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I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
March 21, 2008 -- War of the Worlds
Status: [CLOSED]

Your rhetorical question:

"What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? Is it the seminars that aren't on the web? Faculty guidance? Research experience? Getting drunk and falling in the Charles River without your pants?"

The quality of the contacts and the people you meet while you're there.

I'm not convinced that the strength of the relationships you make on Facebook 3.0 will be right up there with the strength of a relationship forged by falling into the Charles River with or without your pants but with your pals.

Dave | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:14PM

I agree with your assessment. The old ways of teaching our children aren't keeping pace with their quest for learning. Restricting their access to new technologies isn't going to help them. The current educational system wasn't exactly a perfect fit for most people either, but in previous generations there were no alternatives. The wealth of knowledge available at our children's fingertips means we can't force-fit them into the old way of learning and we can't use the same measuring stick to guage their performance.

Kris | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:25PM

TRUE social networking - I think Dave nailed it.

"Actually it is already here but most of us haven't yet notice."

Terrible at texting indeed :)

John | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:25PM

As a sidebar to this thesis, and as someone involved in computer security, I have been interested in the changing social norms due to the anonymity of the web. My parents are offended by it. To my daughter, it's just part of the environment.


I think that issues of identity and trust are going to have to go thru an absorption process like the one Bob describes. Think of what moving from small towns to large metropolises meant in terms of personal security. Something similar will happen (is already happening) for web interactions.


Later . . . Jim

JJS | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:40PM

I visited a small private Christian school yesterday, no less, with a view to possibly enrolling my 5 year old son in the fall. This school meets three days a week, with two days being used for "home" school (but what they do during that time is dictated by the school.) You would not believe how far advanced this school is compared to the public schools. Kindergarten children were reading words, reciting vowels (long and short sounds). The children were invited to the board to parse words in accord with pronunciation rules. For example, "kite", would be marked with a short line over the i to indicate a long sound and the e with a slash through it. And, get this -- these kindergarten kids were being taught cursive. The combined first and second grade class was practicing math -- subtraction of three digit numbers including borrowing, plus learning roman numerals. The third and fourth grade class were reciting Bible verses and catechism statements. But I also observed a bulletin board layout with lots of Latin words. The 8th grade was also doing math -- Algebra, but it looked to me to be Algebra II -- a sophomore or junior year level when I was in school. I was all quite surprised at all how much ahead they all were. Now, the school is particular about who they admit -- not necessarily gifted kids, even though they were drawn from a prosperous upper middle class population that is no doubt above the mean. Their standards have more to do with how the kids behaves in the interview process -- whether they have self control and can remain focused and study well. And yes, most of these families are generation Y. I think you are right, a revolution in education is coming. Interesting observations.

John | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:48PM

Being able to search for and find the answer is all well and good, but what happens when you can't find the answer because no one has solved the problem yet? At some point you have to be able to take what you learn and solve new problems with it.

Beavis | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:49PM

Until people start taking conscious action to start behaving like responsible citizens instead of mindless self serving consumers, this county and everything it once stood for will continue to go straght to hell in a bread basket.

Radical Raul | Mar 21, 2008 | 7:57PM

Umm, I think you are in error regarding videos of MIT lecture courses. There are audio and video materials for a small minority of its courses, but that is all.

And, I would go even further and suggest that their open courseware initiative has been a bit of a hollow gesture - with many of the courses supplying a meager and inconsistent set of materials, which fall far short from being sufficient for self-study.

Mark Snyder | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:21PM

Bob raises some interesting points, but I think he misses one of the major concepts of education. While technical education (math, science, etc.) is important, socialization is equally so. And although extracurricular activities provide opportunities to socialize, it isn't enough.

The times they may be a changin', but not in the same way, and not for everyone. While the way we do research or design products may change, many other things will not. Building homes or bridges will still require coordination, teamwork, and manual labor. And business deals will still be negotiated over cocktails. These are skills you can't learn while sequestered in front of a computer.

Dave Brown | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:22PM

I understand your point of view, but I must disagree. Partially.

Nothing substitutes learning critical thinking skills. Look, I don't care if you can perform complex algebra or even if you remember every date in American history. I do care if you can read, write and think coherently. In other words, I care if you have the tools to continue learning on your own.

I agree that we are in a searching society. I work for an educational institution that promotes critical thinking skills over rote memorization. That is the point. You learned to think and learn. Doesn't matter what you remember, because you can reteach yourself at any time by Googling it and reading over it.

As for public education.... What a joke. I don't think the problem is strictly with the teaching style (though their foundation of humanism is flawed at its core). The problem starts at home and throwing money at schools will never fix the parents. Unfortunately.

mtgarden | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:39PM

About the time my son was getting into reading, I made the fatal mistake of bringing video games into the house. He never wired his brain for reading. Now, as a college sophomore, he has to contruct (and understand/assimilate) clear, cogent analytic argument...and it's real heavy going. He would like to puff on a pipe, wave his hands and pontificate.
Sorry but that does not work. This sea change you're talking about may be real, but there are significant imppairment to the functional abilities of the next generation. Glorifying incoherence does not create a generation that can compete with the Indians, Brazilians and Chinese.

Stewart Dean | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:49PM

First Point: The trend toward needing to know how to access info more than the info itself is a long term trend, perhaps starting with the advent of inexpensive, mass production of books, made possible by Gutenberg and those that followed. However, context is very important to know what the information really means. Expertise in an area gives context. Do you want your surgeon to know where to find the information on surgical anatomy or to know it cold before your appendectomy?

Second point: Reading whole books gives alot more context and alot more understanding than snippets on wikipedia or sparknotes. If you want future generations to have a fact-poor one dimensional view of the world, like that of our current president, then by all means let them browse the subjects superficially and extract bits and pieces to suit their pre-existing beliefs.

Third Point: Critical thinking skills and communication skills are honed via social interactions with peers and mentors not sitting in front of a computer. The University is an ideal place for those processes.

Steve Y | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:51PM

Your opinions might apply to a community college, but online lectures and study materials can in no way compare to an MIT education.

At MIT, nobody learns in the lectures. You learn in recitations, (smaller lectures taught by professors other than the lecturer), and by the homework and projects.

Research experience is huge at MIT, 80% of undergraduates (not just graduates) take a research position while at MIT.

Whether that's worth $35k or not is up to them, but getting an education is not the same as having access to the information.

MIT Engineer | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:52PM

Thank you for validating something my husband and I have been kicking around for quite some time now. It's much easier to send a link, with a well-expressed and enjoyable read behind it, than to convince someone over dinner that all of this is truly coming down.

Here's hoping that this article spreads and scares the funding right out of the broken schooling systems!

Annalea | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:52PM

Oh, and Dave Brown . . . desirable socialization doesn't happen in most traditional schools. Every desirable social skill necessary to life can be learned far more effectively, and without the trauma, social cliques/hazing, and outright limiting programming that schooling ingrains.

Annalea | Mar 21, 2008 | 8:56PM

There is an ISO program for students: the International Baccalaureate Program @ www.ib.org. It offers a consistent educational experience from K through high school. In order to obtain an IB Diploma (not just graduate), students must pass rigorous exams. We have two elementary school kids in an IB Charter School, and there is an IB high school nearby.

Despite the proliferation of electronic gadgets, book reading is required. My fifth grader seems to be able to context switch between XBox 360 and paper as well as can be expected...

Jim | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:06PM

ISO certification destroyed the mfg economy? I'm sorry I didn't know there was ISO certification for Nikes and other shoes, ISO certification for clothing, drugs and so on. I like those ISO certified medications made in China & other ISO certified comestibles. And all the time I thought it was the cheap labor.

degustibus | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:19PM

The accelerating price of higher ed. is only going to usher in this new era. I'm being told to budget half a million dollars to put my two toddlers through college. For a time when fully immersive telepresence will be commonplace? C'mon, get real.

Sending young adults away to college was established because it was resource mandated and economically feasible. When both of those things evaporate, what's left?

The above commenters have a good point about contacts - the Ivy I went to was valuable for me for the reason that I met lots of people who could get in there. Are we to believe this is the only workable model? If so, top colleges will be able to expand their tuition without bounds. If not, well, let me poke fun at people who think that we've reached the epitome of social networking.

There are good reasons for kids to learn to live on their own, there are good reasons to meet people, there are good reasons to gather to share physical resources. But these things aren't necessarily tightly coupled, and the genius who develops an Internet-based competing model is going to do pretty well for himself.

Oh, and for the record, we reject old people's Generation-N labels ("when you label me, you negate me"). Bob, you were getting a book published when I was entering Kindergarten. :)

Bill McGonigle | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:20PM

ISO certification destroyed the mfg economy? I'm sorry I didn't know there was ISO certification for Nikes and other shoes, ISO certification for clothing, drugs and so on. I like those ISO certified medications made in China & other ISO certified comestibles. And all the time I thought it was the cheap labor.

degustibus | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:23PM

One could argue that the main purpose of public schools is babysitting and there is history to support this point of view. After all children are not realistically employable until they are 16.
So if the parents are working (or mom needs a break) where do the children go?

Greg | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:35PM

Yes, education needs to change. My parents grew up just after the depression and the education is very similar to what it was then.


I have done on-line classes, distance learning, 'home study', as well as traditional teacher led. Many of my peers argue that 'learn by doing' is the 'only way' to really learn.


Personally, I like the 'try it, teach it, learn the theory needed to make it work' approach used at my sons college. Olin.edu ... Is it for everyone?


No. But neither is any other SINGLE approach.


I am not really concerned about teaching. I am concerned about 'learning'. Learning is what we want to have happen, no matter about the 'teaching'.

My kids went to public school mainly in the 'burbs of Houston TX. Average cost for the district we were is was $4800/yr/student. About $1000/student higher than the state average. My kids got an 'above average' education, because we helped them focus on learning. Learning was their job. Outside 'jobs' etc were good, but their PRIMARY job was learning.


What I see NOT changing in the future is the need for motivation from HOME. Yes, the PARENTS are a fundamental portion of the LEARNING experience. And there should be no-one more interested in a childs LEARNING than their parents. The parents should be even more interested than the children.


Learning can and should be fun. Fun is not the primary objective, but it can be the 'carrot' to entice and teach the love of learning.


Part of learning is teaching our children HOW to learn. And we must learn from them, but observing, what method(s) THEY learn best in. Olin is a very hands on approach. They give you a project, then teach you what it takes to get it done as needed. MIT starts with the theory then does gives you a 'project' to support the theory. Two different methods to the same goal. Some students do well in both, but most do better in one or the other type learning styles.


I applaud folks that will foster and continue their education and that of their children using ANY method that works for them. Personally I think UofPhoenix is a bit to high priced, but they are in it to make a buck, then provide education. And that model motivates some students to focus more. So for those students, it is the right style.


Back to the focus of Cringley this issue: Yes, what we are doing now is NOT the best. I argue we will ALWAYS be teaching the 'last big thing', and never the 'current big thing'. Teaching 'todays' details is NOT what education is about. It is about helping students LEARN. Learn how they learn. Recognize how they learn. Enjoy the process of learning. And most critically, learn how to think critically about anything they are being 'taught' so they can educate themselves.


Back to my thesis: No one can really be taught anything. We can be presented information. But WE MUST LEARN by ourselves. Teaching and classes can help, but WE MUST LEARN. Learning is an individual task, where teaching is not.

Jack | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:57PM

Excellent. Hasn't the majority of society detested the popularity contests, senseless memorization of facts that will be forgot within a few years (if not months), worthless classes on such a spectrum of subjects that no one will ever use. How many people actually learn a foreign language because they took it in school? How many people remember the leader of France in the middle of the 14th century? Who cares!? If I need to know I'll search for it and have an answer in minutes if not seconds. I used to beleive it was worth the effort so that you "knew where to look". The internet and search technology has changed that. Public school has become a recruiting and filtration ground for expensive colleges that only continue excessive learning and often meaningless memorization. The only real value that these public institutions seem to provide is a social network of other frustrated youths. I'm sure there's better ways for adolescents to socialize and expand their networks. But there's unlikely to be a better way to spread propaganda and pre-program drones for a pleasure oriented workforce. Wow...I didn't know I had all that in me. Thanks for the purge Bob. I guess I meant to say that I agree with you. ;)

Josh | Mar 21, 2008 | 9:59PM

The big advantage of school is the one-to-one interaction with teachers. To learn something like writing you need someone to read your stuff and comment on it and expect you to make changes and turn it back in. Of course, at public schools or maybe more so at colleges there is little of that. Professors often don't even return work. This is exactly why many students can't write. Then you have a situation where many teachers can't write because they were never taught. All the foreign teachers coming in doesn't help either. So the only advantage left is the role the teacher plays in giving you a grade and forcing you to meet deadlines and such. This is probably most important in science or math. If you've ever tried to study math or computers on your own it's hard. Once you get a foundation you can do it but starting out it's almost impossible. There's a bit of Moore's law there where sometimes it feels like you're not learning anything in clss but then you look back and realize you covered alot. There is one other way to accomplish the same thing which is on the job training. The old apprentice system worked pretty well. The direction is away from that though.

frankp | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:01PM

The educational system has been broken for a long time, but it adapts (slowly), and it will continue to adapt. Computers and pervasive information will be part of the system, not replace it. Kids need someplace to go to have an opportuniy to learn - most of the problem with the state of education in America is a problem at home, not at school. Homeschooling requires someone to stay home and direct the child. If I leave a 5th grader at home for a year with a computer, do you think he is going to magically get a year's worth of education? It might work for some types of higher learning with motivated people, but get real.

cholley | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:02PM

The big advantage of school is the one-to-one interaction with teachers. To learn something like writing you need someone to read your stuff and comment on it and expect you to make changes and turn it back in. Of course, at public schools or maybe more so at colleges there is little of that. Professors often don't even return work. This is exactly why many students can't write. Then you have a situation where many teachers can't write because they were never taught. All the foreign teachers coming in doesn't help either. So the only advantage left is the role the teacher plays in giving you a grade and forcing you to meet deadlines and such. This is probably most important in science or math. If you've ever tried to study math or computers on your own it's hard. Once you get a foundation you can do it but starting out it's almost impossible. There's a bit of Moore's law there where sometimes it feels like you're not learning anything in clss but then you look back and realize you covered alot. There is one other way to accomplish the same thing which is on the job training. The old apprentice system worked pretty well. The direction is away from that though.

frankp | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:03PM

The big advantage of school is the one-to-one interaction with teachers. To learn something like writing you need someone to read your stuff and comment on it and expect you to make changes and turn it back in. Of course, at public schools or maybe more so at colleges there is little of that. Professors often don't even return work. This is exactly why many students can't write. Then you have a situation where many teachers can't write because they were never taught. All the foreign teachers coming in doesn't help either. So the only advantage left is the role the teacher plays in giving you a grade and forcing you to meet deadlines and such. This is probably most important in science or math. If you've ever tried to study math or computers on your own it's hard. Once you get a foundation you can do it but starting out it's almost impossible. There's a bit of Moore's law there where sometimes it feels like you're not learning anything in clss but then you look back and realize you covered alot. There is one other way to accomplish the same thing which is on the job training. The old apprentice system worked pretty well. The direction is away from that though.

frankp | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:03PM

The big advantage of school is the one-to-one interaction with teachers. To learn something like writing you need someone to read your stuff and comment on it and expect you to make changes and turn it back in. Of course, at public schools or maybe more so at colleges there is little of that. Professors often don't even return work. This is exactly why many students can't write. Then you have a situation where many teachers can't write because they were never taught. All the foreign teachers coming in doesn't help either. So the only advantage left is the role the teacher plays in giving you a grade and forcing you to meet deadlines and such. This is probably most important in science or math. If you've ever tried to study math or computers on your own it's hard. Once you get a foundation you can do it but starting out it's almost impossible. There's a bit of Moore's law there where sometimes it feels like you're not learning anything in clss but then you look back and realize you covered alot. There is one other way to accomplish the same thing which is on the job training. The old apprentice system worked pretty well. The direction is away from that though.

frankp | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:04PM

The big advantage of school is the one-to-one interaction with teachers. To learn something like writing you need someone to read your stuff and comment on it and expect you to make changes and turn it back in. Of course, at public schools or maybe more so at colleges there is little of that. Professors often don't even return work. This is exactly why many students can't write. Then you have a situation where many teachers can't write because they were never taught. All the foreign teachers coming in doesn't help either. So the only advantage left is the role the teacher plays in giving you a grade and forcing you to meet deadlines and such. This is probably most important in science or math. If you've ever tried to study math or computers on your own it's hard. Once you get a foundation you can do it but starting out it's almost impossible. There's a bit of Moore's law there where sometimes it feels like you're not learning anything in clss but then you look back and realize you covered alot. There is one other way to accomplish the same thing which is on the job training. The old apprentice system worked pretty well. The direction is away from that though.

frankp | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:05PM

You may want to follow many of these debates, from an educational - and "special educational" - point of view (for this is not simply a generational battle - it is a battle for civil rights and essential equity) at http://speedchange.blogspot.com/

Ira Socol | Mar 21, 2008 | 10:58PM

The old adage about giving someone a fish vs. teaching them to fish applies to knowledge/expertise too.

Of course once education is mostly online it will soon be shipped to India.

Then it won't be just midwestern states that are selling complete school buildings and land on eBay for $5 a square foot.

