Sunday, May 7, 2017

Went to the School of Education banquet

I hadn't been in 10 years.  The last time I went, I hadn't been retired for very long. I attended college to become a teacher and I taught the fifth grade for four years.  On my way to get a master's degree, I entered a PhD program in educational research, statistics and testing.  I taught in the School of Education for 37 years.

Nationally, we are entering a period of big data and artificial intelligence, probably to be applied throughout society.  I had long thought that teachers and school administrators would benefit from having plenty of data on students and good analysis of that data.  From what I have heard of artificial intelligence, I can imagine that the right applications of it in schools could be very helpful.  

When you think about what is needed for a good education for an American child/teen/young adult, it helps very much to think of what teachers call "individualization". That boils down to paying attention to the particular strengths, weaknesses and background of each student.  However, many students have wonderful educational experiences with teachers who don't know them very well.  When we think of good education, we almost always think about learning: what did the student learn?  How deeply, thoroughly did the student learn?  These sorts of questions lead us to think that learning the material is what school is about, what the student should do.  

Yet, it is well-known that much of what we learned and passed tests on in school is not used in later life.  Much of the material is never called upon or brought to mind, much less applied.  There is ample evidence that schooling matters a great deal so why it matters and just what about matters is something of a mystery.  Asking what is the best education compares to asking what is the best marriage or the best occupation.  A major intellectual stumbling block to answering such questions definitively is that we only live once.  We only go through our learning years once and none of us is a duplicate of anyone else.  We have established that child abuse, deep poverty, bullying, poor nutrition damage students and lead to inferior results.  But it does appear that the range of supportive, helpful possibilities is very broad.

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