Thoughts While Mowing: Is Education the Most Important Thing or Not?

Today while mowing the lawn I listened to two podcasts that just happened to be centered around education.  First was the TED Radio Hour, hosted by Guy Raz.  It was really interesting and was focused on Unstoppable Learning.  If you teach please click here and listen!

The talk that stood out the most this morning was with Sugata Mitra – his talk was how kids can teach themselves.  It was really interesting and to briefly sum up: children in rural India taught themselves English and how to interact with a computer and do some research, all without an adult to guide them.  It was very interesting, so interesting that I made it easy for you to see:

After watching/listening to this I was thinking over a couple of questions inside my mind: how often do I get in my own way, and why do we take education for granted in the United States?  Do we take it for granted?  Education is a basic right for every human.  Yet we don’t treat it that way.  Maybe that is okay…

As a society (American point of view) it is difficult to imagine not having education as part of our children’s lives.  We expect it.  Our children expect it.  Yet we don’t give it all we can give.  Look at the joy these young children have as they learn – do our young children look at learning like this?  If not, why?

If you don’t believe me, then look at the investment that we make in education – we don’t.  In Oklahoma, we have cut classes and increased class size due to funding issues.  Those that create policy at the state and federal level just assume that any old person can teach, no matter the training they have had.

Turns out – maybe they are on to something – Sugata doesn’t think that the adult part is necessary.  He does provide a way to learn and he does let the children explore, he does not have a national curriculum.  How can we create an environment where children just dig in to learn something?

Maybe our system is outdated.  Maybe we should shift our focus off of narrow curriculums and bubble in assessments.  Maybe we should try a totally open education – students learn what they want when they want…Maybe we are in our own way…

Definitely food for thought…

The podcast that followed was Freakonomics hosted by Stephen Dubner and he had an interview with Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, you can listen to it here.  She is the first female president of Harvard and the interview was very interesting.

Here is the transcript of the part of the conversation that resonated with me – emphasis is mine:

DUBNER: There’s a lot of evidence, particularly in the realm of economics, that the ROI, the return on investment, on education is very strong. In fact, one could argue that education is maybe the single best investment that any human could ever make in oneself or in one family. But increasingly there’s been a lot of suspicion and indeed, some evidence that the ROI is either declining, or simply not as strong as believed, and/ or that too many people have been directed toward a certain kind of colleges when in fact that perhaps might not be best for their outcome. How do you look at that question? Please be as empirical as you can in making the argument that education is indeed the great investment that universities argue it is.

FAUST: Well, what we’ve seen in the past decade or two is that knowledge is increasingly the currency of the world in which we operate. And the differential between what a high school graduate can make over a lifetime and what a college graduate makes over a lifetime has increased. We also saw during the recession that unemployment was much lower among college graduates than it was under those who did have college degrees. So this is a time when learning and knowledge is increasingly, not decreasingly, important. This is something that we need to recognize as a society, and Harvard believes very strongly in this, and believes in giving opportunity to students from the widest possible range of backgrounds and financial circumstances. But we need to think about this holistically as a system of higher education across the United States. And the importance of the publics, who have been significantly defunded. In about the 1990s, one in four dollars of support for the publics came from families. And the rest came from the state. This has reversed. And so when you see the cost of education in the publics has not changed but the price has changed because they have been defunded by their state governments. This is a disinvestment that our nation is making in the most important investment it can make in its future. And so we need to make sure that places like Harvard can thrive. But we also need to make sure that the publics can thrive, and the system of community colleges as well for students who are seeking either a leg up into a four-year college education, or perhaps a terminal two-year degree that will give them the skills to operate within the modern technologically advanced workforce.

I wonder if we truly believe this?  Is education the most important investment that we can make?  If it is not, then what should be our priority?  What can we do to change our view of education?  I know that it can be difficult to fund necessary things during a recession, but I think we have mostly moved out of that.

What can we do with policy to make sure that there is funding for education, yet not unnecessarily taxing citizens?  Is this possible?  Will a flat tax work? Do we need to re-examine the funding formula from top to bottom?  Education systems have really cut out the fluff, can they budget more wisely?  How can we make teaching a profession that people want to pursue?  It is clear that right now that is not the case…

Just some thoughts from my head while mowing today…tells you where my brain goes when its just me and myself…and the lawn…

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