Putting in or taking out:
Education means bringing someone out.  Training means putting skills in. 

I suppose one always regards one’s childhood as sort of a mythical event and events prior to ones experience as only tentatively true.  But this comes to me from a good source.  In the town where I grew up we had a high school principle named Principle Bucholz.  He reasoned that it was a university town and that university rules forbade both a husband and wife from teaching there at the same time.  Many of the professors had married educated wives so there were a remarkable number of educated women in the town; it was an opportunity.  Bucholz made it a policy only to hire high school teachers with a master’s degree or better in the subject they would be teaching. 

The idea was not accepted with the enthusiasm it deserved until the principle found it necessary to reprimand the daughter of the sheriff, who by myth if not fact was in the pocket of the county bootleggers.  The state law was that there was to be no liquor sold in counties with state universities.  My how things change.  So the sheriff decided that his dignity had been impugned and challenged the slightly built principle to a punch up.  Bucholz had been a boxing champion in college so the contest went against expectation.  From that day the policies of the principle were met with only the greatest respect.

Such was the myth.  I do not know.  I do know that the teachers I had in high school were excellent.  So were the teachers in elementary school and junior high, but without the legendary drama. 

Nothing lasts.  People in the College of Education decided that teachers ought to be trained by themselves, not the departments that dealt with the subjects the teachers would be teaching.  There was some resistance, but all in vain.  It was a nationwide movement.  The professional educators still control public education.  And of course it was a disaster.  The teachers weren’t even trying to teach.  The social indoctrination of the students trumped learning and leaning suffered. 

There was another issue at the same time whereby social goals were put ahead of educational goals in the schools. 

The greatest public education system that had ever been was trashed.  The performance of American students was at a third world level.  It finally got so embarrassing that people decided maybe the children ought to learn something after all.  So standards were set up and students were expected to do adequately on objective tests – you know, multiple choice and the like.  There were incentives for the schools to have their students do well so of course that resulted in “teaching to the test.”  Understanding was not important; checking the right answer was.  There was even at least one scandal in which it was found that teachers had been cheating for their students, changing incorrect answers to correct ones.

There was a phrase one heard in those days: “Regurgitating the facts.”  It was considered a poor substitute for understanding the facts.

Nothing wrong with facts, really.  I do remember one elementary school teacher who said on the first day.  “You are going to learn a lot of things in this room this year.  You are going to learn what is in the books.  But what is in the books is the least important part of what you will learn.”  Then we worked on the books really hard.  It was fun.  In fact we all enjoyed the classes with the strictest teachers and the hardest studying. 

I think one extreme was exemplified by my father.  He taught Shakespeare.  When he assigned a paper he would say, “I want you to go through the play and find something in it, some pattern or device, that has never been noticed before.  Explain your original idea and provide suitable references from the play.”  Or words to that effect.  The test of whether an idea was original was whether my father had ever heard of it before.  Pretty much everyone managed, year after year.  It was not a matter of regurgitating the facts but one had to be in control of the facts in order to do it. 

The old ideal that a teacher should be well founded in the subject never really caught on.  From what I can tell it is just a memorization drill.

And now (Mitchell Waldrop Campus 2.0 NATURE vol. 495 no. 7440 March 14, 2013 page 160) … did I say nothing lasts?

There is something called MOOC for massive online open courses.  It reminds me of something a foreign medical graduate told me.  In his country you did not apply to medical school.  You just signed up, came to lectures, took the tests, and if you passed them you got a degree.  It seemed very democratic to me. 

Well the idea is to offer a series of lectures on line for free and then offer a test much like an old fashioned correspondence course.  But there are refinements.

One refinement is called “flipping.”  Instead of hearing the lecture and going home to do homework and think about it, the student looks at the lecture first and (assuming there is a defined class) later joins an online chat including the professor and the material is reviewed and discussed and questions are asked.  Well we were all supposed to read the lesson material before class, so that’s not so totally different.  Another refinement is that the students have chat groups in which they bat the material around amongst each other.  Yet another is that when questions come up (and we are speaking now of perhaps 160,000 students in a course) the students get to vote on which questions are more important so those are the ones that get addressed.  And the students grade each others tests and read and grade each other’s essays.

Well it’s going to be different.  The economics of the enterprise is pretty good; with that many students’ fees can be kept very low.  The worst problem is that the completion rate runs at about 15%.  That’s not so good, but it does mean than a whole lot of people were able to give it a try for little invested other than their time and determination. 

It seems exciting to me.  I wonder how it will all turn out.

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