Rand Paul, generally considered to be a leading thinker in the Republican party, is now also an education expert.
One example of the innovations he’ll be promoting: Paul said he’s fascinated by Khan Academy. He first became interested in the program while helping his kids with math and discovered Khan Academy online. “I remember a video on the Doppler effect, and saying, ‘My goodness, this is a better explanation,’” Paul recalled. “I took a lot of science and math growing up, and it’s the best explanation I’ve ever seen.” “If you have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus, that person maybe should teach every calculus class in the country,” the senator said. “You’d still have local teachers to reinforce and try to explain and help the kids, but you’d have some of these extraordinary teachers teaching millions of people in the classroom.”
In other words, Paul’s innovation is the lecture. It may be recorded, distributed digitally, possibly with better graphics.
But still a lecture, representing the centuries-old concept of learning as the one-way transmission of information from an expert to the student.
I’ve just started reading Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus but in the first chapter he makes this interesting observation.
Although the internet is already forty years old, and the web half that age, some people are still astonished that individual members of society, previously happy to spend most of their free time consuming, would start voluntarily making and sharing things. This making-and-sharing is certainly a surprise compared to the previous behavior. But pure consumption of media was never a sacred tradition; it was just a set of accumulated accidents, accidents that are being undone as people start hiring new communications tools to jobs older media can’t do.
He could make the same claim about school.
Gathering hundreds of children into buildings, grouping them based on chronological age, seating them in rows, and delivering a one-way stream of information is a relatively recent structure in human history.
Learning for most people, for most of human history, was more an interactive, hands-on, practical process.
And although society for the most part treats the current education format as sacred, many of the same new communications tools Shirky refers to are starting to cause those traditions to unravel.