The Objective of Education Is Learning, Not Teaching
Jan 06, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

It's probably useful to see what the readers of Knowledge@Wharton (Law and Public Policy) are learning about education, and while on the one hand it is good to see a column that reports that "in most schools, memorization is mistaken for learning" and "the objective of education is learning, not teaching," the column itself is weak. There are a couple of student-teacher interactions reported that read as though they were fabricated. And an utterly false mythology of the one-room schoolhouse as progressive learning is propagated (as one commenter corrects the authors, "What went on in the one-room schoolhouse of the 19th century was rote memorization whenever possible"). 

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Re: The Objective of Education Is Learning

This column makes the most tired and knee-jerk arguments against educational convention and for ed tech. Most of these arguments are demonstrably false. Here's a few examples and some sources:

1. "Kids basically memorize in school" (false: talk to your kid's teacher; check the learning outcomes listed at an ed. ministry or department).

2. We need to keep kids learning without teaching --like they do when they learn to walk and talk. (Wrong again. Except for a few autodidacts, humans generally don't learn practices like reading, writing and math without teaching. See anything by Chomsky on universal/transformative syntax. See also Erneling, C. (2010). Towards Discursive Education for a brilliant discussion of how these arguments "infantalize" education.)

3. School is an artefact of the industrial age. (Wrong yet again. Anyone who has bothered to look past the cliches about the history of schooling will know that it is something that has evolved slowly, from before the time of the printing press to the present day. Schooling went "mass" in many places after the reformation, and has been expanding ever since. (See, for example, D. Hamilton (1989) Towards a Theory of Schooling.)

One thing that would help "the malaise of mass education" lamented in this promo piece is to keep these kinds of falsehoods from circulating as truths. The kinds of attacks on teachers that they legitimate basically just support the neo-liberal defunding of education.

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