Waiting For Superman

If you have not seen “Waiting For Superman” yet, go see it. The “docu-movie” is filmed as a documentary about the American education system but delivers a powerful emotional punch that will make anyone with a pulse want to get up and “do something” about education.  Ok, so what does “do something” mean exactly? Well it depends on who you ask! Many people saw the movie and came away with completely different views of what needs to happen. (Kudos to the director for igniting a passionate discussion, hopefully we can arrive at a dispassionate decision-making process)

To some people “do something” means we need to build more charter schools, to others, it means we need to provide more effective training to our teachers. There a many other actions that the audience may believe we need to do as well, such as fire ineffective teachers, decrease class sizes, increase parent involvement, decrease the emphasis on standardized testing and cut wasteful spending to list a few. All these actions are aimed at one singular goal; to reduce the randomness associated with a student’s intellectual and economic future by reducing the randomness of the quality of education they are provided with.

For example, let’s say there is one really great public school in your district. Unfortunately, if a student does not live in a school zone assigned to that school the chances of the student going to that school are slim to none. The student is then required to attend a school of lesser quality. Depending on the school, the quality can be so low that only 10 percent of the students graduating from that school go on to complete college. Having grown up in a low-income neighborhood these numbers do not surprise me since I witnessed my classmates and neighbors drop out on a fairly regular basis.

What is surprising, as the film states, is that the public k-12 education system has been rotting for the past 40 years and continues to rot today. This film has not ignited a discussion that we as a society have not had before. But hopefully it brings knowledgeable and influential stakeholders to the table to craft the most effective solution. By the way, you do not need a million dollars to be knowledgeable or influential. As a well-known American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once said “never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Of course, if the student’s parents or guardians can afford to send the student to private school the likelihood of a positive educational outcome is dramatically increased.

Given enough time many people would generate massive to-do lists that would look the same. Where the discussion becomes interesting is when we are asked to prioritize the order of each action to take. Obviously there are only a limited amount of funds (although the rate at which money was printed to stave off the last recession might mislead some to think otherwise), resources and human capital that can be deployed. The argument rages on regarding how to most effectively utilize the resources we have. As the film states, the U.S. spends more on education per pupil on k-12 education than any other developed country but is ranked near the bottom in terms of academic achievement. Clearly, spending more resources is not the answer.

But to think that solution to our education woes only is only due to poor management of resources would be naïve. A fundamental shift what we value must also occur.

The film emphasizes how every president since the Regan administration vowed to be the “education president” (i.e. the Superman we are waiting for). In fact, each President has enacted some law or another that was supposed to greatly improve the education system. Perhaps the most influential is the infamous “No Child Left Behind” which hoped to reform education so that 100 percent of American public school students would be proficient in the basic subjects by the year 2014. Unfortunately, the emphasis the bill placed on standardized testing has provided education administrators with a reason to finagle achievement results for their schools and districts with the wizardry of an accountant at Enron, out of fear of losing their job or credibility if their schools are depicted as failing.

For example, a district can “improve” its test scores by labeling a sub-sector of students as dropouts and thus eliminate the lowest performing students from the performance calculation for the district as a whole. The emphasis on test scores has also eliminated arts and music programs to focus more on preparing for the exams that “No Child Left Behind” mandates in order to measure student performance (For more on this subject read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch). Ironically there is almost no correlation between a student’s standardized test scores and their success in life.

Unless we place less emphasis on high test scores garnered by summative assessments and place more emphasis on knowledge acquisition, we risk repeating history and incorrectly treating students as empty vessels as the film did. There was a scene in the film that showed a teacher opening a student’s head and pouring knowledge into it. However, we know from research in the education field that knowledge is acquired through ACTION and not simply through passively consuming facts.

As Herb Simon a Nobel Laureate from CMU once said, “Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance the learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”

However, changing the education system is easier said than done. As one of the film’s protagonists, Michelle Rhee, former Superintendant of the D.C. Public School System pointed out. Although she is widely vilified for her perhaps draconian methods of firing principals and teachers and closing down schools, she did what she believed was necessary in order to change the entire system. Perhaps it was easier for her to act so decisively and fire personnel at will because she had no intention of pursuing a career as a superintendent. Like a kamikaze, she collided head-on with her opponents, the teacher’s union, in hopes of ending its iron-clad grip on one of the most important resources our nation has to improve the education system, its teachers. Only time will tell if she was successful and her approach appropriate. Likewise in a few short years, we as a country will find out if we had the resolve to reform education and pass on the dream to the next generation. For the sake of my friends and family, I hope we do.

