People are so Uneducated about Education

Want to make yourself crazy (crazier)? Read some comments that are posted online about any news story or blog post about changing (fixing) education. Although I could rant about this for a very long time, let me take up just one particular angle in this post.

That angle has to do with the apparent viewpoint that education needs to be all or nothing. It needs to be one-size-fits-all, unless of course that is what the story/post is advocating and then the comments will tell you the exact opposite. Most of this folderol tends to surface in posts about the intersection of technology and education – or maybe that’s just where I spend the bulk of my reading time and therefore it’s mostly what I see.

Whatever the topic is – online learning, using social media in education, laptop programs, etc, etc, – the naysayers are always on the side of “that sucks out loud – it has no place in education.” They tend to assume that whatever the “new” thing is, that it will completely replace the “old” thing and our whole society will go down the drain because of it. The idea of having multiple methods, multiple opportunities, multiple resources, or multiple anything appears to be a bad thing because that is different than the way it’s always been.

Today’s Example: May 13, 2011. The New York Times posts a piece titled Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media. The gist of the article is that a few (very, very few) educators are trying something in their classrooms that doesn’t jibe with the age-old way of conducting class time. They are using Twitter or similar services to have a backchannel for students to post thoughts while class is going on. Based on some (most) of the comments, you would think that these educators had actually implanted Tweeting chips into the students’ brains. For example:

  1. Comment #1: students are on the losing end of the deal in both spoken development and thought formation.
  2. Comment #2:  Spending a discussion based class staring at a computer screen eliminates the possibility for truly productive learning, and really highlights the decline of the educational system in the United States.
  3. Comment #6: Part of our jobs as educators is to teach effective communication in multiple forms – listening, speaking, and writing. If technology allows a substitution for verbal communication, it is a failure.
  4. Comment #8: No. Just…no. Simply because something is easier doesn’t mean it is preferable. This is especially true in academia. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach these children how to communicate in an adult fashion.
  5. Comment #9: Educators should stop with the gimmicks and superficial, and step back and work on the fundamental principles we have that do not required technology. And yes technology ‘is going away’ if you ban it from he classroom, period.
  6. Comment #15: I’m speechless. How many ways can this be wrong? It needs to be explained to teacher Erin Olson that teachers should be encouraging students to extricate themselves from all the electronic gadgetry and to pay attention.
  7. Comment #25: Currently, many students are unable to articluate (sic) their opinions aloud. Educators should be concentrating on this lack of ability or else we will be witnessing a silent generation with enlarged thumbs.
  8. Comment #27: Do these teachers think that these kids going to be able to Twitter their way through college, or a job interview? I think not.  I hope they seriously rethink this path.
  9. Comment #42: Books, paper, pencils and pens, a strong school administration, and a society that places education over all else: these are the only necessities for producing and maintaining an educated society.

Luckily, there were a few people who chimed in with something other than the knee-jerk negative reaction, including educators Derek Bruff, Murray Turoff, Ira Socol, Nicholas Provenzano. But they were effectively drowned out of the conversation by the naysayers – in fact, their comments appeared to be ignored by the other commenters who followed.

The vast majority of the comments were very clearly on the “NO” side of this question, but here’s what really bugged me about the comments on this piece.  Nowhere in the article did it say that the students used this backchannel technique every day  for class, or that it was the only way that most students could communicate in class, or that it had replaced their opportunity (or requirements) to speak out loud during class. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any reason to jump to that conclusion at all, but they most certainly seemed to do so. All the chatter about “students will never learn how to speak out loud” is the biggest bunch of hooey I’ve ever heard.

So, to cut to the chase, here’s a set of questions and answers for educators:

  • Should you lecture all day, every day? No, but use it when it makes sense and will be effective.
  • Should you have small group discussions every day? No, but use it when it makes sense (NBUIWIMS).
  • Should you make students give an oral presentation every day?  NBUIWIMS
  • Should students have to write something in class every day? NBUIWIMS
  • Should you use a backchannel as part of every class discussion? NBUIWIMS
  • Should you teach only with case studies, or field trips, or active learning, or ?? NBUIWIMS
  • Should every class that students take use exactly the same methods?  No
  • Should every class include research papers? No
  • Should every class include digital story projects? No
  • Should every class and every teacher do everything the same way? Well gee, yes, that sounds great. (NOT!)

But of course, most educators already know this. So the list really isn’t for educators, it’s for all those other people (and commenters) out there who think they know how education should work.