...in my opinion.
I was particularly excited by his proposal that we move toward one-to-many models when it comes to lectures. There are tremendous lectures by amazing thinkers on so many subjects -- dare I say, all the subjects covered by most public schools. Lectures are, by their nature, not interactive, and thus a great avenue for streamlining and bumping-up public education. Very few primary and secondary teachers actually lecture anyway these days and only a small percentage actually provide engaging lectures.
I'm also with him when it comes to textbooks. Not that textbooks are bad...um, they're awesome...but only in context, and that context is created by both foundational texts and by popular modern works.
As one of the kids in the "smart" track, I was exposed to more foundational texts than my peers in the run of the mill track. While my geometry class certainly used the same textbooks, we also did some work with Euclid's Elements. My history and philosophy classes read Voltaire and Mill and Locke as adjuncts to the textbook, while the not-so-smart kids did not. I'm pretty sure that most of the not-so-smart kids were plenty smart and may have taken to geometry or calculus or civics if they'd been in the tiniest way freed from the textbook doldrums; not by throwing out the textbooks, but by giving fire and context to them through foundational and modern works. And probably, even more important, by going home to parents and circles of friends who'd read such works and were eager and able to discuss this exciting stuff in...well, their inherently exciting ways.
And here is where I perhaps part ways with Seth or at least his assumptions for this talk to this audience, which I believe he even says he assumes to be educators by and large. He seems to be laying blame at the feet of a flabby, intellectually lazy public school system. Certainly there is plenty to slather about, but I do not believe that encountering dullard textbooks, dullard teachers, and dullard training to utter phrases on cue, makes for a dullard student. In fact, I think that the heart of intellectual and moral activism is honed by such encounters. The real training goes on at home -- whether a family homeschools or uses the public or private education system.
We teach our kids to think and dig and respond all on their own at home. Wherever their formal education occurs has very little bearing on these crucial skills, on this questing, courageous spirit. In fact, I would argue that Seth's thinking is shortsighted here in that he seems to equate doing something over and over with Pavlovian drool. He couldn't even prove his point with is first pass at Good morning. Hardly any of his presumable trained dogs salivated and responded. He had to ask them again. Has he considered that his argument works backward; that by attempting to train, such systems as public education actually enliven individualism?
I think they do. In spades. In a practice ground for the training that goes on where it should...at home.
Granted my child is only in middle school, but the expectations of school and the authoritarian mindset has been a tremendous practice ground for his moral and intellectual compass. In civics class, he's known as the kid with the different ideas. He's also known as the kid who knows more of the history and current events and intellectual history. (He's also the kid with the Ron Paul 2012 button on his lapel and fedora.) He's been given a tremendous experience in being the odd man out and also the most knowledgeable. The kid who argues with the teacher and provokes great classroom discussion. His teacher recently told me that my son's class was the most fun and engaging of all his civics periods because my son provoked real discussion and had even provoked him to study up on some theories and ideas. At home, we talk about the civics class (and science, math, literature classes) and we thrash through the discussions and look up stuff we aren't sure about and argue about what we think and what we learn.
On the social cattle-drive stuff, I think Seth is also off a hair. Sure, prompting an audience to do a call and response to Good Morning...is funny but it negates the real training ground that the structured and authoritarian school is. There is no requirement to repeat the call. No requirement to say the pledge, to fail to attend every bell, to disagree with the anti-bullying process-locked programs. These things are only required if parents say so. My son hit another boy in the face right during class, right in the teacher's view not long ago. He knew such action was against the process-oriented school anti-bully program. He knew that he was not subject to such programs; he knew he had two parents who would very much admire -- with some advice about how to handle such instances more discreetly in the future -- his refusal to be harangued by a bully after the much-ballyhooed process had failed him. He was roundly lauded by fellow classmates, who had been victims of this other kid, and even a couple of teachers, who were sick of this other kid's behavior and felt powerless. Our son did not feel powerless, even in the face of Seth's monolithic drone training ground.
Many, many kids do not become drone's in Seth's industrialized hive mind. Many, many kids hone their skills, sharpen their swords and come out fighting in the real world, where it's pretty much the same drivel. School is a microcosm of the real world. The bullies are now senators and bosses and presidents. Textbooks are self-help books with "the secret" and the key and other navel-gazing drivel. Following-the-process teachers are just the regular folks who're drowning in their own messed up lives and can't be bothered. It's the same stuff. No monolithic education system needed. It's just human nature.
And it's not the school system that makes us this way. It's the culture at home that gives us the freedom not to settle.
The fact is that intellectual dullards and textbook intellectuals abound way beyond the schoolyard. They abounded before public education. It is not because they were trained by dullards and read dullard books; it is because the quests they've chosen are dull and mere quests for feeling okay at any given moment. It is because their parents set no higher example. We should never give that over to any system -- public school, public sentiment. Kids who think their highest duty is to recite and obey and be normal are not failed by our schools. They are failed by their parents. And our schools? They are also failed by parents who drink from the get-along-go-along cup.
In short, I would just say that Seth puts too much emphasis on the training ground and not enough on the trainers -- who are the parents -- not teachers and administrators. Me. You. Us. We decide for ourselves and teach our children to do likewise.