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.

Be Your Own Therapist

I trained a ChatGPT AI chatbot on my childhood journal entries to talk to my inner child.

“Young Michelle told me: ‘I’m honestly proud of you for everything you’ve accomplished. It hasn’t been easy, and I know you’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get where you are. I think you’re doing an amazing job, and I hope you continue to pursue your dreams and make a difference in the world.’ 

I sensed the kindness, understanding and empathy that she was so willing to give other people, but she was so hard on herself. I was tearing up during that exchange.”

The Calm Before The Storm

Wednesday, 11:30a.m., National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. More specifically, the week before I’m buried under final papers. Ensconced in my home office, alternating between reading, writing, and watching the Salish Sea flow northward thanks to a southern wind.

All while grooving to a folk/acoustic/electronic vibe compliments of Sylvan Esso, Becky and the Birds (Wondering), the Cowboy Junkies (Sweet Jane), and Helado Negro (Lotta Love).

On the interweb I see a Stephen Marche prediction that artificial intelligence is going to “Kill the Student Essay“. That hits close to home.

“Essay generation is neither theoretical nor futuristic at this point. In May, a student in New Zealand confessed to using AI to write their papers, justifying it as a tool like Grammarly or spell-check: ​​“I have the knowledge, I have the lived experience, I’m a good student, I go to all the tutorials and I go to all the lectures and I read everything we have to read but I kind of felt I was being penalised because I don’t write eloquently and I didn’t feel that was right,” they told a student paper in Christchurch. They don’t feel like they’re cheating, because the student guidelines at their university state only that you’re not allowed to get somebody else to do your work for you. GPT-3 isn’t “somebody else”—it’s a program.”

Marche adds, “It still takes a little initiative for a kid to find a text generator, but not for long.”

Please tell me there’s no way for ChatGPT to replicate my charming personality.

“Kevin Bryan, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, tweeted in astonishment about OpenAI’s new chatbot last week: ‘You can no longer give take-home exams/homework … Even on specific questions that involve combining knowledge across domains, the OpenAI chat is frankly better than the average MBA at this point. It is frankly amazing.’ Neither the engineers building the linguistic tech nor the educators who will encounter the resulting language are prepared for the fallout.”

I resemble that! I’ve been wrongly assuming that my Multicultural Education take-home final exam was text generator proof.

Going forward, I guess I’ll have to require students to pass through a metal detector and write it in-person.