Questions for Geoffrey Canada

  1. The success of Harlem Children’s Zone exemplifies the hard work that an entire team of people including you, the students, the parents and the community must dedicate to provide a quality learning experience. Is the problem that our education system is looking for a quick fix instead of putting in the countless hours it takes to coordinate efforts across all grades and schools to provide individual students with a quality learning experience?
  2. What techniques are you using in the classroom to help students learn and successfully complete the standardized exams? Are you focused on test taking strategies?
  3. How do you define a successful teacher or student? What evidence to you look for to demonstrate their success?

Also check out this great video.



Can we teach creativity? Can we teach dance the way we teach mathematics?

This, I believe, has been a long running theme in educational debates: can we teach students to be creative? Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk on education instantly caught fire, making it one of the Top 10 TED talks (ranked in 2008).

Robinson has certainly delivered an eloquent speech where he underscored our school system’s lack of emphasis on nurturing creativity and criticized the public education system’s tendency to suffocate a child’s talent. To give an overview of the flow of his argument, Robinson began with anecdotes where children expressed curious yet undaunted imaginations of things they have yet to encounter. Robinson regarded this kind of courage to be prone to mistakes as the cornerstone of creativity, and ultimately, originality. Then, Robinson began a commentary on the fact that no education system in the world could teach dance the way we teach mathematics. Robinson argued that dance should be just as important as mathematics, and should be given the same level of instruction in schools. Robinson then concluded the public education system is built for the purpose of educating university professors, and such adoration of academics is quite unfair to other disciplines, such as the performance arts. Finally, Robinson criticizes such narrow view of intelligence and believed that our education system should be revamped to value different types of intelligence, and give every kid a chance.

I agree with Robinson’s vision, I sincerely do.

Although, it is easier said than done, especially easier when the talk does not reliably indicate what the direction is. I have heard political speeches proposing that all American families should have solar energy, but I have almost never heard one that suggested how we can finance the infrastructure and the operation of a solar-powered society. Likewise, in order for a speech to be truly constructive, it should either suggest a direction, or at the very least, suggest to the audience what is reliably causing the difficulties.

Since Robinson’s talk suggested neither, I would like to take the liberty to study this talk in the deeper manner.

First of all, what is creativity? according to Robinson, creativity is “the process of having an original idea that has value”, which, “more often than not, comes about through the interaction of multi-disciplinary ways of seeing things”.

I agree, in fact, I attended a college, Carnegie Mellon, where interdisciplinary collaboration was the foundation. At CMU, psychologist, designers and computer scientist come together to understand new ways to interact with computers; electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and computer scientists came together to to design robots; moreover, animators, musicians, artists and engineers came together to create virtual worlds that are no less than a new artistic expression. When multiple disciplines come together, we are likely to spark ideas that we would never have come up when we were just individuals.

Now, consider my original question: can we teach creativity?

Based on Robinson’s definition, we can conclude that creativity is the capacity to create something that was not originally there, be it a new art piece, or a new theory. Thus, to teach creativity, is to instruct someone the process of discovering what is not known. The idea then becomes a curious one: how do I know what I do not know? and is there a standard way to discover what I do not know? and is there another way to discover ways to discover solutions to problems?

In learning sciences we have understood some meta-cognitive behaviors such as self-evaluation, self-monitoring and help-seeking, where a leaner reflects on his or her knowledge and learning processes, and discover if he or she needs to seek further help to bridge any knowledge gaps. We can teach students to become more aware of their learning and become proactive in seeking knowledge that they did not have. We can encourage students to think about alternatives, such as thinking counterfactually (e.g. what would’ve happend?), but just to be fair, there are an infinite number of alternatives, and we need knowledge to help us find a collection of more likely alternatives so we do not engage in endless, fruitless searches. However, every knowledge we apply to limit our speculations, can potentially undermine our capacity to find a creative conclusion or solution. It’s no less of a catch 22. Is there really a universal, standard way to teach someone how to find something original out of an infinite number of possibilities?

I would like to know the answer to these questions, ‘cause I have yet to find them, and truth to be told, I can’t be sure if the answer doesn’t exist, or just I’m not being creative enough.

