When Innovation Meets the Old Guard
from the don't-let-them-learn-too-much dept
So what happens when, using Khan Academy, you wind up with a kid in fifth grade who has mastered high school trigonometry and physics—but is still functioning like a regular 10-year-old when it comes to writing, history, and social studies? Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”I'll just let that sink in for a moment.
It's not an uncommon phenomenon. People get so caught up in "the way things are done" that they can't possibly comprehend any other way of doing things. Therefore, when you show them a child learning faster than his or her peers, the focus is not on how fantastic it is, but on how we'll be able to keep that child in the same class as other kids their age. Why is it necessary to group kids by age? Because it's just what we do. When a child is bumped up a grade, why do we do it for all subjects at once, instead of each subject separately? Because it's just what we do. The educational system was created to teach children; now it exists to perpetuate the current educational system.
It's hard not to equate this same thinking with the current dreadful state of copyright. You can show how an artist is making more money than they ever had before by encouraging sharing rather than sending in the lawyers, and your average maximalist will say, "It's great that they are making more money, but how do we keep control of the content?" In doing so, they put maintaining the status quo ahead of attaining the result that the system was designed to encourage. The copyright system was created to promote the progress of the arts; now it exists to perpetuate the copyright system.
Even our justice system is not immune to this kind of thinking. Laws against child pornography were created to prevent the victimization of children, now we use them to try to ruin the lives of children. We threaten vegetable growers, arrest DIY roofers, and send SWAT teams after orchid importers and raw milk sellers. Our system of law was created to promote justice; now it exists to make criminals.
Does teaching every child the exact same lesson at the same age serve our educational needs? Will arresting people who merely link to infringing videos give artists an incentive to create? Is the patent thicket around mobile phones to the benefit of consumers? Do we all sleep easier at night knowing that a 66-year-old man is locked away in federal prison because some of his orchid paperwork was missing?
If we ever want our institutions to serve us rather than serve themselves, it's time to focus on what we had hoped to gain from them in the first place, and to question every assumption that underlies them.