Tuesday, April 2, 2019

MT: Meat Widgets And Personalized Learning

In Montana, the connection between Personalized [sic] Learning and vocational training has been made pretty explicit.

There, some leaders are throwing support to PL not because it would be good for students or would solve educational problems, but because it would solve workforce development problems.

Solving workforce shortages one widget at a time.
State Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, recently showed off one of the state's PL systems to fellow legislators:

“We know in the state we have a huge shortage in the workforce. We have a hole, both in meeting our workforce needs and in servicing our students,” Jones said. “We have about 12,000 kids graduate per year. About 7,000 of them go onto a four-year college — and we have good four year programs — but 5,000 are where? We can’t tell you. Schools can’t tell you.”

Ten-- count 'em, ten-- bills have been introduced to push the model across the state. Legislators are also "aiming to remove barriers in the public school system in order to encourage students to seek professional opportunities while they’re in school and to fill community worker needs."

This focus on "advanced opportunities" is a big part of the push, and the PL being emphasized here speaks very little about personalizing to the student's style or interests, and seems mostly focused on letting students set their own pace so that they can rip right through what passes for their education so they can get right out there and start being somebody's useful meat widget as soon as possible. This one of the worst versions of Personalized [sic] Learning-- a way to use a computer to speed a student through a checklist version of "education," because dammit those employers have jobs to fill right away.

I'm not going to pretend there isn't some careful balance to maintain here-- if your school consistently turns out students who are incapable of landing a job, that's not a good sign. But the primary focus of K-12 education should never, ever be vocational training. K-12 is about building skills, amassing knowledge, helping students become more themselves, more fully human in the world. Yes, being able to support yourself is part of that, but so is being a good citizen, a good voter and taxpayer, a good parent and partner, and just generally a person who's able to navigate the world outside of the workplace.

So statements like this one tend to make me nervous:

These bills aren’t just trying to encourage a re-structure of Montana's educational system, but they’re also attempting to fill a statewide labor shortage.

Students and schools do not exist to fill labor shortages. And if you told any parents from the ritzier part of town, "Oh, yes. Our school will do an excellent job of preparing Junior to fill our labor shortage," those parents would have Junior enrolled in a private school by the end of the day.

Oh, and computerized Personalized [sic] Learning is an excellent edutechnique because, Rep. Jones notes, the workman's tool of today is not a wrench, but a computer. So let's train those little meat widgets on computer and they'll be that much better-prepared for their future bosses!

This is Personalized [sic] Learning at its worst-- to mass produce workers like toaster as quickly as possible and in the process shrink education to a narrow, meager version of what a full education was supposed to be. Shame on the Montana legislators who plan to cheat their students this way.

1 comment:

  1. Is it possible to guide 5 year olds for 13 years so that they become thoughtful, reflective, informed, intellectually adept, considerate, capable of content mastery, confident, goal-oriented citizens of good will?

    Have people given up on that goal (functional adulthood) because American culture no longer values such an outcome of education?

    Practical learning experiences can be the best means to many goals listed above, but not at the expense of traditional subjects which cultivate the intellect.

    The problem with practical learning which is imbedded in a school- directed reward system is that it can become one more aspect of life that students "game", as they do for almost everything else in school. Work experience without the authentic *need* for working to achieve a personal objective becomes another hoop to jump through, and not a path to forge. Forging a path is what learning is.

    Life becomes literature when we enter the work force, even behind the counter at McDonald's. But if someone doesn't want to be there, or does not desperately need to be there, it is just another prefabricated experience for students to complete to satisfy many other people but themselves.

    Self-efficacy cannot be delivered through a curriculum, even one that is supposed to be "practical" and real world oriented.

    Students already live in their own real world. And their real world in rural Montana, or small town Pennsylvania or Chicago or suburban Texas cannot be underestimated. And since they all have access to Cyberspace, they have a real world there, too.

    It isn't easy being a young person in this day and age. Ultimately, parents play a greater role in these outcomes, intentionally or not. And then there is just plain old temperament. That stubborn beast is what makes and breaks us all.

    If students feel like pawns or widgets, they probably are. Forming a strong self identity means going through the motions but developing one's own value system along the way. Not easy but essential. And no one can package it or capture it with software.