With that said, Alan Turing, after whom the prestigious computer science Turing award is named, invented the concept of a Universal Turing Machine, not to describe how a computer computes, but to understand how complex tasks can be performed by a human or a group of humans. From such concept, we have understood that certain problems cannot be decided in a determined number of steps, for instance, “will the sun always directly visible in Boston from now on?” We can continue to see the sun, but there is always the possibility of rain and thus disprove what we thought to be true. If we could determine a standard way to teach someone to find what is not already known, we can potentially formulate such methods in computational terms; in other words, we will have a computer that can consistently all there is to ever be known to the human race. In fact, it can probably discover if the sun will be directly visible in Boston the next day. In short, we have created the next best thing besides omnipotence.

Now, this is a daunting idea.

Secondly, Robinson mentioned that there is no education system on the planet that teaches dance the way we teach mathematics. This struck me as a profoundly peculiar quote.

Now, I am not a professional dancer, but I did find a passion in dancing in my junior year in college. This passion lead me to practice different urban and latin dances. So what exactly does it mean to teach dance styles the way we teach mathematics?

Since Robinson did not mention much of higher education, my impression of “the way we teach mathematics” refers to the fundamentals of algebra, geometry and calculus we learn in high school. In this case, we do have people who teach dances the way we teach mathematics, they’re called dance studios.

In fact, dance studios teach dance the same way we teach high school math, by routines and by choreographies. Maybe you will not agree with me, but in my opinion, this aspect of dancing is not considered art. In fact, nothing that entails learning a fixed set of techniques, is art in itself.

In learning to dance, I quickly realized that dancing has an artistic perspective that deals with conveying messages and creating new expressions; as well as a scientific perspective that focuses on understanding the moves and the limitations of the techniques.

You simply cannot be a good dancer if all you do is repeat choreographies, in other words, you cannot be a good dancer by simply going through dance schools. Likewise, you cannot be a good dancer if all you do is think up new artistic expressions, but has not the skills to deliver the dance. It is quite obvious that you cannot be a good dancer by going through a “mathematics-like” curriculum, but it is certainly necessary.

Now, how do we give a dancer the ability to realize new expressions that haven’t been before? Unfortunately, Sir Robinson, it seems like we are back to where we started.

Now, what about mathematics? is mathematics really what we learned in high school?

I am afraid not. What university professors do on a daily basis, is to discover novel theories and methods. Mathematics are not different. In words, math professors dedicate their lives to realize new truths about dimensions, quantities, shapes and just about everything we describe of the physical world, as well as new ways to express these truths.

While being able to manipulate mathematical objects (or more technically, “algorithmic math”) such as solving algebraic equations, adding and subtracting, are important skills; you cannot be a good mathematician if you cannot realize new mathematical truths. It then seems, mathematics and dance are not really that different. There is a scientific perspective as well as an artistic perspective, and both are equally as important.

To this, Robinson’s claim that the public education system is aimed at producing university professors, as we have seen above, is highly inaccurate. Academics dedicate their lives to discover new knowledge, they are no less of artistic and creative institutions as fine arts and performance arts. Judging from the fact Ph.D attrition rate is still as high as 50% in some disciplines, it is quite apparent that even amongst college and masters graduates who are keen on becoming academics, not everybody is cut out to further an academic field at a creative level. Such creativity not taught to us in high school, as Robinson well argued. Again, we are back to where we started.

To me it seems that the problem of growing creativity isn’t quite as simple as  “teaching dance the way we teach mathematics”.

Thirdly, I would like to contemplate a bit more on the subject of childhood creativity.

I am sure as kids we have all drawn creative doodles that outline our dreams. My favorite doodle from my childhood, was a round airplane where all of my friends lived and play soccer with me, in the air!

Approximately fifteen years later, I graduated from college with a degree in computer science and philosophy, and became a graduate student who spends significant amounts of time thinking about research questions and how I could tackle them. Not too far after, my friend and I started an educational technology company that seeks to devise, design and engineer a electronic solution to our world’s lack of educational resources. Daunting goal, new solution, maybe this could be considered as creative as my airplane doodle.

Out of caution for comparing apples to oranges, I must ask, how many sheets of doodles, will it require for my 8-year-old reimagination to come up with the design of a software program? Without knowledge of the limitations of computation, computer memory, network bandwidth and engineering techniques, how many of the designs I could’ve created then, would be “original ideas of value”, as Robinson demanded? Of entertainment value, perhaps.

