I Failed

How will large language models/artificial intelligence change K-12 education? Maybe the better question is will large language modes/artificial intelligence change K-12 education? Through teaching, research, and writing, I spent most of my academic career trying to make high schools more democratic, more international, more personal, and more relevant and purposeful.

I’m sad to report that I failed bigly. The fact of the matter is, except for all the surreptitious texting under desks, the typical high school today functions remarkably similar to the way Cypress (California) High School did when I graduated in 1980. What other institution in American life can you say that about?

Lesson learned. K-12 education is incredibly resistant to change. Like YouTube, surely ChatGPX-like devices will have some effect, but probably not enough to fundamentally alter the teacher-student relationship. One education scholar uses an ocean metaphor to explain the futility of education reform. Schedule tweaks, new curriculum initiatives, education technologies, all create changes on the surface of the ocean just as high winds do. Descend to the ocean floor however, meaning the teacher-student relationship in the classroom, and the water’s darkness, chemistry, and animal life are completely unaffected by the tumult on the surface. The teacher still mostly talks and the students listen.

Despite it being so obvious, it wasn’t easy to admit my my failure, you know, professional identity and ego and all. But the consolation is a quiet confidence that I have made a positive difference in a lot of individual teacher’s lives. Despite not having dented their work environment, I have made meaningful contributions to their professional success. I’ve failed, but I’m not a failure.

And even though I’ve admitted defeat and let go of my teacher education identity, I am still helping individual teachers on occasion, just fewer of them. Yesterday, for example, one of my first year writers from Fall 2021, a prospective teacher, wrote me seeking advice. Here’s how she started her missive:

“I hope all is well! I am reaching out to you because I need some advice. I figured you would be an excellent person to reach out to because you are part of the education faculty and have taught abroad and done things I want to do with my life. I also think you won’t sugarcoat things and you will tell me the truth.” 

I liked that she didn’t think I’d “sugarcoat things”. So, in that spirit of keeping it real, I predict high schools in 43 years, make that 2066, will still look and feel pretty damn similar. Given my protein bar consumption, it’s unlikely I’ll live long enough to see if my prediction comes true. I hope it does not.

Postscript: Not an “institution”, but same idea.

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