In this TED presentation, Bill Gates talks about a couple of big areas where he is doing philanthropic work. The first part of the video is devoted to his help in eradicating malaria and the second part talks about bringing US teaching standards to a much higher level. Following is the Flash video of his talk from TED:
His insights on both topics are generally quite interesting and good, but one idea stuck out as particularly frightening to me:
The following quote begins at 16:58:
Of course, digital video is cheap now... putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being reported on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools. And so every few weeks teachers could sit down and say "ok here's a little clip of something I thought I did well. Here's a little clip of something I think I did poorly. Advise me when this kid acted up, how should I have dealt with that?" And they can all sit and work together on those problems. You can take the very best teachers and kind of annotate it. Have it so everyone sees who is the very best teaching this stuff. You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid can go out and watch the physics course — learn from that. If you have a kid who is behind, you would know you can assign them that video to watch and review the concept. And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the internet but you could make it so that DVDs were always available. So anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers.
While this idea sounds rosy — I think it can genuinely be used in a proper way — I think there is also considerable room for misuse. This is a great example of where using technology to solve problems can have unseen side effects. For example, teachers would now have their beliefs and views on the public record and anyone can go back and find what they've said. Maybe their jobs would be in jeopardy if their views don't align with the current government? They know they are being surveilled and now have to restrict what they do, kind of like a panopticon or even Nineteen Eighty-Four's use of CCTV. If you treat someone like they are a bad teacher, maybe they will become a bad teacher. I can imagine that staff who are watched would be stiff, regulated, and not free to really teach. Even from my own experience it was not always bad to have a teacher who was wrong; I think this enabled me to form my own opinions through teachers I didn't always agree with.
As an alternative to monitoring, why not a kind of buddy system? To a certain extent new teachers are a part of this. They learn to be teachers by working alongside more experienced people in the profession as a kind practicum. Why couldn't this extended a little further into their careers, especially for teachers who are struggling?
Where I think this is being properly applied is in post-secondary institutions. By this point students are supposed to be mature enough to form their own opinions, and lectures at this level are often about the discussion and dissemination of ideas. Broadcasting a post secondary lecture is usually with the request or cooperation of the instructor and, often, only great lecturers are featured. Some examples are with the MIT OpenCourseWare or even the Feynman lectures recorded in the 1960s (also available as a book). The important thing to note here is that these instructors were recorded with their consent. It is no longer an issue of surveillance because of their willingness to be recorded and they know that people are listening to gain knowledge, not to judge them. With surveillance in the classroom it may not always be by consent, and supervisors will not be looking for what a teacher has done right, but what they have done wrong. Teachers in the public system are hard enough done by as it is — why subject them to surveillance?
Finally, would you like to be recorded all day at your place of work, knowing that someone is evaluating your performance?
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