the 3 R’s (or much of anything else) is way down on the list.

We are raising a generation of children who are trained that schools are the providers of three meals a day, but who can’t read, can’t write, can’t think for themselves. They have been taught, that’s for sure. They’ve been taught that government is the provider. They have been taught that others have more than they do, and that’s not fair. They have been taught to envy others’ success, but not how to emulate that success.

It’s only those who were lucky enough to be born into a family which already has the capacity for teaching the principles of hard work, how to succeed, and how to become a lifelong learner (all of those concepts that the education system is supposed to be teaching) who have the chance to learn any of those ideals. The rest of the students are merely being trained as foot soldiers for the next politician.

How do we escape from this masquerade? Ah, I actually have some good news. While we have all been busy with our little lives, there has been a quiet revolution going on in the cloud. Ever hear of Creative Commons? Ever hear of MOOCs? Or the Khan Academy? Or Coursera?

If you want a complete college education, you can now cobble together what you need, online, for free. Not every subject, and not every course, is available, but it is astounding what knowledge people are offering, without strings. So, if you feel that your education lacked some facet, and you’d like to remedy that, sign up for a course, and away you go.

Classes are readily available to all. Now all we need to do is entice the less-educated to avail themselves. That’s where ordinary citizens can step in to take back the country from the government. Spread the word. Talk the talk. Let everyone you know, know about the opportunities for bettering themselves through knowledge, without waiting for the government to set up yet another handout.

Take the power back from those self-serving politicians who claim to have the people’s best interests at heart, but who end up garnering more power to themselves. Pass the word, or set up your own course. From Macroeconomics to welding, we could all use a little more learning.

We don’t have to fight against the powers that are running our education system if we just make it irrelevant. When knowledge can be got for free, anywhere, anytime, by anyone, schools become just a holding tank, which will fall apart on their own, as the best teachers move on to something more profitable and challenging. Make the large boxes that are currently housing our children for several hours a day irrelevant, and the whole system will topple.

Will exposing all of our children to a proper education, where they learn to think and do for themselves be easy? No. Will it be quick? Doubt it. Will it be worth it? Don’t think I need to answer that question.

Where and how to start? I’ve got some ideas: get laptops or notebooks into the hands of the children who need them; encourage parents to help their children enroll in classes; encourage young people who have finished high school or college to continue educating themselves; enroll in a few classes yourself. The beauty of individuals working toward a common cause is that there are as many ideas as there are people.

Educate the masses, and you automatically strip the career politicians of much of their power. No muss, no fuss, and no class warfare. 


Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Politics, Self-help