TITLE: From Mass Producing Rule Followers to Educating Creators AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 29, 2012 4:40 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

The bottom is not a good place to be, even if you're capable of getting there.

Seth Godin's latest manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams, calls for a change to the way we educate our children. I've written some about how changes in technology and culture will likely disrupt universities, but Godin bases his manifesto on a simpler premise: we have to change what we achieve through education because what we need has changed. Historically, he claims, our K-12 system has excelled at one task: "churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do". As negatively as that is phrased, it may well have been a reasonable goal for a new universal system of compulsory education in the first half of the 1900s. But times have changed, technology has changed, our economy has changed, and our needs have changed. Besides, universal education is a reality now, not a dream, so perhaps we should set our sights higher. I only began to read Godin's book this afternoon. I'm curious to see how well the ideas in it apply to university education. The role of our universities has changed over time, too, including rapid growth in the number of people continuing their education after high school. The number and variety of public universities grew through the 1960s and 1970s in part to meet the new demand. Yet, at its root, undergraduate education is, for most students, a continuation of the same model they experienced K-12: follow a prescribed program of study, attend classes, do assignments, pass tests, and follow rules. A few students avail themselves of something better as undergrads, but it's really not until grad school that most people have a chance to participate fully in the exploration for and creation of knowledge. And that is the result of self-selection: those most interested in such an education seek it out. Alas, many undergrads seem hardly prepared to begin driving their own educations, let alone interested. That is one of the challenges university professors face. From my experience as a student and a father of students, I know that many HS teachers are working hard to open their students' minds to bigger ideas, too -- when they have the chance, that is, amid the factory-style mass production system that dominates many high schools today. As I sat down to write this, it occurred to me that learning to program is a great avenue toward becoming a creator and an innovator. Sadly, most CS programs seem satisfied to keep doing the same old thing: to churn out people who are good at doing what they are told. I think many university professors, myself included, could do better by keeping this risk in mind. Every day as I enter the classroom, I should ask myself what today's session will do for my students: kill a dream, or empower it? While working out this morning, my iPod served up John Hiatt's song, "Everybody Went Low" (available on YouTube). The juxtaposition of "going low" in the song and Godin's warning about striving for the bottom created an interesting mash-up in my brain. As Hiatt sings, when you are at the bottom, there is:
Nothing there to live up to
There's nothing further down
Turn it off or turn around
Big systems with lots of moving parts are hard to turn around. I hope we can do it before we get too low. -----