Dale Farnan

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What changes would you make to education?

I am a 16 year old high school student who is somewhat dissatisfied with education in general in today's society. Too much emphasis is placed on memorization as opposed to creativity. Many students are more concerned about getting good grades than actually learning. The focus on not making mistakes discourages innovative solutions to problems.

What I ask you is: If you had complete control, what changes would you make to the education system? Should fine arts be taught more? Should math and science? Should we have a class in logic or creativity or kindness? Should the teacher to student ratio be raised and how would this help? How can we make better use of available technology to help students learn? How can we promote creative thinking?

What practical ideas can you suggest to improve education?

  • Jun 6 2013: Students should be able to have more control deciding what they learn. A more personalized education to allow the student to reach their full potential.
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    Jun 5 2013: Great job bringing up this topic. I agree totaly with you about what education is about now. And in a few words: the way the educational system is today connected with the labour market and the mental representations of roles/social statuses and behaviours, it mainly serves social mobility and societies' esteotypes. It is a system that enslaves students and not one that frees their mind and teaches them to cooperate, recognize the uniquiness of everybody, be creative, love Justice and be independent. For a deep understanding of education and schools I strongly recommend reading sociolgy of education - specialy the critical one.

    The school I would create would be of a libertarian type. Based on freedom of choice of what to learn and how to learn it, on group and individual works and researching, on developing skills in some sort of art or profession. Respect for others, the environment and animals would be a core value as well as self teaching and creativity. In the end it must be an education centered on the student, its personality and likes and its integral developement.
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    Jun 5 2013: i am in that same position. I'm 16 and trying to take courses on physics. Something very unreasonable is that i have to take biology before physics which are unrelated. Biology is not my expertise and due to the system, I had to take it and am now stuck with a very unappealing grade on my record.

    Also, memorization is a huge error. In language classes, students recite words and phrases instead of using them as a language. It seems as if grades are based on effort rather than knowledge and that is messed up. Plenty of people get A's but if you ask them about their knowledge they have no idea what they learned. They can put on a good show and ease their way through but they don't understand it.

    Courses should be selective. Less mandatory classes is the solution in my eyes.
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      Jun 5 2013: Hi, Brendan. While there is definitely logic in taking physics first, as it is arguably more fundamental, the tradition of delaying real physics classes (as distinct from earlier introductions to physical science) is to get students' math to a certain level, as mathematics is useful in applying physics to practical problems. Biology is a fundamental subject as well and less mathematics-dependent.

      Meanwhile, you can explore physics through Coursera or the other MOOCs.
  • Jun 4 2013: I like Khan's approach, but kids need more structure to be taught discipline, deferred gratification, and the rewards associated with hard work. So, if I were in control, I would:

    *Make students actively do more things. Living labs if you will. Field trips to museums and historic sites, coupled with appropriate reading assignments; Planning, designing and building simple projects requiring math and science skills; Peer review of writing and speaking skills; Visiting government facilities to see what they do and how they are operated.

    *Make activity part of the daily routine. Individual exercise programs including running, swimming and stretching. Group exercise and team experiences including team sports; Individual sports such as martial arts, golf, or bowling;

    *Create volunteer experiences involving environmental awareness, senior care opportunities, mentoring and learning to mentor others, and helping the less fortunate or disaster victims.

    *Create personal investigative experiences where research at libraries, labs, farms, botanical gardens, national parks, or state parks is the classroom. Let the child pick from a list of ideas or submit one themselves, come up with a hypothesis, do some prelimianry research, plan the experiment, work with adults in the environment of choice, make observations, come to conclusions, and write a report.

    * Let kids take apart a device of some kind, put it back together several times. Get them to think what hey might do to make it better and draw pictures of what their device would look like.

    * Let kids attend fine arts performances, visit art exhibits and take classes that teach them new craft skills such as pottery, painting, music, or dance. Allow them to interview their teachers and ask questions to learn more about the craft. Write a report stating what was learned and how it relates to their lives.

    *Participate in Scouts, 4-H, FBLA, and similar groups. Use the activities to relate to school work.
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    Jun 4 2013: Today's education system produces worker bees, perfect to produce honey for the important few.

    Every one understands the rut but no body is ready to leave the rat race.

