I managed to write two posts on just the first few minutes of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed: about how the concerns of the filmmakers about school resonated with me, disputing the reasoning that kids quit liking school because it gets harder and questioning whether or not doing well in school really will lead to success.
After that brief introduction, Most Likely to Succeed spends quite a bit of time illustrating how computers will make knowledge-based jobs obsolete, and it does it in a very entertaining way, by telling the stories of the chess and Jeopardy computer competitions against human champions. (Since the documentary was made, a computer has now beaten the world champion at Go, an even harder game.) The main point of these stories is to illustrate that fewer and fewer current jobs are safe from being replaced with machines of some type.
Then the film covers the history of education, some of which I’ve read elsewhere, and some of which confirmed conclusions I’d made from my own observations – about how our current education system was designed over a hundred years ago, for a very different world, drawing on the purpose of schools in an even older world.
It does a good job of explaining how education for the industrial age was designed to turn out workers who could repeat tasks over and over with few mistakes, which was needed for factory workers. However, it lost me a bit when it made the jump that companies needed steel workers in factories in different parts of the country to know the same esoteric historical fact. Maybe it was a joke, but all it did was weaken their argument.
However, the documentary talks about the explosion of facts and discoveries in the modern age, which is very real. When I was in high school, teachers were just realizing that the students were young enough that they needed to explain Watergate in detail. Now they have to add the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Iraq wars, 9/11, the hanging chad election (Bush vs. Gore), the Benghazi attack…
I remember finding my mom’s college level biochemistry text book when I was in high school; I could already spot a lot of gaps and errors in the knowledge. Since I finished my PhD in biology, Dolly the sheep has been cloned. Smoking in grandmothers was found to increase the risks of asthma in grandchildren, challenging everything we thought we knew about genetic inheritance. Pluto has been demoted, so there are only eight planets. But another planet may have been found, so there might be nine again. And for the first time we’ve seen evidence of black holes colliding and detected gravitational waves that were predicted to exist by Einstein.
Not to mention that when my husband majored in computer science, it was such a new major that they required you to minor in electrical engineering so you had enough classes for a degree.
The bottom line? There’s a lot more facts to memorize than when you grandfather was in school.
I could also relate to how futile memorizing all these facts can be. Political science, or some type of government class, was one of the classes in college outside my major that I found really interesting. I remember having conversations with the professor after class; I found it that interesting.
But I also remember leaving my political science final. As I walked out of the building, I was thinking over the questions –and discovered I could no longer remember a date that I’d just used as an answer on the test 15 minutes before. My memory dumped itself that quickly.
The week I saw Most Likely to Succeed, my older daughter spent 45 minutes one night helping her younger sister memorize the first 20 Presidents. The older one had memorized the same list 2 years before, but she no longer remembered more than the first four or five – until she spent that 45 minutes with her sister, repeating something she’d already spent time “learning.”
Now memorization does have some uses. And there can be something to at least recognizing the names of some of those Presidents in the years to come. (Maybe. You know, right now I’m having trouble justifying that statement.) But our kids memorize such volumes of facts that it takes enormous amounts of time, and it really does seem to be of limited use. The documentary does a good job of explaining how it used to be more useful before computers and calculators, and how it now no longer is.
Here’s an entertaining illustrated video clip about a speech by Ken Robinson that gives a similar account of the history of education. It also does a good job of explaining how the design of our education system evolved and why and how it falls short in today’s world.
In the experience of my own family, a lot of the memorizing is school is driven by standardized tests, and the granddaddy of them all, the AP test. I’ll talk about that in my next post.
More articles in this series and review of Most Likely to Succeed
- Most Likely to Succeed Documentary Review and Discussion – Part 1/11
- I hate school – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 2/11 Does your kid hate school? Do kids they really hate it because they have to work hard and they are lazy, or is there another reason?
- How important is doing well in school to success? – Most Likely to Succeed Part 3/11 Have you told your kid that it’s for important so they can get a good job? How important is doing well in school to success?
- We don’t need human calculators, so why are we training them? – Most Likely to Succeed, Part 4/11 Our education system was designed to train workers for jobs that are being replaced by machines. It’s outdated.
- Fear of Failure in Education – Most Likely to Succeed Part 5/11 Schools are as much afraid of failing the test as students are, in spite of it not being a guarantee of success.
- High Tech High – Most Likely to Succeed Part 6/11 In search of a new model for teaching, an alternative to memorizing facts and to regurgitate them on tests – High Tech High.
- Project Based Learning – Most Likely to Succeed Part 7/11 Most Likely to Succeed presents the best solution I’ve seen to the problems of run-away tests and hours of homework – project based learning.
- Grades – What are they for? Most Likely to Succeed Part 8/11 What do student grades mean? Are they a measure for improving learning? Or a way to rank kids against each other so we can identify the “best” kids?
- The problems with group projects – Most Likely to Succeed Part 9/11 For group projects like those portrayed at High Tech High in Most Likely to Succeed, schools will have to structure, teach and grade projects differently.
- Cut the School Curriculum – Most Likely to Succeed Part 10/11 To change learning to be more in-depth the way it is presented in Most Likely to Succeed, we’re going to have to cut the school curriculum.
- Most Likely to Succeed – Learn more Part 11/11 Change the antiquated structure of education to prepare students for jobs and create happier, healthier, more creative individuals.