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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

Render Unto Scalability: Here Come the Trust Machines

Is scaling up a matter of philosophy or ritual? Of belief or benediction? Of action or intercession? Does #edreform really have one edge instead of many sides? Many sides that make one edge? Are we on a loop, as well as in a box? Just because both close, is there really no way out?

Is education intimate or mediated?

If we agree that education is an intimate act, then how do we reconcile #edreform with scalability? Is 1:1 learning intimate? Are adaptive computer programs intimate? Does a customized process or customizable product ensure intimacy – a relationship characterized by trust? Do students – do we – trust machines more than educators to deliver intimate education? Do positive academic results denote intimate curriculum, assessment, and instruction? Do negative academic results denote mistrust? Is there an objective, goal-driven intimacy achievable by HAL that it not achievable by every teacher with every student?

When we create this technology at a scalable cost, does that become the price of teaching – of a teacher’s salary? Should a teacher’s salary be formulated based on the per pupil licensing cost of a technology that achieves comparable results? Should there be a division of labor and stratification of pay for teachers teaching or facilitating content delivery and those teaching students how to learn? Who wants which job? Who will do it? Should students be allowed to learn how to learn only after they have mastered learning content? How much longer will those teacher roles be merged? Are they still? Does blended learning and open-source education privilege kids who have learned how to learn?

Is customized education unscalable or infinitely scalable? At what ratio of facilitator to learner? Does every child need a master teacher’s attention every day, or can they learn just as effectively through technology curated by a master teacher or from apprentices working under a master teacher?

Is there an ability, age, or attitude at which a student no longer needs a teacher? Are teachers childish things? Have we lost our faith in us? Have we lost our faith in the institutions we serve despite, or because of, their size?

What intelligences does an application need to approximate master teaching? What kind of master teaching does a school need to be successful in the eyes of funders, including the government?

Are we approaching a three-tiered model of education with “passing” kids getting teacher instruction, “bubble” kids getting technology mediated instruction, and “failing” kids getting different teacher attention than that received by the “passing” kids? What will this do for test scores? What will this do for #edreform? What will this do for generational cycles of school engagement? Community engagement? Communities? The world?

Is scalability primarily an economic problem or a problem of social justice? Which kind of problem is education? Public education? Is spending less for better results just? Is education a problem of economics? Do we pare down to protect essential services or redefine essential services and fight for kids’ due?

What is due kids?

That’s an intimate question. Is it school? Is it a teacher? Is it something ineffable and intrinsic?

Is your answer scalable and does that matter?

Who is willing to invest in something out of hand?

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


2 thoughts on “Render Unto Scalability: Here Come the Trust Machines

  1. Well Chad, as usual, you are thinking small. And asking really piddling questions.

    In this galaxy of thoughts, I’m hanging on to a few stars for comments. I guess I think we are very far from a 3-tier model of education, because there is still tremendous opposition to technology mediated instruction, as evidenced by only a few of these in the last few days…

    Old White Men Looking In the Rearview Mirror syndrome abounds… (Computers Are the Culprit) (The Medium Is the Medium)

    So not only is the issue of what technology mediated instruction actually looks like, and whom it serves (it is a truism in our educational system that the most active choosers, those who have the most privilege, the most social capital, who are already best served by the educational system, will find ways to eek out the advantages of any new innovations in the system)–but how well-established monopolies like universities and the public school system are attempting to repel technological innovation because these innovations threaten their existence. I’m still in that problem. You?

    I’m excited by this young woman’s blog I read this morning: Birth of A School. Cian Sawyer is deciding to take action in her country, in her way, to just do it. She describes what she thinks kids deserve.

    “cian sawyer was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and now lives in The Bahamas. cian is a passionate unschooling mother of two and an unwavering advocate for every human being’s birthright to organic learning / self-directed education.

    cian is deeply passionate about self-directed learning being available to children whose parents cannot stay home with them. She has decided to follow her dream and start the first democratic school in The Bahamas, which she narrates on this blog. Welcome to the journey of cian and The Village School.”

    Do efforts like these make any impact on the course of revolution? What do you think? Does this have meaning for you?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 13, 2010, 9:34 am
    • Thanks for the link to Birth of a School, Kirsten – I read several or Cian’s posts and subscribed to her blog. I think she humanizes the small-school start-up process and shows the importance of personal vision and conviction in creating places for kids’ humanity to flourish. It would be cool for a public school to give each teacher a questionnaire like the one Cian filled out so that teachers in the United States could apply for autonomy in return for clarity of vision, outcomes, and financial responsibilities.

      I’m thinking about schools around the world and wondering why our school system is so embattled (opportunity for profit, capitalism, etc.). On the spectrum of school support, we’re closer to the anti-school end than the pro-school end. In terms of how we view and esteem schools, teachers, education, and intellectuals, we just might have more in common with our “enemies” than with our “allies.” We elect leaders who hold anti-school views. This is profoundly disturbing.

      I recognize that I’m extremely critical of our public education system, but I try not to assign blame at the granular level of school or teacher, though schools and teachers bear some responsibility for change. However, I love school and want it to be so much more than it is for our kids. I want the system changed and the folks in it to have the chance to teach and learn differently than we do now. I want people to have the chance to build something they value.

      In so much as Cian has done that, she’s remarkable and awesome.

      Here, in the United States, as often as we malign our schools, teachers, and intellectuals, we reserve special judgment for folks trying something new instead of proposing we go back to the old. The situation is analogous to grades: if you don’t assign a grade, a kid hasn’t learned anything. If your school doesn’t look like a school, a kid hasn’t learned anything. The appearance of quantity – the manufacture of perceived scarcity – trumps any real abundance of quality we can expect from our schools and graduates. We don’t school for excellence. No pass rate will help us lead or save the world until we stop teaching for it and excommunicating those refuse to do so now.

      AERO clearly spoke to Cian, but how much does it speak out in America? How do you scale something that’s not meant to scale into a public school?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | July 13, 2010, 10:17 am

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