I spent most of last week in San Diego at ASU+GSV conference. The best part of the experience was getting face time with some of you, so thanks to those of you who took the time to chat.
I’ve also been reflecting on some of the major themes of the conference. ASU+GSV is a (if not the) major conference for a certain thread within education, for educators of an entrepreneurial, near-futurist, technology-oriented bent. It’s also generally centered on theses in high school and higher education, and these theses are generally centered on how to break through the ossification here—credentialism, cost, access, arid or irrelevant subject matters, inefficiency, and so on.
If there’s one essay that really captures the spirit of the approach, it’s The Big Blur, a white paper produced by Jobs for the Future. The things that are being blurred are jobs, high school, and college:
JFF has a specific, institutional thesis about what this looks like, but there are many approaches that might fall into this family:
Career-oriented coding bootcamps are one major class. Such bootcamps often have creative financing mechanisms like novel loans or ISAs that are tied to landing a job with a certain salary, and job placement is often baked into the programming. Bloom, née Lambda, is at least the most internet-famous of these.
Another sort of example is Portal Schools, which is aiming to embed progressive high-schools-mixed-with-college in corporate environments; their pilot is colocated on Belkin’s Los Angeles campus.
Still others explore specific aspects of this dynamic: Ender is a sort of distributed high school science/maker fair, Sora is an alternative high school with a project-oriented bent, and both have baked into their programmatic DNA the notion of building real, relevant things sooner.
These come to mind because they are interesting and worth your attention, but also just because of their proximity and who I spoke to at ASU+GSV. There are many, many others. It’s a vibrant space.
I’m very sympathetic to the spirit of these approaches. My own “Big Blur” hypothesis is that high school shouldn’t exist.
Eliminating high school would drive general education more squarely into primary (and early childhood) education, and drive optionality, including (but not limited to) more career-specific education, to the workforce and to a more diverse range of higher education offerings than exist today.
Even if you don’t buy that, I can perhaps convince you that the way we think of the vocational function of education is broken. I’m actually less worried about the seeming irrelevance of school for most jobs, since I’m more bullish on the liberal arts. I’m more worried about the fact that the liberal arts never properly internalized a humanistic notion of work. The mind-body split in education is between vocational training and liberal arts education. The right view is that liberal arts education should properly be engaged in a kind of soulcraft that fosters industriousness, dealienation, and agency with respect to work. This has implications for early childhood and primary education—and also, of course, secondary education and beyond. (Our high schools are an experiment in this sort of liberal arts take on the offramp from school to life.)
Some related content:
My conversation with Bryan Caplan (podcast) on his thesis that there should be less education.
On Becoming (essay): Higher Ground’s Arnaud Schenk has a lovely reflection on the processes of self-change and identity formation, and how they relate to truth and value-formation. It includes some tantalizing asides about how education often falls short here.
A “Stunning” Level of Student Disconnection (article, free account required): A widely circulated article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that documents the post-Covid worsening of an already severe trend of student disconnection in college. This is consonant with my experience as a professor and pretty much every professor I’ve ever talked to: a majority of students don’t really know why they are in college and perforce are partially or wholly alienated from their education.
The SAT Isn’t What’s Unfair (essay): Kathryn Paige Harden, who is a must-follow on Twitter by the way, discusses MIT’s decision to bring back the SAT as a college admissions measure. The modern debate over the SAT is largely a debate over whether or not the SAT contributes to the ossification of higher education, or if it’s one of the few tools that staves off that ossification. I’m actually pretty friendly to the SAT and standardized tests in general and am more inclined to locate the fundamental problems elsewhere in the system.
One more topic for the week, this one unrelated:
If you’re a not a careful observer of the vanguard of the culture wars—which, really, is a fine thing not to be—you may have missed the escalation of the Florida Parental Rights in Education (e.g. “Don’t Say Gay”) bill to a full-blown populist-ideological critique of pedophilia and “grooming” in education. I couldn’t yet find any good neutral reporting on this topic. Here’s a very non-neutral summary from Bruni in the NYT that I think does a good job of surveying the state of play.
My current take is that this is a pretty ugly moral panic. If there’s something interesting here, it’s the way in which this panic is epiphenomenal on a general social failure to offer a structure in which parents and educators can think about complicated issues in education, like how educators can and should serve as role models, how their mentorship relationships differ from and relate those of parents, and how all parties involve can have space to think and make decisions about these topics.
Have a great week, everyone.