The Case Against "Personalized Learning"

The Case Against "Personalized Learning"

Whatever measurable increases in test scores it may bring would not outweigh the immeasurable drawbacks of isolating learners.
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Picking on "the education system" is in vogue now. The classroom is modeled after a factory line, we say. Every student must process the material at the same pace, even if nobody's brain learns at the same pace. Surely, then, the solution is surely to harness the wondrous power of data-driven algorithms to mold the curriculum into a unique plan for everyone.

I've had this conversation with many progressive friends, all beaming with confidence in the wisdom of this bold step forward. I wonder how they'd react to find out this solution is supported by Betsy DeVos.

To be fair, some evidence in favor of "personalized learning" has found better measurable outcomes. But even so, I'm convinced the drawbacks would be immeasurable. Education writer Alfie Kohn lists a few — the denial of real personal autonomy in learning, the behaviorist model of fact instruction, the "teach to the test" mentality that education reformers insist they oppose - but from my experience, I can see some more.

At its core, personalized learning atomizes learners. The answer to every problem lies between the student and the computer; gone are collaborative problem-solving and synergy of ideas among peers. If those ideas sound like empty buzzwords to you, consider Paul Tough's description of a Japanese math classroom:

"In Japan, teachers would introduce a new mathematical method — let's say, adding fractions with different denominators, like 3/5 + 1/2 — by presenting the students with a problem they'd never seen before and instructing them to figure it out on their own. Students would stare at the problem for a while, scratch their heads, sometimes wince in pain, and then come up with an answer that was usually wrong.

Next would come a series of discussions, in small groups and in the class as a whole, in which students compared and contrasted their solutions, arguing and lobbying for different approaches. The teacher would guide the discussion in a way that led, eventually, to a new element of math understanding (in this case, the principle of finding the lowest common denominator). Often the correct solution would be proposed not by the teacher but by one of the students. The whole process was sometimes bewildering and occasionally frustrating for students, but that was kind of the point. By the end of class, confusion and frustration gave way to the satisfaction of a new depth of comprehension, not delivered in whole cloth by an omniscient adult, but constructed from the ground up, in part through a dialogue among students."

That sure sounds more enriching — and more engaging! — than the repetitive worksheet-based math classes we know in America, let alone the customized repetitive practice that a computer program would spit out.

I shared this with a friend who spoke in favor of personalized learning, and his answer was that not everyone would understand how to add fractions at the same time. They could receive many options, from a video to an interactive computer program to a workbook, to figure it out for themselves. True, but why do that? This method proves cheaper, simpler, and ultimately effective. Through a personal, rather than personalized, process, everyone's contribution either laid the foundation for what not to do or what to do when adding fractions. Everyone mattered; everyone learned from his or her participation.

Atomization of learners would not only reduce learner's intellectual enrichment, though. It would also rob them of the valuable social enrichment that schools offer. As Neil Postman puts it, "the idea of a school is that individuals must learn in a setting in which individual needs are subordinated to group interests" — after all, "you cannot have a democratic —indeed, civilized — community life unless people have learned how to participate in a disciplined way as a part of a group."

That's why I'm especially concerned about personalized learning's inevitable foray into the special education classroom. Teachers won't have to bother trying to understand students' different neurotypes if the algorithms can come up with a perfect lesson plan. If that happens, students' social needs will be neglected.

Young adults who've spent their youth at a computer screen with little experience working with others will find themselves unprepared for employment. Perhaps employment with computers will be an appealing accessible option, but the field's becoming ever more competitive. Those who prove capable of politely interacting with bosses and constructively communicating with colleagues will be chosen over others with equal computer ability every time.

If we want students in special ed to be meaningfully employed for their abilities, rather than their disabilities, we must empower them with real social skills - not just what's encoded into a social skills curriculum, but the kind that develops organically through real-world trial-and-error personal interaction.

In short, as fascinating as "personalized learning" may sound, we must recognize the great benefits of learning as a whole class — the benefits we take for granted. Is a rise in test scores truly worth a reduction in genuine intellectual and social engagement? It all depends on where our priorities lie.

I sure know that when I get to share my thoughts with my peers, and in turn, get to hear perspectives I've never considered, I feel empowered. My brain's totally switched on and ready for whatever will come its way. When I have to learn something for school all by myself, on the other hand, the material may interest me, but ultimately, I'm just doing it to get it done with.

