Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson and the Case for Educational Reform

In case we need any further proof that we’re guiding our students into unchartered territories, see this piece in the Science Section of today’s New York Times.  The educational implications are those which Daniel Pink argued several years ago in A Whole New Mind: that the leaps and bounds by which computer processing power is expanding, and by which the relative costs of production are contracting, means that the future of meaningful human employment is going to be in places which – to the best of our current knowledge – computers can’t go: creativity, aesthetics, empathy, interpretation, deep meaning – what he calls “right-brain” areas.  So we then, as educators, have to ask ourselves to what degree is our educational system built to nurture these “right-brain” processes?  How much of what we do is focused on memorization, computation, and “getting the right answer,” and how much is focused on promoting ingenuity, recognizing multiple perspectives, cultivating a sense of aesthetic appreciation, or nurturing empathic development?  Said differently, how much of what we are teaching our students to do, can – and will – be done by the next generations of Watsons (read the article) and how much will remain in the human realm?

They are weighty questions for sure and no one has definitive answers.  Some have argued that our educational system can’t afford to take the risk.  More and more, educators are arguing, though, that we can’t afford not to.

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