Creating a true reflection.

Reflections have always amazed me. How is it possible that one object could capture the exact image of another object? I understand the physics and all but I often wonder about what the image actually looks like – is our interpretation bias?

Sometimes what we think we see isn’t really true. In drawing class they tell students to hold their portrait up to a mirror to see the imperfections. These occur because we kind of fill in the mistakes mentally and compensate. However as the old saying goes “mirrors do not lie”.

If this is true then we have to re-examine our perception and our preconceived notions about everything ourselves included.

This is also true when it comes to the educational system that has been basically left untouched for years. I met with an ex-student of mine last night. I haven’t seen him in two years. He is now working as an educational content developer. The field is booming. He can’t work enough hours. His skills are being tested everyday. The entire department is made up of ex-students and co-workers of mine. They are heavily involved in developing educational content for delivery over the Internet. He showed me a website that as he puts it, is basically television – not video over the Web but basically an updated version of the television model. If this could change so quickly and as he notes the company is in South America – basically in a country we have hubristically called a “Third World” nation then what are we doing? Is this a reflection of our belief system?

Shouldn’t we be using this technology to address the issues of education in our country? We have to come to realize that there is a new economy out there – one that needs innovation to succeed. Gone are the days of the “jerk”. A “jerk” was someone in a company whose job it was to untangle or unclog any backup in the production line. This was usually accomplished with minimal training or effort. If and when necessary they would “jerk” the assembly line back into working order – hence the name. There are no more jobs for “jerks”. The economy doesn’t allow for them. So how do we as a society teach the ones that need to be taught differently? I am not saying they are “jerks” – derogatorily just that we do have people in our society who weren’t made for CEO positions. So now that civil service and municipal services are laying off hundreds where will people who are not cut out for C-Level positions find work or better yet how do we teach and train them? The comedian Pat Cooper once said “not everybody is meant to go to college – who is going to stay home and clean the fish???”. So how do we teach them now that the desired skill sets for employment have drastically changed over the last few years? Gone are the days of secure work and secure jobs. You traded high pay for security. Has it been allowed to get so far out of control that it has destroyed itself? How do we do this when our resources are past a tipping point?

We have an overstressed educational system and we are laying-off hundreds of teachers at the same time that we need more personalized training and teaching. What do we do? Is this where the proper use of technology comes to play a major role as a quality control and cost savings device? Read the excerpt below and see.

The Tinniest Schoolhouse by Ta-Nehisi Coates

School of One is the brainchild of a Teach for America vet named Joel Rose. A former Houston-area elementary-school teacher, Rose watched the kids who left his class graduate to everything from high school to the county jail. He wanted to know why educators were able to reach some kids but not others. So he tracked down his former students and talked with them about how their experiences in his class had affected their future. After hours of conversation, Rose began wondering about the possibilities of an individualized curriculum.

Teachers generally work on a mass-production model—if 30 kids are in the class, the goal is to find a method that will allow the highest percentage of them to succeed. A great teacher can employ secondary methods to get through to laggards, but given the variables that individual students bring to the class, a handful of kids will inevitably be shortchanged…

“The vision I had was a large open space with different modalities happening at the same time,” Rose told me. “I don’t know a lot about technology. But I did talk to people who know a lot about technology. I said, ‘I’ve got this crazy idea. Is this even doable?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.”…

School of One is the tangible result of those conversations. To come up with a way to tailor a lesson plan and teaching method for 320 seventh-graders in a pilot program at three schools, Rose collaborated with Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn computer-programming firm. … At the end of every day, the student takes another short diagnostic, which is used to create another tentative lesson plan that appears in the teachers’ inboxes by eight o’clock that evening.

Scan-a-tron on steroids?

This appears to be a great move towards redefining our educational system in terms of a new economy. Is it just scan-a-tron on steroids? Or is it a real answer? The term being used today is “Differentiated Instruction”. It goes back to my columns about one size does not fit all. This has always been the way in the arts. Each student was unique and had developed to a personal level.

However this is not financially possible today. We cannot afford individual tutoring for all students. The solution above seems to be the answer. We need to use technology to alter and adjust instruction and testing to fit the student at their level. Now this does sound a bit like coddling the student, but maybe not if they understand the consequences and not if the testing has a level process with rewards. This actually sounds a lot like a game. Remember my column on Einstein not being able to do basic algebra. Yet when someone made it a game he quickly comprehended.

Maybe this is the mirror? Maybe we use this technique as a mirror that is held up to every student and we get to see what they are really made of? Only we have the ability to adjust the determining factor and see what would make it better. Maybe in here is the truth? After all “mirrors do not lie” just as long as we don’t.