Your Regular Reminder That Reformers Didn’t Suffer Through Education Reform Themselves

A former classmate of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, reminds him of what their educations were like (boldface mine):

Yesterday, I was alarmed when a friend of mine sent me a post from your own Facebook page endorsing “personalized” learning, as well as announcing your recent partnership with Summit Public Schools to promote this model.

I am quite certain that in doing so, you have genuinely good intentions. I also suspect that you have been heavily courted by reform-oriented groups and foundations, and that they have, through their carefully curated examples of “personalized learning,” presented nothing less than a miracle to you in hopes of gaining your support and endorsements

Let me assure you that “personalized learning,” as it is being pushed by the Gates Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Digital Learning Now Council, as well as countless educational technology companies, start-ups, and venture capitalists who have invested millions into personalized learning experiments (they call them “innovations”), is a far, far cry from the type of education we got at Exeter.

At Exeter, we sat around shiny hardwood tables debating meaning buried within novels that were carefully selected by our teachers; we disagreed about interpretations of historical events, and were sometimes drowned out by the passion of Harkness Warriors (I was never one of those, were you?). Our teachers had ways of guiding us toward particular insights, but they never held us hostage to specific outcomes, or “competencies” as they are called now, before allowing us to move on… If an outside observer had come into one of our classrooms, as happens now in many public schools, to ask us “What is your learning target today, and how will you know if you have met it?” I’m quite sure not many of us would have been able to say. Our teachers probably would have been appalled at such a question.

These are the constraints under which “personalized” learning models operate. Standards, competencies, learning targets and progressions, all of which must be tracked and monitored and controlled in order to work, are the ingredients of “personalized learning.” Students may be in control of their “learning trajectory,” in such a model, but not of their own minds, as we were at Exeter.

In my humble opinion, this is a bastardization of true education.

No successful person I know experienced the Boot Up the Ass philosophy. To the extent that they did, they excelled in spite of it. None of the people pushing these ‘reforms’ subject their own children to them–which tells you everything you need to know.

Real education reform would start with providing the same kind of education for rich and poor alike, certainly in terms of resources. To the extent students need to be ‘caught up’, those students should receive more resources.

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3 Responses to Your Regular Reminder That Reformers Didn’t Suffer Through Education Reform Themselves

  1. Dbp says:

    It’s also worth pointing out that no one ever approaches learning that way organically. None of the people pushing this style pick up a non-fiction book or read a newspaper with “learning targets” in mind, because you’d go utterly insane and none of that stuff adds any value. Marl Zuckerburg doesn’t plot out hopes and desires before attending meetings.
    If this stuff really optimized the learning process, the people who promote it would incorporate it everywhere they can. Either that or they don’t think it is worth the effort.

  2. Bmcphail says:

    Everybody goes to school so everyone thinks they know how to run a school.

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