A Reminder

What's a teacher gotta do?

I don’t normally like to read the comment threads on posts, since I tend to find that the clutter of voices (some wise, some inane) does not always add consistent value or insight to the discussion*. Yesterday, though, I spent over 30 minutes reading through almost every single one of this very impassioned debate on Hack Education’s post on the controversies surrounding Khan Academy. The schools basically break down to a simple for and against, even though the arguments are slightly varied/nuanced.

A basic summary below (note: this a rather dramatized version of what went down, but at times it is also pretty much exactly what was said): 

Yeah! Khan Academy is the best thing that has happened to education in decades! It is revolutionary! A miracle! It’s going to save us all! So cool so cool so cool

No way, Khan Academy is not doing anything new, it is just instructions like what teachers have been doing for decades but now available on Youtube. The whole thing is hyped by people like Bill Gates and their corporatist agendas, who have no business telling educators what to do. It is a passive and limiting technology that doesn’t really allow kids to learn on their own!!

You teachers/educators are just stodgy old farts who can’t get with the times. You should feel grateful that there are people like Khan out there who are doing things that you couldn’t before.

!! Technology will never replace teachers !!

(finally, at this point the debate usually intervened by more rational, sane bystanders)

Hey guys, obviously there is a place for both teachers and computers in the classrooms!!! It’s not an either-or game, we should be finding the balance and right methods of delivery to get the most out of technology, while still ensuring that kids are learning for real. As long as they are learning, it’s all good.

* * *

I was vaguely disturbed after I read through all the comments, mainly because I felt the first crack in my utopian vision of what it means to be in education– the overwhelming sense of politics, inertia, and demagoguery was frankly terrifying and very discouraging.

It got me thinking about my road ahead. I hope I never confuse instances of truth with absolute truth (of which there are few in this world), and I learn to remember that even when one instance of truth is valid in a specific setting, it does not always mean that it will be in a different circumstance. Theories, especially, might be “knowledge shortcuts”–or, aggregated instances of truth– but even then they are still a specific (perhaps more consistently tested?) kind of instance, which means that they are not immutable nor absolute.

Being a great teacher, I believe, requires a lot of raw judgment, effort, and love. There is no easy A\B testing except through arduous iterations and years of experience. We often don’t give enough credit to the underlying human force– that love of knowledge– which keeps everybody striving to design even better learning experiences. That is something that no simple quantitative analysis, theory, or technology can solve alone. It is a love that is not only shared by many teachers out there, but also something that you can feel very clearly pulsating through KA itself. We are all here for the same reasons.

*Incidentally, how great would it be if somebody invented quick summarizers for comment threads? Something to complement Disqus’ functions to be able to quickly illuminate the key arguments/oppositions presented– easily something that could be used by all the online publications.


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