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April 24, 2009


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I've been thinking about this a lot more lately as a new parent. It was interesting to read in a biography of Gouverneur Morris that even at that time educational reform was on peoples' minds, with people like Franklin pushing a more applied curriculum that emphasized science, including experimentation with electricity. But most of their educational experiments seemed to fail with teachers falling back on the Greek and Latin.

A core problem is that each student learns somewhat differently. So there are no economies of scale in matching teaching to students -- the bandwidth is limited by the cost of hiring teachers.

The marginal improvements that could be made would be to hire a wider variety of teachers to teach a wider variety of subjects. Each field has its own connections to all others. One can learn math and science from studying music or art and vice versa. In this regard, the people who want more rigorous math and science education are doing themselves a disservice because people don't generally develop an interest in those fields until they have a problem they want to solve. It is very unusual for a teenager to have a natural interest in pi.

In other words, there may be some cheap ways to encourage (or at least avoid killing) curiosity.


Considering the success of Wikipedia and Facebook and mobile phones, one "brilliant idea" behind new approaches to education will likely involve sharing and communication outside classrooms. As difficult as it may be, try to think outside that box. And keep an eye on Khan Academy http://www.khanacademy.org/ Grockit http://grockit.com/ and the like.

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