Perhaps the answer is to rethink what we mean by education

February 10th, 2017  / Author: dlhitzeman

Recent events have spawned what has been for me some vitriolic but otherwise meaningless debates about education in the United States. The debates have been vitriolic because the sides involved have dug into positions that are primarily rhetorical in nature and have been meaningless because most of the rhetoric has little to do with how education in the US in 2017 actually works. It is easy to fall into such a trap when passions are so high, and I understand why people did. Nevertheless, I do not see how the nature of that debate helps solve any of the problems people perceive about modern public education.

Beneath the rather nonsensical nature of the debate lies what appears to be a more fundamental realization that education, especially its public variety, is less up to the fundamental task of educating than anyone would like it to be. The various sides in the debate nibble around the edges of this notion, thinking that minor tweaks like who runs the system or who pays for it and how will answer this fundamental deficiency. Perhaps, however, what all of us should be considering is transforming education into something sufficient for the world we live in now.

I am not just talking about transforming how or what we educate. Instead, I am suggesting we need to revisit the fundamental question of what we even mean when we talk about educating someone. Our world has changed dramatically from what it was a twenty years ago, let alone a hundred and more when the heart of the system we use to educate now was first conceived. Are the notions that drove the system that long ago even appropriate now? Do they adequately educate now? What do we even mean when we talk about educated and education?

I am not questioning that everyone needs access to knowledge and skills in order to be a productive member of society. Rather, I am asking if being a productive member of society is the actual objective of the current system. The reasons we educate have evolved over time–the first argument for public education was to create informed citizens, then later, capable workers, the still later students suited to go on to college. Are any of those reasons still valid now? Are all of them? And is the system we are using to educate fulfilling any of them?

To me, given my view of the 21st century, it seems that the purpose of education is to equip individuals to navigate an ever more connected, sophisticated, and automated world in whatever ways suit an individual’s talents and skills best. The unimaginative view used in the current education system that equipping every individual with the same basic, unfocused set of tools then requiring them to some how figure out how to use them in a world of near infinite possibility seems only capable of producing the result it is: unprecedented un-, under-, and mis-employment among some of the most educated people the US has ever produced by measure of time, money, and effort spent educating.

Granted, there are certain minimum educational standards most individuals need to achieve in order to navigate modern life, but I believe we have to ask whether indoctrinating those standards requires 12 or more years while we meanwhile fail to equip those same individuals with practical, meaningful skills in order to support themselves. In specific, does the old saw of making sure an individual can read, write, do math, have a basic view of history and government, and so on trump teaching them how to grow their own food, fix a car, program a computer, install an electrical outlet, or the thousands of other practical skills an individual could also learn and put to good use?

None of this is to say that the entirety of the system we have now should be abandoned, but we need to ask ourselves the fundamental question whether the system we have, unchanged at any fundamental level, is accomplishing the task we want it to accomplish, and we cannot answer that question until we understand what exactly it is we want that system to accomplish in the first place.

I understand there are no easy answers here, but no one said this was supposed to be easy, and we are never going to have answers if we do not start asking the hard questions. Now seems as good a time as any to start.

DLH

Open Source Education

April 29th, 2013  / Author: dlhitzeman

A recent post over on Facebook got me thinking. We have open source software, hardware, design, fabricating, even open source manufacturing. So, why not open source education?

Think about it. Nearly all of the world’s knowledge is available for free somewhere out there in the form of free lectures and courses, both online and off. What’s missing is some kind of credentialing system to give someone who has bothered to learn on their own the same kind of a piece of paper other people pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of learning.

Granted, by issues with formal, classroom education are well documented by now, but isn’t it time for all of us to accept that there are real, viable alternatives to learning in a classroom? So, who’s for it? How can we get this thing started?

An act of hypocrisy?

April 15th, 2012  / Author: dlhitzeman

There is always a certain risk in taking a strong position on something. Among my strong positions has been that of questioning the value of higher education degrees and higher classroom academics in general.

Yet, lurking beneath the surface of that position has always been an element of hypocrisy that I have tended to avoid : I have accumulated well over 350 quarter hours of higher academic instruction over the past 20 years and it is very possible that I will return to a formal academic setting in the near future.

What’s worse is that this hypocrisy contains in itself another hypocrisy: I may yet return to a higher academic setting because I have access to a taxpayer-funded educational benefit I became qualified for as a result of military service that would allow me to receive this higher academic instruction for free.

Nevertheless, despite all of my rhetoric and vitriol against both things, the siren song of returning to the classroom fills my ears and my heart. The thing that holds me back is my realization that returning has the potential to undermine positions that I yet still believe to be true.

The dichotomy in this dilemma is that everything I could learn in that classroom is something I could teach myself, but if I return to the classroom, I can learn these things with very little personal cost to me except time and a little travel. Either way, I will be better than when I started, but going one way seems to be a matter of–perhaps self-defeating–principle, while going the other way seems like an act of–perhaps self-defeating–pragmatism.

