This is your semi-daily reminder that if you want to see what works best in schools, look at what people arrange for their children when money is no object. Over at his Just Visiting blog, John Warner notes the curious gap between the prep-school education that Bill Gates and his children enjoy (small classes taught by well-paid experts who emphasize serious books and lots of writing) and the kind of education that Bill Gates would like most everyone else’s children to enjoy (corporatized curriculum production, online classes, standardized testing, more standardized testing). Unfortunately, unlike most people with extremely stupid ideas about how teaching human beings actually works, Mr. Gates has many billions of dollars to pour into America’s ongoing effort to dismantle the remnants of its public-education system.
The same holds true at the college level. The Obama girls are not going to Ohio State or NOVA; they will matriculate at Stanford or Amherst or someplace comparable. Thomas Friedman might love MOOCs, but his daughters attended Yale and Williams, respectively.
There is a deep scumminess to how American economic and cultural elites (including many left-leaners like Gates, Obama, and Friedman) expend enormous amounts of capital on maintaining intimate, bucolic academies where the students read Dostoevsky and ponder Hume alongside tenured professors who make a decent salary, then turn around and assure the rest of us that twenty-first-century America has no time for small classes or the humanities, not if we are going to Win the Future, to quote Mr. Obama.
UPDATE: A better title for this post might be “Small Classes for Everyone! (Whose Parents Have the Capital).” As a humanities partisan, my instinct was to emphasize that side of the issue, but you could easily extend this to science and math classes. To reiterate, look at what elites procure for their children from preschool through college: small classes in schools where teachers have the freedom to design challenging, rigorous, creative, reading- and writing-intensive curriculum for their students. It works. Few if any affluent education “reformers” would send their kids to institutions that do otherwise. Reform is only reform if it is committed to small classes for every child.