But it occurs to me that there's a sort of general theme relevant to some of the various things I've been thinking about lately -
- teaching, and the reasons I value it - and am frustrated by it;
- critical wariness of my own responses to certain technologies;
- long-term considerations about edu systems' sustainability
That general theme, says my travel-addled brain this morning, is scale.
One (very vocal!) part of my internal dialogue is outraged at the claim that mere numbers should have any important, determining role in the nature and structure of how education goes. Education is essentially humanistic - its very essence, its raison d'tre, is to cultivate and empower every individual qua individual to be creative, critical, engaged; to value principles of inquiry, and to live a life which actively employs these mental habits and commitments in a public space with others, fellow-citizens (locally and nationally) and fellow humans (globally). As the process where this happens, education absolutely must take as paramount the individual relations between teacher and student, the individual histories, strengths, character, goals, and habits of each student. When does education go bad? When we see students and teachers treated as interchangeable parts, judged by standardized exams or crammed into huge classrooms with no opportunity for personal contact. We need to be vigilant that numbers not creep into our decision-making about the heart and soul of education, because bean-counting and quantification may make life easy for bureaucrats and administrators somewhere, but they do nothing but insidiously subvert true learning.
So says Gerol-1.
So now let's think about something else.
- 317 million people in the U.S.
- 50 million students in public K-12, plus 22 million students in U.S. colleges/universities.
- trends in population growth, and in enrollment in our edu systems.
And here's where Gerol-2 says: Are you kidding me? How can you seriously claim, with some kind of Panglossian certainty, that the system as a whole will work well, simply if each individual classroom cultivates individual connections between a teacher and students? Fallacy of composition, anyone?
OK, so Gerol-2 is clearly a fan of speaking for rhetorical effect. But he may have some point. Or at least I haven't been able to shut him up yet. I find myself worrying: is the rhetoric of pro-individualistic education, and anti-"factory" education, actually sustainable as we try to educate massive numbers of people?
Do we actually have a commitment to a system of education? If so, how do we think and plan and create distribution and feedback mechanisms for that system without scalable practices?
Or maybe we should bite the bullet, if we want to be honest and consistent, and admit that each of us is really only interested in is making sure that my individual school, or my individual classroom, meets the needs of my students. In that case, Gerol-1 is all set: he can just build those personal connections with his few students each semester, and grumble about rubrics and standardized tests and outcomes and state-imposed parameters as a perpetually-imposed bureaucratic drag on what education should be, in a perfect world.
Hey, I warned you that I was jet-lagged. But if you care to jump in and let me know where I'm going wrong, I think it could be an interesting conversation.