Not everyone feels the same way, of course. If we believe that schooling has a much greater intellectual and social purpose than merely passing on facts to our youth, though, we must reject the atomization that comes with the pie-in-the-sky ideal of personalized learning.

Cover Image Credit: understood.org

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Let's Talk More About Lori Laughlin Facing Up To 20 Years In Prison When Brock Turner Got 6 Months

And he was released three months early for 'good behavior'... after sexually assaulting an unconscious girl behind a dumpster.

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To start, Lori Laughlin messed up royally, and I don't condone her actions.

If you live under a rock and are unaware of what happened to the "Full House" star, here's the tea:

Lori Laughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli — and like 50 other celebrity parents — were found guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, and paid a $1 million bail on conspiracy to commit mail fraud, and honest services fraud. You don't need to know what these mean except that she paid $500,000 to get her two daughters, Bella and Olivia Jade Giannulli.

I know you're wondering why they did it — tbh I am too — however, these parents paid the University of Southern California to give admission to her daughters in through the rowing team on campus, despite neither one of them actually playing the sport ever in their life.

Yeah, Aunt Becky messed up and should face punishment, but why is she facing up 20 years when men like Brock Turner are sentenced only six months for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at Stanford?

I hate to bring up the gender card, but I'm pulling it: Why is Lori Laughlin — a woman who with bad judgement who used money to give an upper-hand to her entitled daughters — face more prison time than a man who willingly raped a woman who wasn't in a right state of mine (or any at all!) behind a dumpster of all places.

The answer? Because the system is a mess.

Yeah, Aunt Becky paid for her daughters to get into a school, giving disadvantages to students actually deserving and wanting to attend a college. Her act was immoral, and ultimately selfish, but it doesn't even compare to what Brock Turner did, and it doesn't even effect others as much his rape survivor.

The most that will happen to the Giannulli girls is an expulsion and a temporary poor reputation, however, Emily Doe (the alias of the survivor) will feel the consequences of the attack forever.

There should have been a switch:

Lori Laughlin and the Target guy should have had to pay other students tuition/student debt while facing prison time, while Brock Turner should have had to face over 20 years with more consequences.

But, that'll never happen because our system sucks and society is rigged. I guess our society would prefer a rapist walking around more so a woman who made a poor choice by paying for her daughters to go to a college.

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Teaching Is An Amazing Career, It's More Powerful Than We Give It Credit For

Teaching is a career that is heavily overlooked — it is much more powerful than people realize.

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When it comes to teaching, it's not always easy or fun. But, let me ask you this: what career really is easy or fun all the time? Being challenged can beneficial. Otherwise, you are just going through the same routine over and over. Teaching will definitely keep you on your toes because there's always something happening.

People seem to think teachers just lecture on information that they hope their students remember for the test. You know what? Those people are dead wrong. Teaching is more than that. Teaching means having the passion and drive to educate children. Teaching is turning something dull to something that students will find more interesting and enjoyable.

Teaching is also about providing tools and other resources for students in order for them to succeed, especially the ones who tend to struggle in school. Being able to give those tools to help them accomplish their goals is extremely rewarding. A teacher will work with a student who is behind on his/her reading skills to have him/her be right at the level he/she needs to be by the end of the school year. Not many jobs provide a reward quite like guiding a student, if not more, to success.

Although it focuses on academics, teaching is not just about that. Sure, being an effective teacher is key, but there are other aspects that are just as significant. As a teacher, you also have to connect with your students. Knowing your students on a personal level is so important. The connection can build respect that will, in turn, help them to succeed. Plus, students spend more time with you on a day-to-day basis than they do with their parents — isn't that frightening? So, you have to be able to support them and let them know them that you are there for them if they are having trouble.

Additionally, that connection you build with your students can last a lifetime. You can witness the growth of a student right in front of you. In fact, I am still very close with some of my teachers from elementary school. Many of them inspired me to become a teacher. Because of those great bonds I built, I had the opportunity to intern with some of my past teachers, which was a rewarding experience for everyone. Being able to develop such a connection with someone so different in age is something that is so powerful and that doesn't come with many other careers.

Teaching is so amazing. There are so many layers and beautiful aspects to it. Again, it can be difficult, but it's also a lot of fun. Not many people can say they have fun and laugh every day at work. I also truly believe that not many other people can say their careers provide as rewarding of a feeling as teaching does. To be able to make such a difference in someone's life is an incredible thing. Teaching is my passion. I know teaching will not be only gratifying but something that will bring me pure joy.

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