Monday, November 3, 2014

The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Since I love the topic of education, I picked up The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds. His book intends to show “How the Information Age will Save American Education from Itself.” If only that were true!

He begins by remarking that our current educational system is firmly rooted in the past - over a hundred years ago to be exact. In the 19th century, it was considered very modern to emulate the Industrial Revolution in education. Children and education were treated as a factory. The goal was to produce efficient, obedient factory workers. Therefore the school worked like a machine - on a rigorous schedule, orderly rows of desks, same subjects and assignments for each student in each class, students are advanced at a pre-determined time according to age, not ability. In short, children were treated as interchangeable cogs in a machine. 

It’s not clear if this model ever worked well, but it is clear that it is an anachronism in the 21st century.

Higher education has also experienced a change from its original intent of polishing young gentlemen for careers in the ministry or law to a place dedicated to training farmers and mechanics after the Civil War to a place for everyone after WWII. Today we have the mess of too many students being pushed into a path that is becoming more and more unaffordable. 

He believes, like many others, that something that cannot continue, won’t. He sees the movement to homeschooling, charter schools, online schools and other alternatives as a sign that the dam is beginning to crack. People are not happy with a one-size-fits-all education when unlimited potential for customization exists. 

Most of the book is spent cataloguing the problem and detailing ways we might see education go in the future. He believes we will evolve and adapt and that the old way of doing things will necessarily fall off. I’m not so sure. Once the government gets involved, ossified programs seem to still continue long after efficacy has proven non-existent. 

But, we can dream.

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