In a previous lifetime I used to be a professional instructor. I taught advanced programming and design in both an academic and an industry setting, and created a very nice set of lesson plans. Towards the end of my teaching phase, I lamented the fact that when I stopped teaching, my experience would essentially vanish and be wasted. Fortunately I was able to secure a book publishing contract and capture my knowledge of one subject - UNIX - as a successful book from Prentice Hall.
My experience, however, was a rare case. The wisdom and knowledge of most good teachers is usually passed on to a relatively small number of students. This is of course very inefficient; there should be a way to capture the best teaching practices and make them freely available to anyone who wants to learn. I call this "amplified teaching" because it amplifies the education impact that a single teacher can have on the world's population.
In some respects, this is what books are meant to be. However, books aren't free and books don't interact with students. If a student gets stuck on a particular point, it requires human intervention. We should be able to automatically handle many common student questions so that teachers can focus on the more subtle points or on inventing new fun projects.
I firmly believe that 50%+ of what teachers currently do can be captured and reproduced using computer systems. Does this mean that teachers will no longer be necessary? Not at all. What it means, however, is that the responsibility of teachers will shift from teaching the basics using traditional means to facilitating more advanced approaches like project-based learning. This is a win-win situation. Students will be able to learn the basics at their own pace in a personalized manner, and teachers will be able to contribute at a higher level than they're currently used to.
In the last part of this series, I wondered whether the government would still warrant a role in education if everyone was rich. The main argument for continued government involvement was that some parents would spend their money on things other than their children's education even if they were rich. Sadly, I tend to agree with this observation.
One approach to dealing with this issue (as well as the fact that everyone is not rich) is for the government to pay a certain sum of money to a school for every child that it educates. The amount of money would be the amount necessary to get a decent basic education, and would probably take the local cost of living into account. Schools would be run by private companies according to whatever principles and curricula they choose (within reason), and would be able to charge whatever they like.
For example, if a school wanted to teach the basics and hire average teachers, it could charge parents little or nothing because it receives tax dollars for every child. However, if a school wanted to hire industry experts to teach their classes, it would charge more because of the extra expense involved. The additional amount could be paid for directly by the parents or by charities wanting to provide scholarships.
Because the government would simply be funding schools and not running them, private companies would have an incentive to compete and innovate to attract customers.
This scheme is similar to the well-known school voucher scheme, except that most voucher schemes assume that there are both public schools and private schools. I would prefer that all schools were private, and that they competed against each other in the marketplace rather than against government-run facilities.
A well-known proponent of this approach to funding education was Milton Friedman, the most influential economist of the 20th century.
One of the things I've learnt during my years in product development is that the last 10% is really at least 30%. I expected the creation of edu 2.0 to take about a year, but it looks like the total amount of time will be about 18 months. That's not too bad, but psychologically the last few months has been quite grueling.
The main thing that I've always strived for is to be proud of the products I've been involved with. I think the next major release of edu 2.0 will meet that criteria, at which point we'll start promoting the site. In the meantime, it's back to coding!
Many thanks to my friend Rhett Guthrie for sending me a link to this video about how heavy elements like Iron and Gold are created by supernovas. The punchline: blood, and the life it supports, is only made possible by the death of stars.
Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans strictly as members of groups rather than individuals. Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike: as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called "diversity" actually perpetuate racism. Their obsession with racial group identity is inherently racist. - Ron Paul
I'm proud to support Ron Paul's presidential campaign; he is truly a breath of fresh air.
In the previous post in this series, I questioned whether the government should be involved in vital services like healthcare and education. To clarify my thinking on this issue, I posed a thought experiment focused on education:
If everyone was rich and could easily afford good education for their children, what role would the government continue to play, if any?
Here are some related thoughts:
If families could easily afford to send their kids to a good school, the government would no longer need to fund schools or teachers, since the general population would be capable of paying for them in the free market. Schools could be privately run, paid for directly by parents, and staffed with teachers based on whatever criteria each school chooses.
Just because a family can easily afford good schooling for their child doesn't mean that they would. They might prefer to spend the money on other goods and services and send their child to a cheap and terrible school. But would such schools survive in a marketplace where people can afford better? And if they did survive, would they be any worse than the bottom 10% of the current public school system?
Would there be a need for any sort of standard curriculum? Most parents would like their children to learn a variety of subjects, but shouldn't a child be able to choose a school that focuses on the subjects they have the most interest and/or talent for, perhaps even to the exclusion of some subjects that are of no interest? Should every kid be forced to learn a wide range of subjects, or is it actually better for society if children can pursue the things that they have the most passion for?
The government could continue to participate in education by funding research, giving away laptops, and other such efforts, but these days charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation seem like they're better suited for this kind of role.
I'm going to perform this thought experiment for a few more days. If there is not much of a role for government in a world where families have plenty of money, then some interesting conclusions can be drawn.
When I used to live in the UK, many industries like gas, electricity, and transport were owned by the government. Since government services don't have to compete, there was little incentive for these industries to innovate, reduce costs, and otherwise behave like regular businesses. After years of stagnation, the government finally sold these industries to private enterprise and now they are run much more efficiently.
It is no surprise that businesses in a free market provide better service than those supplied by the government. Customers buy products and services from the businesses that best meet their needs, and businesses dissolve if they can't provide good value for money. Government services on the other hand are tax-fueled monopolies that don't have competitors. This allows them to expand even if they are inefficient or provide mediocre service.
Surprisingly enough, even in the face of historical evidence, the success of free markets, and the performance of government services, most people actually want the government to provide critical services like health care and education! Why? I'll present my thoughts on this situation in a subsequent blog post.
Many people like to informally compose music by humming a part, faking drum sounds, and otherwise piecing together a song without using any instrument except for their voices.
Wouldn't it be great if there was a product that could listen to human-produced drum/bass/synthesizer sounds and convert them automatically into corresponding high-fidelity music? It seems technically possible.
I'd love to be able to walk down the road and create the various layers of a song just by approximating the sounds with my voice. I bet such a product would be a huge success, since it would allow people to create music far more quickly and easily.