Building A New Culture Of Teaching And Learning
July 10, 2009 5:44 PM   Subscribe

I thought this was The Wire's job.
posted by fire&wings at 5:52 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem is that students can't make good use the knowledge they have because it conflicts with their opinions, which are rarely challenged. My answer is to replace high school geometry with basic logic and reasoning. The old fear of having kids beat their parents at argumentation is offset by lifting the burden of helping them with their homework. Besides, I would never recommend building a new education culture with so many creationists padding the school boards.
posted by Brian B. at 6:33 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

A 27 minute video? A submission like this really needs an abstract or a summary of some kind.
posted by crapmatic at 6:57 PM on July 10, 2009

A 27 minute video? A submission like this really needs an abstract or a summary of some kind.

I have been thinking, lately, that the online video craze is really a step backward on the web. Post some text, dammit. I can skim text in a couple of minutes and decide whether it's good stuff or crap. A 27 minute video, though -- fuck it, I ain't watching that crap. If it's worth watching, I will never know.
posted by jayder at 7:14 PM on July 10, 2009 [32 favorites]

Dr. Tae demonstrates the way the US system of education is failing by taking 27 minutes to make a simple point?
posted by wendell at 7:40 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Brian B., I'm not sure what you mean by 'it conflicts with their opinions'.

From what I've seen of the educational system, it needs a radical overhaul. Start education at 4, and do school year-round, just with slightly longer breaks where they occur. Open up higher education to EVERYBODY - put the opportunity there - and make logic a part of education. Crack down HARD on the intrusion of illogic such as creotards into education at any level.

And outlaw religious universities.
posted by kldickson at 8:03 PM on July 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Step One: Forget how to write text that I can peruse at various depths and speeds, and make me sit through your freaking video. Do you know how much real information fits in the bandwidth you take up pausing to breathe? You have made my broadband connection almost as useful as Gopher over dialup.

Unless you're an auctioneer and actually can talk as fast as I can read. In which case, no, shut up and write anyway, I want to re-read sometimes too.

I'd love to see a logic class replace geometry. Although I really enjoy compass and straightedge constructions, 'teaches rigorous reasoning' has always been the justification for geometry classes anyway.
posted by eritain at 8:24 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is excellent, and people bitching about the length and don't watch it before commenting are missing the point.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:38 PM on July 10, 2009

A lot of his points are reasonable (particularly the one about giving kids the time to figure things out and expecting them to work hard and make repeated failures until mastery occurs). But there are a few things in there that are so facile that I can't believe he's really thought this through.

First, his solution to the legions of underqualified science teachers is to demand school leaders who'll hire great teachers? This sort of assumes that there's this vast talent pool of fantastic teachers out there, unrecognized by the plodding bureaucracy that values certification over qualification. Bullshit. You have to create that talent pool, by making the job worth having for a larger number of people. But that takes a whole host of specific and difficult policies - better training in how to teach, supporting folks once they're in the classroom, treating them like scholars rather than cogs once they're there, and yes, paying them more. Maybe all those specific policies are what Dr. Tae wants those hypothetical school leaders to do - but it sounds a lot more like he's just spouting a platitude.

Second, he completely undercuts his own argument when he talks about how this 'distributed teaching' will happen when he starts by talking about the internet and Wikipedia. The internet and Wikipedia are exactly like his dreaded 400-student lecture halls. Teaching and learning happen through interaction - through the spirited exchange of ideas, in Tae's parlance. He talks about the teachers who inspired him in high school and college. Would he have been similarly inspired if he'd had a revolving door of people who came to teach one lesson or one unit and then vanished, or if he'd been simply handed a netbook and told to learn physics? Inspiring kids takes effort - it takes listening hard to what they say and how they see themselves, and connecting their visions with possible paths they could take.

Third, Tae also falls into the trap of believing that anyone who's got a talent for science will automatically be a fabulous teacher. There's a pervasive sense out there that all you need is the content area knowledge in order to succeed as a teacher. And yet, I bet most of us could come up with multiple examples of teachers or professors who had considerable expertise in their field, but were unable to teach it to anyone else. The idea that science education will improve if scientists volunteer their time in classrooms, or take a year or two off to teach, is ludicrous. Tae said the key to learning is "work your ass off until you master it" - well, that applies to learning how to be an effective teacher, as well.

