The Millerton Moviehouse showed this film last Sunday before a crowd of educators, parents and students on the subject of alternative education. The film is designed to ignite fires, to question the nineteenth century systems of content and tests that fail to prepare students for the real world they are entering, a world that has drastically changed with the advent of computers and robots that will be doing most of the jobs formerly performed by middle class employees.
The films start with a fourth grader whose boredom exceeds her desire to learn. She is turned off; her school fails to engage. It shows a world champion chess player giving up: he can’t beat Watson, an IBM computer that has been taught to play chess.
If computers, software and robots can understand and analyze financial statements faster than humans, why use humans to prepare financial statements? Humans only input data; robots prepare the tax returns.
Middle class jobs will continue to disappear. Learned knowledge is no longer a requirement for most jobs. Different skills are needed. Those skills are mostly personal skills like poise, self-confidence, ability to work with others, to lead, to communicate, to be resilient, to deal with failure, to create and to think creatively; to take chances.
Much of the film focuses on a class at Hi Tech High, an experimental charter high school where subjects like math and English and history are not taught as subjects at all. There are no textbooks. Each class is run by a pair of talented, passionate teachers who let the kids make decisions about the curriculum, including the what and how. The teachers set some goals, ask questions, and encourage students to seek, to find, to innovate and think. There are no tests. There is no set curriculum. There are tasks to be accomplished, there are demonstrations, productions; the learning is through doing. The kids are engaged, challenged, rewarded. The student is a person, not a robot filled with facts.
Is this the new school? It certainly suggests that Core Curriculum is the ultimate futility. (It is called “indentured obsolescence,”) The kids who graduate from alternate schools will have skills that will serve them in the new economy. Words like resilience, innovation, leadership, teamwork, deadlines, and project will have real meaning. Knowing how to find and use facts, knowing how to apply knowledge, understanding the process of solving problems; these are skills important in a world that faces global warming, disintegrating political entities, population migrations and lying politicians. Hi Tech Hi sent 98 percent of the senior class to college.
The film and the discussion afterwards were encouraging. The big unknown is whether the highly bureaucratized NY public school system can change. Charter schools may be needed to lead the way.