Thoughts: Joshua Katz on Education

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid

Yup! This is yet another teaching TED talk I’ve been watching. But this one I found to be an exception. Joshua Katz identifies a lot of problems in his talk, and touches on a significant number of solutions. As before, I still am not sure what I think about the whole thing, but this video certainly provided food for thought. So, here are my ramblings:

Does one need College?

“Once everyone’s super, no one will be” – Syndrome

“if you don’t go to college, you have no worth”… I find this thought echoed in a lot of the education talks centred on the American education system. And I think maybe they have a point. I think maybe making it easy for everybody to do something important suddenly reduces the importance of said thing to nothing (“academic inflation”).


Another assertion that is made is that is a disconnect between what is taught and what is needed in a profession. The majority of us don’t use anything more advanced than arithmetic after school. And while I think Algebra is awesome, and I like maths and am good at it, I quit maths in the end, because I began to see less and less applicability to real life. The thing is, maths is more challenging and will make you stretch our brain more than home-economics, but do we need that? Or can we just settle with the pragmatic subjects?
Personally, I’m not really into the practical thing… I live in the clouds and love it up there, but I can see how someone may not, and might just want a bit more real-world information.

The arts are not promoted or thought highly of

To be fair, this might be because the creative arts are very hard to quantify (though I would argue that they are quantifiable, after a talk I attended on the objective Thomistic understanding of beauty) but they are also not held in high regards academically, which is a shame. But are they real subjects, or are they more like meta-subjects that hinge on material from other subjects?

If we don’t have exams and qualifications, how can employers know if it’s employees are capable?

Do they need to be capable? Is it possible to have a system where employers (naturally) teach their employees? I really like the idea of evaluating somebody on a human level… getting to know them as a person to find out if they are really capable. Would this be more effective? It would be more time consuming, and therefore costly… but if the alternative is a system that can be worked like a game with no real knowledge? I’ve passed tests in the past with flying colours, knowing full well that I would probably forget it by the end of the summer. I knew how to game the system, and I did… it was only later in life that I learned how to learn  (spaced repetition, imagination, association, exploration etc.) auto-didactically (I really wanted to slip that word in ;)

So wrapped up in exams… afraid to learn

I can definitely sympathise with this, and I think it really hits the nail on the head. It does not necessarily mean that we should get rid of exams, but the fact that they are so “high-stakes” to prevent somebody from exploring and delving into a subject is certainly worthy of remark. The thing is, I studied a subject once (flute) where the exams really were quite low key, and I quit exams for this very reason. But then of course I found that there was no more pull. This recognition does pull us through subjects, and testing does help learning… so I don’t know…

Keep having to rebuy text books

Hear hear! I would like to hear a defence of this… because there probably is one, but I can’t think of one right now!

I get the impression the system in the states is worse than in the UK

He talks about the system not caring about personal circumstances. I can only assume from this that the US has no equivalent to the UK’s pastoral care system. I also get the impression that poverty is worse… but I haven’t looked into this. In fact, now that I think about it, a lot of these complaints seem to be specific to the US. The UK has SEN education and vocational routes (e.g. BTEC, Diploma)

Katz’s Solutions

  1. De-Fund public education – Would private education work? Would the free market cater well to helping students learn??
  2. Fix Public education… More money to teachers, remove bureaucracy… etc. he argues that current good teachers are good at working against the system (he might have a point there). Teacher’s develop their own assessment systems? Peer-review system? He still talks about national level policies… is that missing the point? What about school autonomy?

(3) Teach children: (hear hear!)
– How to think
– How to learn

Education is the only industry that is developing a product without valid market research

I think he might have been stretching a bit with this point… maybe he could have focused on the difficulty in innovating instead.


I know this article is fairly incoherent… that’s the state of my thoughts at the moment: Because I’m still thinking. This is a big complex subject and it’s going to take me a while before I actually end up agreeing with a solution, and even longer to realise how I might be able to tend towards said solution (if I were to enter education)

Post Script

In this video, Katz talks about a teacher-driven student portfolio instead of a tests system for early education. A very intriguing idea…


2 thoughts on “Thoughts: Joshua Katz on Education

  1. 88frank

    I find your stuff on education thought provoking.

    I’ve often thought that introducing more competition into the classroom in the form of games would incentivise pupils more. Make one half of the class Manchester United and the other half Chelsea.

    One of my most enjoyable moments at school was playing team scout games after school, one patrol against another so everyone was involved – not a select few like in normal school games.

    After all – one of the main occupation of the two Nutter boys seems to be shooting up games, etc. on there Xbox. Couldn’t some of this be turned into a learning process?

    1. Joe Grimer Post author

      Sorry, I know my writing is a bit incoherent, but if I don’t churn then out, I’ll never write anything. Yes, I need to investigate gamification (in education) again… I used to be very much into it. For my dissertation (equivalent) I designed a co-operative game in which each student takes the role of an organ in the human body (the game is also real-time, so fast-paced). I also think Duolingo’s language learning through games (it has a point system, and badges and stuff) takes a very good shot at teaching languages through games. Khan Academy’s math software is also quite addictive (for me anyway). I hope more things like this will emerge in time!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s