“Before Every Child Is Left Behind: How Epistemic Games Can Solve the Coming Crisis in Education”
David Williamson Shaffer and James Paul Gee
In the wake of the 21st century and all her advancements, the environment for businesses’, workers, governments and states are quickly evolving (Shaffer & Gee). As “old [American] capitalism” crumbles beneath the pressures of a system predominated by a need for American innovation, the endless quest for ownership over the term “new” moves perpetually forward—undermined only by a major flaw inherent to capitalism. American’s have reached a juncture where the laws of capitalism no longer favor the red, white and blue. No, in fact, a high standard of living comes at a heavy price. “Commodity jobs” and labor favors cheaper job markets. The jobs, much like water, travel from high to low behind the whip of capitalism—from the First to the Third World—acting like gravity in this familiar equation.
What actually defines a “commodity job,” argues Shaffer and Gee, is simply the jobs vulnerability to be outsourced. This includes anything from high to low end jobs according to all normative and societal accounts. From the family doctor to the guy that screw’s on J.I. Joe head’s at the factory, any job outsource-able will inevitably be outsourced (Shaffer & Gee).
The New Crisis
The “new wrinkle” that has formed on the blueprint of American capitalism has elevated the ‘crisis’ of old to the status of ‘new’: namely, that highly skilled positions—those once safeguarded by geographical constraints—can now also travel across seas.
Moving on Up!
America has responded to this crisis by orienting training and education in America towards occupations demanding skill and innovation. America looks to hew itself into the image of the cutting edge of the 21st century. America, however, is not alone in this race, as Third World countries also want to become the place of technological dominance. Thus, Americans must “work and learn smarter” to continue to compete in the race towards innovation and discovery.
Schooling and De-Innovation
Cut backs, however, in funding for the sciences, the arts and any fields on the forefront of innovation have stunted the evolution of the American educational system towards this promising direction. Instead, America continues to produce more commodity workers in a nation without a sustainable commodity production job market of its own. As “standardized testing… [produces] standardized skills,” the average Joe America is being cheated out of an applicable educational curriculum, leaving many children behind despite governmental efforts.
Key Insight: “China has 300 million skilled and educated workers, more than the entire population of the United States… Inspired by the goal of leaving no child behind in basic skills, [America is] leaving all of our children, rich and poor, well behind in the new global competition for innovative work.”
As we attempt to approach the “highest levels of the value chain,” American’s in general, which have been focused as a whole on in improving proficiency in reading, have failed to gain other, more pertinent skills—such as the ability to understand a complicated technological symbol system.
Preparing for Innovation
The skills necessary for achieving innovation don’t start in college, but instead, begin as early as kindergarten (foreign language metaphor—better to learn at a younger age). This includes immersing children in technology from a young age. This also includes immersing children in complex conversation even if they don’t fully understand, even at a young age. This type of speaking should be “school based” and not simply vernacular. This school based conversation, in ideal circumstances, would resonate from school to the home. Public schools, however, are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Example: “The Age of Mythology”: Video game dealing with complex problem solving, decision making and spatial skills, being able to modify any component of the game as pleased.
The New Equity Gap
Children’s pop culture, argues the authors, is more advanced than ever before. This represents an avenue of opportunity for educators, as any number of games and technologies that kids might be using in contemporary America generally have more advanced use of technologically relevant subject matter.
Key Insight: This leg up, however, can hinder those American public schools on the more barren side of the digital divide. Without technology being present in many inner-city schools, already disadvantaged students are only hindered more. Overall, Americans are investing more time and labor in get-rich quick areas such as law and business, shying away from more Asian dominated technological fields.
With liberals and conservatives equally contributing to, rather than diminishing, the growth of this crisis, the solution doesn’t just lie in economic reform, but in Epistemic games. A good example of an epistemic game is Madison 2200 in which student ‘urban planners’ design a city that will function healthily, to the best of their capability. This requires a deeper understanding of societal, scientific and economical issues (Remember the MIT guy from The Video Game Revolution when he taught is son how to budget on the Sims.) This game has been used with success when applied to “at risk” students.
(1) MUST NOT be standardized. (Madison 2200 versus standardized tests in sociology, economics, psychology and other arts and sciences)
(2) Madison 2200 (game) taught students how to understand the complexities of city planning, and more importantly, how to carry over that knowledge to other situations. Digital Zoo represents another game detailing other disciplines (Biology and Physics).
(3) These games, above all else, are highly fact-oriented to improve their external effects after the game is over.
(4) Yield innovative thinkers because they are opened to this range of thinking well before college and the professional years.
(5) From Assessment orientation → Epistemic orientation = an improvement. Just because a student can memorize and regurgitate Newton’s Laws of Motion does not mean he can apply them to practical life.
(6) Overcoming the “fourth-grade slump” when children have a problem going from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
(7) The new model for learning in a global society rich in culture and digital culture.