Monday, May 2, 2011

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is bent on improving education. By providing students with one-on-one attention and by incorporating relaxed fun into learning, he has already initiated a movement to change the face of learning. Eggers describes in his TED video the multiple, new-era tutoring facilities that have popped up around the country in response to his original site. These educational building are unique; the front rooms of them contain stores in which fun and comedic items, such as pirate or super hero supplies, are sold. In the back room, several volunteers tutor individual students that arrive after school. Not only do students receive help at these sites, they also have the opportunity to compose their own novels alongside interns and journalists. In my opinion, these new learning facilities should be included in every community nation-wide because they help tackle two of education’s largest challenges today.
Many students struggle through their curriculum simply because they cannot remain engaged in their studies. After all, with all of the information teachers drill into students’ heads, it becomes hard to avoid a loss of interest. By the time high school, and even middle school, rolls around, kids’ views of school have switched from an engaging, learning experience, to a chore. One hundred years ago, society would have deemed children crazy for not valuing their educations and feeling grateful for every minute they spent in school. Back then, an education was a luxury that spelled out certain success for those lucky enough to receive one. Education has developed, however, to become commonplace; an education does not guarantee success, nor does a college degree. Instead of ensuring future prosperity, these accomplishments are merely the baseline requirements to even open the doors to success. Thus, students no longer are able to see the direct effect their learning will have on their futures. Kids today may understand that in the long run a better education equals greater prosperity; yet in the classroom, each day of note-taking and memorizing equations seems hardly relevant. For example, I eventually hope to enter into medical school, and thus my main concerns lie in science and mathematics. However, in order to graduate from my high school, I must obtain over twice as many credits in English as I must in math. To me, this means that I must waste my time studying a subject that I will not need extensive knowledge of. The tutoring/teaching style Eggers has set up is the first step towards solving this problem. Students in his original facility learn next to magazine writers and interns, who both help and inspire them. While in the facility, kids also have the opportunity to write and publish their own books with the help of editors. Instructors speak to the kids individually and concentrate directly on their needs, allowing students to concentrate their efforts on the subjects they are most concerned with and focus on the assignments that will benefit them personally. These methods display for kids exactly how their day-to-day work, especially in English, will apply to their futures.  Since the kids also learn in a fun, friendly, environment, the drudgery associated with schoolwork disappears. Instead of trudging home to independently complete tedious homework, kids travel to a club filled with people willing to help them and wanting to discuss. Students are released, often with their homework completed, by 5:30 pm. This accomplishment solves the largest issue I personally have with education.  At times, it completely consumes my life. One quarter may be peaceful and result in at most two hours of homework each night. The next quarter usually then explodes, and my minimum nightly homework requirement shifts to at least three hours, normally four or five (plus around ten hours on the weekends). With the amount of time my classes demand I dedicate to homework, I must sacrifice several things I enjoy in life to meet my teacher’s expectations. If I could accomplish everything I need for school and still have three to four hours remaining every night to pursue whatever passion I choose, undoubtedly I would enjoy and appreciate my education much more.
Egger’s talk about the buildings in which he holds his tutoring sessions in reminded of Daniel Pink’s words on the importance of design. Eggers’ facilities are a prime example of the benefits of good design. When Eggers first advertized for his tutoring studio, he placed a sandwich sign outside of his shop announcing free tutoring inside. Unsurprisingly, he had no business the first few weeks. His sign appeared unprofessional and sloppy, eliminating all chance of parents trusting him to teach their children. Also, the initial sight people saw upon entering his facility was a shop selling pirate paraphernalia. People who did not already know who Eggers was or what he was trying to accomplish would immediately dismiss him as a joker or a loon. If Eggers had placed his teaching workshop or magazine offices in front, or set out a professional advertisement, he would have attracted much more business. Eggers did succeed with design, however, in a few ways with his building. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the pirate shop adds and air goofiness and play to the tutoring workshop, allowing kids to escape the mentality of being trapped in a schoolroom. The room in which students learn is further visible to parents and other people as they enter the store, creating a feel of openness, community, and faith in the honesty of what Egger is doing.
Eggers finally made a point that students produce their best work when they know it will be published for the world to see. When Eggers made this point, he was referring to the novels several classes had composed together in his shop. This idea of publishing could be made accessible to all classrooms, however, without a publishing facility. Technology has opened the door for all of us to let our voices be heard, independent of assistance from others. If teachers want to encourage students to always produce their best quality work, all they need to do is have students create blogs and websites and post their assignments on them. Once information is on the web, anyone in the world can read it. Essentially, it is published. The more well-known the website, the more pressure students will feel to post quality work. While publishing work online is a terrific idea for ensuring effort is put into important assignments, having students publish everything they write often overwhelms them. When students are asked to publish too much, they give up after realizing they cannot possibly make every piece of work their best quality.  Thus, using the internet as a medium for publication is an effective trigger of instrinsic motivation when used in moderation.
Education truly should learn from the expeditions of Dave Egger, and bring more fun, individualized attention, good design, and publishing into its curriculum.

More about the author: http://www.ted.com/speakers/dave_eggers.html  or  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1101630/bio

More about the tutoring shops: http://826valencia.org/

Dave Egger's TED Talk:

“I wish that you — you personally and every creative individual and organization you know — will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area, and that you’ll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of innovative public-private partnerships.”
--Dave Eggers

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