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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Glenn Reynolds on The New School

January 5th, 2014 - 6:20 pm


“It’s no secret that existing schools are underperforming,” Glenn Reynolds notes in his latest book, The New School: How The Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself. “We keep putting more money and resources into them, but we keep getting poorly educated students out of them”:

In 1983 – three decades ago – the report A Nation at Risk was published by President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education and famously observed, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” Since then, things have, if anything, gotten worse. But in the essentials, not much has changed.

Except that these days, as the University of Tennessee law professor and host of notes in the excerpt of his new book published this past weekend in the Wall Street Journal, “In the field of higher education, reality is outrunning parody”:

A recent feature on the satire website the Onion proclaimed, “30-Year-Old Has Earned $11 More Than He Would Have Without College Education.” Allowing for tuition, interest on student loans, and four years of foregone income while in school, the fictional student “Patrick Moorhouse” wasn’t much better off. His years of stress and study, the article japed, “have been more or less a financial wash.”

“Patrick” shouldn’t feel too bad. Many college graduates would be happy to be $11 ahead instead of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, behind. The credit-driven higher education bubble of the past several decades has left legions of students deep in debt without improving their job prospects. To make college a good value again, today’s parents and students need to be skeptical, frugal and demanding. There is no single solution to what ails higher education in the U.S., but changes are beginning to emerge, from outsourcing to online education, and they could transform the system.

Those potential changes are the subject of our 20-minute interview, during which, we’ll explore:

● How today’s education system is an industrial age one-size-fits all dinosaur in today’s diverse Internet-driven world.
● “It’s not white flight now.  It’s just flight,” Glenn notes: Why families of all backgrounds that can afford to are increasingly pulling their kids out of urban public schools.
● Why technology alone won’t repair the current education system.
● Could education reform help break the logjam that political correctness has imposed on education?
● What does Glenn make of parents’ recent complaints over Obama’s Common Core agenda?
● Plus some thoughts on where Obama goes next as his administration reaches its nadir.

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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All Comments   (5)
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MOOCs have had some limited success, but they haven't lived up to their expectations.

How does this affect the argument of Prof. Reynolds' book?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Discoll, I read your interview with growing despondence; another ambiguous silver bullet for education. Buy my book! But based on this interview I think not.

I am like a mosquito in a nudist colony, I hardly know where to being but the beginning might be a good place.

Is it not true that during the industrialized "Prussian period" you mention in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, that our system cranked out one of the greatest suites of inventors in the world? And today, does anyone really think that a cure for cancer or stardrive will be invented in some other country? Pray what country would you put forward?

There are things that need improving but I fear babies and bathwater being chucked together. Isn't there an international test, named Pisa, wherein test scores are broken out by ethnicity? Was it not true not too long ago that the results showed that our white kids did as well or better than all other white, our blacks better than all other blacks and the same for our brown children? Does the word "culture" come to mind?

In the early nineties Scientific American magazine carried an article about Vietnamese immigrant children in our schools, parents, no money, low or no education and yet after five years in schools "failing" everyone else, their children scored 58% in English and a whopping 92% in math. After dinner the table was cleared and although the parents couldn't help with homework they sat with their children until their homework was completed; it was important! The parents didn't brave robbery, rape and murder at the hands of pirates on the seas or years in relocation centers to come here and be told by their kids that the schools weren't any good.

I repeat there are improvements that need be made but you wrote a book so I ask you what is your theory of education? The Khan Academy is good but that's not your invention, I'm assuming you have substantive suggestions although you don't cite one.

You say, "...Common Core as a concept is the idea that there's stuff everybody should know... but I don't think that's our biggest problem right now is getting everybody on the same page." It is fundamental that we ground our young in the fact that they are participants and guardians of the greatest civilization ever known. Further, looking at Hannan's book, "Inventing Freedom, you see that all that celebrates and protects the best and brightest of human kind was invented by and held most closely by the English speaking world. When a society's history, the great things they have done together and the great things they look forward to doing together in the future is stolen no "new educational theories" can save it. But no Common Core is not, NOT, the answer.
I'll ask again what is your under lying theory of education? John Stuart Mill thought that the purpose of education was to make you an instrument of happiness both for yourself and others. And isn't that, isn't that the singular interrogative of a human life? How, creating, allow me to go on.

But I'm sure you wondering what my theory of education is, alas, I have only experience and incomplete theories.

Presently a great deal of education consists of "pack'n it in and vomiting it out on command." That's training, not education. In fact that brings up a good question i.e. what is the difference between training and education? Answer: Training prepares you against surprise, education prepares you for surprise. Fifty percent of education should be the basics, reading, writing and math.

The other 50% should be information that the student generates and to do this is the supreme challenge of "education" and may I suggest that along this path will be found fulfillment. I don't have time here to expound too far but some examples might be in order. A very simple example, I gave a 7th/8th class the assignment to go outside and find indirect evidence of something. Upon returning one boy announced that he had found indirect evidence that a law had been broken i.e. bicycle tracks on a park path where there was a sign stating no bicycle riding. Given an open challenge he created a datum; he created it and owned the process and could defend the conclusion; it could not be invalidated by teacher or test.

I had my class one time write a math text from scratch to be sent to another lower grade class for their use in learning and from whom they received feedback both good and bad. My class had to know math importantly but they also had to ask themselves What, How and Why and work out a team effort. They also learned a lot more math.

I'll move on by saying that one of the finest companions I had as a teacher was a book by Neil Postman, "Teaching as a Subversive Activity". Every morning Postman suggested that a teacher ask themselves three questions: What am I going to teach today, What's it good for and How do I know? Today of course every teacher is in the strai
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I look forward to reading the book. Glad the interview clarifies that Glenn is not recommending technology as the solution to education woes--he explicitly says here that giving every kid an ipad is a dumb idea.
Hurray for Glenn's point that high school, and college, students need work and need real relationships with adults, instead of being relegated to a ghetto of their peers.
I am reminded of the concept for a new kind of high school that Maria Montessori was working on in her last years. Her ideal high school was a boarding school, with the students living on and running a farm and also learning trades, in addition to book learning. She believed that before starting the university, every young person should have the skills to make a living. She wanted them to be strong and confident, meeting the adult world as equals.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Parents need to able to fire teachers with whom they are dissatisfied -- just like, well, lawyers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That's it? Do homework during the day and watch lectures at night?? I guess the instructor won't be peppered with those pesky questions during her speech that way. Seven pages and one suggestion. I think I'll skip the book.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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