Monday, March 12, 2012

Knock Knock


It was right at the end of the 60 Minutes piece on the Khan Academy, the online sensation that is having admirable success at teaching kids math and science. Sanjay Gupta, the CNN reporter/doctor was on special assignment for the CBS magazine. The piece was quite interesting, extolling the virtues of this apparently very successful method of online teaching that seems to be the future. After interviewing the founder, Salman Khan, and then detailing how Bill Gates endorsed and then publicized the method of one on one computer screen teaching, the feature ended with Gupta talking to a young Latino boy.
"Has anyone in your family ever gone to college," he asks.
"No," came the reply.
"So then you would be the first from your family."
"Yes."
"What do you think about that?"
"If I can get help from Khan Academy like this now, I think I can make it."
Gupta pauses, but we all know his ultimate response.
"I think you can too."
Curtain. I mean ticking stop watch.


While I have concerns about teachers being replaced with computer screens, I say whatever works. Those concerns are a topic for another time. Perhaps math and science are so successful taught by Khan Academy because they are math and science. Until human interaction in the form of simulations, debates, Reader's Theater, poetry slams and the like are better done online, I won't worry. What strikes me most is how this young man is daring to think about college and he's barely out of middle school. I like that.
College. It's such a solid word. Like an architectural column from an old museum...college; it rhymes with knowledge. It's a good thing, no?
Not to Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who recently called the President of the United States a snob because he has the audacity to believe that everyone should go to college, or at least aspire to.
Perhaps it's not as anti-intellectual as it looks. I get that not everyone is cut out for the amount of study and dedication that most college graduates have to put in. I know all about learning styles, disabilities, resistances. But not to aspire for a thorough education scares me a bit. Especially in this age of computers replacing people in the work place at an alarming rate.
Maybe it's that rugged individualism part of the American character that Santorum is referencing. I have a few friends who still like to use the term the "school of hard knocks." Knocks over knowledge,is that the issue here? No, I don't think so.
In fact, I'm open to some serious change. Aside from the alternatives the computer presents, I recommend another way of reaching a degree.
There are a few colleges in existence today that use the 100 books theory. St. John's College (in Maryland and New Mexico) comes to mind. If you read and discuss or otherwise represent your knowledge of 100 chosen books, that's equivalent to Freshman through Junior year of college. I was thinking how many books I read in college; certainly more than 100, but then I was a history major with an English minor. It's fascinating to think about what some of those hard knockin' books on the top 100 list might be. But then it's only a list; when one thing is added others are not. The St. John's College list is composed mostly of what some would call "ancient" literature. Lots of Greek, Roman, Medieval, 16th 17th 18th century stuff. Nothing wrong with that. In the end, it's the reading rather than the titles that's probably most important. 51% of Americans didn't read a book last year. What list is that?

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