Monday, October 27, 2014

The NY Times and Nick Kristof want mass education. I want individualized education.

Sometimes when I read the New York Times on education, I find myself wondering if they just sit around and think how they can write dumb stuff. 
Sunday. Kristof wrote a column that included this:

Until the 1970s, we were pre-eminent in mass education, and Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University argue powerfully that this was the secret to America’s economic rise. Then we blew it, and the latest O.E.C.D. report underscores how the rest of the world is eclipsing us.
In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.

We were pre-eminent in mass education and now we are not. Here is why we were pre-eminent in mass education. Our system was designed to train the masses to be factory workers. In 1905, Elwood Cubberly—the future Dean of Education at Stanford—wrote that schools should be factories:

“in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products…manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry.”

William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:

“The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places…. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.”

And now, we don’t have any factories. Should we still strive to lead the world in mass education?
Kristof also wrote this:
The United States is devoting billions of dollars to compete with Russia militarily, but maybe we should try to compete educationally. Russia now has the largest percentage of adults with a university education of any industrialized country — a position once held by the United States, although we’re plunging in that roster.
We have been pushing everyone to go to college in this country for many years. The result is that college has become about football, partying, and suffering through lectures to accumulate credits for the degree. It also leaves students with large amounts of debt. It is mass education all right. 1000 people crammed into a lecture hall is mass education, except it isn’t education at all really.
What the US should strive to do is lead the world in   -- individualized education. I am sure Russia is good at treating everyone as a cog in the wheel of the great machine. Maybe that is even good for their economy. I don’t know. But mass education is a terrible thing to be hoping for. We have no more factories and what students learn in college usually does not render them particularly employable. 
On ether hand we have the ability to do individualized education now. We can match mentors to students online. We can offer courses chosen by students as opposed to one’s required by faculty. We cab help students learn what they want to learn when they want to learn it. We can help employers find employes by allowing them to offer education that leads to employment. The one size fits all concept of education that has dominated the US for the last 125 years needs to go.

To create individualized education, we need to start spending money on it. E can and should build all kinds of learn by doing experiences for children so they can try them out and see what they might like to do. We must stop shoving the old curriculum down everyone’s throats and stop assuming that education for the masses is actually a good thing. 
More from Kristof:
In effect, the United States has become 19th-century Britain: We provide superb education for elites, but we falter at mass education.
What the elites that Kristof refers to in his article have, is the opportunity to get some individualized education. That opportunity should be available to all, but it won’t be as long as we spend money on mass testing instead of new curricula and new ways of teaching.
The Times just seems to love the word massive. They have been touting MOOCs which are just lectures without a professor around to talk with. Apparently the Times now wants to make sure that the masses are sufficiently educated. The usual reason for mass education throughout history has been to prevent revolution. The Communists and Nazis were very good at mass education.
Individualized education Nick. Its coming. Ask any homeschooler.


  1. Hi Roger,

    I think your vision is far ahead of the MOOCs, but they could be a stepping stone towards immersive programmes like the MBA you designed at LaSalle

    I think the UK can be the next country to spread your ideas to. What do you think?

    Pavel Bogdashov

  2. I have tried in the UK from time to time; always willing to try again