Last night I had a really enjoyable dinner and thought-provoking conversation with Sirkku Nikamaa, her husband Mark, and Dr Mike Martin. We talked about many and varied things, including social reproduction, elite performance, and the current state of the English education system.
On my way home, I saw that my former Mozilla colleague Geoffrey MacDougall had tweeted a question which led to a short exchange:
@dajbelshaw I have zero interest in teaching coding. Would love to teach sales/debate/rhetoric/persuasion/oratory. No idea where to start.
— Geoffrey MacDougall (@taliesan) January 27, 2016
The problems we face in trying to change the education system are at least threefold:
- Parents want the best for their kids and they often believe this is through gaining credentials that are the results of high-stakes testing.
- Politicians want to impose their worldview on the next generation of the electorate through the education system.
- The filters we use (e.g. elite university admissions) to separate out people into social roles are extremely narrow and confining.
I was struck that I didn’t really have an answer to Geoffrey’s question about teaching subjects and skills that I usually equate with a private school education. Nor did I have a response to Mike’s question about how to scale something like the Oxbridge tutorial system.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to scale almost anything that makes a really profound impact on people’s lives. I’m the person I am today because of supportive parents who are my biggest fans, because of a really interesting History teacher I had growing up, an inspiring university lecturer, a former boss who believed in me. The list goes on.
The purpose of this post isn’t to provide answers, but to point out that I’ve now come across a number of people who have had an elite education who are genuinely interested in how others can receive the same. The problem is, of course, that caring doesn’t scale, and scale doesn’t care.
Image CC BY-NC Macroscopic Solutions
The title of this post comes from an O’Reilly article. It’s unrelated, unless you’re a developer.