Changing the Textbook Isn’t Enough. The Teacher-Student Relationship Must Change, Too.

Education in the US is going to have to change drastically in the next few years. Just like Medicare, Social Security and just about everything else with the US economy, the costs are just not sustainable, whether we are talking public school or private school, primary, secondary or college education. Something has to give.

Matt Miller pointed out earlier this week that the cost of a public school college education has gone from 12% of the median wage in 1980 to 26% today. By the time my kids go to college 12 years from now that bill will be even higher. And as we all know state and federal public school budgets are being slashed. School districts across the country are considering laying off teachers, shuttering school days and closing schools to keep the budget in check.

Like so many things in this country right now, we need to completely rethink the way we are providing education. The Obama administration announced a plan to get all students on digital textbooks in the next five years. Personally, I find this disappointing, incrementalist thinking. The administration claims it will save $600 per student per year but that strikes me as some pretty fishy math predicated on wishful thinking (lower drop out rate, for instance).

While changing textbooks is a start (and Noah Millman wrote a fascinating article on the topic here — thanks Fred Wilson!), it is not the end-all-be-all to a revamped system that can support 21st century students and can bring costs under control.

Fundamentally I believe we need to change the way we think about the student and the teacher and their relationship to each other. Traditionally the teacher has been the holder of all knowledge, imparting it on her young and impressionable students. Thus why we need small class sizes. But in order for the relationship to be sustainable moving forward, I believe we need to move to a model where teachers are guiding the students through the learning experience, using internal and external resources to do so. This especially can happen as the students move into middle and high school.

By changing our approach and treating teachers as educational guides I believe we can accomplish two things:

  1. Increase class size without compromising learning integrity
  2. Make students responsible for their own education

This second part is critical. As a nation we need to move back to a mentality where we can all succeed if we try and the government’s job is to give us all a chance to succeed. Teaching us how to be self-sufficient, teaching us how to be responsible for our lives and actions, should be part of the experience.

And as all of us who run start-ups know, there is nothing more liberating than feeling like we have some control over our destinies.

2 thoughts on “Changing the Textbook Isn’t Enough. The Teacher-Student Relationship Must Change, Too.

  1. Well, in my country (Denmark) fulltime education is free, also at university. Also to the Master level. Students only have to pay for their textbooks, laptop and the like. They even get a grant at USD 1000 a month. PhD students are paid employees.

    Also, we have free public health insurance. All paid through our taxes. I guess every US Republican will call my country “socialist”. But according to WolframAlpha we are the tenth richest country in the world (GNP per capita) with a triple A economy.

    The USA is’t even listed among the ten richest countries (but seven European countries are). Furthermore, the States has lost its triple A ratings some years ago …

    • I don’t understand our system, either, Per Erik. It’s not like we don’t have the taxes and spend the money. We just don’t get the benefits for it. It strikes me that we could make a distinctly American version of those benefits, since we don’t have the appetite for full government health care.

      As for the AAA ratings, that’s a crock. I don’t put any faith in it at all. Our debt rates are right around 0 and long-term bonds are almost the same. The market that matters — the bond market — doesn’t seem to care about Moody’s ratings.


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