OK – the party line goes something like this:
‘Before’, information was scarce, so it made sense to crowd people into rooms where they all faced the front so that one expert could enlighten them.
‘Now’, information is readily available, so that this structure is obsolete.
The trouble with this analysis is that it starts with a false picture of the past. Most of what has ever been taught in schools has not been information that is particularly hard to come by.
Nothing I teach has ever been a secret. Most of what I teach is fairly simple, conceptually, and very easy to look up.
So, why do they pay me?
Because learning new stuff is difficult.
Skinner’s famous axiom was that (since we can’t see inside people’s heads) the only way to tell if someone has learned something is that they show new behaviour. Unfortunately, getting humans to act in new ways is difficult. Very difficult.
I feel left out of the party. The information revolution is supposed to be transforming schooling. “Pupils now have all the information in the world in their pockets and can find the answer to any question in seconds.” True, but irrelevant. This does not transform school, because school has never been about digging around for scarce information. This does not transform the role of the teacher, because the role of the teacher never has been the sole point of access to important but inaccessible information.
Information has become much easier to access in the last few years, but that ease of access has meant nothing for my teaching because scarcity of information has never been the issue. The difficulty of learning is the issue and sometimes I feel that all the digital revolution has given me are a bunch of shiny new toys that don’t even work half the time and distract my pupils when they do.
(Part 4 in the series Sick of Gurus)