Judging by the thoughtful e-mail I received, the responsibility for transforming teaching methods, academic curriculums, and delivery tools falls to us as a society, not just to the education establishment.
In response to my recent column on the need to apply technology and other novel approaches more aggressively to U.S. education ("Dare To Think Differently About U.S. Education,"), one reader playfully chided me for "wandering off the IT reservation." The message: Stick to issues that relate directly to business technology and leave the education discussion to educators.
Granted, I'm no Booker T. Washington, but I disagree. It's critical that we all make our voices heard on this particular issue--as parents, citizens, employers, business leaders, and technology professionals. Judging by the thoughtful e-mail I received on this subject--from IT pros, educators, home schooling practitioners, and in some cases a combination of all three--most of you concur: The responsibility for upgrading, even transforming, teaching methods, academic curriculums, and delivery tools falls to us as a society, not just to the education establishment. What follows is a sampling of those wide-ranging perspectives.
One computer consultant and middle school math tutor wrote: "I fully agree that the education system needs an overhaul. Just remember that it does start with the parents. When a student is told that his/her mother will be called and their response is, 'Go ahead, she doesn't care,' we know that, unfortunately, it's true and that the student is much more likely to 'end up' rather than 'move up.'"
An EDI specialist puts the onus on students, not so much on parents, teachers, and administrators. "The 'problem' with our 'system of education' is the attitude of the people we are educating. America has been wealthy for long enough that we have forgotten what made us wealthy in the first place, and as our stomach for hard work and the discipline that necessarily accompanies it have eroded, so too must our collective income. If we wish to continue outpacing the incomes of such countries as China and India, we must start by outperforming them."
A former high school English teacher urges teachers to cultivate independent thinking and analysis rather than rote feedback. "The students who were considered the most successful were those who could find clever ways to spit back to the teacher exactly what the teacher's views were. When I taught, I tried to reward students who could come up with their own thoughts and analysis. One of the surprising things I found was that the students who did well in most classes really struggled in mine because they weren't used to having to operate independent of what I thought; and the students who did well in my class were the ones who were struggling in the more traditional classes."
An engineering consultant argues that there won't be enough pressure for the education system to fundamentally change until a healthy dose of competition is introduced. "In 1990, I believed computer technology was right at the tipping point for a revolution in education. At that time, it looked like a national voucher system would be implemented. That would have been the vehicle that would have given innovators the ability to completely revolutionize education. Unfortunately, teachers unions, local public school initiatives, etc., killed the voucher idea."
Several readers commented on my son Jack's penchant for standing in class, and his teacher's flexibility in accommodating him. "The 'sit still in rows' educational behavior standard just doesn't fit many (mostly boys, at the risk of generalizing) kids who have high energy. Most educators and many parents would rather turn to an ADHD diagnosis and drugs than let a kid burn off a little energy with some freedom of movement."
A senior systems analyst and software designer, who's on his feet walking around his office all day ("That's how I think and interact"), thinks Jack's classmates also learned a valuable lesson. "They have learned how Jack's learning style is and adapted to it. If only people in the IT world were that adaptive, we'd see much more innovation."