Column #26, posted November 3, 2006

The 7th P

I used to say that everything evil in education starts with the letter P. There were six Ps.

But now I have found a 7th.

To review, the 6 Ps are:

Parents -- who oppose all change and want school to be like they imagine it was in their day

Publishers – who spend all that money on wrong-headed textbooks and do their best to keep new ideas away

Press – who print minute test score differences as if they are world-shaking events causing everyone to panic

Politicians – who really don’t give a hoot about education and just like to say how accountable everyone is because of their silly tests and standards

And Princeton (twice)

Princeton -- as in any top university that decides on which courses and which tests all students must pass thus making it very difficult to innovate in high school

Princeton— as in the Educational Testing Service and all the other testing companies getting rich on killing our schools

But, alas, I have realized that there is a 7th P. I was reminded by my realization of Alan Kay’s remark that he didn’t know who discovered water but he was sure it wasn’t a fish. And also of the cartoon Pogo’s observation that we have met the enemy and it is us.

The 7th P?


I knew I quit the university for a reason. The other day I was reminded why. I was running one of my design meetings for my new learn-by-doing virtual high. We were working on a full year curriculum in engineering and with the help of Boeing we were focusing on aerospace. Normally I decide who goes to these design meetings but in this case Boeing brought its own engineers, which was fine, and a professor they knew. The professor was concerned that students arrived at his university not knowing enough of the basics and he was hoping that this meeting was about teaching math and science better so that his job would be easier when the students arrived on campus.

Of course, this was the exact opposite of what I was trying to do. The reason school is so bad is that everyone is learning stuff they hate just so some small percentage of students will be ready to take a university course of some sort. Everyone is bored to death so this guy’s life will be easier and he won’t have to teach the basics.

This idea is so ubiquitous that I never noticed it until I was far enough away. Universities dictate curricula to high schools to make professor’s lives easier. If everyone takes physics and calculus and most never use it, well, professors claim it was good for the students anyway when in fact it was only good for making sure professors didn’t have to teach it in college. As long as professors don’t have to teach the basics it is okay that high school students are forced to study stuff they will never use in their whole lives. We have ruined an entire generation of high school students who don’t like learning and think the subject matter is irrelevant because professors only want to teach the good stuff.

We sacrifice the joy of learning for an entire generation so professors can have an easier time teaching incoming students.

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