Film offers another thought of school

kidsonpencils

Whatever you think is wrong with education, chances are you’re wrong.

Whether you think school spending is too high or too low, school testing is taken too seriously or not seriously enough, teachers and curricula are too liberal or too conservative, private schools or public schools are better — if you’re focused on such questions, chances are you’re wrong. Because those are the wrong questions.

That’s the takeaway from a new documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed,” which argues the right question is whether our schools teach kids what they really need to know. Its answer is an emphatic “no.”

“Our school system was developed at a time when ‘innovation’ meant beating the mule harder so it would run faster,” says Ted Dintersmith, a retired venture capitalist who produced the film that has appeared at the Sundance and Tribeca festivals and, last week, in Brookhaven. “Now we’re in an economy that demands Formula One race cars.”

You may have heard this before: Education was transformed in the 1890s from one-room schoolhouses for future farmers to veritable factories producing factory workers. But with the increasing automation of factories, that model is obsolete.

“Most Likely to Succeed” starts there but takes it further. The film recalls the 1997 defeat of world chess champion Garry Kasparov by IBM’s Deep Blue computer, as well as the time IBM’s Watson computer handily won a 2011 “Jeopardy!” match against 74-time winner Ken Jennings.

Suddenly, it’s not just our muscles that machines can replace. Soon, computers will be able to drive our cars … and our taxis, buses and 18-wheelers. Already, there is software capable of (gulp) writing basic newspaper stories.

The filmmakers ask how education can remain relevant — or, perhaps, become so again — as middle-class jobs are rapidly destroyed.

Their answer includes a shift from drilling kids on content, a readily available commodity, toward developing “soft skills” (Dintersmith prefers “critical skills”) such as written and oral communication, collaboration, creative problem-solving, and constructive critical analysis. These skills, the argument goes, are most likely to help students succeed in jobs and a world they’ll be asked to help create on the fly.

But that’s about as near as they come to an answer; they are content instead to ask the big question. Although their narrative is built on the innovative High Tech High in San Diego, they stress that school’s method doesn’t work for all kids.

The film is studiously apolitical. It takes no stance on the public vs. private debate. It portrays parents, not educators, as most wary of this paradigm shift. After all, if school doesn’t prepare Johnny for the SAT, how will he get into a good college? And get a good degree? And get a good job?

The film’s implicit point is our serial credentialing is pointless if such credentials no longer open doors for the credentialed.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for Atlanta,” particularly after the cheating scandal and trial, Dintersmith says, “to just say, wait a minute: Do we want to get the covered wagon to go 3.7 mph instead of 3.2 mph, or do we want to do something different that will really give our kids a fighting chance in life?”

Answer that question correctly, and we can get back to haggling about the others.

Reader Comments 0

17 comments
AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

Kyle if we could get more articles like this from you, it would be the start of something BIG! Great work!

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Logical makes a point, education is not about training for a job, or shouldn't be.  Obviously a truly educated adult is easier to train for advanced specific skills and is more easily adaptable to a shifting job market.  


If you can't read and communicate with others you can't collaborate or think critically.  Kids need to be very proficient in reading and math to be educated any further.  They should be held back until they learn to effectively read and do math, redirected and trained for a low skill manual job,  or if the worse happens they reach the age when they can drop out. 


We do need to blow up the schools we have now and create an education that is for the next century, but also an education system that works.  Cue, the teachers unions, the education cabal, the grievance industry, and left wing politicians to howl incessantly about inequality. 

Caius
Caius

First we need to agree on a definition of "an educated person".

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Good article on the changing landscape of labor versus education. 


Education should be MORE THAN about just a feeder system into the labor pool.  Certainly some kinds nowadays see the themes online "I've never used algebra in my whole career" with 1000 likes and 200 shares and wonder "why do I even need to learn anything in school?  It won't help me do what I WANT to do!"


Education is partly about opening doors to the future.   Have a wide range of learning for the young, and if they move on to college, they can narrow the focus of learning to become an expert in a topic (while generally getting the "higher education" of the core classes as well.) 


If we just feed kids into a labor pool, we remove a lot of the creativity that should be included in curriculum (and many argue that this has already happened.)  Of course, when this happens, kids feel like the meat being put into a sausage grinder to feed to companies.  


There will still need to be entrepreneurs, engineers, and people in the service sector.  Aiming to highly educate kids to understand where human kind has been in the past (History, Social Studies), where we are going in the future (Science, Technology, Math), how to communicate effectively (Language Arts/English/Foreign Language), work as a team (sports, music, etc), or build other skills (vocational arts) is critical for anyone. 


It's good to see the conversation for the future.  It will be interesting to see how much actual "school" changes with that conversation. 

Online, Video, and soft media versus notes, books, and handouts. 





Bhorsoft
Bhorsoft

I saw a couple of interesting TED Talks yesterday.. The first was Gen. Colin Powell talking about structure and education.  Parents need to provide structure and motivation at very early ages.  Reading to their kids, teaching them their ABCs and colors, giving them responsibilities at an early age.  Without this, by the time a child is in school they are already behind and will fall behind even more.  Unfortunately, until we can get more parental involvement in their childrens' education we will fall farther and farther behind the world in educating our kids, no matter what educational paradigm we use in the schools.


