Have you seen the new ads for Kaplan University? They may not be of the artistic calibre of “1984,” which was directed by “Blade Runner” director Ridley Scott, but they certainly stop you in your tracks. A professor stands before his students in a college lecture hall and apologizes. “The system has failed you. I have failed you,” he intones. “I have failed to help you share your talent with the world, and the world needs talent more than ever. Yet it’s being wasted by an educational system steeped in tradition and old ideas.” He continues to speak, but now we’re watching his moving image on laptops and iPods. He is speaking to students who are seated at a kitchen table, on a living room couch and a rooftop. “It’s time to use technology to rewrite the rules of education,” the professor says. Like the 1984 ad, it’s not until the very last second that you find out the spot is for Kaplan. A second ad, called “Desks,” consists of a series of images of old-fashioned school desks, either alone or arrayed in visually arresting settings – on a beach, lined up on a subway platform, on the lanes of a bowling alley, on city streets, and winding their way up a mountain trail. ”Where is it written that the old way is the right way? Where is it written that a traditional education is the only way to get an education? Where is it written that classes only take place in a classroom?” an unseen narrator asks. ”That’s just the thing. It isn’t written anywhere.”
Whether these ads are successful or not for Kaplan may be beside the point. What makes them interesting and compelling is what they say about education at large. They challenge you to look at something familiar with fresh eyes: Where does it say classes have to take place in a classroom? Why can’t college come to me? What’s the point of parking in a lecture hall for hours on end?Oh. Fantastic. What a “change.” Excuse my sarcasm, but: How original. A rock, no matter how you repackage it, is still a rock. It’s a case of “the king is dead; long live the king” all over again. So I’m supposed to be amazed that the same old education — which the “professor” does not represent, anyway; he, the mouth piece for the script writers, does not even know what he is talking about, does not even know the history of modern education nor its philosophic traditions — is to be presented with new glitz and glamor? And this is to constitute a fundamental change from the “old,” “traditional” ideas? Stimulating the visual cortex constitutes a fundamental change? So I can now listen to a professor who can throw up slides, videos, audio, power point presentations, famous actors and actresses, maybe? And I’ll be the better for it? So we’d be better off having someone present the theory of monarchy with famous actors and actresses we “love and idolize” waxing “poetic” (well, at least as how modern “poetry” is done) in videos, with Brittney singing, with lights flashing, with pictures of old kings, queens and peasants popping up, maybe some rap music? Or if not all that, then just the professor saying the same old thing as he/she would in class, but saying it all over the Internet and over fancy computer equipment? Saying something new is being done in education because of new technology is misleading and dangerous. People say and imply that by using new technology they are doing something fundamentally different in education. They make it sound like they are improving and changing education, but they are not really doing so. All such “professors” do is confuse and discourage people, and confuse the issue. We might as well fall for the “bait-and-switch” methods of some salesman and politicians. (But I am not saying — nor do I associate with the idea — that “it’s all about money” or “it’s all about greed” or whatever.) Speaking of kings: this “professor” reminds me of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” (See also Project Gutenburg.) The argument (or assertion) we are given that the “professor” is fundamentally changing education is fallacious. The argument/assertion is “regifting” or is a “package deal.” We should not confuse new means (the Internet; technological media) with new methods (pedagogy; theories of instruction; epistemology). Nor with better methods. The issues here are fundamentally philosophic and educational. Give me Aristotle walking about the Lyceum, Socrates in the streets of Athens, Plato in a rock room in the Academy, Archimedes in the halls of Syracuse, Sappho in the fields of Lesbos, Galileo in a naval ship-building yard, Newton on a farm, Paracelsus in a crowded lecture hall, Jefferson in a cramped room at UVa, Henry Hazlit in a dim room full of musty books any day over someone teaching modern methods over shiny, glistening, fancy, expensive, technologically amazing computers and video cameras. Let’s get to the essentials of the issue; let’s focus on reasoning and logic. Toss the fluff. (It’s not necessarily to be thrown out entirely; it’s secondary or tertiary in importance.) We should ask:
What is “education?” What is it supposed to do? How is it different from “training?” Why do people need it, but not animals?
And what is a “traditional education?” What are the “old ideas” of education? Is modern American education “traditional?” How is modern American education different from that of the 50s? From the early 1900s? From the 1800s?
What influence did John Dewey have on modern American education? And what influence did Immanuel Kant have on him?
Is our education “traditional” in the sense of being like the education of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln? How so or how not?
Is our education “traditional” in the sense of being like the education of the Scholastics? How so or how not?
Is our education “traditional” in the sense of being like the education of the ancient Greeks? How so or how not?Why do neither Mr. Pondiscio nor the “professor” address any of these questions? Give me someone who changes education by reintroducing reason and logic, and I’ll give you someone who does a real “1984” to education. But there are already some of us working education in modern America. The Van Damme Academy. History at Our House. MGTutoring. Others…