    Education which takes you away from mother nature or destroys it, is dangerous and faulty.

    If i control things this will be the yard stick to formulate and apply education poilicies. I would want youngsters like you to be close to the nature and preserve it for the present as well as future.
  • Jun 4 2013: I would set an agenda to end all remnants of the Industrial Age "Factory Model" system by 2020 or 2025 and redesign and "information age ideal" to start making a migration to by 2016 at least in secondary education. The first thing to get right in any educational system is the human being. And the current system has old assumptions that actually make for institutionalized dysfunction. Each person has a "neuroplastic dynamism" which must be facilitated individually. Tying students fates to the "luck of the draw" of teachers or fellow students is dysfunctional. Many students are held back by lack of autonomy. So authority, autonomy and cooperation should all be fundamentally addressed. I would want to move education out of the dark ages and have the students plug directly into leading the world. I'm 57 years of age and am fine with that. I'm not afraid of losing anything and see that humanity has so much to gain by letting the young really go as far and as high as they can.

    I would make "sustainable development" an "every person" phenomenon and change the modality from "processing units" to facilitating people and their achievements. Hierarchies and collectives would both be integrated into a sort of "hive" model which accepts no failure whatsoever. "No student left behind" is a total crock which leaves America and the world behind. When we say no student left behind we should mean "mastery learning" where each person stays with one thing until they master it. No passing or failing grade bullshit. Everybody either progresses or they don't. But as we learn more about motivation and see and facilitate new precedents we will have a global system to quickly replicate ideal scenarios so that there is no failure. Period. Knowledge policy = energy policy. The Digital Revolution must be led. This is how I would lead it. I would empower our children to LEAD US. .Bless you for asking.
  • Jun 4 2013: All strudents are not the same. Most teachers can be placed in two groups. Try to learn and be lappy.
  • Jun 5 2013: Hi Dale,

    Greetings from India !

    I am 20 now and thought on the same lines when I was 16. We live in a fast-changing world and the world is quite different than I thought it to be four years ago !

    Remember, its all about perception. You are obviously frustated with our current system(and everyone else is). But it is upto you how you take the available resources from your school and use them to your fullest potential. Say a nerd kid wants to know more about programming than his History lesson. He can use the library to the fullest, schedule an extra class with one of the science teachers, buy/borrow great introductory books to read, use the extra hours/free classes , etc.

    There is no magical formula for 'best' education. You just have to adept it according to your needs. I know that this is not an answer to your question BUT that's the best you can do right now (until you are the president !)

    All the Best for your future,

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      Jun 6 2013: Hello Shalabh. I agree with you about taking the best you can from the education being offered to you and using your free time and resources available to educate yourself.

      But although there isn't a formula for a best education, there is certainly a formula for a better education, structured according to different values and priorities, with a different classroom and school environment.
  • Jun 5 2013: The third level would be called "socio-technological literacy" and would see us as dynamic creatures which feed on knowledge and achievement to grow in capacity. Fundamental distinction will be made between classic utilitarian tools and digital media devices which require us to understand many unanswered issues about the exposure to technology. For instance, there was a train wreck in Los Angeles some years ago where the train operator was "texting" with his daughter. Is it sufficient for the local transportation authority to just state a policy of "no texting" on the job and threaten consequence? Or should society understand that technology has changed the nature of dialog so that it can intrude on our performance at anything we do? Another issue would be that only a decade ago, very few people would want to be caught dead in an "adult film store" or "porn shop". It was considered for "dirty old men". But suddenly there is instant technological access to anyone to avail themselves of any kind of graphic sexual content. There is no precedent for this. Many women for instance do not know how to process that their boy friends or husbands avail themselves of so much porn and take it as a personal insult or indication that they are inadequate. Society must reconcile technology use with technology abuse and it must be newly interpreted that fantasy and reality are not being kept appropriately separate. Who is the authority on such matters? Will it be someone who simply writes a book where only some people may read it? Or should it be a fundamental matter of socio-technological literacy to culturized understanding of fantasy and it's lines which should be drawn so that social norms can be established wide-scale instead of by happenstance of some one person's book and whether or not folks have read it. This is among many issues of need for conventionalization of a literacy beyond utility. The yet-named value is "facility" and theory and definition will change our direction
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    Jun 17 2013: To completely answer your question would take a lifetime. So, let me just bite off a little chunk of it. I've been teaching college for a little over a decade. What I've seen is that instructors are viewed as a liability. Let me explain that before the flames begin. I've seen so many schools spend big money on recreation centers, stadiums and classroom facilities. Yet, while they're spending big bucks the vast majority of faculty is part-time without benefits. This is because the ones who have power are making decisions based on the American corporate business model--which is all about turning short-term profits. Buildings, land and facilities are real estate assets--appreciable commodities. Faculty are viewed as a cost: a liability on a profit and loss statement.

