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Education without Teachers?

How much can students just figure out in the absence of a teacher’s leadership? Sugata Mitra’s Hole-in-the-Wall project suggests that the answer is “a lot”:


Mitra’s concept and the term “minimally invasive education” are certainly provocative.  On the other hand, the village children in the test group show  a hunger for learning that I’m not sure we can replicate in middle class America.  Or could we?

I’m also inclined to think the curious kids in Mitra’s experiment are really gaining information more than true education.  I’m reminded of an opinion piece written by Chris Bassil in the Duke Chronicle this fall.  He writes, in part:

“But there is another, far more subtle repercussion of the presence of the laptop in the classroom, and that is the silent restructuring of the educational hierarchy. Traditionally, the economy of the classroom has operated as what can very reductively be labeled the “arrow of information.” The professor disseminates his lesson to the students, who in turn consume it without immediate alternative or complement. Even in seminar settings, in which matters of opinion may be openly disputed or discussed, thus giving the appearance of equitable exchange, the flow of source information is controlled entirely by what the professor chooses to incorporate into readings, handouts and other preparatory devices.

The laptop alters this arrangement because it places the student on the same plane as his professor.”

Children in India and students at Duke can get lots of information without a teacher or professor.  If the educator’s primary role ever was to disseminate information, it clearly isn’t that now.  What an educator can provide are support, context, I’d even be so bold as to add “wisdom.”  Still, we could probably do more to get out of students’ way and encourage independent learning.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Bobbie
    January 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

    When Alexander the Great visited Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for the famed teacher, Diogenes replied: ‘Only stand out of my light.’ Perhaps some day we shall know how to heighten creativity. Until then, one of the best things we can do for creative men and women is to stand out of their light.

    – John W Gardner

    Might we reasonably substitute curious for creative? What is the satisfying balance in the learning environment between teachers posing questions and then establishing/acknowledging/confirming (all) correct answers? That determination seems to be where wisdom is needed.

  2. amandacfa
    February 2, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    I found this video fascinating. I do believe in this power of human curiosity and discovery. I keep coming back to two things : there is a difference between deciphering content or even solving a puzzle and true synthesis or analysis. Are children able to achieve that level w/o adult guidance? Secondly – these students in the video are all 10 years old or less. How does dealing with the pervasive apathy of teenagers change this dynamic? Is it up to us to somehow engage and break this wall of apathy? Is the assumption that if kids were allowed more freedom they would take ownership and not be apathetic?

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