A Historic Dramatic Rendering of a Dystopian Vision for the Future of Education

Last Tuesday, the wonderful Karen Brennan visited my T600 class and shared with us the image below that I believe perfectly depicts what I fear to be the future of education:

The terrifying thing is, this picture was created by French artists about 100 years ago as they tried to predict what education in the year 2000 would look like.  It’s fascinating to think about why artists at this time would think of this as a utopian view of education in the future.  I’m more interested in diving into the implications for today.

Three main things concern me about this photo:  The single old white guy selecting content for the machine, the clear uniformity of his students in terms of race and gender, and the massive focus on content delivery instead of experiential learning.  In a lot of ways, this picture depicts what concerns me most about the future of MOOCs, online learning, and other current trends in educational technology.

The same mindset that created the image above is what currently dominates public education.  Major decisions are being made by out-of-touch leaders in education that seem to only benefit a small part of our population.  Those same decisions are also perpetuating the idea that a good education is nothing more than efficient content delivery.  As a result, we have system with massive achievement and opportunity gaps.  While high socioeconomic status students have access to schools and extra resources to supplement their content-riden education with authentic experience, our students in low SES communities are left behind.

I fear that current trends in education innovations are only perpetuating this gap and not considering how public education as a whole needs to shift.  I believe we need to start using innovation to challenge the ideas that this 100-year-old picture represents.  Our students deserve a system that gives them a voice in what content is important for them, allows for adaptation to diverse audiences, and emphasizes experiences and performances of understanding over content digestion and regurgitation.  We need to not just think about how to bring education to a large scale, but how to bring the right type of education to scale.

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