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Rick Santorum’s 21st Century Schools

February 19, 2012

In today’s NYTimes Rick Santorum outlines his views on public education and here’s what’s unsettling: he uses the abandonment of the outmoded factory school model as the rationale for school reform. Unfortunately in Santorum’s world reform means eliminating the federal and state role in education and using home schooling as the basis for educating children. The article quotes Santorum:

For the first 150 years, most presidents home-schooled their children at the White House, he said. “Where did they come up that public education and bigger education bureaucracies was the rule in America? Parents educated their children, because it’s their responsibility to educate their children.”

“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”

We all know how those factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania fundamentally changed: they went overseas! So what does this mean for education? It means outsourcing… to computerized charter schools and for-profit on-line learning enterprises whose shareholders will soon shift the work of content writing to free-lancers as the corporation races-to-the-bottom to save money.

There are (at least) two competing visions for technology in education. One vision uses technology to provide schooling as cheaply as possible by replacing public schools with on-line computerized home schooling. Under this model, social skills are learned at home, in “play groups” organized by parents, in community recreation activities, or— in Santorum’s world, in churches. Another vision uses technology to individualize instruction within the current framework of public education. Under this vision, the traditional model of school is changed so that students get just-in-time lessons tailored to their learning styles and spend time in classes engaged in active learning activities instead of listening to lectures. To use a 1990s expression, technology enables the teacher to become the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage”. Technology transforms schools from factories where information is poured into students into high tech think tanks where students work in teams to accomplish tasks that require creative problem solving.


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