If teaching is obsolete, then so am I

A recent Atlantic article declares that teaching will soon be obsolete because teachers aren’t necessary when information is so easily available. When students can find data and facts on their own, why is a teacher required? As I finished the article, I had two main thoughts. The first is that I disagree, because good teaching is about so much more than providing facts. Having a teacher is more important than ever to help students understand, interpret, and work with seemingly infinite information. My second thought was that one could apply the same faulty logic to all sorts of people and professions that add value to information or other assets that are readily available. If one believes that teaching is about to be obsolete, the list of people who also risk obsolescence includes me, Michael Horn, Susan Patrick, all musicians, Jeb Bush, and Hillary Clinton.

I read Michael Horn and Heather Staker’s book on blended learning. Why then did I bother going to Michael’s keynote talk at the iNACOL symposium? He didn’t discuss any facts or data that aren’t in the book.

Why do state legislatures often ask Susan Patrick to provide formal in-person testimony explaining online and blended learning? Everything she’s going to say is on the iNACOL website, or in the written comments that she will submit.

Why is the Idaho Association of School Administrators arranging for me to give a talk in Boise? They can save some money and just have someone local read from Keeping Pace.

Why am I paying to go see a Rise Against concert in a couple of weeks? I have all the songs they’ll play, including live versions, on my iPod. Plus I can choose the songs I want to hear instead of being subject to the whims of whatever they want to play. And the beer is cheaper at home.

If Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton win their party’s nominations and make it to the general election in 2016, why will they still need to campaign? Anyone can go find the party platforms online to find out what they stand for.

The idea that all of these people are about to be obsolete is wrong, of course. They are taking easily available assets and information and adding value in a variety of ways. The same is true of teaching, which entails much more than passing along information.

Although the way good teachers work may be changing, teaching is not becoming obsolete. I don’t blame the author of the article for getting this wrong, because he’s mostly reflecting what he is hearing from lots of people. He assumes that his sources are correct. They are not. Yes, teaching should be different as information becomes more and more accessible. But it’s not going away, and good teachers are not going to be any less important. Arguably, they are more important than ever.

My next post will delve further into the details of the article, why teachers are as important as ever, and why the people who suggest otherwise are wrong.