So yes ... hands on learning rather than lecture format, mastery over coverage, value mistakes as the currency of learning rather than the mark of failure. And I wish every teacher would watch the skateboarding bit and really think about the implications. But nothing in this video makes me think that Dr. Tae has really thought through how to bring about the changes he believes we need, or whether his prescriptions would actually inspire the next generation of students they way he himself was inspired.
posted by Chanther at 8:38 PM on July 10, 2009 [8 favorites]

Everyone is aware of these problems. But fixing them requires large sums of cash. If teacher salaries were substantially higher, smarter people would go into teaching. If universities hired more faculty, they could teach more sections of Biology 101. Beyond lip service, there is little commitment to public education in this country. Elementary schools serve the primary purpose of babysitting children while their parents are at work. Universities are holding pens where we test young peoples' commitment to the status quo by seeing who hangs on for a degree. But hell, what kind of educational system would you expect from an anti-intellectual, ignorant, uneducated populace?
posted by Crotalus at 8:58 PM on July 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

From what I've seen of the educational system, it needs a radical overhaul. Start education at 4

Why? (now obviously what's called "early intervention" has been proven to do a great job in boosting children overall intelligence. But ideal you would want to start earlier then 4) So why 4? furthermore things like "head start" end up not accomplishing much, because they are not intensive enough. This kind of early childhood intervention really needs to be done by parents, 1-on-1.


Anyway, everyone has an idea about how to "fix" education. Many of their ideas are incomparable with each other. Frankly, it's all bullshit. It's like saying "Replacing all our vehicles with ones powered by renewable energy would help stop global warming." Well great. But first you have to build those cars and figure out how to produce enough renewable fuel for them and so on.

In other words, explain how your idea could be implemented in the real world, with the political constraints that actually exist, or STFU.
posted by delmoi at 9:18 PM on July 10, 2009

Oh, and I believe in the next 20 years AI will advance to the point that it can replace teachers. So all of this is moot. Y'all and I are simply products of our time, the minds of future children will be as packed with information as possible, whereas our demographic cohorts will be shuffled off to the pile of obsolescence.
posted by delmoi at 9:22 PM on July 10, 2009

Oh, and I believe in the next 20 years AI will advance to the point that it can replace teachers.

I'm relieved to see that the art of sarcasm is still thriving.

You were being sarcastic, right?
posted by erniepan at 9:45 PM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm in the camp that any grand campaigns to "fix" education are doomed to fail. Though self-styled "experts" can and always have made a buck and promoted their careers by trying. IMHO the problem is with the underlying culture of the people being educated--that culture is what has changed. Trivially, America has gotten dumber, or more neutrally, America has re-oriented its cultural values. (Which, tangentially, is itself the result of deeper shifts in global economics, politics, and historical social evolution).

Hey America, why are math and science knowledge at all time lows? Why is everyone innumerate and damned proud of it? Why are the vast majority of science PhD's going to immigrants(not anti-immigrant at all, just questioning the demographic shift)? Why does no one read anymore? Why does sound-bite propelled TV dominate the public discourse? Why have the public intellectuals essentially vanished as a class? Why has the liberal arts "canon" been eviscerated, diluted and displaced by essentially nothing but pomo-babble? Why does it seem like the intelligentsia gatekeepers are now incapable of recognizing intelligence without agenda driven bias? Why does it seem like experts in every field now aim for short-term, instantly gratified, conspicuously-consumed, class-entitled, career-boosting goals? Why are the universities so under-funded, and yet so much more inefficient with the funds they do get? Why have corporate interests driven out everyone else, and now dominate public institutions? Why has management "science" infected nearly every institution with profit obsession and inaccurate metrics based on test scores? Why are leaders stalemated and powerless to effect real change across organizations? Why does one have to come off sounding like Tyler Durden to just describe this massive problem which few will even acknowledge?