It is one thing to be simply creative, and it is another to be creative in a meaningful way. It may be that we believe given enough time, a primate can stumble upon the complete works of Shakespeare by randomly hitting keys on a keyboard; But with all jokes aside, we do not have eternity. The human brain does not construct knowledge out of thin air, what we know, directly influences how we interpret and extend new information. There is little sense in thinking that our school systems should instead, focus on creativity, because there are no fruitful creations without prior knowledge, which you obtain through traditional schooling.

Do our school systems not advocate creativity? Perhaps. When I was in secondary school, I distinctively remember curricular assignments such as presentations on self-selected topics, or extra-curricular activities such as the science fair and spirit week. All of which, regardless of whether you think they are sharp or absurd, are opportunities for students to engage in creative activities and come up with expressions of their own. Most schools have dance classes, sports teams, clubs and field trips. There are plenty of opportunities to explore non-academic disciplines. The question is, do students take advantage of these opporunities?

As Robinson particularly pointed out that students are discouraged from becoming musicians and artists. Mind me saying, this is not a problem with what is offered in a school system, this is a problem with perceived value of their studies, as well as a problem of motivation. It seems to me that we are confusing the availability of opportunities, with students’ choices.

Is there a standard approach to motivate people or to change someone’s valuation of an option? I do not know, but if you do, you are out to make a fortune because all corporate training programs would love to know what you have in mind.

As far as motivation is concerned, every single one of us receive pressure from parents, peers, friends, teachers and relatives. Every party in our lives can potentially sway our perception of our future, more specifically, “what is worthwhile to do”. With that said, we spend a decent amount of time in school, but we spend the rest of the time at home. Our parents and friends will accompany us for most of our lives, but every year we get new teachers, and every couple of years we attend a new school. It seems to be like a rather peculiar choice to hold our school systems responsible for motivating students to be creative and to take advantage of creative opportunities offered.

To this, I’ll leave just a couple of all of us: did I participate in science fair? did I do sports? did I learn to dance? if not, why not?

When I started college, my parents wanted me to go to business school; but instead, I decided that I wanted to be an engineer. When I graduated, my parents wanted me to find an engineering job in California, I fell in love with philosophy and decided that I wanted to go to graduate school in philosophy; and when my family expected me to proceed to ph.D, I switched to studying educational technology. So as far as career plan is concerned, I may not be the best role model, but I surely love taking opportunities to investigate what interest me, this included computer science, philosophy, dance, music, psychology and many more.

We should always keep our eyes out for ways to inspire creativity, but we should always keep in mind that creativity is a challenging process of searching for new alternatives and possibilities, it builds on, and does not replace learning. Needless to say, it takes motivation to try something new, and it takes learning to be able to create something new. I don’t know if there’s a shortcut to this, and I don’t know if I will find one soon enough. It is crucial to recognize the valuable foundations of our education systems, and not casually point fingers in a haste to make this challenge simpler than it really is.


Does technology play a substantial role in the future of education?

How will our education system function, twenty years from now? Here’s a debate: does Internet and information technology help us learn? or do they simply distract us?

Personally, my teenage years were spent in this awkward technological transition where I went from being one of the few kids in class who knew what Microsoft Office is, to someone who is now surrounded by Mafia war and Android addicts. After observing how people grew accustomed to information technology, I doubt the answer to the aforementioned question is a simple yes or no.

How come?

the reasons are simple.

Will distance learning replace classroom instructions? Unlikely. To say that it will, is to say that education and learning are no more than sitting through lectures, reading textbooks and handing in assignments. If that were the case, then why aren’t Bill Gates’ or Steve Jobs’ classmates all IT entrepreneurs and innovators? Not to mention that both Bill and Steve dropped out of college, it is quite apparent that effective education and effective learning just aren’t that simple.

Will reliance on the Internet lead to diminished learning outcomes? Open to speculation. The honest truth is that the analysis presented above interpreted some data, but failed to provide the whole picture. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, when I was teaching myself webpage design and programming, the persons who’ve had substantial exposure to information technology, were mostly college-educated and highly resourceful. In fact, heavy Internet usage in those days, were associated with higher degree of education and higher salary.

So what has changed? here’re some cues: the Internet went from a graph of distributed, hand-coded webpages (in other words, most content publishers on the Internet had to set up their own websites), to a conglomerate of out-of-the-box blogging and social services. The computer gaming industry, now makes more money from massive multi-player online games where users interact, than from single player games with complex game engines and intertwining plots.