    Until developing, retaining and giving faculty the freedom to teach is a priority our system will be in the dumper. Education at its simplest boils down to teachers and students. Teachers must be viewed and treated as an asset!

    On the student side of things, the system is designed with the underlying assumption that students are lazy slackers and learning is an unnatural process. Think about how the system motivates--by an external system of rewards and punishments: grades, policies and procedures. Why would the system do this unless the paradigm of practice (never stated) is that we need to force people to learn? When motivation is external students are conditioned to conform to requirements placed upon them. The system is not based on the assumption that learning is a normal, natural process and that if we connect to students' natural drives and ambitions they will flourish!

    So, to answer your question, our system is designed in ways completely incongruent with how we learn. We are operating out of accord with human nature. People have internal drives and learning is a natural, normal process. We are designed to be creative beings. Until we start building on the right philosophies things will stink!
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    Jun 16 2013: The expectations of a student's performance has changed . Not that long ago a student would progress through the system with a school's major focus on graduation rate; the higher rate the school was deemed performing well. Numbers, are the focus now, mastery test scores, sat scores, grade point average, college entrance, teacher's performance, etc.
    It's a different ballgame for we finally had to wake up to the fact that we now compete in a world market and the change from industrial economy to technological was exponential. Students are our future and the other challenge directly effecting a students success is socioeconomic. A student support system has shifted to the schools. 2 parents working full time barely meeting financial obligations, this stress directly effects a parents much needed engagement with their child's education. A broken health care system plays into too (another conversation), access to instant news and it's not good; unemployment, failing small businesses, cost of colleges, the opportunity of a middle class life style shirking, a broken government. students pay attention and it's not a rosy picture they are viewing. Why bother? The solution begins with smaller school populations. Magnet high schools, charter school offer a student a community in which they are given an opportunity of individualized recognition, peer comradely, relationship building with school staff. A positive and supportive community smaller schools create is just a part of much needed change but, a big part for schools are a students community they grow up in.
  • Jun 16 2013: Make the schools smaller so that there is less breeding ground for gangs, bullying and uncontrolled crowds of kids at lunch, after school and between classes. There seems no reason for thousands of kids in a school other than $$$ saved on building more schools.
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    Jun 14 2013: Dale I propose two things: 1) I often preach a self paced modular competence / non-competent course that would allow progression at the students best pace and allow them to remain with their peers for social development and 2). I think our approach is wrong in the USA ... we give an "A" for the correct answer assuming that is the goal ... IMO it should not be the goal ... application should be the ultimate test of understanding.

    I agree with the "good grades" problem. In the modular system you would have modules completed and those not yet attempted ... The course map would cover K through as far as you can go. It would blend elementry / Jr high / high school and Jr College ... upon successful completion of course map I you would be compatable to a Liberal Arts grad. There would be a manditory blend of subjects with minimal requirements for certificate of completion. I would love to see courses such as philosopy as a elective or maybe even one semester as a requirement. Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language ... others I would like to see would be economics and statistics.

    To make this real I suggest that dual syllabus be made available 1) college prep and 2) Manual trades and technical courses. I think it is silly to think a person is not a success if they do not attend college ... make course available to those better suited for manual trades and technical applications.

    The power in education rests in the textbook writers and test developers ... teachers are mandated to cover the materials that will be tested ... thus teaching the test. Their options are very limited. Almost as bad is the federal and state intervention to academics .. legislating education is stupid, expensive, and ineffective.

    You are right to question ... However, your options are limited. Comply and work for change.

    Good luck. Bob.
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    Jun 14 2013: As a politically offensive thought experiment - get rid of schools entirely.