Dave N | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:10PM

To anyone who will defend public schools with ANY argument....my post applys: THEY SUCK! You can not expect to put some lactating liberal who only choose the teaching profession because WOW ....I get 3 monthes off a year! and expect them to do anything but foul the job up royaly. And yes...by and large that is who is teaching. Sure there are a few exceptions. But honestly they are truly rare.

fred R | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:12PM

To anyone who will defend public schools with ANY argument....my post applys: THEY SUCK! You can not expect to put some lactating liberal who only choose the teaching profession because WOW ....I get 3 monthes off a year! and expect them to do anything but foul the job up royaly. And yes...by and large that is who is teaching. Sure there are a few exceptions. But honestly they are truly rare.

fred R | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:13PM

People don't read? Oh, that would explain why J.K. Rowling is a pauper and why Oprah has a typing club.

One of the benefits of the net has been cheap books (transparent pricing)...

Martijn Koldijk | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:20PM

What a lot of people fail to realize is that teachers do not teach you anything. You teach yourself.

What we call teachers ideally are mentors and guides. They are there to help you understand concepts that would be difficult to understand on your own.

Lecturing is the crude bulk dissemination of information. As with a lot of bulk repetitive tasks, this is better handled with a computer. What the teacher is really needed for is to help students understand certain difficult concepts.

Even this one on one assistance is more effectively handled through a computer and the internet. Through the use of remote video, audio and computer access a teacher could assist a student with understanding difficult concepts on a one on one basis. The teacher does not have to be in the same room with the student to do this.

DB | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:20PM

Your teachers were all lactating? I can see why didn't pay attention during speeelleing lessons :-)

If, uh, you're into that kind of thing. Which I'm not. Mostly. :-P

Dary Luver | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:21PM

What makes an MIT education worth what it costs? The piece of paper you get at the end which says "Bachelor of Science" on it. That's it.

But that's likely to continue being worth rather a lot.

A public high school diploma? Essentially worthless. The only thing it's good for is serving as the least important of many prerequisites for a student's admission to college, and smart parents are waking up to the fact that there are better ways of satisfying that requirement...and that most of those other methods will result in a better education for their kids.

If the public school scam collapses tomorrow, it wouldn't be too soon for my taste. I know my kids will never be touching that monstrosity.

Matt | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:34PM

I am right here with you on this one. If I had a kid in school right now, I would home school her online and send her to all the after school activities to get socialized and make contacts. The schools do not teach things that the kids need to know NOW, and the kids know it. My foster kid, in college, is taking accounting and learning hos to post debits and credits. How old is Quicken????

francine hardaway | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:34PM

For me it was seeing that KK Downing (Judas Priest guitarist) knew what a Venn Diagram was, however kids I've tutored in math in first year university didn't.

Andrew Krakowski | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:38PM

Outstanding! This is why I keep coming back to this column.

One thing concerns me about the downfall of the school. I value my alma maters for their communal value. They taught me how to be social - how to converse about non-education topics, how to make friends, who not to befriend, how to influence others, when to adopt the values and ideas of others that no text book or online lecture video will ever cover. There's something to be said for taking a random group of kids and adolescents, throwing them together, and figuring how to live with each other. If I got my education online, or home schooled, for that matter, I'd be a social recluse. Afraid, unwanting, or unable to hold a job interview, go on a date, or go to a party. There's a substantial minority of kids who can't make friends via social network sites, texting, or whatever the next big thing is. And some kids, to their detriment, just choose not to.

Ephilei | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:44PM

You're right. Our schools are badly broken! I spent 40 years teaching mostly science and math in a public high school, always trying to find a better way to provide skills students need. In the end I was campaigning that we needed to seriously reconsider what students would need for the 21st Century. And school administrators, largely fearful of change, were looking for ways to show me the door.

I'm now spending full time trying to determine what students really should be taught, and if that can be provided with appropriate practice via the web. While educational institutions will continue to try to maintain traditions, I expect we will soon have free global public education for those who want it. The hardest part is trying to determine what skills and understanding a person will need to effectively use the search and other things technology is providing.

dtrapp | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:52PM

Having received a doctorate from MIT in 69, having taught there for 8 years, and having started computing with a Royal McBee LGP-30 with drum memory some years before that, I can say that every generation has faced "break the mold" technology changes: programmable calculators until now.

What makes an in-house education beat a web education hands down is interaction face-to-face. It's easy to dismiss the value of direct face time -- the nuances of gesture, the debates over a beer, the shared struggle at the blackboard in an empty classroom to solve a knotty problem, the trial balloons floated among your fellows that you don't want to try on your advisor -- I learned more from my fellow students through 5 years of graduate study in such excellent company than I did from all previous education or from the professors. I don't think that will ever go away.

Adam Bell | Mar 21, 2008 | 11:59PM

Check this out - almost 4000 educational, research, science videos online; Cambridge, CMU and others participating...
http://videolectures.net/

Peter Kese | Mar 22, 2008 | 12:00AM

Having received a doctorate from MIT in 69, having taught there for 8 years, and having started computing with a Royal McBee LGP-30 with drum memory some years before that, I can say that every generation has faced "break the mold" technology changes: programmable calculators until now.

What makes an in-house education beat a web education hands down is interaction face-to-face. It's easy to dismiss the value of direct face time -- the nuances of gesture, the debates over a beer, the shared struggle at the blackboard in an empty classroom to solve a knotty problem, the trial balloons floated among your fellows that you don't want to try on your advisor -- I learned more from my fellow students through 5 years of graduate study in such excellent company than I did from all previous education or from the professors. I don't think that will ever go away.

Adam Bell | Mar 22, 2008 | 12:01AM

ISO 9000 is an effect, not a cause. It helps management justify it's existence.

The customer could care less about certificates, they want it cheaper, and better, but mostly cheaper.

We already have the equivalent of ISO 9000 in education. It's called "No child left behind". The difference is there are no market pressures to force improvement. If technology can help provide competition, we may get improvement. Until then most of the effort will go into a paper trail, to justify business as usual.

Brian

Brian Dyer | Mar 22, 2008 | 12:21AM

Fascinating and thought-provoking article, Bob! Bravo!

A critical component to the technology vs. education issue is the fundamental question of philosophy of education. What does it mean to educate, and why educate in the first place? If education is merely preparing someone to effectively apply knowledge to answer questions, solve problems, and achieve goals in life and business, then it makes sense that the search economy would seriously threaten the deterministic educational establishment.

However, alternative educational mediums such as home schooling, charter schools, and even self-education do not operate purely on a search economy. They also focus on molding a student's deterministic world-view. (Everyone has one.)

True education includes conscientiously guiding the character and self-awareness of the student in relation to the particular subject matter toward an overriding purpose. People seek alternatives to the "educational establishment" more often due to a difference in philosophy than merely a disagreement over method.

The ultimate failure of the current educational establishment is a philosophical failure, not merely an issue of method or process. What the student is evolving toward will always be as and more important than how the educator gets him there.

The question is what should the ultimate end of the educational metamorphosis be?

Steve McKisic | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:01AM

Wow. What a well-written, well-thought out, intelligent and thought-provoking essay!

I am a big believer in education but schools are moving away from education and towards training. There is a big difference.

I recently had to hire a new engineer. I had a choice between a well-rounded, well-educated guy with a broad perspective or a guy who did this exact same job for his last two companies. I chose the latter because I was under pressure to get the new guy up and running ASAP.

So I chose training over education. Short term, great for me. But I wondered why this guy would want to do the same old job over and over again? Long term, that is what is wrong with our educational system. That is what is wrong with our economy's short-sighted focus on quarterly earnings and, sadly, that is what's wrong with our country and why its inexorable slide into mediocrity is inevitable. Sigh.

Esteban Trabajos | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:05AM

My chidren are all adults, so their opinions would not really be relevant. However, I will consider circularizing my grandchildren with your column. I trust that forwarding will not get me into trouble wth you.

It was an interesting column, but only time will reveal whether it is really predicitive.

Stan Skirvin (CactusCritter) | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:26AM

I live in Norway, and have two little boys in the Norwegian school system, which is a bit like having two little boys in 1957.

I have been beating the drum of "Let them have their cell phones!" for the past three years...to no avail. I am forwarding your article to the principals of the two schools that my kids attend. Of course, that probably will just get me another one of those "here comes the Crazy American" looks. However, the system has to change, or it's going to collapse because these kids are going to tear it down from the inside.

Vic Phillipson | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:51AM

I 100% agree with you Bob. The state of education now is analogous too how the Military are always fighting 'the last war' both in strategy and technological terms. I guess when the 'grey' hairs run the system (I'm one!) its difficult to see how new thinking can be deployed without a battle between the two sides.

Andrew Herron | Mar 22, 2008 | 3:36AM

"people don't read books" but we should.

og | Mar 22, 2008 | 3:38AM

Very interesting article - and I agree to it.
The problem I always had in such discussions is, that as soon as you criticize the system with real arguments - you end up criticizing the people who currently control it - and profit from it (teachers/polititians).
And those people are willing to reform the system only as long as they stay in control of it.
We're quite deadlocked purely because of money.


hirni | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:14AM

Very interesting article - and I agree to it.
The problem I always had in such discussions is, that as soon as you criticize the system with real arguments - you end up criticizing the people who currently control it - and profit from it (teachers/polititians).
And those people are willing to reform the system only as long as they stay in control of it.
We're quite deadlocked purely because of money.


hirni | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:15AM

Very interesting article - and I agree to it.
The problem I always had in such discussions is, that as soon as you criticize the system with real arguments - you end up criticizing the people who currently control it - and profit from it (teachers/polititians).
And those people are willing to reform the system only as long as they stay in control of it.
We're quite deadlocked purely because of money.


hirni | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:17AM

A very interesting piece. I read this column then looked at my own situation to compare how it fits.

I first came across you Bob as your book, Accidental Empires, was used in one on the modules I was studying in the Technology degree I was studying for. I have read your column ever since.

I am in my mid 40's yet I share the same view.I have always been interested in technology and therefore we have a household which is pretty modern.

The effect this has had on my 2 boys growing up has been amazing. I got a copy of the 3D software Maya for my youngest son when he was 10. Any adult looking at Maya for the first time would come out in a sweat by its visual appearance of complexity, but my son took to it like a duck to water and he models on it with such speed and creativity, that my wife and I are left watching in awe. He is not even a top performer at school either.

When he goes to school, he *teaches* the IT teacher on technology. At first I found this amusing, but then I realised that something is wholly wrong. How can the education system be lagging so far behind I asked myself.?

I have come to the conclusion that institutions like schools have no change management culture. In business, if fierce competition is at your door and you cannot compete, you change or die. And this can happen very very quickly.

Educational establishments are built on historical values which are not directly linked to modern values. There is simply a huge disconnect.

In my opinion, schools should just provide the tools to learn and provide mild guidance in direction. Let the imagination of the kids take the lead and follow the path they take.

:)

Ian Roberts | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:46AM

Matt Groening said it best. Sitting in neat rows doing what you're told as a child prepares you to sit in neat rows doing what you're told as an adult. School really serves no other purpose.

I spent 8 years in college and loved every second of it, but looking back now I didn't really learn all that much compared to what I learned subsequently, on my own, using the internet. That, coupled with the fact that no one (not ONCE!) has asked to see any of my diplomas makes me think it wasn't the best way to spend that part of my life.

My kids aren't quite old enough yet, but when they are I don't think I want them in school. What a waste of time. A kid can learn a lot more from a well-stocked library, a lab, an internet connection (with certain select filters installed,) and a couple of engaged and committed parents.
Make sure they interact with other kids on a regular basis and get some exercise, and I call that a well-rounded education. Hell, they'll probably learn faster too.

Clancy | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:55AM

Here's a project for everyone.
Nevermind Generation Y. Imagine the world of Generation Z in fifteen years.
If we're lucky, we will have just extricated our troops from Middle East by then. The U.S. nor any country will be dominant superpower, economically or militarily. Regions will co-operate in self interest of its inhabitants or fail squabbling wasting resources, as energy, water, food and shelter will be dearer than ever. Ninety percent of personal communications (and what we laughingly call personal computing) will be via mobile handheld devices. Seventy to eighty-five percent of all transactions will be electronic. Paper cheques will be extinct. Paper and coins will still be readily available but used very rarely. Local-issued, financial institution-issued and promotional-issued scrip will vie with equally with Federal Reserve Notes. Privacy as we laughingly cling to now will be ancient history. American English will still flourish but begin to be supplanted by a type of Spanish English (not Spanish with occasional English words peppered throughout). Texting English will be a recognized English dialect. Many communities and states will no longer fund public schooling. Many children will take lessons online at home or in board certified pod/facilities and attend testing centers for GEDS. Use of public transportation will be at an all time high, as cost of private vehicle ownership and maintenance will be very cost prohibitive. Manned space flights will continue to be very rare and undertaken by ultra-wealthy private individuals - most government sponsored space missions are accomplished by specialized mechanized robots and satellites. The manned mission to Mars is scrapped. Plans will be on drawing board for terraforming and colonizing Mars and rest of Solar System - but terraforming Mars for human colonization will be a several hundred years process and will still be considered a pipe dream, for now. On Earth the last of the Baby Boomers will be turning sixty years old, but will not be planning to retire. In fact, a good many of the surviving Boomers in their mid-seventies will be not retired but part of the American workforce. Many Americans will be strongly advised, even pressured not to apply to collect Social Security until they reached eighty. Linux and BSD variants will will be most widely used embedded OSes in most devices (Microsoft will have shifted its revenue focus away from OSes, but still derive gagillions of income from online services and applications).

Kevin Kunreuther | Mar 22, 2008 | 6:04AM

Good article.

Would not be upset to think my kids were in 1957 vs. today; looking back at the last 30 years there has been as much noise as signal in tech developments.

That means - if you always go with the flow, how can you tell if you chose the right signal, not the noise? Giving an education based on the 8-track might have been good in 1970 but people with that as a resource limit would flounder now. Tech changes and faster all the time.

I like using the basics - they work. Schools teach basics.

Socialisation - never worked for me at school. I was always one of the guys to one side, who didn't have friends. What does that say? Nothing is certain. Win some, loose some.

The ideal school should really be tuned / designed for each individual kid, else tyranny must be imposed thus accepted as normal.

What, that's what we've got???

// here in the UK I have to show all my certs and bits of paper; seems that without the employers conclude I'm are lying

steve | Mar 22, 2008 | 6:29AM

Good article.

Would not be upset to think my kids were in 1957 vs. today; looking back at the last 30 years there has been as much noise as signal in tech developments.

That means - if you always go with the flow, how can you tell if you chose the right signal, not the noise? Giving an education based on the 8-track might have been good in 1970 but people with that as a resource limit would flounder now. Tech changes and faster all the time.

I like using the basics - they work. Schools teach basics.

Socialisation - never worked for me at school. I was always one of the guys to one side, who didn't have friends. What does that say? Nothing is certain. Win some, loose some.

The ideal school should really be tuned / designed for each individual kid, else tyranny must be imposed thus accepted as normal.

What, that's what we've got???

// here in the UK I have to show all my certs and bits of paper; seems that without the employers conclude I'm are lying

steve | Mar 22, 2008 | 6:31AM

Good article.

Would not be upset to think my kids were in 1957 vs. today; looking back at the last 30 years there has been as much noise as signal in tech developments.

That means - if you always go with the flow, how can you tell if you chose the right signal, not the noise? Giving an education based on the 8-track might have been good in 1970 but people with that as a resource limit would flounder now. Tech changes and faster all the time.

I like using the basics - they work. Schools teach basics.

Socialisation - never worked for me at school. I was always one of the guys to one side, who didn't have friends. What does that say? Nothing is certain. Win some, loose some.

The ideal school should really be tuned / designed for each individual kid, else tyranny must be imposed thus accepted as normal.

What, that's what we've got???

// here in the UK I have to show all my certs and bits of paper; seems that without the employers conclude I'm are lying

steve | Mar 22, 2008 | 6:32AM

Bob says: "What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? "

Answer: Like most educational institutions, the added-value is (a) individual tutoring by teaching assistants or teachers, (b) tutoring by other students, and (c) being surrounded by students in the same course which creates an environment of learning and socializing.

Those things together make the at-MIT education (or at-Whatever-School) education twice as effective as the Lectures-on-video approach.


William Donelson | Mar 22, 2008 | 6:54AM

Many of the comments reflect the point of view that an online education is somehow defective because it lacks direct face-to-face social interaction. However, it should be pointed out that human social interaction itself (as well as the human workplace), is increasingly becoming online rather than face-to-face. Just look at all the teenagers nowadays who hardly have time to meet each other in person anymore, because they are too busy texting, chatting, and updating their Facebook pages. I can easily imagine a near future in which such kids receive their entire education online, and happily go on to lifelong careers as millionaire Web 3.0 entrepreneurs, with virtually all of their social interactions occurring online as well.

In 100 years, most human beings will be living in individual, honeycomb-like cells (as was remarkably envisioned by E.M. Forster in his 1909 short story "The Machine Stops"), with their brains directly wired into the SuperInternet. But instead of the Machine breaking down, we will continue to evolve as Cyborgs, and in 200 years we will all have become immortal Gods, having uploaded our brains directly into the Machine. In 300 years each human-cum-God will have created his own private Universe to play with, and any further education will obviously be redundant.

Moral of the story: Get a head start, and sign up for that online course now, hehehe!

Gary A. Fitzpatrick | Mar 22, 2008 | 7:13AM

24 year old software engineer here. I couldn't agree more with you. The disconnect I feel with traditional institutes of learning is incredible.

Take for example academic research and the New York Public Library. My girlfriend, an art historian pursuing her PhD, spends on average 22 hours a week at the NYPL or the New York Historical Society. You think, well, she's doing research, that takes a while. Let's break down those hours:

Hours, Task:
1, Finding material to take out using online database

4, Waiting for retrieval materials (all reference material must be sent up from basement)

2, Scanning through material for relevant
information

4, Photo-copying, printing (microfilm), waiting for speciality copies (rare materials), hand photographing (materials too damaged for photo-copying)

6, Wasted for materials lost, broken microfilm machines, broken photo-copy machines, a**hole librarians, filling out ILLs (Inter-Library Loans), dealing with departmental red tape, being given the "run around"

5, Traveling with the NYC MTA!

