Count the Tropes, Dept.

Counting the tropes in this article is a bit like doing those puzzles where you have to make as many words as you can out of some word.  This article was like such a puzzle but with a word that has so many letters in it that you can come up with thousands before things start getting tough.

As a result, I don’t even know where to start. It’s about a new school started by Elon Musk of Tesla called “Ad Astra” that addresses what in his mind schools ought to be:

[It]seems to be based around Musk’s belief that schools should “teach to the problem, not to the tools.” ‘Let’s say you’re trying to teach people how engines work. A traditional approach would be to give you courses on screwdrivers and wrenches. A much better way would be, here is an engine, now how are we going to take it apart? Well, you need a screwdriver. And then a very important thing happens, the relevance of the tool becomes apparent.’

Ignoring for the moment his rather banal observation, presented as if it is new and innovative is a gross mischaracterization of what traditional education is about, let’s focus on the many more edu-tropes the article contains:

Education today really isn’t that much different from what it was a hundred years ago. It’s still classrooms crammed full of students all learning the same thing at the same pace from overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated teachers who spend thirty years teaching more or less the same thing.

Of course, some of the “under-appreciated” teachers have no problem teaching these same things at the same pace, and holding students accountable for mastering the material in the time alloted.

The world that the next generation will grow up in will be radically different from anything we have seen in the past. A world filled with artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, automation, virtual reality, personalized medicine, self-driving cars, and people on Mars. A world where people might not even have jobs and where society itself may be arranged in fundamentally different ways. How are parents, and society for that matter, supposed to know how to prepare them to succeed in a world that we cannot predict?

The same problem about the future has existed for many years, and students still need to know basic facts and procedures–but that hasn’t stopped the above ever-popular trope from flourishing.

The role of school should no longer be to fill heads with information, rather it should be a place that inspires students to be curious about the world they live in. Kids are born explorers, when they are young all they want to do is push boundaries and explore the limits of what they can do. Let’s not suffocate that curiosity by making them spend their childhoods preparing for one test after another while adhering to rigid school policies that stifle creativity and independent thought.

Wait a minute; is this Elon Musk talking or Sir Ken? The schools kill creativity trope is  taking on a life of its own with everyone taking credit for it, apparently.

All active learning should be task driven. No more lessons where you jot down notes off a blackboard, rather students are assigned tasks to complete and given all the tools they might need to figure out how to solve the problem. (3d printers, virtual learning environments, interactive displays, a connection to labs and research facilities all around the world, etc.)

The “just-in-time” learning model. Throw a kid who can’t swim in the deep end of the pool and shout instructions from the side on how to swim. “Now’s a great time to learn the breast stroke.”  How has that been working out for everyone? Or more precisely, how much business has been generated for Kumon, Sylvan and other companies of similar ilk?

Teachers become facilitators of learning. Rather than lecturing everyone, they go from student to student or group to group helping them figure out how to learn what they need to know. Teachers no longer need a deep understanding of the given topic but they should know how to learn about it. Students eventually should also be supplied with their own virtual learning assistant to answer any question they may have and help them stay on task.

Yes, this is an old chestnut of a trope.  And how liberating that teachers no longer need to know anything about the topic they teach.  More “just in time” learning. It never gets old.

In addition, education should give people an understanding that the world is not divided up into discreet subjects.

Yes, God forbid we should study one subject at a time so we can eventually apply it to other disciplines. Just meld it into one big coloring book activity for teachers to facilitate. And of course, it is understood that mathematics is just white privilege but I’m stepping into other territory so I guess it’s time to stop.

2 thoughts on “Count the Tropes, Dept.

  1. “How are parents, and society for that matter, supposed to know how to prepare them to succeed in a world that we cannot predict?”

    Educators apparently know, except that it changes from K-6 teachers (fairyland) to high school teachers (reality check).

    This is so fundamentally wrong, it’s incompetence. Natural, engagement-driven learning might work for a few in some limited areas, but not for all in a general curriculum. Just look at music education that is built on top of private lessons and skill-based training. NO music student uses natural, engagement-based learning with the studio teacher as a facilitator. Engagement-driven students never get the skills or the understanding to appreciate music at the same level. Now with math, all STEM prepared students have to be tracked at home or with tutors for mastery of basic skills. Few other students are able to get to that level of skills or understanding.

    “In addition, education should give people an understanding that the world is not divided up into discreet subjects.”

    You are not going to get to a top level in any subject using a top-down hands-on group PBL curriculum. Just try this in a high school with parents who are subject experts and see what happens. PBL is vocational learning that may improve hacking, but not understanding.


  2. “Much of this may seem idealistic or unrealistic, but radical change is needed if we are going to figure out how to live in the future we are creating.”

    So go ahead and create your own opt-in charter schools. Oh! That’s not what you’re talking about? You want to force kids to be guinea pigs to help you “figure out how to live in the future” created by STEM students taught using a traditional process?

    So why did the Waldorf kids at my son’s high school call themselves “Waldork” students when confronted with the rigors of major college acceptance? That’s what they called themselves.


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