At some point, I will have to make a choice, and in doing so add yet another element to my long-standing conflict about higher education. Either way, some will mock me, and perhaps, I deserve it either way.

DLH

Are we living in a post-academic world?

February 13th, 2012  / Author: dlhitzeman

My aggravation with the modern education system is well-documented, but part of that aggravation is based on a legitimate question: have we entered into a post-academic era?

For a long period of history, the best and sometimes only way to learn something was to gain that knowledge from someone already considered an expert in whatever the field of pursuit might have been. Whether those people were great prophets, philosophers, teachers, master craftsmen, or professors, they represented the gateway to knowledge for the learner.

Mankind has long sought to collect all of that learning in various forms, but it was not until the latter part of the 20th century that the collection began to reach critical mass, first with the ease and speed modern publishing achieved and then with the advent of the internet and the world wide web.

The 21st century and the world wide web has ushered in a new idea in the history of learning. Granted, the accumulated knowledge of millennia of human history must sill be complied by the learned people of our own era, but subjecting ourselves to their presence and will is no longer required. For anyone motivated enough, it is possible to learn just about anything anywhere for free by simply seeking out the information and applying oneself to it.

This reality then begs the question whether the system of formal academic training currently the institutional requirement in most parts of the world is really necessary. Granted, some kind of system needs to exist, but the question remains whether it needs to look anything like the one we have now.

Modern home schooling, professional certification systems, free online education from existing academic institutions, and the maker movement give us a tantalizing glimpse of what a post-academic education system could look like. These phenomena represent a method of education targeted at the learner, utilizing far more personal interaction, allowing for mentoring and apprenticeships, and allowing for a far greater depth and breadth of exploration than most traditional academic settings.

Further, the potential post-academic model seems to encourage the same kind of sharing of information in a free and unrestricted way that allowed it to come into existence to begin with. Spend only a little time at home school, professional, or maker gatherings, and one will see an exchange of ideas and information unprecedented anywhere else.

I understand that a transformation from the current academic model to a post-academic model will have to be slow and measured, but I also think that transformation is almost inevitable. There is far too much information freely available to anyone who wants to find it to continue to justify the immense expense for rapidly diminishing results of the current academic model.

The question that remains is how each of us will pursue this post-academic transformation.

DLH

Addenum: As if they read my mind, MIT is now offering enrollment in its first automated, online course which it is offering for free.

The tension of knowledge versus credentials

January 5th, 2011  / Author: dlhitzeman

Let’s face it: the major advantage of college is often not the accumulation of knowledge, which a dedicated person can accumulate on his own through personal study and experience, but the granting of credentials, which is controlled by the institutional academic system. Because of the monopoly the academic system has on credentials, people who have already accumulated knowledge have very few ways to vet themselves when it comes to what they may already know.

At one time, many people just accepted this process and went ahead and got degrees because there was no other way. Now, however, the pathway is not as simple and is far more onerous than it was before.

First, there is the problem of the cost of modern education. Granted that people with degrees make more than people without them, the cost of a paying off the debt accrued to get a degree also represents a significant drag on the finances of otherwise successful people. Many people fail to get degrees because of the financial hardship such a pursuit creates rather than because they academically incapable of finishing.

Second, there is the problem of “general education”. The academic system has determined that, in order to be well rounded, every degree candidate must accumulate dozens of hours in academic subjects that have little or anything to do with their actual academic pursuit. When coupled with cost, this phenomenon is, I believe, the predominant reason that many people fail to graduate.

Of course, the solutions to these problems are difficult and complex, but the problems themselves bring up a powerful question: should someone pursue a degree simply to have the credentials? Is the value of the credentials worth the cost of obtaining them?

I am curious what the rest of you think.

DLH

When it’s no longer Greek: a self-education goal for 2011

January 1st, 2011  / Author: dlhitzeman

Graecum est; non legitur

One of the fundamental truths of understanding, I believe, is that one must know what was actually said and done, not just what someone else has to say about it. Over the past decade, I have delved deeply into my understanding of the collection of texts that comprise the Bible and have discovered that I cannot progress much further until I know what it is trying to say in the languages its authors used to write it.

While biblical Hebrew is a bit beyond me just yet, I decided that I will take the next year (likely the next two) to teach myself to read biblical Greek and, eventually, classical Greek. My hope is that, by learning this language, I can expand my understanding to another layer of what at least the New Testament has to say and to expand my horizons along the way.

In pursuing this course, I am relying on the advice of a friend who already reads biblical Greek and who is on his way to Africa to put that skill to use as a Bible translator. On his recommendation, I will be using the following tools along with consultation with various Greek readers I know:

Along with:

I keep anyone reading this post apprised as I progress.

DLH

Complex and evolving: Education 2011

January 1st, 2011  / Author: dlhitzeman

My views on education are complex and evolving. On one hand, I love learning and want to learn all I can. On the other hand, I am coming to the realization that I hate the process of formal education.

