Monday, July 15, 2013

I Believe We Can Make Education Much, Much Better Than It Is Today

1650 Jansson Map of the Ancient World - Geographicus - OrbisTerrarum-jansson-1650 Welcome to The Education Scientist. The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for discussing how we can make education systematically better – especially in the short term – through methods proven to work in other applied domains like medicine and agriculture. 

I value openness and transparency. This first post is intended to tell you where I stand and where I am headed so you can decide if you are interested in walking with me for a while. The summary below is a 50,000 foot overview of the landscape. I plan to expand on each of these points in future posts.

Here, in a nutshell, is my point of departure:
  • I believe that learning may well be the ultimate Good.
  • I believe that the purpose of formal education systems (like schools) is to facilitate specific learning outcomes desired by a community.
  • I believe that compulsory education can be a powerful public Good, but that it brings with it certain moral obligations on the part of those who provide it.
  • I believe that our systems of education (public and private alike) produce less than 50% of the learning that even the average student is capable of. In particular, I believe that we have the capability to produce twice the learning we are currently producing in half the time at a fraction of current cost.
  • I believe that if we chose to we could accomplish this today, for the average student, in our existing public and private educational institutions.
  • I believe that the stakes in this area are very, very high. In particular, children’s life courses are being determined powerfully by the quality of their education. The fate of entire societies will in turn be determined by their citizens’ life courses.
  • Because the stakes are what they are, I believe that knowing how to provide better education for every child creates a moral obligation to do so – for every child – and to act with all possible haste. Every year another cohort of children – our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends – advances through the system without getting what they need to survive and thrive in the world we have created for them.
Education Science is the systematic application of methods of inquiry to drive the educational outcomes that a society desires. I believe that Education Science can enable us to produce dramatically better learning over time, in the same way that Medical Science, Agricultural Science, and Political Science enable us to produce (respectively) better health, global nutrition, and political stability over time.

I believe it is within our capability to make education much, much better than it is today. If you believe this too, then I hope you will walk with me a while by joining in the conversation here.


  1. Excellent. Your first post is a lucid and exciting outline of a framework that is at the heart of every contemporary issue I can call to mind. Can't wait to see where you take this.

    1. Thanks, P@!

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback as the conversation unfolds.

  2. Mike, what do you believe are the moral obligations of those providing education?

    1. Sari,
      I plan to have a whole post dedicated to this which will be better thought out, but for starters:
      + Children are full-fledged human beings, and as such should be treated as citizens, not subjects.
      + Education powerfully changes the course of lives - for better or worse. Even if we don't know what the "right thing" to do is for any child at any moment, we should always keep these stakes in mind and make them an explicit part of our educational judgments and decisions. In particular, I think it's wrong to make educational decisions based on a single variable like minimum cost or maximum standardization - given that kids are naturally very - very! - diverse and trying to standardize them is a form of coercion that in most cases is distinctly unpleasant for them. One first-grader I know, when asked why he couldn't stop chatting (which was disruptive to the class) responded, "Mommy, it's so boring - it's excruciating sitting in class all day."

  3. Well said son, I know how much you have invested in this idea and project. Good luck and everyone who participates will benefit, and perhaps those who don't participate now could also benefit in the end.

    Again, well said.

  4. This an inspiring framework. The challenge moving forward is to figure out how to maintain the conversation such that it becomes a collaborative adventure. We need to identify processes that lead to actionable steps, outcomes that we can analyze and process together and new ideas that some can try out (and others can watch unfold at a distance). How we contribute can evolve over time, but one of the goals should be identifying ways to build and support a community (in part through this blog) where many people are involved in a variety of ways to address specific educational challenges that emerge from the framework.

  5. Excellent, I wholeheartedly agree! I like your term Education Science. I have heard it said that teaching is applied neuroscience.
    I also agree that education is a moral imperative. We know the statistics on those who lack education, we can't stand by and let kids fail if there is a way to alter their paths.
    I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say!

  6. Thanks, Diane! I hope you will keep posting your thoughts and reactions in response to future posts.