Posted by: elightkeeper | October 30, 2010

School of One

Several days ago, 21st century educator David Wees twittered a link to a very perplexing broadcast on Freakonomics Radio. Now before you scroll down to “clink” (click on the link), you might want to know a few things:

The podcast is called, “How is a bad radio station like our public school system?” I admit, it’s an enticing title that snagged my attention right away. But half way through the podcast, I was losing interest and trying to figure out what I was supposed to be getting from it.  A better title for the piece might have been, “How is a bad podcast like poorly designed online curriculum?” That’s one learning outcome the show managed to nail.  This is a 30 minute program that spends the first fifteen minutes trying to be clever. It is a loosely knit sweater of topics, advertising and interviews.  In the end,  it is simply unable to hold its shape.  But this is Freakanomics Radio. This is what they do.

The point of the program (presumably) was to show an example of how education can be customized to meet the unique learning needs of students. Eventually, the program even gets around to talking about The School of One, a pilot project in New York City’s Department of Education. But in my view, the louder message of the podcast was how little we learn if the information before us lacks direction and fails to engage. In the spirit of 21st century learning, it is important that you do not take my opinion of this piece as the definitive analysis. You are invited to listen to the full podcast and draw your own conclusions.  That said, if you are anything like me – a multitasking post-industrialist easily annoyed by internet debris – you would do yourself no harm by going straight to minute 15:30.  Alternatively, you could skip the podcast altogether and read a well-written summary posted on Edutopia:

Option A

Yes, I’d rather torture myself with a 30 minute podcast that I now find irresistible because this blogger spent so much time trashing its educational merit and design:

Option B

No, I’d rather cut to the chase, save 15 minutes of my life which could be better spent air-dusting my electronics, and get the goods from a well-written blog that gives me the same information in a better format:

Here’s the best part: I don’t need to review the School of One if you have clinked and learned about it yourself. Instead, I’ll make a few observations about technology and learning, which you may well have experienced if you chose to work through the links:

  • Using new media does not necessarily make information better. In fact, if poorly designed or delivered, it can distract from the intent and effectiveness of the information. A radio station slightly off the channel is no fun to listen to. It will be abandoned. The quality of the signal is important to learning.
  • The ability of learners to choose how they will obtain information is educationally empowering.  Learners need to be encouraged to explore and expand, to learn how to access  information from a variety of sources and evaluate that information through skills of critical analysis.
  • The control, access and flow of information must be transferred from educators to learners. Prepackaged information served on a platter leads to passivity and static knowledge acquisition. The future role of schools will be to facilitate richly dimensional, personalized learning, which will be constructed by and around the needs of every individual student.

What do you think?



  1. I remember posting that out. I mostly mentioned it to spark conversation, I’m with you, they really did a poor job of presenting their information. They also don’t have the full side of the story. It’s like they’ve oversimplified their argument to the point of ridiculousness.

    • That presentation was an excellent example of the collosion of two aspects of communication – the intended message and the mediation of the message. I believe the message flopped because the manner in which it was assembled and presented was a complete disaster. So even if they’d had a full story and hadn’t oversimplified, I suspect the message would have been lost. Thanks for commenting, David. I appreciate the sparks you throw out and the dialogue that ignites. Cheers, Cindy

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