I'm obviously preaching to the choir here, as 99% of mefites will be in the demographic of those against all these trends. But as you can see, the real problem is much bigger than the question: how does any group of individuals change an entire culture?
posted by archae at 9:59 PM on July 10, 2009 [7 favorites]

Has he written any articles that would cover this? I am hard of hearing and cannot follow video w/o captioning. :(
posted by Librarygeek at 10:25 PM on July 10, 2009

I'm relieved to see that the art of sarcasm is still thriving.

You were being sarcastic, right?
Think a little bit about the difference between the software available in 1989 and the software available today.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 PM on July 10, 2009

Why have the public intellectuals essentially vanished as a class?
Thomas Friedman doesn't exist? I wish someone had told me.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 PM on July 10, 2009

Populism = fail.
posted by kldickson at 11:13 PM on July 10, 2009

Oh, and I believe in the next 20 years AI will advance to the point that it can replace teachers.

Unless we reach the point where AI becomes fully sentient, this is silly. Teaching requires a mind. More to the point, it requires a theory of mind. A good teacher needs to be able to see things from a student's perspective, to have that sense of not only how they're approaching a topic intellectually, but how their emotional life comes into play.

Good AI will indeed change the face of teaching. Even now, I think good software can do a far more effective job than a human being of teaching anything rote - and what's more, it can track data on students' performance far more effectively than a human being. It still will fall to a human being to look at the areas of strength and weakness and interpret why things are they way they are. No AI in 20 years is going to be able to understand that the reason Brandon did poorly on the multiplication quiz isn't due to a lack of understanding, but because his dog died yesterday and his heart isn't in it.

But unless AIs become sentient, no AI will be able to get to the fundamental property of good teaching: the ability to inspire. I went to an opening of a photography exhibit tonight, in which the work of one of my former students was featured. I and three other teachers nurtured his talent for photography and film. The teacher who taught Photography saw that he had a good eye and encouraged him. I, in a language arts class, encouraged him to turn his short story into a film. A science teacher assigned him to a role of collecting digital data for the class research. And a fourth teacher, who didn't have him for any classes in his last year, looked at his work and told him he should consider doing it for a living. The ability to recognize and nurture talent, to encourage a student to pursue something without shoving it down his throat - that will remain beyond the abilities of AI twenty years from now.

I very much hope that teaching evolves to make better use of software - and I very much hope rote learning isn't being taught in 2029 like it's being taught now. But the belief that AI can replace teaching isn't entirely harmless. Computers will be increasingly good at analysis and the like, but understanding creativity and inspiration will be mostly beyond their capabilities. Even if they are well-meaning, those who push for technology to replace teachers will find that it drives a curriculum in which creativity is undervalued, in the same way that No Child Left Behind currently pushes so many schools to teach to the test.
posted by Chanther at 11:19 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Brian B., I'm not sure what you mean by 'it conflicts with their opinions'.

Most young people learn all about evolution, with ample geology and biology to back it up, and then reject it or doubt much of it. It seems that a course that fails them for willfully lacking objectivity would be useful to them. That objectivity might also do wonders for protecting them from political con artists, unsafe sex, and food and drug abuse.
posted by Brian B. at 11:25 PM on July 10, 2009

I suppose, Brian B., then we have to contend with the question of 'you can lead an idiot to facts, but you can't make them think'.

Some people are just stupid.
posted by kldickson at 12:29 AM on July 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some people may disagree with me about this, but I honestly think at least having a more serious discussion about religion's detrimental effects on maturation of humans is called for.
posted by kldickson at 12:32 AM on July 11, 2009

... I believe in the next 20 years AI will advance to the point that it can replace teachers.

Around that time I intend to get a job teaching AIs.
posted by Ritchie at 1:51 AM on July 11, 2009

Sorry, but as he has already effectively derailed the conversation I'd just like to respond to Delmoi's cultish claims. Delmoi, when I compare software from 1989 and 2009 I see zero difference in levels of sentience. Zero then and zero now. I think it is idiotic to claim that a trend line of increasing complexity of software and cpu power is suddenly going to give us sentient machines. Yet this is what you and other members in the Kurzweil cult claim.

