Teachers: The New Rock Stars
One doesn’t often mention teachers and rock stars in the same sentence, but that is about to change because teachers, our best teachers, are about to become stars. Good teaching has always been a highly valued service, but teaching hasn’t been a profession with highly paid, internationally acclaimed stars. That will change as technology makes it possible for every student to learn from the best teachers in every subject.
We all recognize the vital importance of good education. Parents have always been in willing to pay substantial sums for good education for their children. They pay tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars more for homes in better school districts. They pay for private schools when public schools are free. They save for years, and still go into debt, to send their children to the best universities. The whole purpose of these expenditures is to increase the chances of getting their children in front of great teachers.
Now high-bandwidth Internet communications make it possible for every child to study every subject from the very best teachers in the world. Excellent online courses have already been taught for over 100,000 students. Millions have discovered just how valuable a knowledgeable, clear explanation can be when viewing lessons at the Khan Academy. There are no technical or economic reasons why within a few years the best courses by the best teachers will be available to every student.
Of course, using mass media for education is not new. One of the most memorable and productive hours of my own education was watching Frank Capra’s “Are Mr. Sun,” the 1956 educational movie. The content was so effectively portrayed that I remember more of that single hour than whole years of more traditional coursework. My children make similar comments about “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “Magic School Bus.” These programs are effective and memorable because the resources were available to make them so. Yet even without expensive productions, simply hearing the best teachers lecture is priceless. Two of my favorite lecture series, Richard Feynman’s “Lectures on Physics” and Michael Drout’s “History of the English Language” were epiphanies. Such could be the daily fare of our students.
The transition to making the best teachers available to every student will happen in spite of tradition and bureaucratic intransigence for two reasons. First parents will demand it Parents already do all they can to get good teachers for their children. When the best teachers are easily available, they will make certain their own children have access. Second, as a nation we cannot afford to undereducate our children. Every child must be educated to realize his or her full potential if we are to remain competitive in a global economy.
And so our best teachers are about to become stars. Just like new distribution technologies made international stars out of actors and musicians, professions that were once practiced only on a local level, great teaching will be international and mass-market. Our best teachers will be famous and rich as they prepare and present riveting courses for hundreds of thousands of students.
The advent of teaching stars won’t mean that local teachers will go away. While every seventh grader can listen to presentations by the very best teachers and take their tests, more accessible teachers will always be needed to listen, understand, and provide personal explanations. Rockstar teachers won’t completely replace personal teaching. Instead it will give personal teachers more opportunity to work one-on-one with students, while relieving teachers of the burdens of preparing hours of interesting lectures, grading tests, and tracking homework.