So, out of 22 hours, she spends 3 really doing what most of us would consider research. 18 hours (80%) of her time is spent procuring the materials she needs to actually do the real research.

Now, compare that with the amount of time it takes her to find materials at JSTOR [jstor.com], an online archive of thousands of scholarly journals:

10 minutes, Search for a list of keywords

10 minutes, Print documents

The disconnect between the digital and the analog is striking. Every time I waste one of my Saturdays to help her photo-copy, I fantasize about the Google Book Eating(TM) Machine, neatly slicing the binding off of a 200 year old manuscript, scanning it at 600 dpi, tokenizing every word for search and making it freely available for the world.

Jake | Mar 22, 2008 | 8:59AM

24 year old software engineer here. I couldn't agree more with you. The disconnect I feel with traditional institutes of learning is incredible.

Take for example academic research and the New York Public Library. My girlfriend, an art historian pursuing her PhD, spends on average 22 hours a week at the NYPL or the New York Historical Society. You think, well, she's doing research, that takes a while. Let's break down those hours:

Hours, Task:
1, Finding material to take out using online database

4, Waiting for retrieval materials (all reference material must be sent up from basement)

2, Scanning through material for relevant
information

4, Photo-copying, printing (microfilm), waiting for speciality copies (rare materials), hand photographing (materials too damaged for photo-copying)

6, Wasted for materials lost, broken microfilm machines, broken photo-copy machines, a**hole librarians, filling out ILLs (Inter-Library Loans), dealing with departmental red tape, being given the "run around"

5, Traveling with the NYC MTA!

So, out of 22 hours, she spends 3 really doing what most of us would consider research. 19 hours (80%) of her time is spent procuring the materials she needs to actually do the real research.

Now, compare that with the amount of time it takes her to find materials at JSTOR [jstor.com], an online archive of thousands of scholarly journals:

10 minutes, Search for a list of keywords

10 minutes, Print documents

The disconnect between the digital and the analog is striking. Every time I waste one of my Saturdays to help her photo-copy, I fantasize about the Google Book Eating(TM) Machine, neatly slicing the binding off of a 200 year old manuscript, scanning it at 600 dpi, tokenizing every word for search and making it freely available for the world.

Jake | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:01AM

Bob, I think the brick-and-mortar institutions still have value in the idea that congregating with one's peers in the interest of learning is a Good Thing.

Personally, although I fall into the "bullied in high school" column, I'd not have traded it for home schooling, because I had to learn how to deal with other kids/teenager/young adults, as well as how to express myself coherently (writing and speaking.) It's one thing to write an essay and submit it via a web form. It's quite another to stand up in front of a class and recite it.

George | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:04AM

Bob, I couldn't agree with you more. When I was in school, I couldn't stand classes where we had to memorize APIs. I couldn't get enough of classes where we focused on how to process information and think critically.

We are now in an information rich society and not an information poor society.

Alex Birch | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:43AM

This is interesting, Bob, like many of your articles... but as usual, I suspect that you have found an interesting molehill and assumed that it must be the tip of a world-altering mountain. Sometimes, Bob, a molehill is just a molehill.

To offer a partially-serious rebuttal, I might cynically suggest that the real value of K-12 education is not learning or even socialization, but publicly-provided daycare; the technology which schools need to worry about is therefore the robot babysitter rather than the internet.

Matt K | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:56AM


Speaking as a parent and someone very "into" technology - there are a few hurdles that block the way:

1. Parents LIKE sending their kids to school because of the daycare concept of it. This allows alot of families to be two working parent families. Many families rely on this income to survive.

2. Looking at society now, I obviously can't trust current parents to teach their children manners, respect, or right from wrong. I don't want these same parents teaching calculus. I guarantee that won't happen.

3. There are way too many single parent households in the country for this to become more than an expanded home-schooling effort.


A more likely scenario to me is that technology education will start as a fringe education that technological parents will give their children because they can and want to. I then see the schools SLOWLY learning that this is happening and then incorporating them into the schools. I think that's where your 30 years will be. 30 years from now technology will be in schools due to the pioneering efforts made by technology parents who either want to give their kids a leg up and who just teach tech to their kids for fun.

Dave | Mar 22, 2008 | 10:12AM

Bob,this is the best I have read of yours. It provides a positive "hint" as to how our amazing technology explosion will revolutionize our archaic education system. I was a Xerox planning executive from 1960 until 1987 and experienced all the joys & then frustrations you have written about. But did you know in the 60's, well before the creation of PARC, Xerox formed an education group. Another example of their foresight without results.

Elmer Humes | Mar 22, 2008 | 10:47AM

As an ancient (32 years in the classroom) teacher, I have seen technology emerge, be embraced, and become integrated into our classes. Yes, education will always be behind the curve, yet we teachers do use email, online discussion groups, web pages, Google apps, photo sharing, SMART boards, and blogs, both with our students and with each other. Surprisingly, I have found parents are not as up on the uses of technology as you (and many others) may think. I email with parents now instead of playing phone tag. When I mention some of our uses of technology to parents at open houses I get many blank, and clueless, stares. Education serves as a convenient whipping boy for the complaints of society. I am amazed by the high level of teacher who is entering the classroom today, and yes, they come prewired to use the technology we have and extend it further and further. Education is changing - slower than many would like - but education reflects society, its wants and its needs, and that is why it is behind the curve.

Tom | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:00AM

As an ancient (32 years in the classroom) teacher, I have seen technology emerge, be embraced, and become integrated into our classes. Yes, education will always be behind the curve, yet we teachers do use email, online discussion groups, web pages, Google apps, photo sharing, SMART boards, and blogs, both with our students and with each other. Surprisingly, I have found parents are not as up on the uses of technology as you (and many others) may think. I email with parents now instead of playing phone tag. When I mention some of our uses of technology to parents at open houses I get many blank, and clueless, stares. Education serves as a convenient whipping boy for the complaints of society. I am amazed by the high level of teacher who is entering the classroom today, and yes, they come prewired to use the technology we have and extend it further and further. Education is changing - slower than many would like - but education reflects society, its wants and its needs, and that is why it is behind the curve.

Tom | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:00AM

One thing I see as a former educator (got out because of short-sighted administrations, not the kids) is that kids aren't really absorbing what they cut and paste. When I've got a kid who has trouble forming a coherent sentence on his own and he suddenly sounds like Buckley (or Cringley) in his homework, I can sense that something is wrong. The Internet isn't being used as a resource, it's being used as a replacement.

I agree that we need to focus more on teaching kids HOW to learn than we do now, and that's a shortcoming that we're going to be paying for for a long time to come. But there are minimum standards that we have to make sure kids can meet on their own -- and those aren't the standards that most states have in place with their "No Child's Behind Left Untested" programs and their "let's teach the kids how to pass the test and never mind about real life" staff.

Warren | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:11AM

The missing link is that just finding information is not sufficient, you must understand it. I realize that there are a significant number of people that are willing to go out and learn what they need to know to understand a topic, but are they in the majority?

I think the schools system is largely useless. I never finished high school. My children are learning not much that I think is worth knowing. I still ended up going to college (late) to earn a BSEE, I loved it. The schools are broken, but we haven't found how to replace the function of teaching understanding. Until that happens, nothing will change. I don't think it is a pure technology solution.

Alma | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:23AM

This reminds me of legal research class in Law School. My professor said several times that research was the most imnportant class in Law School because the law was far too vast for anyone to learn all of it. The most important skill was being able to find it. Of course, that was ca. 1976, a few years before the Apple II or the IBM PC. Nexis and Lexis were not available. So we were taught to use West's Digests, Black's Legal Dictionary, Legal Encyclopedias, note cards and copying machines.

Of course, grades and class standing were, and I assume, still are, based on being able to regurgitate black letter law and judicial opinions come exam time.

Steve | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:36AM

John wrote:

"I was all quite surprised at all how much ahead they all were. Now, the school is particular about who they admit ... Their standards have more to do with how the kids behaves in the interview process -- whether they have self control and can remain focused and study well. ... I think you are right, a revolution in education is coming."

Those students aren't "ahead" because of technology, but because that private school is able to select - "cherry-pick" - which kids from the community it wants to teach.

What school system -couldn't- get equal results if they were able to bar entry to students who would distract others, or slow the overall pace instruction?

MikieV | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:40AM

The latest Arthur C. Clarke used to say:

"Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all"

Proper schooling has never been and will never be about amassing information but about what can be accomplished with it to build and create new and original ideas. In the search economy we are currently living, "guidance", or if you prefer, "mentoring", is more needed then ever, lest the next generation be drowned and dominated by a sea of information they lack the wisdom to assimilate and make good use.

Manuel Eduardo Correia | Mar 22, 2008 | 12:06PM

Yes, a dynamic society.

A search society.

Check out the original principles of Maria Montessori - that enabled 'developmentally challenged' students to excel - and see if you don't agree that the idea of self-organized development and education might not be just the thing for these times.

"-"

sabadash | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:08PM

You wrote "What is it, then, that makes an MIT education worth $34,986? Is it the seminars that aren't on the web? Faculty guidance? Research experience? Getting drunk and falling in the Charles River without your pants? Right now it is all those things plus a dimensionless concept of educational quality."

I'm an old guy, late 60's, and my last educational experience was engineering graduate school at Cal. As engineering schools go, Cal is on a par with MIT but less expensive. One of the things that was most important to me at Cal was networking. My research advisor could call up a former student at a world-class laboratory and arrange a summer job for me. I became acquainted with professors who were world-class scientists and that association was important for career development. Their reputations did not come from being associated with Cal but from their publications in respected refereed journals. This is still the case. "Publish or perish" is not a bad thing, it is how you establish yourself as a scientist on the world stage by showing that your work is first class.

Maybe it's just because I'm an old guy but I see too many young scientists and engineers who just throw their problem into a computer without understanding the problem in the first place. The best ones, sadly too few, and still do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to gain some insight to their problem. Only then is it appropriate to put it into a computer code to obtain a detailed result that they can feel confident is not GIGO.

Is something similar operative for history majors? It wouldn't surprise me.

And, yes, I love Google and Wikipedia. The only way you can get my computers away from me is to pry them out of my cold dead hands. You're right about texting. I'm too damn old.

tom gosnell | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:09PM

In 2001 I taught French at a community college. The class consisted of a home-schooled 17-year-old who was illiterate, a couple of 30-year-olds who knew how to learn, and a bunch of 18- to 23-year-olds. After that experience, I dubbed the young ones the one-click-generation. They were incapable of studying. They expected to be spoon-fed the information and to be able to then regurgitate French. They did not know how to actively participate in their own learning process. If they couldn't get the info they needed in a few clicks, they wouldn't or didn't know how to expend the effort.

I am no technophobe. I'm a tech writer, Internet entrepreneur and geekette. I've railed on friends my age (40s) for being so clueless about the Internet and computers. But the picture you paint is dire. Will our children become a society of Plato's cave allegory prisoners, only able to understand the world through the machines they are chained to? What will happen when they turn around? They have to turn around. Children, even under direction, can't get every educational experience they need from a computer. Computers can't teach them _how_ to learn, and they can't teach them that they _should_ learn.

I almost did an online computer programming degree at CSU Bakersfield. It was the complete four-year degree. Computers are perfect for teaching adults skills that are measurable.

But the passive nature of learning from a screen cannot work for kids. In this generation, will a quick scan of the wikipedia article on the Enlightenment be enough to prepare tomorrow's leaders?

My nephew, who is 8, is being home-schooled, much to my chagrin. His mother has a high-school education and relies heavily on high-quality videos and computer apps for things like supplemental math exercises. The kid can spout more facts than other kids his age, but he has no ideas. Ideas are what civilization is about.

The educational system definitely needs to stop fighting technology, but more importantly, it desperately needs to start incorporating it effectively and imaginatively into education. But we must never hand over teaching of our kids to machines.

Pamela | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:23PM

In a perfect world, where all things are equal, your theory might hold up. But we live in a far from perfect world. And, from my perch, here is where your theory falls short.

In order for this to work, you assume all families can afford at least four computers per child during the course of their child's education. Many families can barely afford one computer, muchless one per child.

While the new technology may be the portal for information, this new technology has already proven itself an inadequate tool for on a broad range of social issues. Email and texting take the "person" out of personal interaction. They remove the smiles, the frowns, the body language out of inter-personal communication. It is solely up to the reader to know what the writer intended to say. Get it wrong and you have a potential recipe for disaster.

Not all learning requires or can be enhanced by a computer. We, as a society, have become so fixated on the concept that "everyone needs a college degree" to be successful that we have lost sight of the many skills that are learned OJT. I want to see you Google yourself to become a Master Plumber, a Master Carpenter or one of the other construction trades, all a necessary part of a functional society.

We have brainiacked ourselves right into a recession, We keep telling our young people you can't get a good job without first running up a huge financial debt to get a degree then only to discover on the other end that we have shipped all the jobs offshore.

Then, too, there is the matter of teaching ethics. Just this past week, we have witnessed a breach of privacy with the passport files of three Presidential candidates. Computers may be the portals for information. But there is a responsibility that comes with that freedom. "Just because you can doesn't mean that you should!"

No, teaching the next generation to merely pass a test (like they do in Florida) is not the answer. But turning everyone into a Google maniac isn't going to get it done, either. We might all become Bobo wannabees singing the lyric "I still haven't found what I looking for".

Paul | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:28PM

I think colleges and universities are in the danger of being supplanted. Because of tax laws and alumni gifts, these institutions are now large palace complexes. It now probably costs more to maintain the infrastructure then it costs to run the whole place when I went to college.

At some point, the huge cost of attending college (now over $50,000 a year for tution, room and board) will be unsustainable. The collapse will come very quickly and be replaced by other institutions that are found acceptable. Like in other collapses (think of the changes in how stocks are traded today), technology will play a big part in the change.

Jeff | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:33PM

The same Moores Law that is ushering in these changes may have even more profound effects in ten years or so. I noticed that some outfit has time alloted with one of IBM's biggest computers to see if they can pass the Turing Test this year. What do you think will happen to education when the computer the kid is working with has human level smarts or as good a simulation of as not to matter? That may not be a bad thing.

Bernard Garner | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:54PM

Tech will be bringing changes but the current problems with government schools are totally unrelated and are of so much greater importance we should forget about tech except in ways we can use it to destroy the current system.

Yes I said destroy. The current system can't be fixed, reformed, updated or modernized. The sooner it can be destroyed the sooner we stop destroying more children.

And no, just letting them sit around texting each other, playing Xbox and playing with Google and their MySpace page gets you the current crop of brain damaged kids. They don't read books because they can't read. They can puzzle out text messages because the input methods are so slow teh other side has enough time to work it out. But their reading speed is so slow that reading longer texts, like a book or longer articles online, is painful... so they don't do it. If we as adults rationalize (or allow the kids to rationalize) that it isn't a problem because reading is dead we are just creating little brain damaged globs of protoplasm that will have a hard time holding a job at McDonalds.... except we probably won't still HAVE McDonalds when they grow up, it will be an almost fully automated process with at most one or two semi skilled workers monitoring and maintaining the system.

You must teach em basic skills because learning how to read, write and do basic math isn't the sort of thing they will pick up on Google. Then you must teach them how to learn, especially in the age of Google because so much of what you find online is wrong. Finally you have to teach them how to THINK, otherwise they are useless and will be unable to compete against China and India.

But first we have to destroy the government schools because their goals are entirely different. First off, mandatory public education was started to keep kids out of the workforce, not to educate them. This still shows in the tendency of schools to focus more on a day care function than education. Second (again, go read the writings of the leading lights in the public education movement... if you can still read) they were designed to create mindless regimented drones to work in factories that no longer exist. Leader types (upper class children) were of course expected to continue to attend the existing private schools and learn how to think and lead.

But most important, government schools exist to instill the attitudes of dependence upon the State that make our semi socialist welfate state possible.

John Morris | Mar 22, 2008 | 1:57PM

As a 25 year veteran technology Trainer/Professor I agree with Alma re: Understanding. Focus must shift from regurgitation (both as student and teacher I have seen the emphasis on not just rote memorization, but in gaming the teacher - by finding out what he expects to be memorized and spit back - even penailizing the student if they did not spit back exactly what the professor wanted, right, insightful or not)

I think that classes, assignments and testing should shift to weighing and analyzing, not rote memorization. In a college psych class we studied a variety of experiments and results, then at test time were given scenarios and had to defend (or not) the approach and conclusion.

I agree that some type of "standardized" measurement of ability and performance will be needed. Heck we could use that in our IT shop - few if any managers know what their staff know - or should know.

joe | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:02PM

These issues have effected the fine arts as well. Graphic design using Photo Shop has revolutionized commercial art. But is basically just a tool. The one of a kind, painted with actual paint has a quality that will never be replaced by digitalized printed art.
The same thing with music, it ultimately is performed by real musicians. It is ehanced by computers, but not replaced.
Educators need to understand technology is a tool that can enhance, but not eliminate real teaching.
Technology is a tool. Remember the fountain pen replace the quill pen. I bet that created quite a stir too.
The history of humans is constantly affected by technology. Each advance has also been critized by the previous generation.
But they are all just tools. And a poor workman always blames his tool. (wink, wink).

Judy Abbott | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:12PM

These issues have effected the fine arts as well. Graphic design using Photo Shop has revolutionized commercial art. But is basically just a tool. The one of a kind, painted with actual paint has a quality that will never be replaced by digitalized printed art.
The same thing with music, it ultimately is performed by real musicians. It is ehanced by computers, but not replaced.
Educators need to understand technology is a tool that can enhance, but not eliminate real teaching.
Technology is a tool. Remember the fountain pen replace the quill pen. I bet that created quite a stir too.
The history of humans is constantly affected by technology. Each advance has also been critized by the previous generation.
But they are all just tools. And a poor workman always blames his tool. (wink, wink).