I really make little distinction between the dogma you guys trot out and the scientology folks. They are cultish statements made by people who for emotional reasons are wishing that reality is somehow different from what is, or wish to change it to be. When you inject such inane comments into a sensible discussion it has the effect of derailing it. I personally believe that we will never create a sentient machine and I believe your folk have an impoverished understanding of what sentience means. But put aside my personal opinion, the reality is that we have created nothing showing any signs of sentience and apart from a lot of hand-waving your lot have presented no cogent approach to how we could achieve it.
posted by Sitegeist at 3:16 AM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

... I believe in the next 20 years AI will advance to the point that it can replace teachers.

First he has to learn to share the ball.
posted by srboisvert at 5:17 AM on July 11, 2009

I'm not watching that video, but if he doesn't address the issue of class overcrowding, then it's not worth watching. All the fixes in the world won't mean anything as long as the teacher/student ratio is 1:35 or greater.
posted by absalom at 8:05 AM on July 11, 2009

Dr Tae's website does not inspire any kind of confidence in his ability to criticize teaching. His video lecture doesn't seem to get to the point. I'm disappointed -- where is the abstract?
posted by maxpower at 10:47 AM on July 11, 2009

The problems with education in the US are huge. In the lower grades, "well-meaning" parents won't keep their hands out of the actual process of teaching long enough to let the trained professionals do their job. When I was working in an elementary school reading lab, it was shocking how many times the classroom teachers had to justify their methods of teaching to parents. Equally frustrating was that it was never the parents of the under-achieving students who were bucking the teachers -- it was always the parents of the kids who were going to learn the material whether you taught it to them or not. This kind of parental interference ran to great depths -- subjects of units to be taught were questioned, the type of activities the students were to engage in were questioned... One parent went to far as to demand that a lesson in baking "our kind of bread" be taught immediately after her daughter came home from school with a small package of handmade tortillas they had made in class that day. (The school was predominantly hispanic migrant workers with a few non-hispanic country club types in the mix.)

This kind of interest would be welcome if it were meant to supplement what those with 5 years of teaching training had devised for their classrooms. But it wasn't. It was meant to control the subject matter being taught and the methods of teaching being used by distrustful parents afraid that elementary school was going to somehow ruin their children forever. I'm not a fan of home schooling for a lot of reasons, but sometimes I wanted to suggest exactly that to some of the parents I had to deal with.

Interestingly, the instant the students left our school to attend the middle school down the street, nearly all parental interest and intervention stopped. It was as though the parents, somehow, had implicit trust that once a student reaches sixth grade, the school is no longer able to destroy them. However, it was always heartbreaking for me to see the older kids when they dropped into the building for a visit. Something would die inside them after even half a year in middle school I don't know if it was the changed format of classes, or poor administration at the middle school, or maybe it is just that children are complete shits to each other starting when they turn twelve... But it was horrible to see these young people who left our school with an interest in exploring and learning appear before me with that shadow of fear and distrust lurking in the backs of their eyes.

All the social context and lack of regard for lower-grade teachers aside... What WILL improve our schools more than anything else? We need to return to a system which holds students accountable for what they have learned, in a way which extends beyond the bubble test assessment which has become standard with No Child Left Behind. We worry far too much about "hurting a child's feelings" if they don't succeed and have to be corrected. In this way, Dr Tae is totally on the mark. Education is about failing and being corrected and failing again. As long as we are afraid of "making little Johnny feel bad" because he demonstrated that he doesn't understand the concepts, we will continue to develop wave after wave of young adults who know nothing and expect to be praised for it. A parallel question to this is, how do instructors inspire in students the same drive toward mastery that, say, a skateboarder had toward achieving that new trick?

(I do disagree with Dr. Tae about whether university professors use grades to coerce their students. My conversations with friends and family who teach at the university level are full of anecdotes about how they are being forced by students AND administration to inflate grades of students to "at least passing", whether working knowledge of the subject was demonstrated or not.)

(And really... Mythbusters? As an example of good science? I am not sure I go along with that.)

