On Ants and Education: Part 1

Calvin is right; his generation isn’t accustomed to absorbing information in any other way than receiving factoids. However, neither does mine, nor my parents, nor their parents. 


If you lived post Industrial Revolution, you received your education as a series of sequential factoids.  Sir Kenneth Robinson makes a great point, education throughout ones life proceeds as an uncreative mechanized process and it closely resembles the industrial process.

The similarities between the industrialized process of creating a product and the current education system are eerie.  We arrive at school at a certain time, leave at another.  Lunch is during a specified time and you can only play outside when you’re told to do so.  Content is taught in groups; social studies before noon, science after recess.  As you age, you rotate between classes similar to the way a product moves in a manufacturing facility so new pieces can be added on.  

The student is the product, and through their first 18 years of education, new pieces are added as they move through the educational assembly line.  Before they leave secondary schools, students are quality controlled using a variety of different measures (thank you #2 pencils) just as materials are tested for quality before entering the market.

Distance education, my pseudo expertise, was also spawned with industrialization in mind.  Otto Peters is a leading learning theorist who has developed several compelling ideas comparing Distance Education to the industrialization process.  In short, Distance Education courses are pre-planned and packaged for wide dispersal.  They are designed to maximize student enrollment.  Just like manufacturing, they both prioritize volume.
Knowledge workers are a product of assembly line style education and the 20th century is correctly termed The Information Age.  This observation isn’t all bad.  American innovation in the 20th century was fueled by knowledge workers: people who spent their lives designing and developing technology. Those that were successful had a large knowledge base, or a lot of Calvin’s factoids.  

However, the world is changing. Thomas Friedman summarizes the internet revolution and discusses its implications in The World is Flat.  Along with innovation, knowledge workers had amassed information which in the last 14 years has become available to individuals everywhere (truly expansive use of the internet).

Since the internet shares information, a knowledge worker with “information” is no longer valuable since anyone anywhere can have that same information. 

If factoids are widely available and the knowledge worker is no longer the successful individual of the future, why are we still embracing the industrial model of education?  Why are we still trying to create knowledge workers?  

How do we snap out of this?

A change in the way we think coming from unlikely sources is a good start and the subject of the next post.

Thanks for reading.  

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