kitchen table math, the sequel: under the banyan tree

Saturday, June 27, 2009

under the banyan tree

from Paul:
Years ago, when I was an engineering manager, I had this Indian guy working for me. He was a graduate of IIT, India's equivalent to MIT or maybe Stanford. To qualify for IIT you have to be in the top 1-2% of applicants. He was incredibly smart and unlike a lot of young engineers he was also able to think out of the box. He could push the enevelope. Where his peers were better at just executing somebody elses plan, he could come up with the vision.

One day I asked him about his schooling. He said that except for IIT his entire education took place under a tree in the center of his village with a village elder/teacher/wiseman type of guy. I'm just guessing here because at the time I never thought to ask, but my bet is that this guy didn't go to a fancy ed school. We're not talking marble halls, olympic pools, or multimedia classrooms. There were no bulletin boards, reflections, projects, or discoveries. There was no group work, spiral curriculum, or state standards either. Just a smart man, a willing student, and the transfer of knowledge, probably not unlike what took place for the 10,000 years before we started education research.

Makes me go hmmmmmmmm?
I've been wondering for a while now whether you reach a tipping point: is there a point at which you're spending so much money on a school that quality declines?

I don't know the answer but the question relates to Gawande's article on The Cost Conundrum in medicine.

1 comment:

Paul B said...

See my post under "Definition of Explicit Instruction" where I went all contemplative about too many nails in a board.The tipping point has surely been reached.

It's a well known feature of large complex systems that they all have tipping points,beyond which, further tinkering will decrease reliability and performance.

Generally there are two kinds of large complex systems; organic and man made.

In the organic ones, failure to optimize (by over tinkering) leads to death of the organism, thereby improving the chance that such a mistake won't be repeated.

With man made systems, over tinkering is either held in check by market forces or encouraged by political forces. Since public education is largely devoid of market forces it is guaranteed to be wobbly indeed.