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Learning at its Best

Jeff Bliss Wasn’t Arguing Against Teachers

Or at least it seems that way. The truth is that I don’t know what Bliss believes. I don’t know the whole context and I don’t pretend to know. Which is pretty much the point of this post. I’ve seen people watch this and use it to say, “We need to get rid of all teachers.” Or I’ve seen people say, “he’s a spoiled kid and he’s being disrespectful.”

Both perspectives seem to miss the actual words spoken.

I’m amazed that some of the same people who say, “Look at the hole in the wall theory” and “teachers don’t matter” and “just give kids videos and they’ll learn” are the same ones who rip on packets. What is a packet? It’s a prescribed, pre-organized, non-relational, non-interactive method of learning.

A Khan video is essentially a packet with a screen. Many glossy apps are merely packets with a tech twist (sometimes even more pre-programmed than a packet). The truth is that a packet is essentially the mindset of “leave the kids alone and let them learn at their own pace.”

I get it. That’s not entirely true. A packet lacks some of the choice and interactivity of a book or of social media or of twenty percent free exploration time. But on another level, some of the technology that people see as liberating can become a packet if there is no relationship. The danger in a packet is not just that it’s irrelevant and lacks student agency. It’s also the reality that it lacks a relationship and learning is fundamentally relational.

It makes me wonder if the anti-teacher pundits actually listened at all to the video. Yes, Jeff Bliss rips on the teacher. True, some of his statements resonate with the alternative education community. However, he makes the case (indeed a strong one) that teachers need to care.  His words are “get up and actually teach.” He also says, “they need to learn face-to-face.”

Jeff Bliss isn’t arguing in favor of holes in the wall. What he isn’t saying is that we need to do away with teachers or replace them with kiosks. He’s not begging for videos or asking if his education can be gamified. Instead, he’s making an impassioned plea for teaching as a relational activity. If teachers feel threatened by this, then we’ve also missed the point. Jeff Bliss is asking for a passionate, relational teacher who wants to engage.

And the good news is that those teachers exist. If we want that to be more common, we have to quit vilifying teachers and start listening to the students who are reminding us that what we do matters.

If you watch the video and come to the conclusion that teachers don’t matter, you’ve missed the whole point of what he said.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


5 thoughts on “Jeff Bliss Wasn’t Arguing Against Teachers

  1. well put John! I added my perspective a couple days ago. I agree he is not attack “teachers”! No computer will ever touch a students heart! Relationships matter! Knowledge is not always learning. Teaching is not always heart work, but when it is, it transcend everything!

    Posted by dloitz | May 13, 2013, 11:57 pm
  2. I think we also have to be careful not to ascribe arguments to Jeff Bliss that he has not made. I agree with you John, he doesn’t argue against teachers, quite the opposite; he argues against a particular kind of teaching. That being said, he is a symptom of a problem, not someone who has all the solutions.

    He will also be used by people on both sides of the political spectrum to help them make emotional arguments about teachers, one way or another.

    Posted by David Wees | May 14, 2013, 12:15 am
    • Exactly. And I hope I’m not putting words into his mouth here or claiming that he has the solutions. I’m just pointing out that the content of what he says doesn’t seem to be that of “let’s fire all the teachers.”

      Posted by John T. Spencer | May 14, 2013, 12:22 am
  3. Our minds seem to be traveling in parallel paths, although I give you big props for the “Khan video is a packet with a screen” line. Priceless.

    I also agree with David Wees–Jeff Bliss’s rant is the symptom of a problem, not a source of analysis or solutions. I’m horrified at some of the things ascribed to a minute and a half of teenage rant–by people who ought to know better.

    Posted by nflanagan | May 15, 2013, 10:53 am

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