For me, noticing the change was very direct. It was not the first such change I have experienced. In the 1940s and 1950s we waited for LIFE magazine to arrive to see pictures of the important events of the week before. Although we had two good newspapers in El Paso, Texas where I was then growing up, the news was largely local and the images were few and pretty grainy. LIFE’s broad, rich pages were the main medium for us to see our larger world. In the 1960s and 1970s, television brought us Walter Cronkite and the anchors who followed him to show and describe to us what was happening in the world. The role of TV as the go-to place for me when something was happening did not change again until this week.
The turning point for me was when I came across a tweet on #Iranelection that mentioned a woman having been shot in Tehran. I clicked through to YouTube and landed on the video of Neda’s death. I saw it — and watched it in horror — hours before it began to be mentioned in cable or television news, much less printed in a newspaper.
Judy Breck, the principal blogger at Golden Swamp, is absolutely right. The traditional media are not going to come back. They can’t; they don’t move fast enough.
Well, that’s media, I hear you say. We’re schools. We don’t work the way media works. We’re invulnerable.
Oh dear. Schwartznegger announces he’s going to pull the plug on textbooks in California, and yet nobody thinks schools are going to change?
Are you a content provider, Mr. and Mrs. Teacher? Or are you an interpreter of the media provided for you in the form of textbooks? Is the information in your brain so valuable that it cannot be circumvented by approaching Wikipedia directly? What will you do when your eighth grade math student can approach a working, active mathematician with an Erdös number directly?
But wait. In a constructivist model of teaching, we’re all supposed to be guides-on-the-sides, not sages-on-stages. We’re supposed to take a back seat and let the students figure out the work, do the problem solving, and find the solutions.
So why do we need teachers at all? I pose this question to my friends and colleagues, and I get variations on “discipline and punishment.” I’ve heard the following things: Well, if you don’t make ’em do the work, then what are they (the students) going to learn? You have to set deadlines for them, or they won’t take the time to learn anything. You have to set rules, so they know how to behave in school. It’s about learning responsibility, and showing up with the work you need to do already done.
Begging your pardon, but my friend Johnny understood this instinctively today, though he didn’t say it in relationship to school. At the end of the lunch in which he said, if you don’t make them do the work, how are they going to learn, he also said this: “It’s been a great lunch, but I have to go back to work. I need to eat this month, and I won’t get paid until I finish this project.”
Seems to me that Johnny is on to something. He’s learned to do the work he does on time and well, because he’s got a powerful need to eat sometime this month.
And if Johnny, and the teens, want to learn well in order to go into serious professions like engineering, or science, or medicine, or law… well, those professions have entrance examinations with serious study required. But it doesn’t take twelve years to turn out someone who knows how to study well.
It takes eight. Maybe. So maybe we should start restructuring our curriculums in the U.S. to eliminate high schools, and revise the labor laws to give our sixteen-year-olds access to apprenticeships and internships and other kinds of opportunities, where they have to learn self-discipline, hard-core learning, and labor-for-food.
The U.S. lost 625,000 jobs last month. Maybe it’s time to put teenage energy and teenage ingenuity to work… real work.