Thursday, June 16, 2005

Why we don't need school...

A thousand years ago the problem was not enough information. You had to really search to find even a little bit of of the stuff. You usually had to travel somewhere to find information, whether it was to the blacksmith to become an apprentice, or to a library to read the scrawling of other thinkers, information was hard to find.

Today, the problem is too much information. We have the world at our fingertips, and we don't have to go anywhere to get it. Instead of searching out information, now we sift through information.

But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the solution to both problems is the same. You need a guide. Apprentice blacksmiths didn't spend the first four years in the kitchen studying texts. They were on site from day one, living, breathing, experiencing smithery, under the watchful eye of somebody who had the information. This can't be done in a traditional classroom setting. This is experiential learning, in a live setting. Don't read the book unless you are searching for answers to a real life problem.

Whether it is a master blacksmith that shows you how to do make a horseshoe, or the master engineer who shows you how to work through the problem solving process, the most important thing is not information, but rather an expert guide. Somebody who asks you questions and makes you seek out answers, who gives you problems that will not overwhelm, or bore you, but challenge and inspire.

4 comments:

Shelton Brett said...

A-ha, but your title might be misleading then, comparing effective mentorship with "school." I don't necessarily see these things as comparable side-by-side. The apprenticeship model is widely recognized as one that works very well, and most scholars I think recognize the value of learning-by-doing. Especially in a one-on-one basis, the expert tutorship that a guide can provide is a great thing.

I think you start running into problems with having experts teach 300 students in a traditional socratic kind of environment. But perhaps there are times when people can learn this way, and it makes sense. It saves resources. I think part of the reason that classroom education evolved into what it is today is due to a lack of resources. Plus, at some level, the same people wanted to be "guided" by the same mentor. The only way to accommodate that many people was in more of a lecture kind of setting.

Also, are we sure that every kind of learning is better in a private guide situation? Or do some people learn better in larger groups? Or by learning on their own? I'm not sure, and it's possible that expert guides would disagree with each other on the answers to these questions.

Anyway, this is a bit of a ramble, but I would think that effective teaching and mentorship includes aspects of being an effective guide for most situations, but wouldn't say that for this reason, we don't need school. At least, I'm not prepared to concede that (yet).

Matthew Buckley said...

Very true. And I don't know if I would be prepared to argue that we should do away with school either (I like my titles to be shocking. I figure it works for the National Enquirer... :), however, it does seem that in today's educational system, we place far more emphasis on learning by studying concepts far-removed (texts, lecture, movies, etc.), than by actually doing.

A HS graduate, who may be an expert web designer, will have a hard time finding a job without his little diploma. And yet to get his diploma, he must sit through four years of classes, many of which will have nothing to do with the skills he needs (or already has) to get a job.

Though I'm not knocking a classical, well-rounded education either. With the exception of a possible internship during a senior year, I'm just not seeing a lot of cognitive apprenticeship going on in higher education, and I can think of almost none in K-12. If it is a valuable model, and I argue that it is, then it would be nice to see more of it, or any of it, during the educational process.

And while there may be some jobs that might need more 'book learning', and less hands on, I still can't help but wonder if that book learning might not be done better while 'on the job' as needed. It seems there would be more of a relevance.

Anyway, interesting to think about, thank you very much for your thoughts...

Shelton Brett said...

Hmmmm, I don't know if anyone has done much studying of utilizing a true apprenticeship model for K-12. Is that too early for the kind of job-skill related mentorship you describe? It's my understanding that during "developmental years" of ed. the effort has been placed on teaching kids how-to-think, rather than providing guidance for career skills. (Don't ask me what how-to-think means.)

Maybe that's a bit too overboard of an example, but what I'm saying is that there's a philosophy that school and education is as much about discovery and cognitive "exposure" that it is about a means to getting a job, such as in your example of a web designer. Ask any philosophy or seminary major.

Should more cognitive apprenticeship be happening in higher ed? For "in the classroom" situations, I'd need to consider the costs with the benefits. But I hope that's why working closely with a committee chair is worth the time and energy. That's what I strive for, at least. (Sorry about all the quotation marks!)

Matthew Buckley said...

If I had unlimited resources, I wouldn't send my child to public school, or even private school. I'd ask my son what he's interested in today. If he said dinosaurs, I'd pull my unlimited strings and get him hooked up with an 'apprenticeship' at some museum, or on some dig. He wouldn't actually 'do' much, but he would get to see what a 'day in the life' of a paleontologist. He might do an odd job here or there (even just fetch the paleontologists' donuts), but he would be in the setting. He might find out that paleontology is nothing like it appears in Jurassic Park, and decide that he's interested in something else. But still, he's been exposed to the field in a very real way...

I read somewhere (actually I may have posted the link somewhere in my blog), that many fields wish students would come with a better understanding of how to problem solve, or 'do' what it is that that field does. Knowing the history is good, and reading about this and that is good, but to be able to work in a team, communicate well, think outside the box, go through the creative process... None of that is covered in class. I think even a 12 year old could pick up some of that, if he was a fly on the wall...

My higher ed experience (meaning my work in the doctoral program) is finally opening my eyes to what education should be like. Often I'm reading papers, but I'm asked, "How does this relate to your interests?" Not, "Read this, the test is on Friday." Of course in my doctoral program, I've got some great professors at a great institution... ;)