The demographics are changing. We certainly don’t pull out statistics from the 90’s and attribute the Internet as the cause of high degree of education, why would we look at a couple of easily distracted students and start lashing out on the Internet? The argument against using the Internet runs on the same logic that disparages educational games just because of a negative correlation between academic achievement and time spent on computer games.

However, correlations are not causations.

From the information presented in the analysis on the Internet, can we reliably say that using the Internet leads to superficial thinking? or must it be that superficial thinkers tend to use the Internet? both seem rather bizarre conclusions to be drawn.

Perhaps it is neither. Perhaps Internet as a medium can be used differently, and each individual’s preference dictates what kind of and how much information he or she digests; of course, this in turn determines the beneficial and detrimental effects of the Internet on this particular individual.

While some individuals access the world wide web to look up targeted information (for example, specific pages wikipedia, google search, mapquest, new york times), others access the very same world wide web in an aimless fashion, for arbitrary amusement suggested by others (for example, recommendations given through youtube, digg, reddit, facebook). It may be that many who stay on the Internet spend much of their time surfing aimlessly and performing fast-switching tasks, but that says very little about the effects of the Internet, if any.

Why? because without the Internet, people could still be distracted while watching TV, hanging out at diners, listening to the radio or even just strolling through a park. It is very important to understand that correlations are not causations, and it is important, especially for educators, to refrain from drawing rash conclusions from correlations, and arbitrarily scapegoat technologies and ensuing phenomena that appear grotesque to our generation.

Since the enactment of No Child Left Behind, the federal government has invested an immense amount of resources to promote scientific investigation of education (e.g. What Works Clearing House). It has been a tough battle, as historically, education has not been a data-driven field that focuses on experimentation. Despite our struggles, I firmly believe that a scientific paradigm for educational policies and learning sciences is crucial to exorcising superstitions about what influences technologies and educational systems have on our students and learners at large.

When judging technology, it is absolutely critical to assess the quality of information being delivered, as well as the cognitive and meta-cognitive processes in the recipients. Sometimes, technologies that have historically been pegged as counterproductive to learning, say, video games? can enhance interest in learning and yield profound learning benefits when used appropriately.


SAT A Scam? Interview With The Founder of Princeton Review

This interview with John Katzman is colorful and has a lot of truth.

Also check out his latest company, 2tor.com.

Knowledge Institutions

This Summer Express Yourself Through Education

I know what you are thinking. Summer time is here wooohoo! For many of us, the summer is a time to close the books on school for a solid three whole months. Woot! I mean, who needs school anyway? It’s such a pain. Classes that you may be forced to take, homework that you could care less about and tests that give you anxiety you don’t need because life is stressful enough as it is! Whoever invented school, clearly was not thinking about your needs…or were they?

With so much pressure on us as students, parents, teachers and education administrators its no wonder we often forget about the amount of pressure on the education system as described in Ellen Lagemann’s book “An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research.” Imagine if your job was to make sure people turn out to be “good citizens” (whatever that means, who defines what’s good anyway?).  Suddenly, your calculus exam doesn’t seem so scary after all.

But the anxiety that comes with tests is very real. Sometimes it feels that you have no control over the situation. The learning is painful because someone else is telling you what to do and learn. As Diane Coutu suggests there are two types of anxiety associated with learning. One stems from feeling stupid if you fail and the other from realizing that if you don’t change your behavior you will fail. Diane refers to these types of anxiety as “learning anxiety” and “survival anxiety,” respectively. This anxiety can not only prevent you from achieving your academic goals but it can also mislead teachers to judge you as incapable of learning the subject even though you are totally capable!

Lucky for you it’s the summer and it just might be the perfect time to learn that education isn’t all about tests and assessments.  It’s also about expressing yourself.

Education doesn’t have to be forced if you have the curiosity and passion to find out for yourself what you are interested in. In fact, people have been learning this way forever. Alicia Keys, Isaac Newton and Kobe Bryant learned about things that they were interested for years before becoming super skilled. Now they can express themselves as they wish (well, not Mr. Newton anymore). They have all expressed themselves through art, math and science or sport and share the fact that without becoming educated in their field, they may have not found the means to express themselves as they want to.

