Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dropout Talks to Educators: What would we say in response?

I got an interesting video off my RSS feed this morning. It's talking about university, but really about educational institutions in general. In Collegiate Renewal, we often discuss student voice, and the value of the voice of the disengaged. Today, I heard from one of them and I thought I would share it with you:

After I watched this video I asked myself a couple things about this student:
  1. What is his identity as a learner?
  2. What extended conversation is his rant a part of? (Reading the other videos and comments after his rant on YouTube gave me a partial answer)
  3. Why did he annoy me so much, even when I know he has some good points?

I found myself watching some of his other rants and wanting to declare him just a guy who always rants. Discrediting this rant as one in a series helped me to feel better about the fact that he calls all of us teachers largely irrelevant. I even think that there is no value in just teaching and assessing facts, and have made his main point in previous posts on AFL, and engagement. Even when I agree with him, he irritates me.

Part of it is I want people to talk about how to solve the problems, not just try to prove they exist . . . and yes, I know this position is ironic given my lifetime coaching debaters. I also want to celebrate the work we have been doing to change the way education works and focus on opportunity thinking. But I think that isn't all of. I need to do some more thinking about this one and I could use some help.

Do you have any answers to any of my three questions? What else should I be asking?

related note - report on high school dropouts and reasons (March 2010)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dan is just plain wrong. I'm only going to point out a few ways from the first 2 minutes of his video. Perhaps I can be bothered to totally refute him another day ;)

    "The value of information is going down... fast approaching zero."

    True(ish) AND False.
    The Internet is, causing facts to become more free or at least to become free faster. Have any of us ever paid to know who won the hockey game last night? Not if you listen to the radio broadcast (vs watching on pay-per-view). Have you ever paid to know the price of oil or the outcome of the French election or the death-toll of a recent disaster or the atomic mass of Au? No, we just find out faster.

    Does this make facts less valuable?
    Not really. Dan's right that memorization of facts is antiquated. But the real change is that it makes speed and synthesis more valuable. At least in a business sense, you either need to be able to act faster or smarter or both with the facts that are likely available to everyone.

    What about libraries? They have been around for a few years, I think. A couple of points to ponder:
    1. Can I tell the difference between "free" truth and "free" lies?
    2. Can a high-school student?
    3. Can a ten-year-old?
    4. How about a tenured professor teaching in his chosen discipline?

    The value of "Education" is definitely going up. Never has a lack of education been more limiting than it is today. I'm not saying your diploma is valuable in and of itself (though, from a job standpoint, it clearly is), but the ability to master a subject and act effectively, working with others, to provide a desirable outcome surely is. Will the internet teach Dan this?

    Oh, and Dan would clearly like to be (NSFW) Philip DeFranco. Which is probably why you hate him :)

  3. I think you are right that the value of the teacher in helping with, for example, telling truth from lies, is very high. However, I think if we just stand up there and tell truths, a student could easily get that from a good book, or a good website. Having thought about this overnight, I think one part of Dan's thinking is bang on. Schools need to move from telling information to helping students learn to learn (including how to tell truth - if there is just one - from lies). I don't think the Internet is a teacher, but I think some teachers haven't learned to be more than the internet. Our value lies in teaching how to learn, unlearn and re-learn... all of Toffler's key skills for the 21st Century. Dan clearly hasn't learned these skills, from school or otherwise, so his instinct for frustration is valid, even if his logic is questionable.

  4. There's some things that really bother me about this rant -- although I didn't clue in to a couple of them until Jeremy and I watched it together and discussed it. The first thing that twigged was his tone. I think that the appropriate description of it is "smarmy and condescending", and I think it's going to be a real problem for his message. One of the things that you taught me as a debater is that if people can't get past your delivery to your meaning, they won't absorb the meaning...and the jumping around from place to place in his room didn't help.

    I also feel that to make meaningful changes to a system, you need to be able to understand it. I believe that as students we may see symptoms of the underlying problems, but not necessarily the problems themselves. This isn't to say that students can't see the problems, but that it takes a lot more work than he's put into it.

    Jeremy also hit onto a key point -- Dan is trying to say that the educational system is very closed minded, but it seems that he's not willing to consider alternate points of view. It feels like he hasn't approached the issue critically: it's easy to say that something is broken and we need to throw it out, but it's much harder to present concrete ideas how to fix it.

  5. I think you are right about students seeing the symptoms and not the problem, Donna. Jeremy's comments are echoed by an email I got from a teacher. (Cody tried to post but had the log-in issue that is so frustrating in Blogger). He said:
    "I thought the video was thought-provoking, and the student obviously had an unfortunate experience at university. My opinion is that the student is comparing facts/information (which can be memorized) to knowledge (which includes thought, ideas, learning, and innovation). This is a key distinction that he fails to make. I still believe true knowledge is not waiting around the next mouse-click. We need more than a computer to connect to the learning.

    Also, he makes some good points, but offers no solutions. Did someone say O'Connor?"