What makes a mind come alive? And how will you know when it’s happened?
Two new films – one about the death of the factory school, the other about the dawn of artificial intelligence – attempt to answer this question from radically different vantage points. Taken together, they provide both a cautionary tale and a reason to be hopeful about the not-too-distant future. And fittingly, what both films suggest is that when it comes to measuring the spark of sentience, the tests we use matter greatly.
In conjunction with the PBS film 180 Days: Hartsville, Black Public Media is sharing an interactive game in which players can become either a teacher, a parent or a principal, and assume responsibility for a class full of 5th graders (or their own child), via ten different scenarios that unfold over the course of a year.
In the small town of Hartsville, South Carolina, which sits just about two hours from anywhere you’ve ever heard of, Monay Parran and her two young sons – eight-year-old Ja’quez, and eleven-year-old Rashon – begin each day in the darkness of the pre-dawn hours.
Parran, a single parent who works two minimum-wage jobs in two towns that are almost an hour apart, must drop her boys off at the bus stop early enough to make it to her first job on time. By the time she sees her sons again, after her second shift wraps up, it will be almost midnight.
I’m a big fan of the New York Times’ Room for Debate series, in which a central question is asked of five different folks.
Today, the question was about how to ensure and improve teacher quality. And although they didn’t ask me, here’s how I would have answered the question:
I just spent three days at a wonderful independent school in Columbia, South Carolina. The students there are the types of young people you want to meet and hand over the keys of the world to — smart, thoughtful, and generous of spirit. They’re also the kind of community that is asking all the right questions.
I was most struck by a billboard they commissioned, shortly after their most recent graduation, in which the class of 2014 throws their mortarboards into the air, and the image is accompanied by a single word: PREPARED.
Yesterday, Senator Lamar Alexander stuck his foot in it when he suggested that not all charter schools are, in the end, public.
“There are some private charter schools, are there not?” Alexander said at a Brookings Institution event about school choice.
Think about all the ways in which our brains are already hard-wired to think about “school.”
Desks. Chairs. Tests. Lectures. Lunchrooms. Hall Passes. Freshman (or Sophomore or Junior) years. AP (or Geometry or Spanish) classes. The list is endless.
Of course, all of these things came about in the creation of a model of education that was designed for the Industrial Age, when we were trying to answer a different set of questions:
Last week, I spent three days at a remarkable independent school in Atlanta. It’s on the verge of designing a new building for its upper school, and I’m part of the team that is lucky enough to help them think about what such a space should look like — and what ultimate purpose(s) it should serve.
It appears I was premature.
A year at this time, in an article for the SmartBlog on Education, I asked: “Are we witnessing the early signs of a sea change in how we think about the best ways to measure student learning and growth?”
Well, what a difference a year makes.
The founder of Intrinsic School and her architects certainly think so. What do YOU think?
Personally, I see some cool stuff, and yet overall something doesn’t sit right. Why, for example, is a school that is pushing the envelope on personalized learning still organizing its students by grade level? Shouldn’t mass groupings by age be the first thing to go?
And is it a good thing to have kids spending 50% of their day on a computer? I suppose the right way to think of it is that a kid is spending half of his or her day doing research, but for a new model of personalization, it feels awfully . . . well . . . depersonalized.
And why is that coastline place set up to have kids literally facing a brick wall? Who thought that was a good idea?
I don’t know — I think this feels more like something that was designed for kitsch, not kids. It’s angular, when learning is round.
What am I missing here? What do you see?