It’s doubtful that they understood everything the first time they tried to learn what they liked. There were probably bumps along the way. Lots of bumps. But if you don’t come across things that you don’t understand or that are not obvious, then you wouldn’t be learning would you!

This summer learn about something you enjoy. And find a way to express yourself.

When it comes to Education: Think Value, not Price.

My great grandfather was a coal miner, and a poet. He did not go to college (it was early 20th century), but he was surely keen on education and learning. Two generations later, most of my aunts and uncles have at least associate degrees , and a handful of them have post-undergraduate degrees (M.Ds, Ph.Ds, M.S, J.D, Pharm.D…etc). In my generation, all of my cousins have at least a college dergee, and most of them have either completed, are still working on or are planning to obtain post-undergraduate degrees. It is quite apparent that an emphasis placed on education has had a profound effect on later generations. As a result, even when I was a kid, I was constantly bombarded with the idea that the number of diplomas received from renowned educational institutions directly correlates with how competitive I am in the job market.

This relationship seems harmless and straight-forward, but I was never given an explanation, let alone a justification.

Ironic, must I say, that we collectively complain about the high cost of education, and yet so few of us could actually articulate what we’re really paying for. If all that we need, is a piece of paper to prove that we’re good enough for the job market, then it seems, at least to me, that we’re wasting grands of cash and years of time by going to college – are these really just rites of passage to framed pieces of paper? If this really is the case, then of course we should complain about the price of education, because our isn’t worth much at all!

A good while ago, MIT made its course lectures available through MIT OpenCourseWare. It was a commendable effort to make educational content accessible to the public, but little did many know, most college professors already publish their presentation slides, homework assignments, even exams online. In reality, very few college faculty members try to intentionally keep unenrolled individuals from accessing college course materials. In this sense, I would say, MIT’s OpenCourseWare is more of an organizational breakthrough than a social one.

When Bharani and I started contemplating the idea of empowering educators with the information technologies they need to create and deliver their lessons over the internet so as to reach out to students in distant regions, even those not enrolled in schools, I realized that I was, on numerous occasions, asked for my opinion on how educational technology may one day make colleges and schools obsolete. When I asked for what inspired this worry, the answer was often “well, now you’re allowing those not enrolled in classes to gain access to content they did not pay for”.

Before I could even think of a response to the actual question, I was astonished by I just heard. It seemed as though those who asked me the question have decided that the thousands of dollars they paid colleges, are for exclusive access to educational content. I couldn’t help but to consider the similarities between this percept of education, and literary inquisitions. It seems quite contradictory that at colleges, what we presume to be cradles of free thinkers, are now perceived as form of social control for those who can afford the tuition to maintain their competitive advantage.

This is not what I believe what education is, or should be.

To subscribe to this view of education, is to believe that a student who read more books is unconditionally better educated than one who read fewer.

When I arrived at Carnegie Mellon, one of the first things I noticed is that not only do many colleges share the same textbooks, similar lectures and sometimes even similar exams. Even if the course materials are different, one can very easily gain access to additional content on the Internet. Even just within a single college, all the students in the same class read the same lecture slides, the same books and take the same exams, but they’re certainly not guaranteed to have the same educational outcomes.

It would perhaps be a mistake to think that one’s education starts and ends on aborption of educational content. We live in an era where speeches and ideas are generated and shared freely, and in the midst of these exchanges, one is bound to come in contact with ideas that contradict one another. It is then, extremely crucial to be able to analyze and assess these ideas so one can come to informed conclusions and make conscious choices. Needless to say, the skills and the ability to apply the skills can hardly be perfected by reading or sitting through a class; and schools, especially colleges, are venues at which students get to meet other students who may hold different opinions on a subject matter. Meaningful exchanges of arguments are crucial to the development of decision-making and problem-solving skills.

Perhaps the reason why some of us believed that sharing educational content poses a substantial threat to schools is because we believe that education is only about what we passively receive from classes. Herbert Simon once said that learning results from what a student thinks and does, and a teacher can only impact what a student does to learn. In other words, a substantial portion of learning happens outside of class when we juggle with the ideas that we’ve been exposed to and discover what is the most plausible to us, be it rational or romantic, scientific or artistic. A book has barely any knowledge value to us if the ideas in the book mean no more to us than the characters the book was printed in.

If it’s what we think and decide about educational content that counts, why can’t we share a book with someone who may benefit from reading it? After all, how much a person learns from the book, is up to the person to decide.


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