An Academic World With… E-Readers?

A friend recently pointed me to an article called “A World Without Schoolteachers”, which naturally piqued my interest. After reading it, I found that I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the article promotes individualized learning, the benefits of reading  as an important educational method, and home-schooling, which I certainly support. However, there are some omissions which seemed important to address.

I disagree with the author when he says that electronic readers will be the key to revolutionizing a new age of personalized learning. If generations of home-schoolers grew up without e-readers, or the internet, what did they use? The library. Book catalogues. Local bookstores. Sharing books between families through the home-school network. These resources may not be available for everyone, I realize; yet it bothers me that new technology is being touted as the savior of individual education. The Nook/Kindle may be helpful for rural families or busy moms, but the challenge still lies in the parent(s) picking out the books for the students to read while researching every book’s underlying bias, if they indeed wish to steer their children away from faulty “indoctrination”, as the author says.

There is another point the article does not address, which is the necessary steps before and after the process of reading a book and composing an essay about it. This involves many things: the student knowing how to read with comprehension, the student understanding the rules of grammar and writing, the student knowing at least the rudiments of critical thinking/logic, etc. The author is only seeing the tip of the iceberg in the journey towards a student becoming self-led to the point where he or she can simply pick up a book and learn from it.

Also, I don’t believe that “tutoring” equals “home-schooling”, as the author seems to suggest. Tutoring can occur for a student learning at home or a regular school, and I would encourage the employment of tutors in either setting for many different reasons. Tutoring implies a person actively working with the student, perhaps not lecturing in the the traditional classroom sense, but nevertheless involved in deep exploration of the book’s text and ideas. I would agree that this is an important step in the method of “read a book and write about it”. What benefit can come from a student following only their own thoughts? The intent of learning is to broaden one’s understanding, which is done not only by reading, but also by talking, questioning, and listening to others who have different views, hopefully views which may provide wisdom and enlightenment. This is where a tutor comes in handy. A classroom setting is not a bad place for this, but so often that kind of scenario does not bring much actual insight, because young students may not care to speak in front of each other, or a teacher may fall back onto the formal lecturing style that naturally excludes interactive discussion, etc. A small group of two or three students, or a student one-on-one with a teacher, will make far greater progress in their educational discovery, which I’ve experienced as both a student and a teacher myself.

If I agree wholeheartedly with anything the article says, it is the final paragraph. It offers a hopeful glimpse of what the future may hold for families who give their children the opportunity to follow their own path of education, not one laid out for them by an impersonal school system where one size fits all.

“…The current model of classroom-based public education is simply a dead woman walking.  Teachers are going to have to reinvent themselves because children aren’t going to be lectured to anymore day after dreary day.  They won’t allow it.  Parents won’t allow it.  For the one single reason that they don’t have to anymore.  Instead, more and more children are going to be reading and writing and talking about the world of knowledge they’re exploring.  Intelligently.  Becoming ever more educated while spending a much greater portion of their day doing what kids are wont to do.  Running and shouting in the autumn sunshine, assembling a model of the Empire State Building in the basement, collecting rocks or dolls or pets.  Being, one might say, kids.”

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