This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
and Health Care Part 4:
The Human Element
Nursing homes and schools evoke very different
imagery and purposes. To compare them would seem to be a case of mixing
apples and oranges. However, let us not forget they are both fruit
whose appearance, taste, and nutrition depends on who takes care of
them (Seymour Sarason, 2007).
This is the fourth in an IAE Newsletter series discussing the
disciplines of Education and Health Care. The goal is to draw on ideas
from both disciplines as we work to improve our educational system.
Education and Health Care are human endeavors. They serve the needs of
a very large number of students and patients. They make use of a large
number of employees who provide direct as well as indirect services to
students and patients.
Students and patients are human beings. You have undoubtedly interacted
with teachers and health care providers who have excellent people
skills and communicated effectively with you. You may have experienced
others who have weaker human-to-human empathy and communication skills.
As Information and Communication Technology systems gradually play a
larger role in teaching, we need to be aware that computer systems and
computer brains are not human. Currently, they are quite poor in
human-to-human types of interaction and communication skills. They lack
understanding of empathy and the “human condition.”
This issue of the IAE Newsletter focuses on the human element of
delivery of services to students and patients.
Seymour Sarason had a very long and productive career in education and
public service. His 1993 book, The
predictable failure of educational reform
focused on the need to empower students and their teachers. In this
book he argues that without substantial increases in the power given to
students and their teachers, educational reforms will fail.
Here is a brief description about his 2007 book, Centers for endings: The coming crisis in
the care of aged people
. This book is available free on
[The book] is a rallying call to action that comes
from knowledge, from
experience and from the heart. Revered psychologist, Seymour Sarason
builds on years of association with both the medical and educational
establishments, plus recent personal experience, to describe and
diagnose the problems and prescribe remedies.
Sarason is interested in the education and training that the front line
workers provide to students and patients. His main focus is on
long-term nursing treatment and care facilities. However, quoting from
Sarason’s 2007 book:
It may surprise the reader that I initially gave serious thought to
writing a long chapter to show the comparison between the inadequacies
and low quality of care in nursing homes with the failures of reform
efforts to improve educational outcomes of our schools whose
self-proclaimed mission is to help every child develop his or her
potential. … At the risk of being too succinct here is what schools and
nursing homes have in common.
- In our schools students spend all of their time with teachers who
are products of preparatory programs which ill prepared them for the
realities of the culture of the school; in fact few (if any) teachers
have ever denied it. In their hierarchy, teachers are at the bottom of
the pyramid of status and influence. …
- For all practical purposes nursing home aides are neither
selected nor trained; they are undereducated, have few alternatives for
employment, and are regarded by nurses and administrators as
undependable and as harmful or neglectful. Their rate of pay is low.
They have no power or influence at all in almost every aspect of their
In both schools and health care facilities, the staff mentioned above
tend to be caring people. Also note that Sarason’s comments about
status in schools do not talk about aides, secretaries, cooks,
janitors, and so on who are often still low in the hierarchy than
In his 2007 book, Sarason draws on his knowledge of the Head
Start program to help analyze problems in nursing care
facilities. Quoting from U.S Department of Health and Human
Since its beginning in 1965 as a part of the War on
Start‘s goal has been to boost the school readiness of low-income
children. Based on a “whole child” model, the program provides
comprehensive services that include preschool education; medical,
dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help
parents foster their child‘s development.
Quoting from Sarason’s 2007 book:
Implicit in the rhetoric of proponents for Head
Start is what I have
called the medical conception of contagion. Concretely, Head Start was
viewed as preventing poor minority children from catching the “disease”
of lack of motivation for and disinterest in matters of subject matters
when they entered schools. … Head Start was intended to inoculate its
preschoolers against the “diseases” of disinterest and dislike of
boring, unstimulating classrooms. Head
Start was not the educational
equivalent of the Salk vaccine! [Bold added for emphasis.]
The Head Start program currently reaches about a million children a
year. The program has received a lot of praise and a lot of criticism.
The 420-page report U.S Department of HHS (2010) points to modest
levels of success. Sarason (2007) cites research on failures, and
argues that the lack of success is due to underpaid, poorly prepared
people serving as teachers and aides in the program.
He compares and contrasts this with the poor care that many nursing
home facilities provide, and cites considerable research evidence
supporting his claims about nursing home care. He is particularly
concerned about the mass production, with great emphasis on following
the rules, types of care that many nursing care facilities provide. He
argues that they indeed administer to the body—but they tend to
downplay the human-to human empathy and intellectual needs of the
Factory Models of Education and Health Care
previous issue of this newsletter included a forecast that some
combination of progress in artificial intelligence and in highly
interactive intelligent computer-assisted learning (HIICAL) will
eventually lead to profound changes in our educational system. Right
now we have a
factory model of education—a mass production system aiming at
considerable uniformity and that makes extensive use of standards and
Our health care system has some of the same features, but it makes much
more use of what educators call differentiated
The current level of health care knowledge and skills allows very well
educated and trained specialists and general practitioners to do a
substantial amount of one-on-one diagnosis and initial treatment. After
that, some combination of drugs, physical therapy, care by nurses and
aides, and so on clicks in, and this is supplemented with an occasional
follow up interaction with a doctor.
Here we see a major current difference between education and health
care. Although schools make some use of specialists, a majority of the
teaching is done by teachers with a bachelor’s or master’s degree (or
more) of formal education, working with a class of perhaps 20 to 35
students. Students in school are watched over by (supervised by) adults
in a face-to-face manner nearly all of the time. There is limited
emphasis on students deciding for themselves what they want to learn
and then pursuing their own interests.
Most of the K-12 curriculum is focused on introducing
students to elements of their culture that they can't easily pick up in
parental/peer/mass media interaction, such as deeper levels of
language, math, science, cultural history, etc. It thus
makes some sense to have an adult-directed curriculum. Young
people have many out-of-school hours to pursue individual interests.
Here is some food for thought. A human body is designed to be
self-repairing. A human brain is naturally curious and has a great
capacity for learning. Learning takes pace within one’s brain through
biological changes in the brain. From time to time the self-repairing
body receives the help of our health care system.
However, our educational system seems to feel that learning requires
substantial ongoing supervision and “treatment” by teachers. The
teaching of reading, along with the mass production of books and the
development of libraries, has not been sufficient to change this
educational model. Will better access to books (electronic books) and
libraries (the Web), along with readily available HIICAL be sufficient
to change the basic design of our educational system? Your authors are
enjoying watching and participating in this unfolding story.
Sarason, Seymour (1993). The predictable failure of educational
reform: Can we change course before it's too late? NJ:
Jossey-Bass Wiley. Learn more about Seymour Sarason at http://seymoursarason.com/.
Sarason, Seymour (2007). Centers for endings. The coming crisis in
the care of aged people. Retrieved from http://www.seymoursarason.com/doc/SarasonsCenter_1.pdf.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children and Families (January 2010). Head Start impact study. Final report (420
pages). Retrieved 8/4/2010 from http://www.nc4ea.org/index.cfm/e/resource.view/resource_id/BDECC13C-9D76-D1E1-9F573CAF3D0CC0A5.
About Information Age
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is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
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