Hackschooling and the Woeful American Approach to Education

Hackschooling is a new term that proponents of democratic education are using to describe alternate modes of K-12 schooling.  For examples see the Sudbury Valley Day School or the best summary of the new approach as outlined by 13 year-old Logan LaPlante.  Logan gives me hope for the future, but most kids do not because they are trapped in our long dead public schools. Big thanks to Social Consciousness for posting this initially. 😎

Check out Logan’s TEDx talk and then think about similar 13 year olds that you know.

It is rare to meet an articulate 13 year old from the public school system, even more rare at the college level. After teaching for 17 years at the college level, I lament that those ever important K-12 years are lost as we imprison our kids in dead educational institutions.  Their fatal wound is most aptly characterized by two acronyms: NCLB and AYP, the stalwarts of American dysfunction in education.

Our schools are dead because we do not pursue best practices in curriculum design, individualized learning, technology or teacher recruitment/retention. We are so far behind the routine practices of the top ten countries that I doubt we will ever catch up. To be clear the top ten countries educate their children for creativity, happiness, innovation and proficiency in a wide-range of subjects. Think about this: 60-80% of American college students require remedial courses to teach material that was originally presented at the 6th grade level. In my own experience, American students were the least creative, poor critical thinkers and totally unprepared to perform well in college because of the lack of critical preparation in K-12 schools.

The problems are numerous. First, professionals creating curriculum in the United States lack a realistic understanding of learning research, best practices and individualized learning/assessment plans. Most have never taught in the classroom at all. Yet, these same individuals often have degrees in curriculum design with a total lack of teaching experience. That’s right; they never worked in a classroom and cannot fathom the myriad of learning styles and individuals that make up a learning community. They design content only without understanding how teachers, students and content work together.

The Finnish system seems ideal, if only someone in a position to influence American education had classroom experience, perhaps we too could implement a similar model. However, as long as we cling to “core curriculum,” deny teachers autonomy, trap students in classrooms where surviving until retirement is the sole motivator for teachers, then our kids are doomed to a third world future via the pursuit of below average mediocrity in education.

The point: we could be the best, but we have settled for “17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math on a respected exam known as the Programme for International Student Assessment. Also known as PISA. The test is given to a representative sample of 15-year-olds in participating developed countries every three years. In 2009, Finland’s students scored third in reading, sixth in math and second in science out of 65 countries that participated in the exam.”1

We are failing our kids miserably where real education counts.  The people to blame: not the teachers, but the administrators and politicians who have zero understanding of real education, but yet send their kids to private schools that resemble the Finnish model.

1 Richards, Erin. “Finland puts bar high for teachers, kids’ well-being” Journal Sentinel .  Published on November 26, 2011.  Accessed online April 23, 2013 @ http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/finland-puts-bar-high-for-teachers-kids-wellbeing-qa2tbfr-134546548.html

Open Source Learning: Great places to study & learn for free

In the name of democratizing knowledge and providing educational opportunities to netizens everywhere, the following organizations have created excellent portals for high-quality online learning.  The courses offered are designed by professors who teach the same material at a variety of excellent universities including CMU, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania.  Each provider organization is experimenting with different interaction platforms so it is best to examine each site to determine your preferences for online learning.

The excerpts below were taken from the organizations’ web sites.  These descriptions were created by the founders of each group and are copied from the “About” pages on each site.

  • Coursera is a “social entrepreneurship company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.”
  • edX “is a not-for-profit enterprise of its founding partners Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that features learning designed specifically for interactive study via the web.”  This is a powerhouse partnership that also includes the University of California at Berkeley.
  • Udacity “was founded by three roboticists who believed much of the educational value of their university classes could be offered online for very low cost. A few weeks later, over 160,000 students in more than 190 countries enrolled in our first class, “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” The class was twice profiled by the New York Times and also by other news media.”
  • CMU Open Learning Initiative: “The Open Learning Initiative (OLI) is a grant-funded group at Carnegie Mellon University, offering innovative online courses to anyone who wants to learn or teach. Our aim is to create high-quality courses and contribute original research to improve learning and transform higher education.”
  • MIT Open Courseware “is a free publication of MIT course materials that reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT.”  The site emphasizes that it does not offer credit or all course materials for every course.  However, the depth and sheer number of offerings is impressive.

The purpose of highlighting these initiatives is not to provoke a qualitative comparison between the on campus and online environments.  Rather the intent is to show that these organizations represent a real contribution in making excellent information and course materials available to anyone with an Internet connection. It should also be noted that some of these organizations feel the qualitative difference is minimal.   In either case, these projects represent the fulfillment of  an early educational promise of the Internet: to provide learning opportunities at low or no cost on a global level.  Let the free learning begin…  😎