The World Is Flat, Except Where It Isn’t.


Tom Hoffman reviews Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat. Hoffman carefully describes potential impacts that might occur in education if Friedman’s flat-world thesis matches reality.

Hoffman appears to rely for his comments on the assumption that a system of education does or should occur. Most educators probably work from that assumption. Politicians and academics talk about education systems. And parents may want an education system to exit in order to hold someone or something accountable for the competitive performance of students and graduates. I, too, worked as a teacher for several decades assuming that we were building and refining parts of an education system.

However, people don’t test assumptions. We just accept an assumption to use it to argue a point. Or, we state a hypothesis based on the principle used to formulate the assumption and test the (null) hypothesis.

Then, I returned to the private sector as a business partner. It took awhile, but eventually I could no longer argue from the view of an educational system. I interviewed and met too many smart school graduates who could not or did not want to perform on the job without intensive support.

Instead, measures of student learning seemed more persuasive than descriptions of ways to generate student learning to measure. I want to count something and relate that count to the cost needed to generate a unit of learning one student at a time. Low cost instructional systems exist to do this. It doesn’t take an electronic infrastructure, common application standards, computer labs, or an extensive IT staff. All of these supports seem useful, but not necessary, and certainly not sufficient to increase student learning.

From a private sector view, education rhetoric seems rooted to the assumption of “getting ready” to do something, rather than doing it, as my father (a school dropout, farmer, and air pioneer) repeated quietly to me for decades. It took me a long time to understand his view, and longer still to accept its practical value. He said he left school, because it got in the way of his education.

I appreciate Mr. Hoffman reminding me of the two assumptions in schooling: of an education system and of getting ready for something.

I wonder what assumption we may use to give priority to increasing student achievement directly and promptly? How much would an ink-enabled notebook with wireless connectivity advance student learning, after accounting for various resistances and obstacles? Can we advance one student’s learning without waiting for all students to learn the same thing?

Does the flat world Tom Friedman described require us as educators to rethink our assumptions about schools and maybe even figure out how to increase student learning without schools? Hmm.