February 20, 2007

YouLementary

The problem with the YouNiversity concept -- which may come to pass in spite of what the American education system does to derail it -- is that it rests at the end of a road that is completely diabled from getting young people from one end to the other.

In other words, while higher education is working to prepare graudates for a networked world, the entire public school system in America is designed to produce factory workers and soldiers. Independent thinking is not only not valued, it's punished. Extrapolation is not only discouraged, it loses you "Thumbs Up Bucks" for candy at the end of the week. Community and marketplace-based social activity isn't just scorned-it's disbanded. Computers are novelties that still sit in libraries and labs for specific uses and county- and state-based curricula-related activites. No Internet without a Capital-P Password.

The public school system is completely dis-preparing and subverting students' neo-natural inclination to tap into the connected world. With a whole lot of rhetoric around 'keeping kids safe,' they're keeping kids hostage to 'education as usual.'

Sure, kids like mine have computers at home, are encouraged to surf and to blog under watchful parental eyes, have their own domains, and want to sell art online. But in some homes that's just not possible for so many reasons. The schools could step up here. Could be the intermediary between young minds, the creative spirit, and the YouNiversity of the future.

But they won't. That path will be available to parents who choose to and can pay $10K or more per year -- and then still have to fight to push teachers out of their comfort zones -- as the disparity between publicly educated and privately educated kids grows in this country.

The hope is in Jenkin's description of matriculating students from YouNiversity out into jobs in elementary and secondary education -- or at least in the knowledge he hopes will leak back into traditional education:

Responding to these wildly divergent backgrounds and expectations requires us to constantly redesign and create course expectations as we try to give students what they need to push themselves to the next level of personal and professional development. We have encouraged faculty members to incorporate production opportunities in their courses so that students in a children's-media class, for example, are asked to apply the theories they have learned to the design of an artifact for a child (medium unspecified), then write a paper explaining the assumptions behind their design choices. We may have students composing their own children's books, building and programming their own interactive toys, shooting photo essays, producing pilots for children's shows, or designing simple video games or Web sites.

I mean I hope all of this makes a difference, one day, maybe even for my kid. I SO hope so. I hope that we prepare Jenna to be a YouNiversity student ready to embrace and "snowboard" on the possibilities of the net.

But for academia as a whole? I'm not so optimistic. And for the American education system? I'm downright terrified.

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