The other one was a brief speech by math professor and "mathamagician" Arthur Benjamin.  He proposes that we should not be teaching calculus in high schools, but probability and statistics instead.  Not that calculus isn't important, especially for kids planning to go into STEM fields.  But probability and statistics is more useful on a daily basis - what is the chance that this will happen or do those statistics in the newspaper make sense.  This type of mathematics helps engender critical thinking skills - something that is lacking in schools today and is needed for the new types of jobs our kids will need.

MHSmith
MHSmith

Oh, you left one out from your we have computers to do this to replace "x" list Kyle: Computers can teach kids and even REPLACE teachers too.


In fact, computers can teach kids how to write the programs that create the games they play or uh, produce for sale ?

MarkVV
MarkVV

@MHSmith  "Computers can teach kids and even REPLACE teachers too."


Mo, they can't. The people who write the software do that.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Perhaps the toughest nut to crack in education in the lower level schools is the issue of testing. The current standardized tests clearly do not work as they should and lead to too many problems, but little or no testing would not work either. One possible way might be creation of tests in the form of games, in which the proficiency in the required knowledge would be one of the ways to success. If software can be written capable of writing basic newspaper stories, surely some can be developed to create such tests and to evaluate them. And such games could be played both as a teaching tool and as tests.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

So our public schools haven't progressed with the times?

If the kids are bored they won't learn. Short attention spans exacerbate the problem.

Our public schools need to call "Rote-Rooter".  

MarkVV
MarkVV

I have not watched the documentary yet – I am looking forward to it – but the column is here now open for comments, and so my comments are only general and in response to the points raised in the column. Starting with the title of the documentary, “Most likely to succeed.” It is not clear whether it was to mean a success of the school or those attending them, but if the latter, the first thing of interest would be how “success” was defined. From the description it would appear that it was about success in jobs. I submit that the role of schools is much wider than that. At least at the lower levels, the purpose of the schools is to prepare the kids for all the things they might encounter in many walks of life, not just in jobs. This basic function has not changed substantially with time, even if many of the subjects have. Success of a venture capitalist in introducing another gadget to the market and making big buck may a very different kind of success that south by a scientist, artist, farmer, or any of the thousands other jobs.

From that perspective, the defeat of a chess or Jeopardy champion is misleading. It was, indeed the “readily available commodity” that the computer could more easily and quickly dig up than Mr. Jennings. But onepurpose of school teaching is not just to teach all the facts, which would be impossible anyway. It is to select those facts that are important, to interpret them, to show relationships. This is important even in engineering and sciences, and still much more in such subjects as history and arts. You can find by a computer search an enormous number of facts about such subjects, but it would take much more time for a student to learn history or about art by making a computer search than it does through a good teacher – even if that itself is done with the aid of a computer and internet.

There is no doubt that teaching the “soft skills” mentioned in the column is important, and the school curricula should keep developing in that respect as well. But that is part of a continuous development like in any other aspects of the life of a society, and not a reason to call the model obsolete.

(Incidentally, calling the questions such as about spending, testing, curricula, private or public “the wrong questions” is, well, wrong. They may or may not be the most important questions, but there is nothing “wrong” about them.)

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

". . . written and oral communication, collaboration, creative problem-solving, and constructive critical analysis"


Interesting. The public schools I attended back in the 60's (Kansas, Texas, Missouri) most assuredly DID teach those things, up through a High School level. What happened?

EdUktr
EdUktr

If "soft skills" as defined in the article are the answer, then schools meaningfully competing to impart them is the fuller answer. Traditional public schools will always see their prime mission as providing job security for teachers and administrators.

And pursuing political correctness. 


straker
straker

1st through 12th grade education in America is locked in a social experimentation mode which insists that Black test scores match those of their White schoolmates.


Until this changes, don't look for any changes in education that reflect actual realities. 

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

You cannot separate the issues. If we start teaching children how to think and reason on their own, then the democrat party is doomed. You first have to break it down to "the authority telling you something may be wrong and/or is manipulating the truth to fit their agenda. Always question the answer." Come to think of it, that would also doom the US Government. But anyway, just accepting your first fweelings on everything as fact, without curiosity or any thought, which is our current model, leaves the children behind. 

kitty72
kitty72

@IReportYouWhine#1 


Too funny. I am thinking today's conservative is doomed as critical thinking is emphasized. Thinking needs to be more long term and more broad to include unintended consequences, not ideology. Maybe it will hurt both parties. That's fine. It is what needs to be done if we are to compete.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The parents who are obsessed with SAT/ACT and a good college do NOT represent he main problem for schools.  It is the "hands off" parents, those who leave the raising of their children to TV, violet video games, the daddy of the day, gangs, and participation in casual sex and drugs and other feral behavior.  How do we break this pattern?  Can the schools do it alone?  What is the role of education in solving entrenched social problems?  And how much are citizens willing to stake a claim in the efforts?