Judy Abbott | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:16PM

These issues have effected the fine arts as well. Graphic design using Photo Shop has revolutionized commercial art. But is basically just a tool. The one of a kind, painted with actual paint has a quality that will never be replaced by digitalized printed art.
The same thing with music, it ultimately is performed by real musicians. It is ehanced by computers, but not replaced.
Educators need to understand technology is a tool that can enhance, but not eliminate real teaching.
Technology is a tool. Remember the fountain pen replace the quill pen. I bet that created quite a stir too.
The history of humans is constantly affected by technology. Each advance has also been critized by the previous generation.
But they are all just tools. And a poor workman always blames his tool. (wink, wink).

Judy Abbott | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:16PM

These issues have effected the fine arts as well. Graphic design using Photo Shop has revolutionized commercial art. But is basically just a tool. The one of a kind, painted with actual paint has a quality that will never be replaced by digitalized printed art.
The same thing with music, it ultimately is performed by real musicians. It is ehanced by computers, but not replaced.
Educators need to understand technology is a tool that can enhance, but not eliminate real teaching.
Technology is a tool. Remember the fountain pen replace the quill pen. I bet that created quite a stir too.
The history of humans is constantly affected by technology. Each advance has also been critized by the previous generation.
But they are all just tools. And a poor workman always blames his tool. (wink, wink).

Judy Abbott | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:22PM

Interesting article but I take issue with one point:
plagiarism is plagiarism whether from a book or the web. Nothing wrong with using a Cringley paragraph providing it's acknowledged.

Davipiro | Mar 22, 2008 | 2:57PM

As a victim of our school system, who went on to be a relatively successful individual in spite of it, rather than because of it, I have been saying the school system is badly broken for over 30 years. It is primarily a day care system, with its main goal being "socialization", and education way down its list of priorities. Government schools are closer to a prison system than an educational system. It brings out the worst in everyone. If it's abolished, good riddance. Anyone who defends it is closing their eyes to the facts.

Rick | Mar 22, 2008 | 3:28PM

The education I received 30 odd years ago was not great. They didn't teach me, they recited the same old thing, year after year, just to a different group of kids.

Most teachers are so set in their ways that they've become frozen in time. They do see all this technology as something to be banned.

I only had one class that actually was not so much scripted as directed. I felt like that class, philosophy, challenged me to think for myself. It didn't do so much for my IT career but it taught me to think differently.

I've told my daughter on more than one occasion that if she isn't going into a scientific or engineering field, she'll never use anything greater than basic algebra. In 20 years of IT I've only needed the most rudimentary math skills. As a discipline, it is fine but as a skill that is used every day, not so much.

To force a person that has no aptitude for math to keep on the treadmill is torture. That is something that should be banned by international treaty.

Having worked with educational types off and on for the last decade, I have to say they are some of the least technically educated people on the planet. I've had 60 year old non-teacher men learn the web quicker than trying to get a professor to understand using a browser's home button. You'd have thought I asked her to calculate a moon trajectory in her head.

I think the problem is they actually believe they are the only valid conduit for all learning and that if it doesn't flow through them, it isn't an education.

They need this wakeup call. It isn't about teaching to the test that proves the test material is both valid and necessary, it is about preparing young people to deal with reality and life. I don't know about your job, but I don't do any home work and I eat what I want for lunch.

knucklebusted | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:10PM

As a Gen X parent of teenagers, I can only say its about time.

Marvin | Mar 22, 2008 | 4:13PM

Bill Gates recent visit to Washington, 2 Million Minutes documentary ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS_QENuOYL8 ) and now this article. Maybe the US might actually start talking about this.

Cliff Cate | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:01PM

Yup. I, too, have been saying the school system sucks since - well, since I was in school forty years ago. And when I went back to college a few years ago, it was exactly the same. Hadn't changed in forty years - except I was learning computer operating systems - but not much different than when I was learning computers in the late 70's.

One of these days, somebody will marry some AI software, some teaching software, the ability to search the Net and manage the results effectively, and come up with an automated teaching machine that will obsolete teachers completely. It could be done next year if somebody with some imagination invested in a company to do so.

Education and training in general is probably a half trillion dollar a year market worldwide. The next IBM or Microsoft is going to come from some company that figures out how to do it right.

Richard Steven Hack | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:07PM

Seymour Papert wrote in his 1993 books that though it is impossible for us to imagine traditional schools going away, it was just as impossible for us to imagine the USSR going away and yet that happened. He claimed that the fate of schools would be similar and for similar reasons, predicting the stuff mentioned in this column.

Jecel Assumpcao Jr | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:08PM

Interesting article - but you're right on the dot.



In today's globalized economy, outsourcing is an issue not because we don't have quality students at home, but because companies can get cheaper workers who supposedly have the same skills - never mind that the educational system is different. (From what I understand, some of the educational systems highly encourage plagurism, cheating, and such - or have a far lower bar to achieving the same degree.) So just saying you have a Bachelors degree (or a Masters or even a Doctorate) may not mean much of anything when comparing two people in that respect - it comes down to what does the person really know and can they do the job, and presently we're failing in both education and the work place to make the correct identification.



But we're also having the trouble of technology in the classroom - yes, I do agree with what you're saying, but part of why cellphones are banned from the classroom is to help students keep from cheating (texting, IM'ing, e-mailing, etc. answers back and forth). So there's merit on both sides in that respect.



That all said, my own education was quite good until the college level, where I pursued a degree in Computer Science - a degree that I have come to see, regardless of institution, as a 'junk' degree b/c the education system behind Computer Science dwells solely in the theory at near every institution. Part of this is just the fact that Computer Science as a field needs to grow up, and so do the programmers. We really need degrees in Software Engineering, and we need to direct more Computer Science students into Computer Engineering - a much better degree for programmers.



My prime point in mentioning this is that you can even see this spectacular failure in the computer oriented curriculums - no degree is safe. Though, at least Engineers and Accountants have some safety in real certifications for their fields (e.g. CPA, engineering certification tests, etc.) - and no, vendor certifications (MS, Oracle, Cisco, Red Hat, SuSE, etc.) and testing center certifications (e.g. BrainBench, etc.) are not the answer either - they are just as much a joke and problem as the education system.

TemporalBeing | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:17PM

Ah, and that is precisely where the school systems fail. They are preponderantly about amassing information and regurgitating it - and it is the extremely rare teacher who shows us how to USE it.

We are a homeschooling family because we want our children to be hungry for knowledge - to understand that learning is an all the time, everywhere process - not a set aside time with a countdown to recess or the last bell. We want to teach wisdom (in life and in technology choices); we want to develop curiousity; we want to completely disassociate learning from a desk; we want to be our childrens' primary mentors.

And yes, we are Blackberry parents who keep in touch with our peers via IM, text messages and camera phones. It is an exciting time to be raising children. Difficult, of couse, but when has it not been difficult to raise children?

Curly Redhead | Mar 22, 2008 | 5:32PM

I agree wholeheartedly --- however, don't think that the forces of traditional education are going to go by the wayside without kicking and screaming. Witness (for example) California's new bill that will mandate that home-schoolers have to be taught by a CERTIFIED TEACHER (aka a member of the California Teachers Association).

As usual, unions end up being inhibitors to evolution.

Harry | Mar 22, 2008 | 7:50PM

Public schools across the country are not providing the value expected with the amount of money we spend on education. Students are moving faster and faster to mediocrity while teacher and administrators become and entrenched and well pensioned calls of bureaucrats.

Bill Gates isn't helping really. He is still pumping millions and millions into the same failed system. If he really wants an educated populace, he would help break the government monopoly running our schools.

It is time to stop funding the bureaucracies and start funding the child. Let's empower parents to do what is best for their child, if that is online, in a private school, homeschool or remaining in a public school. Parents know better how their child learns than a government bureaucrat.

Lennie | Mar 22, 2008 | 8:12PM

Public schooling hasn't changed in the past hundred years. If my grandmother walked into a classroom today she'd recognize it as a place of learning. Might even spot the same textbook she used, too.

Partners in Grime | Mar 22, 2008 | 8:39PM

Yes, kids use computers every day in school, but how many of them are any where near competent in basic typing skills. I've gone back and forth with my middle schooler's teachers on this basic fact. They let sixth graders loose in so called "tech classes" packed with the latest desk top machines but the kids have never taken a typing class and unless they are in a business track in high school, never will. How can you expect kids to excel in new technology when the most basic form of I/O is the key board?

GATC | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:02PM

Our educational system will continue as is, BECAUSE public employee unions will continue to use their sway with politicians to not breakup the monopoly that they currently have. Our elected officials will have to to take the heat to make a change, which may happen on a local level, but then state government (pushed by teacher's unions) will step in and trump local control of the educational system.

DeWitt | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:40PM

>>>Steve Jobs rejects the idea of Apple making or distributing e-books because he says people don't read books.

Baloney. He also ridiculed flash MP3 players and video on iPods. Gee, guess what happened next?

For The Record: Apple and eBooks
http://mikecane2008.wordpress.com/2008/03/03/for-the-record-apple-and-ebooks/

And you're still right on two counts, Cringely:

1) Apple should embed video chips for fast en/de-coding

2) Apple should buy Adobe

Mike Cane | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:40PM

Teachers are the buggy whips of the 21st century.

badfrog | Mar 22, 2008 | 9:51PM

As most know, change rarely if ever comes without friction. Human being have always adapted and will continue. One of the modern tools we use during our attempt at adaptation is writing about what we see. Regardless of our observations and opinions which usually border on extremes, we will find a way to move forward whether it takes 30 years or longer.

Peter T - Webshop | Mar 22, 2008 | 10:33PM

"Steve Jobs rejects the idea of Apple making or distributing e-books because he says people don't read books. He's right, book readers are older. Young readers graze. They search. Look how they watch TV. Steve didn't say people are stupid or we're all going to Hell in a handbasket. He just said we don't read books."

Bosh.

What does not reading books have to do with the non-utility of an ebook reader? The term "ebook reader" is understood far too narrowly if it literally only refers to "books."

My god, just porting travel and outdoor guidebooks to an ebook format provides a sufficient economic justification for them.

Steve Jobs is either out-of-touch or simply misdirecting the competition. he has already built an ebook reader -- the iPhone -- and now only has to make the screen larger.

David Sucher | Mar 22, 2008 | 10:56PM

The only problem with this whole assessment is that learning is a social activity. Homeschooling has two major shortcomings: qualified teachers and socialization. I concur with one of the other commenters who suggested your got MIT to meet your peers. Amen.

The users of "social software" (I count myself as one) need to remember that most jobs require humans to be social, face to face.

brian c. | Mar 22, 2008 | 11:37PM

A couple of interesting throwaway comments in the article that nobody really seems to have picked up on:

"...graduated from nowhere with the proven ability to design time machines..."

and "..cribbing from Cringely.."


The demonstration proof is gradually finding its way into schools thanks to IT technology: my son, for instance, can demonstrate that he has the skills to produce a theatre brochure by producing one, something that would not have been possible when I went to school.

The larger picture here is something I think of as 'the death of theory': all the broad-brush half-true generalisations that I had to learn at school because the human brain just didn't have enough capacity to store the little details. Well, thanks to Google, now it does, and we don't have to be content with generalising and theorising any more: we can model and simulate the future: we can examine and analyse the past in detail.

Literary theory is on the way out, and I expect scientific theory to follow suit, starting with the softer social sciences and eventually reaching physics at the end. At that point (in 100 years?) we can say "Forget theory: this is what actually happens. Either do it or simulate it."

Jon Jermey | Mar 23, 2008 | 2:40AM

Agree.

The internet is accelerating a process that was started with the availability of cheap (to the working person) books.

At my comp (UK equiv. to US high school) I had a number of teachers who banned/prevented the class from having the course text book. Their thinking was that they would look bad if we knew more than them - that really is the mentality you are dealing with with a lot of teachers in the UK.

Im planning on making sure my kids can get through the Countdown to Mathematics Vol 1 and 2 - the material and structure is much better than the average UK teacher would put together.

Education in the UK is just as expensive (probably more so) and inefficient as the US - a bunch of overpaid child minders.

markey | Mar 23, 2008 | 5:25AM

The freedom to homeschool my child means PhotoShop becomes part of the curriculum. Learning math can come from a variety of sources including games, The Teaching Company and text books.

In today's world, we no longer teach, love and respect our children; we sentence them to institutions for 8 hours (or longer) each day. Everyone has to master a specific skill set to an artificial baseline in order to graduate.

My child actually does read books because of how I structure learning in my home.

As for the worn-out whine about socialization and homeschooling, let's get past it. My child isn't being socialized by peers to hate her parents, wear black clothes, demand everything under the sun, or learn how to cut herself.

Schools have outlasted their effectiveness in today's society. Change is a foot.

I am also one of those tuition paying parents ($30,000) who sees my child learning from adjuncts who, too often, have no clue how or what to teach.

Homeschooling PhD | Mar 23, 2008 | 7:46AM

The freedom to homeschool my child means PhotoShop becomes part of the curriculum. Learning math can come from a variety of sources including games, The Teaching Company and text books.

In today's world, we no longer teach, love and respect our children; we sentence them to institutions for 8 hours (or longer) each day. Everyone has to master a specific skill set to an artificial baseline in order to graduate.

My child actually does read books because of how I structure learning in my home.

As for the worn-out whine about socialization and homeschooling, let's get past it. My child isn't being socialized by peers to hate her parents, wear black clothes, demand everything under the sun, or learn how to cut herself.

Schools have outlasted their effectiveness in today's society. Change is a foot.

I am also one of those tuition paying parents ($30,000) who sees my child learning from adjuncts who, too often, have no clue how or what to teach.

Homeschooling PhD | Mar 23, 2008 | 7:47AM

The freedom to homeschool my child means PhotoShop becomes part of the curriculum. Learning math can come from a variety of sources including games, The Teaching Company and text books.

In today's world, we no longer teach, love and respect our children; we sentence them to institutions for 8 hours (or longer) each day. Everyone has to master a specific skill set to an artificial baseline in order to graduate.

My child actually does read books because of how I structure learning in my home.

As for the worn-out whine about socialization and homeschooling, let's get past it. My child isn't being socialized by peers to hate her parents, wear black clothes, demand everything under the sun, or learn how to cut herself.

Schools have outlasted their effectiveness in today's society. Change is a foot.

I am also one of those tuition paying parents ($30,000) who sees my child learning from adjuncts who, too often, have no clue how or what to teach.

Homeschooling PhD | Mar 23, 2008 | 7:48AM

The freedom to homeschool my child means PhotoShop becomes part of the curriculum. Learning math can come from a variety of sources including games, The Teaching Company and text books.

In today's world, we no longer teach, love and respect our children; we sentence them to institutions for 8 hours (or longer) each day. Everyone has to master a specific skill set to an artificial baseline in order to graduate.

My child actually does read books because of how I structure learning in my home.

As for the worn-out whine about socialization and homeschooling, let's get past it. My child isn't being socialized by peers to hate her parents, wear black clothes, demand everything under the sun, or learn how to cut herself.

Schools have outlasted their effectiveness in today's society. Change is a foot.

I am also one of those tuition paying parents ($30,000) who sees my child learning from adjuncts who, too often, have no clue how or what to teach.

Homeschooling PhD | Mar 23, 2008 | 7:49AM

My daughter of four, just started school. She has always been a very bright little girl, talked an an early age, is beginning to read, and is great with counting and numbers. She has also always been a very sweet and nice little girl. Suddenly she is talking back, fighting, refusing to do things, and throwing tantrums. My mother came over to watch the kids for a while, so that I could take my wife out. When we returned, the house was in an uproar. My mother had told my daughter to do some small thing, which my daughter refused to do. when she was sent to her room, as a punishment, she ordered my mother "Get out of my house - you don't live here"

I can give many other examples; but they all follow the same pattern. This has hurt my relationship with my daughter, because I must now often act as disciplinarian, something which had formerly almost never been required. What are they teaching in those places, and what are they doing to my daughter?

I am starting to seriously consider home schooling, either from books, on-line resources, or programmed courses. My older brother warned me about this, as he had similar experiences with his son, when the boy started school, and advised me not to enroll my daughter. I thouht he was making too big a deal of this, and am shocked by the degree, and the speed of the changes that have occurred in my daughter. Fortunately, there are options today. From what I know of my brothers experiences, homeschooling his children, my daughter will spend less time learning, regain her former good humor, and improve her relationship with me. This one is a no brainer.

Neal | Mar 23, 2008 | 9:50AM

I disagree with Bob Cringely on this one.

I went to public schools in New York City and I received a very good education. I know this because when I went to college it was clear that a lot of my fellow freshmen just weren't exposed to the subjects they needed to succeed.

School is about learning, not baby sitting. It should be about challenging each student to go beyond their comfort zone. Granted, not every school does this.

Just as there are mixed public schools, there are mixed performance parochial schools. My sister had to pull her children from a parochial school because of their dismal subject coverage. When they wen to public they were really far behind.

It's a mixed bag - shop around - but certainly don't just believe one is far better.

A school is not about Google search. Let's just start with schools producing students that can put coherent sentences into paragraphs. There are so many posts on-line (maybe not here so much) where they just don't know the difference between there and their, or then and than. Hey, it all passes the spell checker!

You can Google search mortgage rates, but you can't teach effective debt and wealth management.
And don't get me started on the whole nonsense over science.