    The purpose of schooling is to prepare students for the world as it exists today, not as it existed yesterday. Contrasting the speed with which knowledge, information, and ideas can spread across the world today with the old schooling model, any rigid institutional framework will always be several steps behind the real world.

    Instead, let children live in the real world. This is how they will best learn to live in the real world.

    We will still need a flexible occupational licensing system, in which people demonstrate their competence via examinations, projects, interviews, internships, whatever. This is the major role society has to play in educating youth, i.e., verifying that they are educated to certain standards.

    But we do not need schools or teachers to force feed information to students anymore. We only need to give them the curriculum and the criteria they have to meet in order to obtain the credential.

    For credentialing or citizenship, all students need is A) a curriculum laid out beforehand, which gives them exposure to the things they don't know they don't know, and B) rigorous methods of verifying their competence. Once they have their curriculum laid out, that competence is best obtained in the real world and via the Internet.

    Everything else is political, for the benefit of teachers, politicians, administrators, and professionals who want to limit entry into their professions.

    But for the students? Give them the entire curriculum beforehand, give them Internet access, give them internships and access to the real world, give them projects that matter to the real world, and give them examinations for social credentialing purposes, but that is all they need.

    There is another TED talk about motivation by Dan Pink - the keys to motivation were Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Currently schools provide none of these.

    Schooling /= education
  • Jun 9 2013: The inequality between public and private education needs to be addressed.
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    Jun 7 2013: The 2000 word limit prevents me from properly answer this question. A single answer would be to create Robot Avatar teachers, tailored to an idol or character a student really likes. It would give them undivided attention and be there just for them. Like a personal tutor. It would be sophisticated interactive via computer software.
  • Jun 5 2013: The second iteration of literacy is technological literacy. This covers the understanding of utility and tools. It would orient people to modes of travel and the classical view of tools as implements to be "used" by humans to accomplish tasks in real time and space. My third level of literacy will establish a new kind beyond the notion of us as "user". When we only look at ourselves as "users" of technology we overlook neuroplastic dynamism in which the level of our use of varying technologies plays a role in spurring and directing the growth of greater capacity within our brains to do more with the technology. Therefore the classic "utilitarian" view will be departed from. The classic utilitarian view of technological literacy looks only outward and assumes us unchanged by the experience of learning to use a tool. This is where we will depart en masse to a new cultural understanding of our nature and our relationship with classic tools and which have limited utility and "digital" tools which are "virtual", non-obvious and omni-purposeful.

    Being "computer literate" would fall into the second iteration of literacy of "technological literacy". This would cover our view of how computers work, how they have traditionally been thought of, how to be functional at using computers for utilitarian objectives. The newest literacy would pick up from there and establish that a species-changing event has happened to alter the nature of human dialogue--the "digital" revolution if you will-- which offers the ability to conventionalize a new plane of human interplay and symbiotic relationships with technology in which we use them to LEAD US to become more than we are.
  • Jun 5 2013: Before making the major reforms I mentioned, I would redefine the concept of "literacy" and set it out having three iterations. The first is "classical literacy"--the taking on of language from our families, cultures and the learning of the rules of reading and writing in that language to be able to functionally communicate at all. This would also include rudimentary mathematics. I don not believe that the same mathematics glorified throughout the ages like algebra, trig, calculus need be required because for the information age, computers will have automated math so that we should believe that everyone has to absolutely yield to it. That is not to abandon advanced mathematics. It is to create a new culture in which one choose a less math-centric education while others can enjoy advanced math by cultural choice. I don't think we have the right to say everyone must uptake higher mathematics of we'll stigmatize you with a lasting blight on you record like failing grades which actually cause a lot of dropping out. Because "neuroplasticity" will underpin our view of individual growth and readiness we will fundamentally assume that not everyone is "ready"--oriented and motivated to ENJOY what mathematics can offer at an adolescent age and allow for the more advanced math to "float" on the bounds as elective. Let the market prove to individuals what the value of math is to them--never indoctrinate them to just suffer through it.

    The second and third of my three iterations of literacy will be in separate comments.
  • Jun 4 2013: Half life of facts is a book that answers this question all to well read and understand.
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    Jun 4 2013: Privatize it.

    Get rid of the indoctrination process of education instead teach how to look and evaluate in a friendly manner where every student learns at his own pace.