By John Sener
[Note: This article was first posted as a comment (9.7.10) on Marc Prensky‘s “Simple Changes in Current Practices May Save Our Schools” (7.12.10). It also refers to Steve Eskow‘s comment (9.6.10) on the article. -js]
Sorry, but I do not share others’ enthusiasm for Prensky’s approach. The idea to distribute 55 million tarballs is extremely expensive and highly impractical as Steve Eskow’s post illustrates. In fact, such an effort would be seen as a “Trojan horse” attempt to impose federal control over education, and face broad resistance as a result.
His other specific ideas are nice but hardly original — in fact, no doubt they are being done by hundreds, in some cases thousands, of teachers and thousands, perhaps millions, of students.
The real issue for me is: why do 55 million schoolchildren have to be involved in this? Yes, the BP spill affects everyone; so do thousands of other issues. Wouldn’t sending out 55 million tarballs deprive teachers of the opportunity to experiment and innovate, which Prensky purports to advocate? Please note carefully: Prensky did NOT say, “develop a program to send out tarballs to every teacher who requests one.” No, instead he proposed a blanket “solution” for everybody. The distinction is crucial, and not merely rhetorical, as it reflects an ultimately authoritarian approach to moving forward.
Underlying Prensky’s blanket solution is the notion that the education system is “broken” and needs “fixing.” The more I study this issue, the more annoying this misguided meme has become. Please enlighten us: when was the educational system ever working just fine, and when did it break? The current issues we face are not the product of a “broken” system, but of one which is not designed to achieve its current intended purpose: education for all. This aspiration is relatively recent in our history; we have not figured out how to do it yet, which is not surprising because it is a hugely ambitious undertaking, in fact, unprecedented in human history. But calling the system “broken” is like calling an Apple IIe computer “broken” because it doesn’t support video. The computer works just fine; the problem is that a more powerful one is needed.
In Prensky’s view, all the “real learning” takes place in the “best programs” such charter schools and programs with identifiable labels such as KIPP, Harlem Zone, Teach for America. But they reach “less than 2 million, i.e., only 4% of what is needed.” The implication? Multiply these programs twenty-five-fold, and education is “fixed.” Wrong — these programs do not work for all their participants; what they trumpet as success is marginal improvement at best. (Show me one which has 100% success and I’ll take a closer look at it.) Prensky’s assertions are also deeply insulting to the multitude of teachers who do their best, and often succeed, within a flawed system.
Of course, if an entire system is broken, then one feels comfortable proposing a ‘one size fits all’ solution such as 55 million tarballs or the Five Simple Changes which will Save Our Schools. Do what Prensky says, problem fixed, schools saved; move on to next problem. Prensky’s views have always struck me as ultimately motivated by a deep resentment for education and schooling as having wronged him in some way. But education is not made real by fixes; it is an ongoing enterprise driven by relationships.
Perhaps if Prensky showed a little more appreciation for nuance and complexity instead of his ‘black-and-white’ approach (“Schools, bad; my ideas for real learning, good”), it’d be possible for me to take his ideas more seriously…