Mike

Mike | Mar 23, 2008 | 11:14AM

Cringely does wander a lot, but he's fairly accurate. What he doesn't do, however, is uncover a couple of really powerful undercurrents.
The first undercurrent has to do with kids opting out. They've been doing that for years, since the 1950's, when "believe in it" education was phased out and replaced with a soulless crazy-quilt of "instructional" ideas. At this point, young folks have acheived a position of fearlessness that makes it necessary for educators to "sell" what they have to teach. And I mean sell. Really get learners in tune with what's in it for them -- and have this be justifiably worthwhile. That's not much of a stress, but many of us don't have much to sell. Once, when I asked a room full of social studies teachers in preparation just why it's important to learn about civic matters and history, there was silence for nearly four minutes. Finally, one of them opened his "Social Science Teaching" textbook and began to read the paragraph about that in the preface to the book. Ugly. It's high time we focused on WHAT we want youngsters to know and make it available to them under guidance. Then again, we've abdicated there. They already have their authorities. Rock groups, hiphoppers, Wikipedia and Google. Oh, goodie! The young Chinese students have Confucious, Lao-Tse and Sun-Tsu, and maybe even Chairman Mao and the Party to guide them -- and pay attention to them, too, as well as to Adam Smith. Our youngsters have Mick Jagger, Ice Cube (and Tupac), articles written by anyone who self-appoints as an expert, and a search engine that collaborates with foreign governments. Don't mess with us. Time for us to get serious.
Second -- folks aren't particularly focused on HOW folks learn. Technology comes and goes, but users go on and adapt from one to the other, nearly seamlessly. By what quickly-evolving set of processes do people seek information, knowledge, and wisdom? Not to mention our several incompetent delivery systems (home school, autodidactics, schools and the military and prisons), it seems that a bit of understanding of how tools are used is interwoven with what they are used to do.
Cringely makes me cringe. But he's started an important train of thought.

Jack Cole | Mar 23, 2008 | 12:34PM

Cringely does wander a lot, but he's fairly accurate. What he doesn't do, however, is uncover a couple of really powerful undercurrents.
The first undercurrent has to do with kids opting out. They've been doing that for years, since the 1950's, when "believe in it" education was phased out and replaced with a soulless crazy-quilt of "instructional" ideas. At this point, young folks have acheived a position of fearlessness that makes it necessary for educators to "sell" what they have to teach. And I mean sell. Really get learners in tune with what's in it for them -- and have this be justifiably worthwhile. That's not much of a stress, but many of us don't have much to sell. Once, when I asked a room full of social studies teachers in preparation just why it's important to learn about civic matters and history, there was silence for nearly four minutes. Finally, one of them opened his "Social Science Teaching" textbook and began to read the paragraph about that in the preface to the book. Ugly. It's high time we focused on WHAT we want youngsters to know and make it available to them under guidance. Then again, we've abdicated there. They already have their authorities. Rock groups, hiphoppers, Wikipedia and Google. Oh, goodie! The young Chinese students have Confucious, Lao-Tse and Sun-Tsu, and maybe even Chairman Mao and the Party to guide them -- and pay attention to them, too, as well as to Adam Smith. Our youngsters have Mick Jagger, Ice Cube (and Tupac), articles written by anyone who self-appoints as an expert, and a search engine that collaborates with foreign governments. Don't mess with us. Time for us to get serious.
Second -- folks aren't particularly focused on HOW folks learn. Technology comes and goes, but users go on and adapt from one to the other, nearly seamlessly. By what quickly-evolving set of processes do people seek information, knowledge, and wisdom? Not to mention our several incompetent delivery systems (home school, autodidactics, schools and the military and prisons), it seems that a bit of understanding of how tools are used is interwoven with what they are used to do.
Cringely makes me cringe. But he's started an important train of thought.

Jack Cole | Mar 23, 2008 | 12:35PM

I worry that if we as a society become grazers and searchers, seeking only quick answers in the world of instant gratification, knowledge, science, and learning as a whole will suffer.


Will we be satisfied by merely a cursory overview? Will we lose the ability to ask "why?" and accept an answer at face value? Will we lose our drive to learn and discover? What will prevent us from continuing the expansion of human knowledge?


Will our reliability on the first page of results offered by search engines mean we stop questioning the information we find, opening the possibility for larger manipulation of "facts" and news? Or will we still seek to learn more and gain a greater understanding of issues and keep the information providers in check?


While I strongly encourage the use of new technologies to improve education and learning, on-line courses and technologies that eliminate group face-to-face interactions limit the free-flow exchange of ideas and questions that would otherwise occur.


On-line classes may enable a student to accelerate their learning or avoid classroom distractors, but it prevents the social interactions that spark curiosity and conversations that lead to a deeper understanding of a subject.


I've taken on-line courses and I'm thankful that I can breeze through the topics that I already know, but that doesn't help those that don't yet have the knowledge and want to learn. It hurts me in that I don't hear those students ask questions for which I don't know the answer.


I agree that the times are changing and technology is altering the way we both interact and obtain information.


I just worry about the direction in which we are headed and fear that we as a society may lose out because of it.

Colin | Mar 23, 2008 | 1:01PM

Two points:

One, I wonder if the recent ruling in California that 'teachers' in a home schooling environment must be certified is a pushback by the educational establishment against what they view as a challenge to the heavily funded public schooling system.

Two, My guess is that Steve Jobs statment that 'people don't read' really means 'people don't read enough to make ebooks a profitable business for us at this time.'

On the subject of search vs. bookmarking I find that I bookmark out of habit when I see a page that is interesting, but when I am interested in that subject again, Google rules.

Don Wanless | Mar 23, 2008 | 1:17PM

It would be possible to write a tome about how wrong headed this column is.

First being able to find something on Google, an encyclopedia or any other reference does not mean that person knows how to use or apply it in a meaningful way. It only means that people who can use such information become more efficient. Teaching kids how to actually apply the facts they know is the main purpose of an education no matter were that education is taking place (home, public, private). If you think that computer programs can teach that in any meaningful way you are seriously deluding yourself.

The failure of the public schools is rooted in this attitude. Get a cheap rather than good teacher and supplement their inadequacies with expensive text that entertain rather than present information in meaningful ways. Buy computers that teachers don't really need or know how to use. Forget that school is also necessary to socialize and teach values.

There is a reason that many PhD students come from other countries. They have memorized their multiplication tables and learned to communicate their thoughts both verbally and through the written word in the time honored tradition of practice and discipline. They don't have to grab a calculator to calculate a tip. Their work as youngsters does not have all the polish that cut/pasting a more experienced person's work will display. But in time they will develop skills that will allow them to actually contribute new and useful works of their own. The copiers will never learn these skills. My guess is the current generation has instilled a value of success that is always in comparison to other peoples work rather than trying to instill the value of constant personal improvement.

Yes, Jobs is correct young people do not read books(this is a big generalization). They sample until they get bored never really understand anything in depth. These people are the true target of marketers regardless of their age. You can always sell something to this demographic because they don't really expect anything from what they buy. It is simply there for boredom relief. Whether intensional or not, schools are not graduating students with the qualities we need. The parents are realizing this and are seeking alternatives(sometime good and bad). I seriously doubt Moore's Law has anything to it other than providing some flexibility about how they might do it.

I could go on and on and on...


bill | Mar 23, 2008 | 1:27PM

I've spent my life learning and teaching in universities. I hope this won't turn out to be evidence of how little I've learned, but this is what I would add to BC's rather good article:

-Information really does want to be free. Fighting that is like fighting the tide. You're better off using it.

- Cringely is talking about the open sourcing of education, which is a good thing, just as open source is.

- It's also a bad thing, just as open source is. Crowds are good at choosing good alternatives. They're not good at coming up with them to begin with. We're going to have to allow for that, if we don't want "knowledge" to become a useless hodgepodge of fun facts.

- All knowledge is cribbed (crimped?). Honest knowledge is cribbed WITH ATTRIBUTION.

quixote | Mar 23, 2008 | 1:34PM

This piece is excellent, and needs to be read by every soccer-mom still supporting the existing over-funded and over-bureaucratized education system.



That said, there are a few glaring inconsistencies. (these are NOT mistakes, but slight flaws in an otherwise excellent article).



Cringely - There's only one thing missing to keep the whole system from falling apart - ISO certification.



DOH! We made the massive mistake of allowing a political entity (teacher's unions) to force the equivalent of "ISO certification" on us. NCLB merely finishes the job by cataloguing the failures.



Cringley is predicting a downfall that started happening in slow motion decades ago. That is why there is no "fixing" this system. It has already failed, held together only by the public opinion of people who don't want to admit the truth.



The sooner we let it collapse, the sooner we can pick up the most valuable pieces from the rubble.



Next up, the false dichotomy of the "Search v. Knowledge Economy"



The "ISO certified" schools of today have been talking about "teaching kids to learn" instead of teaching them "mere facts" for decades already



They've made the mistake of believing that you can "search" for something absent the slightest clue of what to search for?



That's a great recipe for finding all of the internet's porn, but not much about enlightenment. (personal or otherwise)



The fact is that there is no effective "search" economy absent a broad, general understanding of the world around you, along with some understanding of one's self in that world.



This is a function best directed by parents and family, yet these same parents and family have abdicated these roles to that "ISO certified" bureacracy that is failing them so expensively.



In this context, it becomes clear that the nature of the solution is not going to be poltically easy, despite the fact that it is elegantly simple.



We have to start funding children, and stop funding systems, "schools", districts, and the bureaucratic detritus that diffuses our control over our childrens' development.

Bruno Behrend | Mar 23, 2008 | 2:11PM

"Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work?"

I define intelligence as the ability to correlate what you know. And I've begun to take up the stance that I don't need to know that much, only be able to be a conduit for knowledge. But I realize that my ability to correlate is determined, not by what I can look up, but by what I carry around in my local mind.

But what about the psychological ramifications of not learning through proximal contact with other people? A face in a video window is only the same as a person physically in front of you in the mental realm. As I age, more and more of my learning is experiential not academic. That's because we are primarily energetic creatures. Sure, in internet communications, we can see facial expressions somewhat, but body language is usually not seen when looking at a talking head, and, most imporatantly, energetic presence doesn't transmit at all over the internet.

Using the internet increasingly restricts us to the realm of the conscious mind. Most of where communication, interaction, and human relationship happens between the unconscious of people. (This is because far more of us is in the unconscious than the conscious).

I fear that we will lose an essential (there's that word) element of human existence.

How can communication over a video address this?

Numinary | Mar 23, 2008 | 3:45PM

So no more classrooms, no more books, no more teacher's dirty looks... Instead, we get individual ISO certification, and everyone is responsible for learning enough to pass the certification test(s)? And once they're certified, everyone is self-motivated enough to google the information they need when the need comes up?

I do R&D for a large defense contractor, which is largely an exercise in futility, since engineers on a whole *hate* learning new ways to do things. Even if they've failed repeatedly because they're using the wrong technology, on the whole they simply will not be told how to use the right technology. Much less actually go *look* for it themselves.

Almost all people (including myself, most likely) are biased this way. We don't know what we don't know; blind spots in our knowledge that we're not aware of are everywhere; and we're the last people to trust to build a solid foundation of knowledge. That's what teachers are for.

I think we're stuck with them.

Rod Price | Mar 23, 2008 | 7:36PM

Learning is only a small part of school. Socialization is more important. Also, read "The Fun They Had" by Isaac Asimov which talked about this kind of thing in the 1950's.

Hobbes 64 | Mar 23, 2008 | 8:07PM

I agree with your comments concerning the direction that education and today's students are heading. However what happens when there is no one left to put the curriculum on the internet or to write factual documents that someone can search?

Ticks need the dog, but left unattended they will kill the very dog they need for their existence.

Jack Fletcher | Mar 23, 2008 | 10:46PM

I wonder what will happen when no one KNOWS anything, and all knowledge is flash memory only, go on line.
I'm an old Science teacher who values knowledge. Who will be able to rebuild the techno-society when all the computors are down?

hatch | Mar 23, 2008 | 11:29PM

. . . some venture capitalist with too much money decides to fund an ISO certification process not for schools but for students . . .



Nice idea. What ISO Certification DOES NOT capture is experience. You can say that workers have their roles clearly defined, that metrics for quantity and quality are clearly understood and applied. You can NOT say, though, that they have experience, that the workers can actually DELIVER on quality.



Something from the Pragmatic Programmers comes to mind. A lot of IT companies in India have been embracing Capability Maturity Model Integration (kind of like ISO 9000, but targeted more toward IT development). Companies in the US have been relatively slow to adopt it (developed at Carnegie Mellon). Many companies have hired IT firms in India, based on the fact that they were CMMI certified. However, just because they have processes in place to track, analyze and improve quality does NOT mean that the people they employ are experienced and able to deliver.



Just because someone can pass some standardized tests does NOT mean they have real skills.



When I was finishing a stint in the Air Force, I and some of my colleagues wanted to get our Airframe and Powerplant Certifications. These certifications allow you to work as aircraft mechanics in the civilian sector. All of "us," in this case, were people who had been working as aircraft mechanics in the military. We coughed up some money and enrolled in some "cram courses" which would bring us up-to-speed on what we needed to pass the FAA written exams. In each case, we spent a few days cramming information, then took the tests and passed them with ease. We passed them, not necessarily because we were exerienced mechanics, but because we had just gotten through cramming the details of the tests. Getting the certification requires more than the written exam, though. We also had to take an "oral and practical" exam where we had to demonstrated knowledge and experience AND we had to be able to show documented proof that we'd been doing this sort of work for a certain number of hours (my 4-year enlistment was enough to get an Airframe, but not Powerplant).



ISO 9000 does NOT, to my knowledge, require an "oral and practical" exam, nor does it require proof, from an impartial, outside source, that you have been using the principles and standards involved.



Oh, and one more point about "grazing" and "searching." There's familiarization and there's comprehension. Familiarization means you know the basics, and you MIGHT be able to apply some of the concepts. Comprehension means that you really know the deep, dark nooks and crannies of it all. Grazing and searching provides familiarization; "formal training", usually at the feet of someone who is truly experienced, provides comprehension. Combine comprehension with experience, and you can achieve expertise. Most people can achieve familiarization on their own; precious few can achieve comprehension, or expertise, on their own. So long as the job market needs comprehension and expertise, and not just familiarization, traditional education will remain, and those who shun it will doom themselves to a shallow, familiarization-only level of knowledge. This will also doom them to a lower pay-scale and much more competition for jobs.

Meower | Mar 23, 2008 | 11:39PM

The failures and problems of the US public school system have been well-documented above and in many other publications. The resulting question is: How do we fix it? Everyone has their ideas, but the best method of teasing out the priorities and desires of the public is the same as every other area of life: the free market. The university system in the US has been the envy of the world. This in large part due to the fact that universities must compete for students, funding, professors, etc. Universities and colleges that aren't relevant can and do cease to exist.

By allowing true competition among public elementary and high schools, the cream will rise to the top and the worst schools will disappear.

The objection that some students will choose to spend "public" money for tuition at "private" schools is ridiculous. This is already the case with Pell Grants and other government assistance programs for universities. Practically every other government assistance program allows the recipient to choose where to spend the assistance money. Medical assistance (Medicare, Medicaid) allows a choice of doctors and hospitals; Welfare and other food aid programs allow a choice of grocery stores; Disaster recovery aid allows a choice of contractors and building supplies.

Why should education be any different? It's practically the only area of government assistance where we are forced to use the government supplied monopoly service. End the government monopoly and the problems with inappropriate use of technology will be resolved by the marketplace.

Of course, this is easier said than done. The primary obstacle to true school choice is the teacher's unions. Much like the automotive unions, the assault of technology on their jobs is likely the only way there will ever be real change. And like the automotive unions, the teacher's unions will ironically fight to the death the very changes that could save their jobs.

In my opinion, change cannot come fast enough...

J Jones | Mar 24, 2008 | 12:31AM

Bob, as always, you're provocative and full of great ideas.

That said, this recent British study, focusing on the information behavior of the researcher of the future somewhat unsettles your argument.

http://www.bl.uk/news/pdf/googlegen.pdf

We might heed T. S. Elliot in this matter, as represented by a few lines from his famous poem, "The Rock"

"Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?"

For sure, fundamental changes are occurring both in knowledge about how to optimize learning, and in what tools we use to learn. One informs the other.

Sanford Forte | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:47AM

I would like to bring to attention the previous work of two authors on the same topic.

In "Future Shock", Alvin Toffler wrote a whole book that deals with what Mr. Cringely calls "our adaptation to technology as a culture", and emphasizes the acceleration of change as the source of stress in society. The term "future shock" relates to what happens when people are no longer able to deal with the rate of change (in this book he also coined the expression "information overload").

And in reference to Mr Cringely's comment "[Children] are ready to dump our schools", I would mention that McLuhan would probably agree with them - as he said in "Understanding Media" that "There will be one day - perhaps this already a reality - that children will learn more, and more quickly, in contact with the outside world than in the enclosure of the school". (Forgive me if these are not his exact words - this was reverse translated from Portuguese in a quote from McLuhan within a best-seller in Brazil, "Mutações em Educação segundo McLuhan" - "Mutations in Education according to McLuhan", a book by Lauro de Oliveira Lima. If I manage to find the exact quote I will post it here.)

Mr. Cringely comment about connecting all this to a kind of "educational Moore law" is original - it would be interesting to see it substantiated by some research on the rate of acceleration we are experiencing.

