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February 13th, 2019
Go to a dance studio for the first time, and the class consists of everyone doing the same basic move, in real time after a short demonstration.
Could anything be more straightforward?
Moves are added and combined slowly as newbies get a handle on what’s been covered. This knowledge, know-how and practice compounds until larger patterns start to emerge where combinations can be linked together, split and mixed and eventually perhaps improvisation occurs with a deeper intuition about the most basic rules of what a particular dance invokes.
Let us for a moment compare this to a bizarre reimagining of a dance class. Wanna-be dancers file into a room and listen as the professor shows diagrams of the human body, describing the principle muscles that will be activated and relaxed in which order and in what kind of synchronized pattern to achieve the first most basic move. The students take notes and go home to read an expanded version of what the dance teacher went over in class. The next day the students take a test requiring written knowledge of muscle firing patterns in relation to anatomy. The class is several months long and at the very end each student gets a certificate stating they have completed the dance class.
To celebrate, the whole class goes to a dance club and no one knows how to dance.
This bizarre and humorous twilight scenario characterizes much of what is wrong with the great majority of modern education.
In an effort to be thorough, education has perhaps sacrificed efficacy.
And there is one phrase above all that epitomizes this huge disconnect: on the job learning.
We would presume that an education would equip a person with the things necessary to perform well in a related position. Of course, anyone who has had a job that is supposed to relate to some degree they’ve acquired can relate to the fact that education and job execution are often experiences located in different universes similar to the experience of our twilight zone dance class.
We might ponder for a moment about the expansion of the educational institutions. It used to be that a high school degree could get you a decent job. Then this evaporated and secondary education was needed. And now masters programs have exploded.
While it’s a gross over-simplification this trend sounds somewhat like the old snake-oil salesman who peddles a poison as a cure to the ailments the poison creates. Such a salesman is bound to generate an increasing need for his product… as long as he has his audience convinced that his snake-oil is a healthy cure.
This might be juxtaposed with an excellent physical therapist who looks at success as making themselves irrelevant to the patient. If someone is physically rehabilitated from some injury then the physical therapist is no longer needed.
How many teachers and professors look at the main function of their job in that way?
The dance teacher is likewise seeking to be irrelevant in the same way the physical therapist is. One might imagine an argument centering on the fact that these professions both center around physical activity, but we might reference computer science.
Educational Companies like Codecademy and particularly Lambda school are achieving increasing success by generating educational situations that require immense expressions of personal student agency with regards to the material.
Like the physical therapist or the dance teacher, such educational programs get to their end and can confidently ask their students:
show me what you got.
This episode piggybacks off of Episode 31: PILLS, Therapists, and the IKEA Effect.