And at the standard conversion of one double-spaced page of text = one minute of reading-out-loud... the video is about 30 pages of information.

posted by hippybear at 11:58 AM on July 11, 2009

Sorry, but as he has already effectively derailed the conversation I'd just like to respond to Delmoi's cultish claims. Delmoi, when I compare software from 1989 and 2009 I see zero difference in levels of sentience.

Why does a computer need to be sentient to teach stuff? What I was thinking would be something like video games/demonstrations that can teach complex ideas while carefully moderating difficulty levels keeping students in a state of flow, and using Spaced Repetition algorithms to optimize memorization. Yes, computers might not be able to recognize photographic talent, art might need human teachers. But at the same time, there are lots of students who find things like Math and History to be "boring". It's not a mindset I understand, but it certainly exists and the fact is those kids just have to do it, whether they are bored by a computer or a person is sort of irrelevant (and I think a computer program, which would tune itself to the students skill level directly would be less boring then an average teacher)
posted by delmoi at 12:19 PM on July 11, 2009

Science teaching in universities does have problems, even compared to teaching in other departments. The lecture classes are larger, and the graduate assistants usually have less experience - at least at my uni, where grads in science teach for years 1-2 out of 6, where teachers in social science and humanities teach for years 3-5.

Why? Because at most universities science faculty are hired for their research, not their teaching. Graduate students are told to focus on research, not teaching. There are exceptions, but I feel like the culture in most departments emphasises research over teaching ability, but even more so in the sciences and, of course, at larger research and teaching institutions.
posted by jb at 12:58 PM on July 11, 2009

Saying "artificial intelligence will replace teachers" is about as productive as saying "magic fairies will replace teachers."

Probably less productive, actually, since people know better than to believe in magic or fairies.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 1:10 PM on July 11, 2009

I suppose, Brian B., then we have to contend with the question of 'you can lead an idiot to facts, but you can't make them think'.

Some people are just stupid.

I agree in principle, but there are distinctions here. I don't think we can teach an idiot facts very well, but when someone can acquire facts well and then disregard them willfully with confidence, then we have brainwashing issue to contend with. I assume that such people can be taught how to think better, and I believe it is no accident that reasoning skills are avoided in public schools (in order to avoid controversy and appease the brainwashed parents). I also believe that geometry is the best class to replace. As someone alluded, it was designed to teach deduction, since as factual knowledge it isn't deemed necessary, and there are other maths that are more important factually.
posted by Brian B. at 1:15 PM on July 11, 2009

Saying "artificial intelligence will replace teachers" is about as productive as saying "magic fairies will replace teachers."

Youtube will replace teachers.
posted by Brian B. at 1:36 PM on July 11, 2009

Some of my best friends are idiots.
posted by storybored at 5:38 PM on July 11, 2009

When I was nine, my brothers and I tried desperately to write palindromes, achieving at best "radar kayak radar." The we invented what we thought was the greatest palindrome every, in fact a dirty palindrome: "Eat poop tea!"

On closer inspection, we saw the flaw. Now I realize that we were in fact brilliant.
"Eat poop, Tae!"
posted by msalt at 6:13 PM on July 11, 2009

Wow. I am a little shocked at how badly received this video was.

Maybe I am biased because I am both a teacher and a skateboarder. The good doctor echoed all of the points that float around the small private school where I teach. We are all dedicated not just to the art of teaching but to the experience a good classroom of manageable size can give. We also actively un-train ourselves from everything we learned in certification classes.

Work you ass off until you get it right is exactly what we instill in our students. We do not grade inflate or teach to a test but we have a steady stream of grads that go to places like MIT and Dartmouth where there is still good, experimental learning going on. Certainly, this is the advantage of being at a private school. We get to set the curriculum, not a bureaucracy. It still shows the model is possible. The kids are motivated and the parents are very involved because of the substantial financial investment they make.

It still doesn't change the message of what Dr. Tae is saying to public schools. It is still possible to have that level of dedication.