When Mr. Cringely says "Technology is beginning to assail the underlying concepts of our educational system - a system that's huge and rich and so far fairly immune to economic influence", he seems torn by the rate of change and at the same time attached to the past. So it is not clear what side he would be when he mentions that "There is a technology war coming". On the same subject, McLuhan said forty years ago that "It is a matter of the greatest urgency that our educational institutions realize that we now have civil war among these environments created by media other than the printed word. The classroom is now in a vital struggle for survival with the immensely persuasive "outside" world created by new informational media. Education must shift from instruction, from imposing of stencils, to discovery - to probing and exploration and to the recognition of the language of forms." ("The Medium is the Massage" - page 100). Talk about being slow to adapt – it’s about time schools heed this advice.

Finally, McLuhan said in "The Medium is the Massage" that in the “global village”, "we are back once more in the age of the hunter. This time the hunter is a fact finder, a researcher, a discoverer." That's a consequence of the coming of the “global electric network". He said this two years before the creation of ARPANET/Internet, and thirty years before the general availability of search engines such as Yahoo and Google:

“There is a world of difference between the modern home environment of integrated electric information and, the classroom. Today's television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute "adult" news - inflation, rioting, war, taxes, crime, bathing beauties - and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjects, and schedules. It is naturally an environment much like any factory set-up with its inventories and assembly lines.
The "child" was an invention of the seventeenth century; he did not exist in, say, Shakespeare's day. He had, up until that time, been merged in the adult world and there was nothing that could be called childhood in our sense.
Today's child is growing up absurd, because he lives in two worlds, and neither of them inclines him to grow up. Growing up that is our new work, and it is total. Mere instruction will not suffice.”

Replace “television child” with “networked child”, and the rest still applies to today's reality.

Anonymous | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:05AM

My previous post has some symbols “ and ” at the end which were introduced by Word when I was doing spellchecking. They should be read as open parenthesis (") and close parenthesis (") respectively. If Mr. Cringely would please fix them, it would improve readability.

Anonymous | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:40AM

I think that the rise of charter schools and the decline of public schools has a lot more to do with teacher's unions killing an industry, the way they kill any industry, than with any new technology. However, the technology available to provide alternatives is certainly fascinating. As the father of a three year old and a newborn, I dream of sending my kids to a small, local private school, owned by the parents and run as a non-profit co-op.

Mike van Lammeren | Mar 24, 2008 | 7:28AM

I live in North Carolina where teachers are not unionized. Many of them work second jobs to make ends meet. Until we really address the issue of valuing our kid's education enough to attract (and keep) the best teachers, I don't see much improvement on the horizon.

Tom K | Mar 24, 2008 | 8:17AM

While I can certainly agree with a great deal of what is said here, I would like to point out a couple of opposing points.

In our current society, I have routinely amazed clerks working at a cash register by performing basic mathematic calculations in my head to get change in the least bulky form, ie two quarter as opposed to a quarter, two dimes and four pennies.

Additionally, I would point out that, while I make errors in my typing, resulting in misspelled words, a great many of the Search Society generation literally CANNOT spell effectively.

Part of our school system's efforts, succesful or not, is to impose a set of standards.

Finally, while I have no doubt that Bob and I would be responsible to our child, our current society does not promote parental responsibility. There are multiple reasons for this, not least the fact that a majority of families are dual income, meaning that we would be leaving the responsibility for education in the hands of the child.

Christopher Foss | Mar 24, 2008 | 8:25AM

While I can certainly agree with a great deal of what is said here, I would like to point out a couple of opposing points.

In our current society, I have routinely amazed clerks working at a cash register by performing basic mathematic calculations in my head to get change in the least bulky form, ie two quarter as opposed to a quarter, two dimes and four pennies.

Additionally, I would point out that, while I make errors in my typing, resulting in misspelled words, a great many of the Search Society generation literally CANNOT spell effectively.

Part of our school system's efforts, succesful or not, is to impose a set of standards.

Finally, while I have no doubt that Bob and I would be responsible to our child, our current society does not promote parental responsibility. There are multiple reasons for this, not least the fact that a majority of families are dual income, meaning that we would be leaving the responsibility for education in the hands of the child.

Christopher Foss | Mar 24, 2008 | 8:26AM

As someone who is vested heavily into technology (to the point where my marketable skills are limited to the existence of the Internet, HTML, and DBs), I have come to conclusions along a lot of these same lines, but from the opposite course: what vital things might we accidentally abandon based on our dependence upon technology?



Basic math skills are already largely dipping--not because the society itself is incapable of doing math, but because each individual is highly dependent on the computer to do the work for him/her. This, of course, does not preclude the need for someone who actually makes the computer that does his/her work, but it begs the question, "Will it ever be too much help?" ... Too much being so subjective that none would probably agree.



Bottom line for me: I have two kids. Both of them will likely be significantly more wise than I (at least I hope so!), but I will always teach them to teach. As long as each of my children knows how to socially interact with another person or group of people in a way that they can lead and influence them for the better of all of us, we as a society will be able to constantly grow. We've done it for a long time--regardless of technology and available education (how many amazing people have come from nothing?!)... We can continue to do it if the core principle of making life better for everyone exists: education and technology should both take second chair to it. Why else do we do what we do?

Frank | Mar 24, 2008 | 8:47AM

Your right!

And the good news is the new majority in the US is what I call the Interactive Generation and Einstein Generations (160 million) -- raised with interactive devices so they can think, and, like Einstein, are unafraid of throwing out what doesn't work (Newtonian physics in his case at the atomic level).

Our K-16 system no longer works for the Globsl New Economy, something Peter Drucker diagnosed 40 years ago. I'm working to empower this new Interactive Einstein Majority to throw out the Old and move to the new K-99 education system at Internet speed, to save themselves, employers who can't get enough people educated to do what they need, countries and communities that need employers to prosper, and to save the schools that embrace K-99.

charles weller | Mar 24, 2008 | 9:17AM

Your right!

And the good news is the new majority in the US is what I call the Interactive Generation and Einstein Generations (160 million) -- raised with interactive devices so they can think, and, like Einstein, are unafraid of throwing out what doesn't work (Newtonian physics in his case at the atomic level).

Our K-16 system no longer works for the Globsl New Economy, something Peter Drucker diagnosed 40 years ago. I'm working to empower this new Interactive Einstein Majority to throw out the Old and move to the new K-99 education system at Internet speed, to save themselves, employers who can't get enough people educated to do what they need, countries and communities that need employers to prosper, and to save the schools that embrace K-99.

charles weller | Mar 24, 2008 | 9:19AM

Your right!

And the good news is the new majority in the US is what I call the Interactive Generation and Einstein Generations (160 million) -- raised with interactive devices so they can think, and, like Einstein, are unafraid of throwing out what doesn't work (Newtonian physics in his case at the atomic level).

Our K-16 system no longer works for the Globsl New Economy, something Peter Drucker diagnosed 40 years ago. I'm working to empower this new Interactive Einstein Majority to throw out the Old and move to the new K-99 education system at Internet speed, to save themselves, employers who can't get enough people educated to do what they need, countries and communities that need employers to prosper, and to save the schools that embrace K-99.

charles weller | Mar 24, 2008 | 9:20AM

Just look at the first word in the first line of the first comment and see what is wrong with the new online, search-based education paradigm.

C. Miller | Mar 24, 2008 | 9:48AM

I agree with C. Miller on the three 'firsts' in the first comment. I'd also like to add that school is not about what you learn, it's about how you learn, and the farther we get away from that the less our graduates are going to be able to effectively gain any new knowledge outside of school. We run the risk of being reactionaries, taking whatever we need at that time from a Google search, but rarely composing the questions ourselves. The net has the ability to provide future generations to discriminate the quality of any given source by comparing it to many others, but what happens when the results just aren't there? Again, the point isn't from any one lecture, it's from the process of having the student's work professionally evaluated in many lectures over time. You could watch all of the lectures online you want, but until you produce something showing you truly understand the significance of what you've seen, you have nothing.

wordy | Mar 24, 2008 | 10:12AM

[edit from previous post]
I agree with C. Miller on the three 'firsts' in the first comment. I'd also like to add that school is not about what you learn, it's about how you learn, and the farther we get away from that the less our graduates are going to be able to effectively gain any new knowledge outside of school. We run the risk of being reactionaries, taking whatever we need at that time from a Google search, but rarely composing the questions ourselves. The net has the ability to provide future generations with the ability to discriminate the quality of any given source by comparing it to many others, but what happens when the results just aren't there? Again, the point isn't from any one lecture, it's from the process of having the student's work professionally evaluated in many lectures over time. You could watch all of the lectures online you want, but until you produce something showing you truly understand the significance of what you've seen, you have nothing.

wordy (edited revision) | Mar 24, 2008 | 10:21AM

We loose track of a few things.



1. We're talking about immature humans, who have developed in strikingly similar ways for tens of thousands of years. We barely understand human development, and here we are throwing cell phones at 10-year-olds.


2. Quality education can be boiled down to the interaction of the learner with an adult, whether a parent, a traditional teacher, coach, or other friend. When parents insist on the importance of learning (in whatever form), you see high-performing students. When you have the kind of teachers and principals who make the news because they spend every waking hour at the school, you see excited kids.


3. Most teachers have lives outside of school. I'm married to one, and insist that he come home from time to time to help raise his own children. Few of the comments above give the first amount of credit to people who want to be teachers so they can help children learn.


4. Fewer comments still demonstrate any cognizance of the problems of educating millions of people. (I fail the search economy; I could not find (in 30 seconds of "work") a reference to the number of k12 students in the US.)


5. If you "destroy" the system, just what do you propose to do with the millions of students currently in the system, or the adults who support it (everyone from house keepers and cafeteria ladies on up)? You want to lock the doors to every school and tell people "go educate yourself"?


6. What "work" are these "empowered" people going to do, exactly? Who's going to fix their car? Who's going to give them vaccinations? Who's going to hire them? If you think law is poorly written now, just w8 til ppl who cant rite R doin it.


7. As for the point about education getting kids out the the workplace, that was a good thing.


There's a baby in that bathwater.

Laura | Mar 24, 2008 | 10:29AM

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Bloom's Taxonomy. As a former educator turned IT guy, I remember being acutely aware of the level at which I found myself in the taxonomy when interacting with my students.

It seems that several of the examples listed appear at the lower levels of the taxonomy (knowledge and comprehension). I agree that computers can help to make these tasks easier. If all schools ever do is keep their students at this level (which is pretty common, I fear), then there is no reason not to use computers to assist in performing this work. With the increasing amount of knowledge, there simply is no way to be able to hold it all and keep it up to date. Google has been invaluable in helping to augment my brain in this capacity.

However, the key is to get students operating at the higher levels of the taxonomy (in ascending order: application, analysis, synthesis, and evalution). For this, a computer with an Internet connection simply isn't enough. As others have said, having access to information isn't the same as being able to do something with it. In a cyber-landscape where the voices of Nobel Prize winners and tinfoil hat-wearing wackos are given equal exposure, it is even more important now than ever for people to be able to evaluate the information they consume and analyze it critically. I fear that in the populist Google page ranking scheme, today's youth assume that the first result in the search list must be correct.

For me, yet another Ivy Leaguer posting here, I've been most successful in my work when I remember some little nugget I read triggers something. I go out to the Web, look it up to make sure I "remember" it fully, and then synthesizing it with the current roadblock at hand. And I know that this is something I learned from the liberal arts education I received. Weird, huh?

Jay Ramos | Mar 24, 2008 | 11:13AM

A college degree is important because the people doing the hiring have college degrees. They validate their college degrees by requiring a college degree of anyone that wants to be hired. The more prestigious (expensive) the source of their degree, the more they value others expensive (especially their alma mater's) degrees. I have a community college AA. Fortunately for me my employer valued my experience and Microsoft Certifications when they decided to hire me.

Bill Frye | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:06PM

I don't have an Ivy League education but I did get a conventional degree from a conventional university, and I suspect that for those who went through this kind of education there's an underlying assumption that "if I'm fairly well educated and the people who write comments in YouTube are obviously idiots then the path I took to get where I am is inherently better than using the web".

I'm sorry I have to disagree. It's one thing to replace (say) college education with Wikipedia and Google, but it's another thing entirely to replace the random and limited assortment of books one had access to at the age of ten with Wikipedia and Google. When I was fifteen I became very interested in learning to write 6502 assembler. Not only couldn't I get a good book on the subject, I couldn't even get reviews of good books on the subject. I ended up waiting months for a book I ordered on the subject to arrive, only to be terribly disappointed by it.

I suspect that kids with access to the internet and a genuine passion to learn will be so empowered by internet access that their accomplishments will be literally mind-boggling to those of us who were spoon-fed information by educational institutions. When I was eleven I tried to build a scale model of the space shuttle with practically no information except a few newspaper stories and dimly remembered television news footage.

Sorry, but medieval apprenticeship system that is our academic system is long past its due date. You ain't seen nothing yet.

Tonio Loewald | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:23PM

This topic was well explored by Vernor Vinge in his story "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and the novel "Rainbows End". Some differences from Cringely's point of view, but he ought to read them.

Louis Michael Bell | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:27PM

This topic was well explored by Vernor Vinge in his story "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and the novel "Rainbows End". Some differences from Cringely's point of view, but he ought to read them.

Louis Michael Bell | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:28PM

This topic was well explored by Vernor Vinge in his story "Fast Times at Fairmont High" and the novel "Rainbows End". Some differences from Cringely's point of view, but he ought to read them.

Louis Michael Bell | Mar 24, 2008 | 1:29PM

I'm not quite sure where education is going... I do know that the Wikipedia and Google generation are having difficulty engineering space vehicles. As strange as it may sound, the engineers at NASA don't quite understand all the intricacies of the Apollo project, and its heat shield in particular. They're having to try to reinvent what was done over 60 years ago and are having trouble getting decent results.

Greg | Mar 24, 2008 | 2:37PM

Your comments on search are dead on. My 7th grade daughter has a class where in large letters in the front of the class room it says. Got a question? Google It!

Mike | Mar 24, 2008 | 2:40PM

I'm not quite sure where education is going... I do know that the Wikipedia and Google generation are having difficulty engineering space vehicles. As strange as it may sound, the engineers at NASA don't quite understand all the intricacies of the Apollo project, and its heat shield in particular. They're having to try to reinvent what was done over 60 years ago and are having trouble getting decent results.

Greg | Mar 24, 2008 | 2:40PM

I'm not quite sure where education is going... I do know that the Wikipedia and Google generation are having difficulty engineering space vehicles. As strange as it may sound, the engineers at NASA don't quite understand all the intricacies of the Apollo project, and its heat shield in particular. They're having to try to reinvent what was done over 60 years ago and are having trouble getting decent results.

Greg | Mar 24, 2008 | 2:42PM

I've been saying this for years! I have learned more since the Internet hit my computer than all the school years I've ever attended. And I've relearned plenty of information those teachers had wrong to begin with. Kids aren't failing schools because the subjects are too hard, they are failing because the subjects are BORING! There is a misconception that if kids are given their own subjects to study, the world would be full of video game designers or some such nonsense. Heck, I could never understand why some of my classmates wanted to be lawyers or psychiatrists so apparently there is still an interest in fields not related to goofing off. Imagine that. I say we give these kids the chance to explore the world on THEIR terms, and see what the next generation brings.

Rob Roy | Mar 24, 2008 | 3:10PM

Allow me to disagree - and i'm not in any way linked to any educational establishment.

For two reasons:
1. without a solid grounding you can't tell what's right or wrong. A critical mind relies on some foreknowledge of logic, history, physics etc.
Internet is chockablock with inaccurate information and wild rumours, so you need a way to distinguish them.
2. to build up knowledge you need to study - just skimming web pages doesn't cut it. And the skill of studying is hard to learn without the stick of exams and tests.

Parents can give moral directives, but don't have time to do all this - we still need (decent) schools.

elise | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:01PM

Allow me to disagree - and i'm not in any way linked to any educational establishment.

For two reasons:
1. without a solid grounding you can't tell what's right or wrong. A critical mind relies on some foreknowledge of logic, history, physics etc.
Internet is chockablock with inaccurate information and wild rumours, so you need a way to distinguish them.
2. to build up knowledge you need to study - just skimming web pages doesn't cut it. And the skill of studying is hard to learn without the stick of exams and tests.

Parents can give moral directives, but don't have time to do all this - we still need (decent) schools.

elise | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:04PM

If by "education" you mean knowing just enough to get by and knowing how to google the rest then yes, schools became completely useless about 5 years ago. But education is more than the mindless accumulation of facts, it's about solving problems, discussing ideas, socializing, working under stress, meeting deadlines, etc. You don't get any of those by googling their meaning. We need school reform, but not to the point of getting rid of the traditional educational process. If the current generation think they can do without schools, they may very well get what they want, only to find themselves 100% dependent on those who kept to the "old school" (no pun intended) idea of a classical education.

Sam | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:09PM

Societies develop as fast as they are allowed to (by those in power). When new technology comes along, society has not yet put barriers in place and development is rapid. When DARPA opened the 'net, there was an explosion. But things are now slowing down, encrusted by the barnacles of regulation, mandates and Luddism.

An example in education: I find amusing the fuss over students submitting work plagiarized from the internet. If their assignments can easily be plagiarized, then it is obvious that the teaching profession is not keeping up. And keeping up does not mean preventing the use of technology, it means expecting more, because technology makes it possible. This is progress, but the education profession resists.

eugene | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:37PM

Wonderful article, I just left my job as a network engineer for a school (also happened to be in WI) for this very reason. Words cannot express how frustrating it is to see education squashed because it doesn't conform to the "way we've always done it." I do see it changing however. Every year the new teachers that just graduated come in and make change a little more feasible. When those teachers start to become superintendents I think the environment will shift to where connected education is the norm. I have a solution for us all. Get on school boards, make the changes happen.


On a different note there is one thing that the school environment does provide, social interaction. Falling into the river without pants, I would argue is an important part of college. Life lessons is really what I got from my college experience. When I graduated most of the knowledge I attained was out of date anyway. This is just as important as is going through the teenage angst with peers, teachers, upperclassmen, underclassmen, detention and homecoming.

