A message to the Class of 2012
May 18, 2012 · Updated 11:45 AM
This letter is for secondary school students, and junior and senior high schoolers; their parents and teachers are my lesser audience, but I welcome comment from all.
If you are changing schools, either from junior to senior high, or especially from high school to college, congratulations on graduating. However, prepare yourselves for a change!
My major message is that large public schools are a non-ideal compromise between private or personally tutored education and totally efficient massive education. Public schools are going to be further disrupted by the digital revolution in education that is now accelerating.
As high schoolers spend more time on extracurricular activities, jobs, and their digital devices, their lecture classes lose any impact or leverage to educate. The schools spend more time on rules, requirements and social expectations than they do on math and science.
Ambitious students who plan to major in college in science or engineering better supplement their dumbed-down texts and unambitious classes just to enter college on a par with private- or home-schooled freshmen. They’d better get help from a generous teacher, an outside tutor, or from someone who knows the field, soon.
You can’t learn calculus from a book; I tried it my senior year. Guess I was not the “near genius” that my IQ predicted. But I did get a PhD in math and ended up a computer science professor. You have to understand high-level concepts, not just plug numbers into formulas and pass multiple-choice tests. That is pre-college math.
Maybe you can learn science by online instruction, if it’s an interactive course. But, due to security concerns, no-name webchat classmates can’t help you. You’re on your own in an infinitely large lecture. Stanford recently offered a few free online courses and was mobbed: 160,000 people from 190 countries took, pass/fail, Intro to Artificial Intelligence. There was no way to ask for personal help.
You saw a big change going from primary school with homerooms to junior high with, suddenly, several teachers every day. College courses only meet two to three times a week. Going from your anti-competitive public school to a really competitive college equals major culture shock. Better get a good foundation now.