Author: Will Richardson

Publisher: TED Conferences

ASIN: B00998J5YQ

Will Richardson has written a treatise that fires a salvo across the bow of traditional education as it is practiced in the United States today. There is no doubt that what he has to say is a wakeup call to those who are truly interested in promoting real learning.

His ideas are bold: he brands the current method for delivering an education as entirely outmoded. I agree—it is no longer advantageous to churn out citizens ready for a factory job, which is the antiquated German model our system is based on. Instead, Richardson sees the classroom as a “node” in a learning network, allowing students to do meaningful work on a global platform.

His focus is on the K through 12 segment of education, but he joins other voices such as law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds who outlined in The Higher Education Bubble (Encounter No. 29 Broadside) the same types of arguments regarding post-secondary education: the current methods are broken; something’s got to change. What Reynolds hits on but what I think maybe Richardson is loath to say is that the real change for all levels of education will almost certainly need to come from outside the system. Why? Because the administration of education is a weblike structure of power, profit, and job security.

Yet, years of throwing money at education has done nothing to improve the measurable results that the administrators rely on to demand that more money be funneled their way. A look at the September 2012 College Board SAT Report on College and Career Readiness shows that although per pupil spending since 1972 for a K through 12 education has skyrocketed around 120% to nearly $150,000, SAT scores in math, reading, and science have stayed the same or dropped in those 40 years. Although I agree wholeheartedly with Richardson when he says that meaningless tests produce meaningless scores, I also would add that the spending that goes along with achieving worthless scores is wasted.

Richardson points out that people like Bill Gates, who antes up his fortune in order to turn learning into a competition, are taking the wrong approach. I agree, but it will take someone with monetary resources to create a viable alternative. It is more likely to be a collaborative venture—whether that starts with an idea like Khan Academy, Coursera, or some variation of those models—and it needs to be in stark contrast to what’s offered in today’s classrooms. What’s more, it needs to come without all the strings attached as in the current system.

Richardson’s ideas about allowing students to discover, rather than being lectured to, connecting students to the things that interest them and matter to them, should undoubtedly be the goal s of anyone involved in the educational process. I think his book is a solid effort toward fostering dialogue and bringing real innovation into the equation. Let’s hope for our children’s future that the people who can make this happen step forward and see these ideas to fruition.

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