Jay | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:55PM

Wonderful article, I just left my job as a network engineer for a school (also happened to be in WI) for this very reason. Words cannot express how frustrating it is to see education squashed because it doesn't conform to the "way we've always done it." I do see it changing however. Every year the new teachers that just graduated come in and make change a little more feasible. When those teachers start to become superintendents I think the environment will shift to where connected education is the norm. I have a solution for us all. Get on school boards, make the changes happen.


On a different note there is one thing that the school environment does provide, social interaction. Falling into the river without pants, I would argue is an important part of college. Life lessons is really what I got from my college experience. When I graduated most of the knowledge I attained was out of date anyway. This is just as important as is going through the teenage angst with peers, teachers, upperclassmen, underclassmen, detention and homecoming.

Jay | Mar 24, 2008 | 4:57PM

Hey Jay! You and Eugene should get together. It sounds like you two have a whole lot in common.

Terry | Mar 24, 2008 | 5:09PM

But there's still a great deal of information (both static and dynamic) that's not easily found through Google searches (or any other searches for that matter). Try locating detailed information on time-keeping (the earth's orbit angle) or even the coefficients for determining them. They're published in the Astronomical Almanac, but they're not easily located online. And knowing you need to know those for various applications is even less easy to determine. This may change eventually, but hard technical information about building things, and the referreed scientific literature is still hidden behind pay-for-use walls. And copyrighted material of various natures (most importantly for me, technical) is still difficult to obtain online. It is very frustrating to get a Google return of a partially-scanned book which has half of what I need.

So, the concept that knowledge will be supplanted by search is interesting, for those few of us who still build things (tangible and not), the on-line information repository is still no-where close to replacing a solid research library.

Grey | Mar 24, 2008 | 5:22PM

But there's still a great deal of information (both static and dynamic) that's not easily found through Google searches (or any other searches for that matter). Try locating detailed information on time-keeping (the earth's orbit angle) or even the coefficients for determining them. They're published in the Astronomical Almanac, but they're not easily located online. And knowing you need to know those for various applications is even less easy to determine. This may change eventually, but hard technical information about building things, and the referreed scientific literature is still hidden behind pay-for-use walls. And copyrighted material of various natures (most importantly for me, technical) is still difficult to obtain online. It is very frustrating to get a Google return of a partially-scanned book which has half of what I need.

So, the concept that knowledge will be supplanted by search is interesting, for those few of us who still build things (tangible and not), the on-line information repository is still no-where close to replacing a solid research library.

Grey | Mar 24, 2008 | 5:23PM

After more that 30 years as a software developer (5 start up companies... wheee!) on top of a couple of degrees in CS I switched over to teaching. I teach part time at a public junior college and nearly full time at a private junior college. Both schools are open to anyone who has the money to pay for a class and who has either a GED or a high school diploma.

My students are mostly young people under the age of 20, but I also get a lot of older people, some college graduates, a lot of veterans, and a few active duty military personnel. The older people, the vets and active duty military, and oddly people who are active martial arts students, tend to do very well in my classes. They very rarely fail and if they do they retake the classes and pass them.

OTOH, the folks with a high school education and little if any work experience have a failure rate that exceeds 50%, and I never see them again. For high school football players the failure rate is closer to 90%. The ones who fail can not compute a percentage. They are terrified of algebra (I have seen students hyperventilate on realizing that they will have to write a formula as part of an exercise in using a spread sheet). They have minimal vocabularies. I used the word diagonal, horizontal, and vertical in a test I gave last Friday and 5 out of 15 people asked me to define one or more of those words.

A good third of my under 20 students do not know what a browser is, they do not know what google is, and they can not send an email. I had one student who had an email address and could reply to an email but did not know how to send an email. His reading and problem solving skills were so poor that he could not figure out what the buttons on the page meant and he was scared to death to just try them. Most of this group do not know how to send an attachment. These are not stupid people. They have never been taught and never been expected to perform.

Every time I teach a class I have at least one student who does not understand how they failed the class. They turn in something for each assignment and they take every test. They even come to class 8 days out of 10 (the minimum required attendance). They do not understand that they actually have to *pass* the tests and do what was *required* on the assignments to pass the class. They graduated from high school last spring and never in their entire 13 years from kindergarten to their senior year of high school were they required to actually meet a performance standard.

I do meet the students that Cringley is talking about. These children of upper middle class and wealthy Ys who have always had computers, who went to private/charter/home schools, who have excellent educations and problem solving skills. Except for the lack of social skills (can you say rude and arrogant?) among the home schooled these students are a joy. And they prove what Cringley is saying. Public schools do not work.

A big part of the problem is that we do not pay school teachers enough. We pay enough to hire scum at the bottom of the barrel mixed with a few nuggets of true gold. If we doubled or tripled the starting pay for teachers in a couple of years, IMO, 90% of current teachers would be out of jobs because qualified people would be applying for those jobs. Working part time the way I do I am able to make more money working half time than a full time teacher with the same level of education gets paid after 20 years on the job.

Bob Pendleton

Bob Pendleton | Mar 24, 2008 | 5:27PM

But there's still a great deal of information (both static and dynamic) that's not easily found through Google searches (or any other searches for that matter). Try locating detailed information on time-keeping (the earth's orbit angle) or even the coefficients for determining them. They're published in the Astronomical Almanac, but they're not easily located online. And knowing you need to know those for various applications is even less easy to determine. This may change eventually, but hard technical information about building things, and the referreed scientific literature is still hidden behind pay-for-use walls. And copyrighted material of various natures (most importantly for me, technical) is still difficult to obtain online. It is very frustrating to get a Google return of a partially-scanned book which has half of what I need.

So, the concept that knowledge will be supplanted by search is interesting, for those few of us who still build things (tangible and not), the on-line information repository is still no-where close to replacing a solid research library.

Grey | Mar 24, 2008 | 5:28PM

Hmmmmm....I finally understand that all my failings in life are because I never fell into the river without pants.

I use Wikipedia and Google when I need a cursory acquaintance with a topic, and they are brilliant for that. The range of topics in Wikipedia is far greater than Britannica ever achieved. If I need deep knowledge, I go to multiple other sources.

Knowing what sources to use for different information needs is something an education can teach.

Institutions will always be conservative, but change isn't always good, so sometimes conservatism is a good thing. Real necessary innovation will win in the end.

Fingerbu n | Mar 24, 2008 | 7:23PM

Everything--EVERYTHING--proceeds from the ability to read. Yet we saddle our children with "Whole Learning" (if Johnny spells "bear" as "br", we're not ALLOWED to correct him--it might stifle his creativity). Meanwhile, the few teachers worthy of the title risk their livelihoods by hiding fonix books in their trash cans when the administrators come around.

If you want a perfect example of the future end-product of US education, take a look at that cross-eyed retard in the White House. They probably have to make a special copy of each National Intelligence Estimate in cartoon form.

Oh, but Hillary or Obama will save us.

(Sound of large-frame handgun being cocked at temple.)

Dick C. Flatline | Mar 24, 2008 | 8:24PM

searching is great, but creating/composing/inventing/authoring/innovating is greater

jimmoore | Mar 24, 2008 | 10:29PM

An MIT education for $35k?

Sounds like a bargain!

I'm guessing its closer to $35/year.

BS | Mar 24, 2008 | 11:29PM

Personally I think there will be a paradigm shift coming soon. I cannot say what's happening in the USA but in The Netherlands we have had several of these shifts in recent year. And they are all tied together on a higher level.


1) Secure Open Networks. Forget about the firewall being your last line of defense - its the first one. Open up the network but make sure each resource is secure by itself. Don't rely on central security. Embrace the outside world and don't keep out social networking, FTP, javascript etc. because they "might be bad". Be optimistic but wary.


2) Open traffic areas. We're still in the habit of "securing" traffic areas with dozens of warning signs, traffic lanes, traffic lights etc. leading to an attitude where people assume a green light means you do not have to take a look out the window first. Currently this is slowly changing to zones without ANY lights, lanes or signs, under the assumption that if people do not get clues to whats going on, they have to look out for themselves.


3) Water defense. The Dutch are quite aware of what water can (and given opportunity, will) do with a low-lying area. It floods. However, the old solution of building huge dikes (firewalls, anyone?) canals etc. is no longer feasible. There's just too much (or not enough, in some cases) water coming in. So slowly we are shifting to a new paradigm where water is embraced, accepted as part of the environment and houses are built to be waterproof (floating, on higher areas, etc.).


In all three cases the 'enemy' is not fortified against, but no longer considered an enemy but a usefull tool.


I think in due time, teachers that treat their students, basically their customers, as an enemy, will face trouble. And those that accept them for what they are now and work with that, use chat to be available for questions, use email, use everything the new technology offers, will just get much better results.


I think you can extend this also to the absorption of new technology in the workplace. Yes, a paradigm shift is coming and those that do not get it, will be in big trouble.

Ronald Kunenborg | Mar 25, 2008 | 8:24AM

So the kid quits high school, gets his GED and goes to college! That proves one thing. All this DOE Digital Portfolio nonsense is just that. In our school system, the R.I. Dept. of Ed. insists that if kids don't come away with it, they'll never get into college! How I hate this bureaucracy.

Pete Skeffington | Mar 25, 2008 | 9:29AM

The key word here is "worship".

As in worship the government-run child indoctrination centers ("venerable institutions") threatened by technolgy and progress.

GlennC | Mar 25, 2008 | 10:48AM

GlennC has got it right. Public schools do not provide education, they provide indoctrination. The government's primary propaganda organ is threatened at all levels and the entire corrupt system cannot crash soon enough for me.

Next on the chopping block: the corrupt and bloated public university system.

Doug | Mar 25, 2008 | 11:02AM

This reminds me of a quote by Hugh Nibley at BYU: "We have met here today clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood." The following exerpts are taken from a speech of his entitled, "Leaders and Managers"...

Many have asked me since whether I really said such a shocking thing, but nobody has ever asked what I meant by it. Why not? Well, some knew the answer already, and as for the rest, we do not question things at the BYU. But for my own relief, I welcome this opportunity to explain: a "false priesthood?"

Why a priesthood? Because these robes originally denoted those who had taken clerical orders, and a college was a "mystery" with all the rites, secrets, oaths, degrees, tests, feasts, and solemnities that go with initiation into higher knowledge.

But why false? Because it is borrowed finery, coming down to us through a long line of unauthorized imitators. It was not until 1893 that "an intercollegiate commission was formed to draft a uniform code for caps, gowns, and hoods" in the United States. Before that there were no rules--you designed your own; and that liberty goes as far back as these fixings can be traced.

Most of you are here today only because you believe that this charade will help you get ahead in the world. But in the last few years things have got out of hand; "the economy," once the most important thing in our materialistic lives, has become the only thing. We have been swept up in a total dedication to "the economy," which like the massive mud slides of our Wasatch Front, is rapidly engulfing and suffocating everything.
...
The only unfortunate issue with this truely inspired paper, is that it has come from an man of God and therefore will unfortuately be dismissed outright by some.

Martin Cunliffe | Mar 25, 2008 | 11:34AM

This reminds me of a quote by Hugh Nibley at BYU: "We have met here today clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood." The following exerpts are taken from a speech of his entitled, "Leaders and Managers"...

Many have asked me since whether I really said such a shocking thing, but nobody has ever asked what I meant by it. Why not? Well, some knew the answer already, and as for the rest, we do not question things at the BYU. But for my own relief, I welcome this opportunity to explain: a "false priesthood?"

Why a priesthood? Because these robes originally denoted those who had taken clerical orders, and a college was a "mystery" with all the rites, secrets, oaths, degrees, tests, feasts, and solemnities that go with initiation into higher knowledge.

But why false? Because it is borrowed finery, coming down to us through a long line of unauthorized imitators. It was not until 1893 that "an intercollegiate commission was formed to draft a uniform code for caps, gowns, and hoods" in the United States. Before that there were no rules--you designed your own; and that liberty goes as far back as these fixings can be traced.

Most of you are here today only because you believe that this charade will help you get ahead in the world. But in the last few years things have got out of hand; "the economy," once the most important thing in our materialistic lives, has become the only thing. We have been swept up in a total dedication to "the economy," which like the massive mud slides of our Wasatch Front, is rapidly engulfing and suffocating everything.
...
The only unfortunate issue with this truely inspired paper, is that it has come from an man of God and therefore will unfortuately be dismissed outright by some.

Martin Cunliffe | Mar 25, 2008 | 11:35AM

Anyone who wants to learn math outside a university should try Mathematica (Wolfram Research). Use any math book or online resource and try the problems. Let Mathematica solve them and check your work. Mathematica is better than a teaching assistant who speaks English, which is hard to find nowadays as fluent English speakers with good math skills can get much better jobs.

Richard Carpenter | Mar 25, 2008 | 12:03PM

Everybody's saying what a good essay this was, but I didn't get the point of it. It seemed to say "Technology is changing the way we do education in some way, and that might or might not involve less teachers, and smaller tuition fees, in some way". Is that it? Is that the point of the essay? It didn't seem to say anything very insightful.

Andrew Thomas | Mar 25, 2008 | 12:09PM

Good riddance to the propaganda mills that are public schools. May their demise occur sooner rather than later!

steve | Mar 25, 2008 | 1:16PM

I'll be happy when government schools finally go the way of the dinosaur. Not only is it immoral to make some without kids pay for another person's child's education, they don't work anyway. They are indoctrination camps, they are not intended to create thinking individuals but stooges loyal to the State (look at CA's latest ruling on the homeschooling subject). Good riddance to public schools and their teacher's unions! The good teachers can still get jobs at Sylvan or UoP.

Stickboy | Mar 25, 2008 | 1:30PM

@Andrew, the article talks about a paradigm shift. Education hasn't changed in centuries. Also, governments forcibly exact taxes from citizens and mandate education on them.

As you can see it's a huge systemic change.

It also has broader implications. Many professions are government-regulated and you can go to jail if you exercise them without an education establishment license. It doesn't matter if you are good at it.

Best regards,
Álvaro

Alvaro | Mar 25, 2008 | 2:16PM

Oh no! Who will mind-mold my kids for free so I can go to work at my cog-job and pay taxes?

Quote:
"Why shouldn't I keep my kids at home and online, demanding that the city pay for it?"

Because he who pays the piper calls the tune. As long as it is funded with tax loot the "education" will be government propaganda, that's why. Plus, taxation is theft and theft is immoral...even if it is "for the *sob* "chiillldrrennnn".

kd | Mar 25, 2008 | 2:46PM

Alvaro must be a teacher.

weefaith | Mar 25, 2008 | 2:57PM

Alvaro must be a teacher.

weefaith | Mar 25, 2008 | 2:58PM

"They are ready to dump our schools."

This is why I chose a technical career. Over ten years ago, I knew the Internet and the web would destroy them.

Chris | Mar 25, 2008 | 4:13PM

I'm surprised no one has mentioned John Taylor Gatto and his writing on the history of education in America. http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/


What we have is a system of mandatory government schooling. Not education, but mass indoctrination. It was imported from Prussia early in the 20th century. The system was designed to keep the proletariat dumb and complacent about how the world works. It has done a marvelous job in that respect.

Ben P | Mar 25, 2008 | 6:21PM

Yawn. This discussion has been going on for decades and none of the arguments have changed. Radio, record players, audio tapes, TV, videos, interactive computer media, internet, social networking....etc.

Each generation expects education to be "done" differently because of the dynamics of the information technology they grew up with.

I'd like see some great minds like yours concentrate on WHAT we should be teaching our kids, not how. That's the real story, and much more interesting and critical as cultural, social, and economic dynamics of the global economy force us to grapple with new problems and learn new ways of working, interacting, and living together.

JS | Mar 25, 2008 | 6:53PM

As a future teacher my response is simply, 'curse public schools and may the entire governmental schooling apparatus burn.'

Mr. B | Mar 25, 2008 | 8:39PM

The word "education" doesn't mean the same thing to all of us.
As a reader it meant to me all the library treasure.
As a physicist it meant to me order and process and academic rigor.
As a programmer it meant to me logic and reason.
As a mom it meant to me trying to translate what the public schools wanted to a child who heard everything perfectly but disagreed that it was pertinent to his life.
And now as a taxpayer it means a bill that seems to increase toward infinity.

So now I lean toward the philosophy of William James. Education is a collection of good habits and you find those habits wherever you can.

H | Mar 25, 2008 | 9:41PM

Several items:

You need to be able to apply critical thinking skills. Being able to discern what is the correct and accurate search data is of paramount importance, because the Internet is full of crap masquerading as fact. In the Internet, everybody is right because everybody can yell and scream as much as they want. Critical thinking skills used to be taught at the college level, but such a skill needs to be taught at increasingly younger levels now. Can you be taught this at home? Maybe, but that assumes that your parents (if home schooled) or your online teacher have those qualities already. If they don't, they may be leading you down the wrong path. (Sure, you can have the same trouble at a physical school, but at least there its more visible and you can do something about it by complaining to the Board.)

You need to be able to solve a problem without relying upon a crutch (search) when the need arises. When you've got 30 minutes to fix a critical issue at a job before an assembly plant starts having to shut down and a Google search fails to find you an answer, you need to figure out the solution yourself. If you rely upon a crutch to help you with your job, you may not have the skills needed to actually fix the problem. Believe it or not, people run into new and unique problems all the time, and the great promise of search is that someone, somewhere, has found this problem already and found a solution. If not, you're out of luck.

You need to actually interact with people outside of the screen or cell phone. There are very few jobs that allow you to not physically interact with anyone at all, and the more time spent physically interacting with people, the better. Do I pretend that school isn't without cliques, Queen Bees, jocks, MBA and pre-law wannabes and others? Hell no, but guess what? You have to deal with them in real life too, and can't simply rely upon hiding behind a computer screen or a cell phone to not have to deal with them.

You need to have connections that are more relevant than a social networking site. Have you physically met the people who are your 1000 or so friends on Facebook? Can you connect with them at the same level that physically attending a university can? The shared experiences of study groups, lab partners, trying out for a play on a whim because you felt like it, playing "urban warfare" in the Chemistry building with water guns and water balloons, all of it are part of the university experience. Simply looking at video and audio of classes is but one small part of what a university offers.

Having had the experience of being in a Parochial school and watching my kids go to a public school, there is one thing I would wish for: having only public schools in the U.S. A parochial or private school isolates students from the rest of society, so the students grow up with a skewed point of view about how things are in the real world. "You mean not everybody is a [insert religious denomination here]?" "You mean not everybody's parents make $150k a year?" The more you're exposed to differing points of view from an early age, the more you learn to tolerate differences, and that is sadly lacking from most private, virtual and home-schooled education in the U.S.

M | Mar 25, 2008 | 11:02PM

Bob,

Great column, but, dude, get a grip! $34,986 is not the cost of an MIT education. I've got a child in private college at this point (not MIT), so I can hazard an educated guess that $35k would only cover tuition for one year.

Paul

Mr. Paul | Mar 26, 2008 | 12:51AM

My daughter reads with an appetite I am proud of. She is currently in a "book war" with her best friend, and is constantly bugging me to go get books. It tickles my heart to see her pick up Jane Austen (she's in the 6th grade) and take on some literary challenges. I am reading "Washington's Crossing" by David Hackett Fisher, a current treatise on the Revolutionary War, and she's asked to read it after I'm done.

If you're smart enough there's plenty of tuition assistance at the Ivy Leagues.

Do not lament technology, just seek to harness it and prosper from it. Leaders will lead and followers will follow.

Andy

Andrew | Mar 26, 2008 | 3:38AM

Librarians who blog get it.

The shifted librarian http://www.theshiftedlibrarian.com/ is just one that "gets it".

francis | Mar 26, 2008 | 4:29AM

Maybe we are lucky in our school district. All of my three children (elementary, middle, and high school) are encouraged to read, memorize and be proficient in current technology. Two of mine I can't keep enough books in the house for them to read. There are rules about cell phones in the classroom, but mostly because they are a distraction to the teaching that goes on or is supposed to be going on. I think education is safe for a while longer.

Hollie | Mar 26, 2008 | 9:17AM

So, what's your point?

At first you seem to rail against the democratization and decentralization of education - from a socialist enterprise designed to be a factory of conformity to a user-based, ergonomic, and most importantly, individualistic endeavor. Then you suggest that the new system would be better after all in the last sentence.

Lojiko | Mar 26, 2008 | 11:53AM

Cringley - Are you talking about training, or education? Training certainly can be done atomistically; education needs a public forum for the display of positive attitudes and group norms.

The most democratic societies in history were also the most illiberal and elitist.

William Halverson

William Halverson | Mar 26, 2008 | 12:14PM

"education needs a public forum for the display of positive attitudes and group norms." - William Halverson

You wouldn't be referring to the internet, would you?

Jalarmo | Mar 26, 2008 | 2:09PM

Someone has to produce the stuff others are searching for.

G | Mar 26, 2008 | 3:07PM

The major stumbling block I can see would be certification. If education is decentralized, how does one identify the qualified from the unqualified? Sure, we do interviews & other such methods to measure applicants, but certifications greatly simplifies the process, even if it sometimes filters out an otherwise-qualified candidate.

Another problem would be equality. It's a problem now, but if there's a place that doing a lousy job of teaching people we do a better job of identifying that now than if anyone can do it. Someone who dispenses knowledge needs to be trustworthy, not just to the people who receiving the knowledge, but to society as a whole -- after all, we have to live with the products of that education. I'd rather there were most smart people than stupid ones.

These two could be addressed with ISO certification I suppose. So maybe that's what you meant by it being the missing piece.

But there's another dimension: the social aspect. Even well-schooled home-schooled kids often run into trouble socially when they venture out in the greater world. For all of it's flaws, acclimating kids with a wide variety of people is a Good Thing(tm).

I have a dog trainer friend, and when my folks got new puppy she told them to make sure the puppy met at least 500 people in her first year of life. If she didn't, she'd be distrustful and would never be as 'socially competent' with human beings as other dogs. I can't believe that such a simple principle wouldn't be applicable to humans as well. If nothing else, schools do a pretty good job of that, even if there a lot of students who come away disliking the experience.

Andrew | Mar 26, 2008 | 5:07PM

The notion one doesn't need to know anything, just know how to search online, strikes me as a recipe for turning the human race into Eloi. Google it.

John Reece | Mar 26, 2008 | 8:42PM

As a junior high and high school teacher and member of Generation X, I must confess that technology is conflicting. Banning it seems naive--encouraging and expecting appropriate use seems more sustainable and community oriented.

However, gadgets also separate people and adolescents must learn that as great as it is to be able to 'check in' in an instant with anyone anywhere, the most important skill is connecting compassionately with the person right in front of you.

I recommend Postman's "Technopoly" to help sort out what "knowing" might mean. There is a challenge in living in a world in which things battle to divide our attention rather than support focused and concentrated effort.

School assessment of course must change. If everyone has access to all the information that ever has been, what's the point of asking students to just reconstitute it? We need to be assessing discourse, seminar, and extemporaneous critical writing (book: "The Experimental College").

Searching skills matter. Critical analysis of the search results matters more. The analysis and subsequent synthesis of information is the true reflection of information transcends the manner in which the information was collected. There are always people who are full of facts and little else.

james | Mar 26, 2008 | 11:05PM

young people dont read books? you may want to pass that tidbit of wisdom to jk rowling....

SC | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:16AM

young people dont read books? you may want to pass that tidbit of wisdom to jk rowling....

SC | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:21AM

My brother was confounded a while back when his daughter came home from school with an assignment that required her to cut articles out of magazines and newspapers.

"What magazines? What newspapers?", said my brother, "We don't have any of those in our house. We use the internet!"

She brought in a few articles printed from the Internet and got a B-.

Silly teachers.

JB | Mar 27, 2008 | 11:21AM

Enjoyed the piece. Thought provoking. As a history teacher I can tell you that if you as your kids to do homework from the text and listen to lectures the obedient ones will but if you give a web quest and put them in the computer lab on the net...they do alot better.
That schools are rigidly stoping kids from using technology is wrong. Too many teachers and such won't but the resources are there in most place that are not completely corrupt. The big box school though social does need to keep kids from texting and such during the day. Are they interfacing with their call support guy in Sri lanka or sending their girlfriend a booty call? My point is don't over state your case. Texting can be note passing in modern form.
But the authors central point is taken. If we are going to succedd then empower them not hold them back. I believe teachers should be enlightened despots but give them the tools to suceed is enlightenment.

Jim Reape | Mar 27, 2008 | 12:09PM

The fundamental failure of education is that it systematically trains thought without systematically teaching what Thought is. A technologically "empowered" human who does not understand this fundamental process of his or her own Creaturehood is essentially an overconsumptive sowbug.

David Newkirk | Mar 27, 2008 | 12:45PM

As someone with an education degree but who is outside the establishment, I have been interested in topics like this for many years. What children need from the educational system is the skill to examine information critically and reflect on it to accomplish goals. Perhaps the Sudbury Vally School model could be useful. There, students study whatever they want, and graduate when they petition to do so and successfully defend their assertion that they are capable of being a productive adult before a board comprised of faculty and students.

Charles Nichols | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:16PM

As Bob rightly points out, if education is mostly about "knowledge transmission", such as passive lectures, then the value of our educational institutions will decrease over time as more knowledge becomes easily accessible on the internet.

But teaching and learning requires more than knowledge transmission. Teachers create environments where students get to practice skills and engage with material in a meaningful way, and where students are assessed and guided according to their interests and needs.

While many of our educational institutions are stuck in the "knowledge transmission" model, some (especially our community colleges) are developing models which are much more learner-centered, focusing on skills development rather than memorization of rote facts.

My hope is that institutions with demonstrably effective learning environments will be able to use the internet to turn their efforts into competitive advantage.

Universities do more than teach, of course. Research is a major activity at MIT and other large R1 institutions. Expertise in academic disciplines does not necessarily include expertise in designing effective learning environments. Phoenix already separates "content development" from "facilitation" -- are we headed for a revision of the higher ed caste system where "teachers" are mostly separate from "researchers/subject matter experts"?

JimW | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:21PM

Public schools are dead. Well, they are starting to die.

We home-school. Ward and June had their kid in public school and said enough is enough. It wasn't the lack of technology it is that public schools completely misuse technology.

For example: Our daughter was not required to memorize the multiplication tables. Supposedly learning how to think about the problem is more important the memorizing the tables. As a Gen-xer who had to memorize the tables and makes a living as a computer programmer I disagree. How to think about the problem AND memorize the tables is what is important.

Now learning can be accomplished an all sorts of ways. If you learn best from books, do that. If you learn well from a class room do that. An internet assignment. You get the idea.

Public school basically kills the desire to learn or to take initiative. It teaches you to speak when spoken to, ask permission to speak and controls when and where you can go.

These are not skills that are required in the real world. Heck, being a sheep is not a skill.

You are onto something. But I don't think you, or I, are quit sure what it is yet.

xer | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:23PM

good article. technology is a double edge sword. with every advancement comes additional portals for corruption. we have gaps.

http://www.homerdixon.com/ingenuitygap/

Shawn | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:42PM

good article. technology is a double edge sword. with every advancement comes additional portals for corruption. we have gaps.

http://www.homerdixon.com/ingenuitygap/

Shawn | Mar 27, 2008 | 4:44PM

Something in this post reminded me of a piece you did earlier. I went back to the "Azul" ariticle from a couple of weeks back. Dinosaurs don't just drop dead. They disappear slowly.

Mike Wilson | Mar 27, 2008 | 5:30PM

Something in this post reminded me of a piece you did earlier. I went back to the "Azul" ariticle from a couple of weeks back. Dinosaurs don't just drop dead. They disappear slowly.

Mike Wilson | Mar 27, 2008 | 5:32PM

There is truth here - even for us older folks. I'm an engineer and the other day I'd forgotten the precise form of a certain equation. Google & Wikipedia came to the rescue and I had the answer quickly. On reflection I was kind of shocked and ashamed at first, the I consoled myself: I knew there was an answer and I knew I didn't have it, but I did find it quickly and apply it correctly.

The think I wonder about for the future is this: If the newbies aren't given the initial exposure in a structured way, will they even recognize the right answer when it's given to them and have the gut instinct to apply it correctly?

Eric | Mar 27, 2008 | 6:34PM

I'd encourage Bob and others here to read some writers who've long questioned our faith in schools, starting with Ivan Illich, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto.



I'd begin by saying I'm skeptical of the ISO approach, if only because treating young people as products who either are or aren't up to spec seems a bit dicey to me. I appreciate the motivation behind it though.


As has been pointed out here but was absent from the article, schools above all else provide one with a hierarchy of certificates. Certifying that a person meets a standard of learning is all well and good, but if schools and employers remain free to discriminate based on schooling consumed, we won't have quite solved the problem. Interestingly, tech industries and the military may be the two places where one's skill is less likely to be trumped by one's schooling in hiring decisions.


It's also important to not simply replace our relationship to traditional schooling with a new one with new forms of education consumables. Learning happens. Teaching happens. We should do everything we can to support both of these. But that doesn't imply a need to grade people on the amount of professionally certified appropriate education consumed.


Those engaging this battle should also be aware that schooling has had the dual role of providing opportunity but also of rationalizing social class. Expect a very complicated fight.

Jeffrey Davis | Mar 27, 2008 | 7:26PM

I always understood it that pre-college education served two purposes: establish the culture, and prepare one for work/higher education. By establish the culture I mean teach the literature and history and values we as Americans shared as our heritage. This was knowledge, this was learn by rote and reading and lecture. College was for learning how to learn forever, how to learn and grow and change for the rest of our lives. Now it seems that all of education is about how to like yourself and be politically correct, how to spout back what the instructor wants to hear, and heaven forbid you should learn how to think independently. Well, to Gehenna with all of them. For the last 30 years one of the reasons I did so well at my jobs was that I knew where to look to find out whatever I didn't know. I could find the interface box, the wiring diagram, the equation, whatever was needed, when others couldn't. I guess this means we are going to have a new class of professionals - search engineers. I'd like to be on the committee that designed the ISO spec for that job description.

Tim Neumann | Mar 27, 2008 | 9:15PM

The drawback of ISO certification is that the ISO 9000 is simply that you have a process, it's documented, and you follow the process. It says nothing about whether the process is the right one to follow.

If you certify people as teachers using an ISO certification, you have to be very careful about the certification and what it says. I can easily see a scenario where the cert states you are qualified to teach a certain book to the letter, and that's it.

I see this sort of certification on a regular basis in IT, and all it means is that a person can read a book and regurgitate information. There are a few certifications that are truly meaningful (the Red Hat Cert comes to mind), but most of them don't really measure the quality of the person being certified.

M | Mar 28, 2008 | 10:06AM

The public schools have not failed so much as television -- and the vast marketing machine tied to it and aimed at children -- won. The public schools have not failed so much US labor market has failed to make it possible for one parent to be at home to support schools as institutions and to support their children and feed them at the same time.

I agree with Luara a few posts above. Are we going to go back to child labor or is half the current workforce going to leave to take care of the kids at home?

http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Markets-Children-Infantilize-Citizens/dp/0393049612/sr=8-1/qid=1164040629/ref=sr_1_1/102-1057557-8992142?ie=UTF8&s=books

PRW | Mar 28, 2008 | 4:22PM

I think that we are going down a dangerous path in education and we are asking the wrong questions. We need to go back to what made Western Civilization what it is by teaching kids how to reason and think. The schools of the Enlightenment taught Trivium and Quadrivium and this type of education produced the people that revolutionized our culture because they could think through issues. Kids today never get very far past the comprehension level of Bloom's Taxonomy. Our modern leaders cannot make a decision on thier own because they can't think for themselves. You may call me old, old, school on education because I think we are missing the point. Open up tech in schools to search and learn but at the same time integrate it to teach them how to think.

chris | Mar 29, 2008 | 10:43AM

If all that our students know how to do is search wikipedia who will *create* the wikipedia articles?

There was a short story I read some item ago that bares resemblance to M's comment. Everyone in the story was certified on specific machinery or equipment and as new technology came out those old certifications were useless, as were the people with them.

the main character ended up being one of those that CREATED the new technology.

DJoz | Mar 30, 2008 | 5:11PM

I finally found out the reference from McLuhan I mentioned in a previous post. The book was called "Mutations 1990". It was a collection of McLuhan articles translated to French. One of the articles is "Classroom without walls" out of which you can read an excerpt here: http://faculty.uml.edu/sgallagher/marshall_mcluhan.htm. It predicts that in the future children would be learning more from the outside world than at school. This article was published in 1960, but only now we are actually seeing what he was talking about.

McLuhan's influence on education was really never that much on the US. Ironically, in a country such as Brazil which was largely illiterate in the 60's, McLuhan achieved proeminence with the publishing of a book summarizing his ideas: "Mutations in Education according to McLuhan" by Lauro de Oliveira Lima was published in 1971 and has been reprinted continuously since then (the last one was on 1998, the 22nd edition - definitely a best seller in the Educational field). The secret for this success was that the book was edited in the same way as "The Medium is the Massage", as a pamphlet mixing images and words in an extraordinary way.

Anonymous | Mar 30, 2008 | 11:41PM

Good post. I'm not slogging through the 220 comments, but I did want to say (add?) that some older technologies have merit beyond mere sentimentality. Books may very well be one of them. It's a long lasting technology and not dependent upon electricity or a certain socio-economic "health" to maintain. I can afford books. I cannot afford a new computer any more. Thus, books (or some other "primitive" technology) will have its place.

Tripp Hudgins | Mar 31, 2008 | 8:15AM

Any business that becomes an industry is recognizable by its labor acting like unions and it management chasing dollars over product. Or you may heard it stated as "A university is what happens to a good college when its teachers lose interest in the students." In any case, when labor and management fight the customer and product suffer.

Howard Plumley | Mar 31, 2008 | 1:42PM

After reading this article, I recommend "Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World" by Freed and Parsons. It's a real eye opener for parents who have an energetic, spontaneous, CREATIVE, imaginative, global thinker with a wide focus, flexible, independent, committed, sensitive, assertive, unique child.

Lori Kinsale | Apr 01, 2008 | 11:02PM

As I'm sure Mr. Cringley didn't intend, this is a strong case for Children's Museums.

Safenetting | Apr 02, 2008 | 6:58AM

Suppose what we think of as adaptation to technology is actually technology shaping our culture and our behavior? The technology creates our reality, our cultural zeitgeist and everything else just follows. Technology is a most efficient way to create local reductions in entropy (information)with fewer energy units for our hard-wired-pattern-loving brains; The result of Moore's law is directly proportional to the doubling of knowledge, in shorter periods of time, only made possible by faster connected technologies. It is this search (by technology) and synthesis (by the brain) capability that enables this to happen. It is all about the co-creation of value. Higher education’s primary mission is less about educating the masses and more about culling and retaining, smart people who are really good at recognizing valuable patterns and building knowledge portfolios. The larger schools have many horizon 2 and 3 incubators that become more attractive in a knowledge based economy. The role of the schools is already changing significantly behind the scenes and few even know it is happening.

Chet | Apr 02, 2008 | 10:50PM