Make sane sized schools. Hire teachers and not researchers or "wannabe" administrators. Get rid of the unions that protect horrible employees. Reduce busy work and integrate with the flow of technology. This makes a culture of learning. The kids understand it and thrive.
posted by extraheavymarcellus at 7:40 PM on July 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some teacher I am. I mangled my spelling and grammar in my last comment. No coffee today. Sorry.
posted by extraheavymarcellus at 7:43 PM on July 11, 2009

Educational software is in a pretty sorry state compared to what's possible. There really should be simulators for all the common experiments done in physics and chemistry class, and a program for math class that simplifies equations and does integrals step-by-step. In languages, you could make software to quiz students on boring stuff like conjugations and vocabulary, and spend class time on reading and speaking practice. In English, there should be some kind of software so students can collaboratively comment on a work outside of class to make sure everyone comes prepared. None of these are original ideas, but they haven't been implemented well and aren't widely used.

But it's not clear to me that any of this would be useful without a really good teacher in charge.
posted by miyabo at 6:10 AM on July 13, 2009

I'm not going to watch a 27 minute video, especially about a subject that raises my blood pressure to 180/100.

From 2001 to 2003 I taught in an inner-city high school. Taught is an over-statement. I fended off 35 kids with nothing but a whip and a chair.

At the time we were on a 4-day schedule, with block scheduling. That meant 8 hours days, 4 classes of 2 hours. There is NOTHING you can do that would hold the attention of 14-year olds for two hours. Well, nothing appropriate to a classroom.

The building was a disaster. I had black mold covering every surface of my classroom. Every day I had to wipe the place down to keep it at bay. The 35-year old carpet in my classroom was asbestos-backed, and held together with frayed orange fibers and chewing gum.

The Wire is a documentary. As we watched I was able to predict not only subsequent action, but actual LINES that were said by the students.

Our school was so bad we'd try anything to see if it worked. I have lesson plans that center around movies and television. I have lesson plans that involve travel books. I have lesson plans that jump off from the newspaper. ANYTHING to grab interest and keep it, even for the briefest of times.

At the end of it, I was willing to do ANYTHING, anything but teach. Until you solve the societal problem of kids born into generations of poverty and the thinking that surrounds it, you can have the best schools in the world and very little will change.

Here are some anecdotal statistics from my classroom:

Students with children of their own: 28

Students who became pregnant while I was a teacher: 11

Students living in a half-way house for juvenile sex-offenders: 5

Students with both parents in the household: 10

Students with an emotional or mental handicap: 83

Students eligible for free lunch: 400

Students not eligible for free lunch: 80

Students from other countries/not native speakers of English: 120

Students enrolled in a typical Freshman English class: 38

Students who showed up to Freshman English class daily: 28

Chairs in the Freshman English class: 28

Explaination for shortage: "Don't worry, they won't all show up at the same time."

Students who came to class with a backpack full of cockroaches: 1

Number of cockroaches: More than 200

Seconds it takes to evacuate a classroom with more than 200 cockroaches: 4
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

There really should be simulators for all the common experiments done in physics and chemistry class, …
No: this completely misses the point of doing experiments in the classroom. I'd rather teach a science class with no experiments at all than one which leaves students imagining a computer simulation is "just as good" as an experiment.

A physics or chemistry class includes experiments to help convince students that the esoterica discussed in their lectures actually applies to real things in real life. This connection is much more tenuous if the "experiment" happens on a screen where you can make your superhero hurl a locomotive without any momentum kickback. There might be an argument for using computer games as laboratories with unknown physics, but that process begins with the assumption that simulated physics is different from the real world.

Another thing about experiments in class is that they don't always work. This is equally true for real experiments and for computer simulations. But the problems that crop up in computer simulations tend to be computer problems with computer fixes: there's some magic series of keystrokes that makes the program crash, or you can't access the data server because of a network problem. The problems in real experiments are much more likely to be related to the process you're studying: "we can't neglect friction because our little car has a sticky wheel." Those sorts of problems must be explicitly added to a simulation, which gives you a video-game of trying to guess whether you've thought of all the same issues as the programmer.

A simulation might be good preparation for a quiz, but it's not good preparation for using chemistry to bake a pie, or using physics to fix a car or frame a house. Skill at passing quizzes is a byproduct of becoming educated.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:28 AM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older The Elder Scrolls II Released as Freeware   |   Secrets for everyone Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments