not all kids are equal. not all kids want to learn. in each and every discussion over this topic people bring up quotes by very smart people, like kubrick, sagan, etc. on how organised learning is not needed, a young mind wants to learn, grows like a flower, all by itself, even better without the shackles of structured education.
i call bullshit. this is biased through the people stating these arguments. if you're a genius or borderline genious then of course the standardized school system is not for you. if you're smarter and faster than your teachers the whole thing can't work.
but the vast majority of kids is not like that. yes, some people are plain dumb. nothing to do, not a bad thing, pure nature. might be great at something, sports, fine manual labor, but simply not good with high mental tasks. some kids don't like reading, it's too hard and does not bring any value to them, nothing sticks, no mental images are formed. just letters stuck together.
this romantic view of humans is the root of a lot of failed social experiments. from open school systems (montessori, waldorf,...) to the new humans that communism wanted to create.
the modern school system is built to provide a base level of education, targeted for the medium range intellect. learn basic skills, through repetition - tried and tested method, from sports to art to education. reading, writing, counting, calculating. if you're one of those kids that taught yourself how to read at age 4, well, guess what, your experience in school will be subpar. but just don't go around and push for school reform to have schools fitted for your style of self learning. the vast majority is not like you.
Anyone who spends time with small children knows that before they reach school age, they are all absurdly curious about the world, and they absorb information like a sponge. I suppose you think it's just a coincidence that they lose that curiosity right around the time they start being stuffed into classrooms.
Writers like John Taylor Gatto have written hundreds of pages going through historical and psychological research to show that "genius is as common as dirt."
Your contrary opinion is actually one of the most insidious false lessons we learn in school, and it's a very useful form a social control. "See, most people are too stupid to manage themselves, you'd better let us elites make all the hard decisions for you."
And even if I grant your premise, it still doesn't support maintaining the schools we have, because they demonstrably don't work at conveying a "base level of education". They're elaborate kabuki, where everybody pretends the work matters and everybody knows it doesn't, and the average student retains almost nothing.
I mean come on. Yeah, little kids are curious, but do you really think that curiosity will translate to the amount of sustained concentration it takes to learn a complex subject like algebra.
I'm currently taking a computer science class and any time I don't feel like studying but do it anyway, I make a mental note that I would not have done that work if it weren't for the class. And it's one good reason why formal education beats autodidacticism, at least for me.
There is something to be said about being able to sustain effort over long periods of time (months, years) to master something, whose training includes things that are not pleasant. However, this is not something that formal education does very well. Ultimately, the person learning is the one who has to concentrate. Sticks and carrots do not necessarily goad someone into concentrating.
2. I also find being able to focus on subjects that are not innately interesting is a useful skill, as are conforming to simple rules. There can be other reasons for following rules than oppressive social control. Maybe preschool teachers have to show up on time so the children in their care can be supervised appropriately, or drivers have to stay in their lanes to avoid accidents.
3. 'because they demonstrably don't work at conveying a "base level of education"' - 99% of people in the USA are literate. I don't know of comparable data, but nearly everybody can preform arithmetic too.
 - http://www.statisticbrain.com/number-of-american-adults-who-...
 - http://skills.oecd.org/documents/SkillsOutlook_2013_Chapter2..., p75
The language scores were very high. Even the lowest was well above the national average. Then he noticed the math scores. The top score in Juárez Correa’s class was 921. Zavala Hernandez looked over at the top score in the state: It was 921. When he saw the next box over, the hairs on his arms stood up. The top score in the entire country was also 921."
Granted, it's a fairly limited sample, but it's a sample that shows incredible results as well. Based on this classroom of children, that came from circumstances as far away from privilege as possible, the scores shifted from:
45% Math failure -> 7% Math Failure
31% Spanish failure -> 3.5% Spanish Failure
I don't think you're giving the majority of children/humans enough credit for their potential.
To counter argue myself, there clearly wasn't a 0% failure rate. And while 7% is somewhat low, there is a high probability that some of the children in the class were close to failing with others a little better than that and so on.
Why can't we have an education system that does both? Why not have open ended classrooms that let kids learn at their own pace with personal tutor's to help kids that aren't thriving in that situation.
> Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile.
These facts are fishy. These standardized tests are usually pretty easy and have a high number of perfect scores.
We are great at figuring out systems. Hardware. Computers. Robots. Networks thereof.
But self-aware nature-made wetware... please, just step away from that stuff. You're only making a mess.
Ugh, these gross generalizations get tiring..
"Today, there have been 85 million users to date. Each month, there are 6 million unique users on the Khan Academy site. In total, there have been 260 million lessons delivered and over 1 billion problems answered on the related exercises."
It doesn't say something like, "How a Radical New Teaching Method Will Make All Children Geniuses".
Personally, I think that your dissenting opinion (and its bag of implications) fosters mediocrity in education that hurts the kids on the lower end of the learning curve almost as much as it hurts the kids on the upper end... maybe more so.
you're a genius? off to genius school.
you're just not capable of keeping up with the progress of the class? off to special ed, where the pace is better for you.
different countries approach these things differently, but identifying high and low potentials is proving to be really hard as the symptoms sometimes overlap (boredom).
Attempting to maximize the area with a y value on the bell curve because we fail to utilize existing resources effectively  does not support a dissent with the forward progress—the increasing diversity of—education. You're right, not all kids are equal—and that's exactly why we need to open-source education.
Things may happen later on that co-opt or subvert whatever gets the child going, and by the time you come along the child doesn't want to learn, not on your terms at least, not in the ways that you recognize.
It's also closely connected to an odd but harmless religious sect, which is a tangent on a tangent.
Few weeks pass, and you became bored and un-stimulated. You start to crave novelty, and curiosity. You pick up a book, you watch educational videos and so forth. Except its self directed. You become addicted, to some activities because your doing it for internal values, not external pressures. This is how I mastered subjects. This is also the point when a teacher becomes truly useful, because they will working with you to feed YOUR curiosity rather than following a set standard.
Most people do this.
I've also long liked this Seymour Papert quote vaguely along those lines: http://www.kmjn.org/snippets/papert85_logovisions.html
However in parallel to these kinds of views being popular among education reformers, it's also been popular to mock them as idealistic hippie views of education. And a different category of education reformer has had almost 180º opposite ideas, based around standardized, repeatable, scientifically measurable education (the basis of NCLB, MOOCs, etc.).
Someone who definitely falls outside the progressive reformers would be John Holt, yet he passionately argues along similar lines as what Kubrick is saying here.
Holt: "... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it."
By modern definitions, Holt is not even exactly "homeschooling". More accurately, he advocates what would be called "Unschooling" -- the idea that home life observing adults is a more than powerful enough motivator for young children to acquire basic skills.
Junior year in an independent study, with access to teachers but without worry for grades or blueprints, I built a robotic plotter/scanner with a PHP-based interface down to a C++ serial library from somewhere in the Linux kernel code.
I didn't get that much smarter in a year. The difference there was between a typical US public school and a progressive (albeit still public) free-thinking magnet school.
It's felt like the presumption was always that you could give the smart kids more freedom and they'd find more ways to grow. But this article has me thinking that's backwards: better to give everyone* that freedom and let them all grow.
*special education and dealing with particular learning disabilities being separate and not dealt with in this wholly unqualified opinion.
Where are the publications about this? How much peer review have they had? We have discussed Mitra's work here on HN before. What is the latest news about follow-up on his studies? I would be delighted to hear about new and more effective methods of helping young learners learn (I am a teacher of young learners) and I am especially interested in following up on the research to make sure that it is accurate.
(Above link is an example of my following up on educational research claims. I do this continually.)
AFTER EDIT: I find by Google Scholar search that most of Mitra's publications on education research are reposted on his own Hole-in-the-Wall website.
What many don't understand is the enormous difference between the learning of the one child (your child) and the education of a nation. Try institutionalizing these "almost logical" ideas about learning for nation-wide implementation for a reasonable price and see what happens. I think it is possible to implement these ideas, but that means that we as a nation have to make hard choices. At the moment, we choose to fund education for all and learning for all be damned.
*: Every couple of decades these ideas or similar ideas seem to be reïnvented by a new generation ...
As the kids say, nowadays: This. Any major change in education will take a cultural shift. And cultural shifts are generally very, very slow to form.
Sorry to be a pedant, but that should be "effecting change". "Affecting change" would be pretending that some change had occurred. I'm sure it was just a typo, but it's one that trips people up so much, I figured it would be better corrected.
Don't get me wrong, I'm in the unschooling/homeschooling camp, but this isn't evidence of enthusiasm. :)
Education is a favorite pet issue of every wanna-be FDR and for whatever reason, they can't just let teachers do their jobs. They have to tell them what they can and can't teach, what targets they have to meet, create arbitrary and senseless metrics of merit.
So forgive me if I'm unimpressed with this so-called solution to education. Would it be better than what we have now? Sure it will, virtually anything would be that reduces the amount of oversight in the system. Could you sell it to the public? Not a snowball's chance in hell. It wouldn't last a year.
it's amazing that people still actively publicize idiotic self promoters and charlatans like Mitra.
I don't think it even takes a radical teaching method. I think it takes a radical reordering of priorities.
Instead of glorifying athletes and closet organizers famous for making sex tapes ... we need to glorify education, hard work, and resourcefulness. And parents need to reinforce the message by rewarding/encouraging those traits.
