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Documentary explains well the need for education reform

With the term “Common Core” eliciting such visceral
reactions from parents, teachers and politicians,
it would be nice if there were a way to restart the conversation
about reforming public education without all
the baggage.
Fortunately, there is. It’s a documentary called
“Most Likely to Succeed.” I saw it in March at the
Cleveland International Film Festival.
During his tenure as superintendent of the Fairview
Park City Schools, Brion Deitsch spoke frequently of
the need to rethink the practices of the current educational
system, some of which were developed more
than a century ago. Technology has changed the world,
Deitsch and other reformers argued, so why haven’t
our schools changed?
In the fall of 2013, Deitsch brought Willard Daggett,
a noted education consultant and reformer, to the district
to speak on the need for changes.
“Our schools have become museums,” Daggett lamented.
The model must change, he said, from one in which
students simply collect knowledge, to one in which
students can successfully apply knowledge to solve
problems.
That needed change is supposedly what Common
Core is all about. But educators haven’t done a good
enough job explaining that, and the very words “Common
Core” have become a poisoned term to many.
What’s great about “Most Likely to Succeed” is that
is makes the case Deitsch and Daggett have been making,
but only better. And without using the term “Common
Core” even once.
“Most Likely to Succeed” is actually two documentaries
in one. In the fi rst part, director Greg Whitely
shows how the current U.S. K-12 education system
was largely patterned after the Prussian school system
at the urging of Horace Mann in the middle of the 19th
century. Such a system has become outdated thanks to
technology, Whitely argues.
The villain in the movie is not the teachers unions,
or the people behind Common Core, or the Chinese
workers who now have Americans’ jobs due to outsourcing.
Instead, it’s Watson, the IBM computer that
has beaten the smartest humans at chess and “Jeopardy!”
Watson and future artifi cial intelligence systems
will do many of the jobs the U.S. education system
trained Americans to do. But the computers and robots
will do the jobs better and cheaper.
How should schools best prepare students for those
jobs that computers and robots can’t do as well as people?
The search for the answer made up the second
half of the documentary, in which fi lmmakers visited
High Tech High, a California charter school where students
follow an unconventional, project-based model
of learning. There, “soft skills,” like confi dence, time
management and collaboration, are valued above the
memorization of facts.
Tests give way to the students’ collective projects,
which are viewed by parents and community members
at an open house. Viewers watch as the semester
culminates in students’ creation of a large Antikythera
mechanism-type display showing what they had
learned.
The best part of “Most Likely to Succeed” is that
it looks at the need for education reform from a completely
apolitical point of view.
Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts
Center, located at 1005 N. Abbe Road in Elyria, will
present a free screening of “Most Likely to Succeed”
at 4 p.m. Sept. 17. Registration for that showing
can be made online at www.lorainccc.edu/
Stocker+Arts+Center/ and clicking on the fi lm’s title
on the left.
I mentioned my viewing of the fi lm to current Fairview
Park City Schools Superintendent Bill Wagner,
and he and Melanie M. Wightman, the district’s director
of teaching and learning, expressed an interest in
the fi lm. They say they hope to sponsor a screening by
the end of the current school year, perhaps in January.
The makers of “Most Likely to Succeed” aren’t the
only ones concluding that computers and robots will
assume human jobs and that humans will need to
adapt.
“Unlike human workers, whose collective performance
doesn’t change much over time, robot employees
keep getting more effi cient,” wrote Illah Reza
Nourbakhsh in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs. “With
each advance in robot capability, it becomes harder to
justify employing humans, even in jobs that require
specialized skills or knowledge. No fundamental barrier
exists to stop the onward march of robots into the
labor market: almost every job, blue collar and white
collar, will be at risk in an age of exponential progress
in computing and robotics.”
A new book, “Humans Are Underrated,” by Geoff
Colvin, argues that the large-scale takeover of many
thinking tasks by computers is becoming a broad phenomenon.
As a result, the book argues, people will
pursue jobs that involve the deeply human tasks of
social interaction.
“Ask employers which skills they’ll need most in
the next fi ve to 10 years, as the Oxford Economics research
fi rm did, and the answers that come back do
not include business acumen, analysis or P&L management
– left-brain thinking skills that computers handle
well. Instead, employers’ top priorities include relationship
building, teaming, co-creativity, brainstorming,
cultural sensitivity and ability to manage diverse
employees – right-brain skills of social interaction,”
Colvin wrote in a book excerpted in a July issue of
Fortune.
So those who are aware of the robotic invasion of
the workplace, and best educated to respond to it, will,
in fact, be the most likely to succeed.

 

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