Still think we aren’t facing a bigger crisis in the teaching profession than we’re currently talking about? Try this from the Economist this week:
The conventional explanation for America’s current plight is that, at an annualised 2.5% for the most recent quarter (compared with an historical average of 3.3%), the economy is simply not expanding fast enough to put all the people who lost their jobs back to work. Consumer demand, say economists like Dr Tyson, is evidently not there for companies to start hiring again. Clearly, too many chastened Americans are continuing to pay off their debts and save for rainy days, rather than splurging on things they may fancy but can easily manage without.
There is a good deal of truth in that. But it misses a crucial change that economists are loathe to accept, though technologists have been concerned about it for several years. This is the disturbing thought that, sluggish business cycles aside, America’s current employment woes stem from a precipitous and permanent change caused by not too little technological progress, but too much. The evidence is irrefutable that computerised automation, networks and artificial intelligence (AI)—including machine-learning, language-translation, and speech- and pattern-recognition software—are beginning to render many jobs simply obsolete.
This is unlike the job destruction and creation that has taken place continuously since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, as machines gradually replaced the muscle-power of human labourers and horses. Today, automation is having an impact not just on routine work, but on cognitive and even creative tasks as well. A tipping point seems to have been reached, at which AI-based automation threatens to supplant the brain-power of large swathes of middle-income employees.
That makes a huge, disruptive difference. Not only is AI software much cheaper than mechanical automation to install and operate, there is a far greater incentive to adopt it—given the significantly higher cost of knowledge workers compared with their blue-collar brothers and sisters in the workshop, on the production line, at the check-out and in the field. [Emphasis mine.]
A few observations here. First, what does this mean for the kids in our classrooms (and in our own homes)? How are we going to have to think differently about their potential for employment in light of these trends? What are the broad brush outlines of what a job will look like for our kids?
And second, what will be the impact on the teaching profession? I really invite pushback here: am I wrong to say that if we keep defining learning as the consumption of a discrete curriculum that can be easily assessed that sooner rather than later economies of scale will radically restructure what we as “professionals” do in schools?
Good on those 400 Long Island principals who have stood up and said “Enough!” to the state of NY in terms of teacher evaluation and student assessment. (Let me note, however, that they’re not appreciably moving the “learning” conversation to any better place in their arguments.) How long will it take for teachers to start articulating a different vision for schools and classrooms that, aside from being better for kids, might just save their jobs?