The Sudbury School of Atlanta has an interesting blog post  describing how the students can naturally pick up basic skills through participating in the management of the school, in this case by choosing and acquiring a school pet.
This Wired article is more about the undirected aspect, but the compelling thing to me about adding the democratic element (the oldest running example is the Summerhill School , established in 1921) is that the decisions being made affect the student, so the student has a motive to participate and learns as a by-product. Thus there's a hope that children in general could benefit, not only those children who are particularly "self-directed learners".
Additionally, the things they're learning (reading, writing and arithmetic, but also teamwork, negotiation and leadership) are directly beneficial in society -- because the school itself is a microcosm of society.
It may not be a model that produces "geniuses", but it does seem like a good model for producing adults/citizens. (I have no personal experience with alternative schooling.)
That aside, this long-winded series of human-interest anecdotes reminds me of why I stopped reading Wired. The whole thing could have been written in 1/3rd the space.
As others have pointed out, there is no magic bullet. This method would work incredibly well for 90% of subjects taught in elementary school. However, for non-English language learning, additional guidance would be needed - the teachers could nudge them towards Duolingo, various online multilingual dictionaries, etc. I do believe that this system could be used as the core of a new teaching paradigm, but it is not solely sufficient for a complete learning experience to the standards that we have come to expect in America.
For developing countries (which, sadly, Mexico bears much resemblance to), this could be an incredible tool. An internet-connected computer and guidance from involved teachers can easily produce students who are ready to help lift their countries out of economic malaise. In this way, I believe the internet can serve as the Great Equalizer many of us hoped it would someday become. If this method used alone is capable of producing students 70% as capable (by some nonexistent perfect metric) as those in first-world nations, that would still be an enormous leap forward for developing nations. I think these guys are really on to something in this regard.
I find it interesting that as our civilizations mature, we find ourselves oscillating back away from the industrialized American education system paradigms and towards a more holistic, broadly-focused educational strategy using qualitative methods rather than quantitative objectives. Students are not a homogeneous population, and historically we have tried to deal with this issue by ignoring it and cramming them all into the same mold, with minor variations. It makes me glad to see that we are starting to consider that we should instead allow for this variance by designing systems with broader definitions and qualitative goals, to allow the students to grow in the directions they are best suited or disposed to.
That reminds me of one of the technical schools I saw in downtown Lima, Peru. It had a huge number of large glass windows on the front, and as I walked along the main street, I could peer in and see row after row of tables, each with several large Apple monitors, each with a student or two in front of it. It was massive.
I'd really like to go in there next time I visit and find out more about their techniques.
(Incidentally, several blocks away there was a high school named "The Albert Einstein Institute". :)
Teachers like Sergio Juárez Correa are an example of what teachers should be doing, specially in rich countries like the US.
Since 1913 when IQ tests started being nationally or internationally graded, the IQ median has been kept at 100. But without that smoothing the median level of 1913 would be 77 or so today, and the median today would be in the 130s
We have got smarter, or perhaps we have had mental tools passed onto us through education and social norms.
ref: err... a Ted talk recently released....
The research by James R. Flynn on changes in IQ raw score levels over time in many different countries has been described by intelligence researcher N. J. Mackintosh like this: "the data are surprising, demolish some long-cherished beliefs, and raise a number of other interesting issues along the way." (IQ and Human Intelligence 1998, p. 104) In general, Flynn is a very respected researcher on human intelligence. Here is what the late Arthur Jensen said about Flynn back in the 1980s: "Now and then I am asked . . . who, in my opinion, are the most respectable critics of my position on the race-IQ issue? The name James R. Flynn is by far the first that comes to mind." Modgil, Sohan & Modgil, Celia (Eds.) (1987) Arthur Jensen: Concensus and Controversy New York: Falmer. Here's what Charles Murray says in his back cover blurb for Flynn's book What Is Intelligence?: "This book is a gold mine of pointers to interesting work, much of which was new to me. All of us who wrestle with the extraordinarily difficult questions about intelligence that Flynn discusses are in his debt." Flynn has earned the respect and praise of any honest researcher who takes time to read the scholarly literature on human intelligence. Robert Sternberg, Ian Deary, Stephen Pinker, Stephen Ceci, Sir Michael Rutter, and plenty of other eminent psychologists recommend Flynn's research.
ps if you ever do come across this I would love to know if you have either a really good memory, do a lot of research on the spur if the moment, or have an impressive filing system? cheers
Also, my ability to communicate instantaneously is absurdly better than what my parents had, doesn't mean we should stop striving to improve improve improve, especially in an area as important as education.
This has as much to do with schools hiring "staffers" and "instructional assistants" as a cost-cutting measure as it does with top-heavy public school bureaucracy. It's akin to the "associate/adjunct professor" fiasco in a college environment.