My hatred of the process of formal education comes from the fact that it presumes too much about the commonality of the people involved in the process and denies too much about their differences. Formal education is, by definition, a process catering to the lowest common denominator. As a result, it stifles the most advanced so that everyone can advance.

In realizing that I hate the process of formal education, I have come to a point of view far more in keeping with the idea most famously expressed in the movie Good Will Hunting: “See the sad thing about a guy like you, is in about 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don’t do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the Public Library.”

As I see it, the fact of the matter is not that formal education educates someone but that it vets someone by comparing what they have learned, really on their own, to what someone else says they should know in order to be able to claim they know it. I find that whole idea repugnant because it denies that I can learn on my own, vet myself, and demonstrate my knowledge without someone else’s approval.

Now, I know there are all kinds of people who have benefited from the formal education process and are all the better for it, but I now realize the reason I am not one of those people is because I find the process too constraining.

Of course, now the problem becomes what to do. How do I educate myself, establish myself, and promote myself if I intend to reject the process 99 percent of the modern world believes is the only way to do those things? I think I will do so by accomplishing those tasks on my own terms and by succeeding at what I intend to do. In order to do so, I must do them myself, and the only barrier, then, between me and success is myself.

So what does that mean for 2011? I think this will be a year for exploring the idea of self-education to its fullest extent, and I plan to share that journey with anyone who cares as much as I can.

DLH

A quarter too far

January 10th, 2010  / Author: dlhitzeman

In September 1944, the Allies conceived of an operation to quickly end World War II by launching a massive, combined airborne and ground offensive in the German-held Netherlands to seize several bridgeheads across major European rivers and thereby expose the German heartland to the threat of Allied attack. The operation, code named Market Garden would culminate in the seizure of the bridge over the Rhur in the Dutch town of Arnhem.

As retold in the book A Bridge Too Far (and later in a classic movie by the same name), the operation proved to be a disaster for the Allies that stranded the British 1st Airborne Division deep inside German occupied territory without relief for ten days before what remained of it could finally be evacuated by Allied forces. The failure of Market Garden represents one of the classic warning tales of overextending mechanized combat forces by over-emphasizing their strike capabilities.

Since January 2007, I have completed 11 consecutive quarters of college work, resulting in 3 degrees. This January, I attempted to start my 12th quarter toward completion of my 4th degree, but it proved to be one quarter too many.

As a result, I dropped all of my classes and plan to take at least the rest of winter and probably also spring quarter off from college.

There are many reasons why this proved to be necessary, but the most significant is probably my ability to sustain the pace. Twelve quarters is equivalent to the amount of schooling most people complete in four years, but I tried to cram the same amount of work into three years. As a result, my willpower is tired, my mind is tired, and my checkbook is tired.

What I plan to do now is take a strategic pause and reassess what I am doing and why I am doing it before I decide what I need to do next. As things currently stand, I have three classes to complete at Sinclair for my Art associate’s degree and, depending on how Wright State awards me credit, I may have as little as 20 hours of specific coursework remaining to finish an English bachelor’s degree. It is entirely possible that I will resume taking classes in the fall, but I will just have to see.

DLH

Tired of it already

January 4th, 2010  / Author: dlhitzeman

One of the aspects of higher education that has haunted me since I first set foot in a college classroom in 1992 is the fact that getting a degree takes so long. Granted, I have not helped myself by changing my mind so many times about what I want to be degreed in, and my previous career choices have not helped my cause, but underneath all of those other considerations is the fact getting a degree is not an undertaking easily done by someone with a short attention span.

Winter quarter 2010 represents my 12th consecutive quarter in the classroom since I went back to school in the winter of ’07. Since then, I have earned three associate’s degrees, but the process has taken its toll on my willingness to continue.

Of course, part of the problem may be that I’m near the end of a whole bunch of different things at the same time. At the end of spring quarter, I will finish my fourth associate’s degree along with my time at Sinclair. On the other hand, just a few months after I finish, I have the prospect of continuing my education at Wright State staring me in the face.

So, the question remains: how do I build up the stamina to make it through what is more than likely at least three more years of school including this one? Answering that question will be the defining event of my college experience.

DLH

Education goals for 2010

January 1st, 2010  / Author: dlhitzeman

I have to admit it: I am a perpetual student. The only thing keeping me from being a professional one is the fact no one’s paying me to do this.

Nevertheless, I love being in the classroom around other people who love to learn, especially in writing and art, and I expect that I will continue to be in classrooms as a student or as a teacher for the rest of my life.

Right now, my goals are pretty simple. I plan to finish my associate’s degree in Art at Sinclair Community College this spring, making it my fourth associate’s degree in three years. I will also start on my bachelor’s degree in English emphasizing creative writing with a minor in history at Wright State University this fall.

We’ll see what else comes up along the way.

DLH