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The new vivisectionists - Online education by BrainRush. Is it really braindead?

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BrainRush by BrainRush

Nolan Bushnell is known as the 'father of modern video gaming' and the founder of Atari. In a recent interview with the BBC about the school classrooms of the future he claimed he will make more money out of education than anything else he has ever done. Bushnell also enthused "We want to make education addictive. In this brave new world school has to compete for the engagement of the mind. And a teacher with a piece  of chalk can't compete." 

These damning statements tell parents all they need to know about Mr. Bushnell, who is certainly a genius when it come to video games but is shockingly ignorant when it comes to understanding the science and application of teaching, a teacher being much much more than an animated piece of meat applying chalk to a blackboard.

Curious to see Bushnell's much-trumpeted BrainRush project in action I went on line and took a basic French class. Considering I haven't studied any language for almost half a century I was appalled at the basic errors in both the English and French parts of the lessons. Errors that would have got a teacher fired and a school under close academic scrutiny.

Logging on to the French Clothing Lesson 1 revealed basic mispronunciations and confusion among masculine, feminine, and plural nouns. Even a dolt like me knows you don't say le uniform, it's l'uniform. Spelled correctly in the lesson text but clearly wrong in the audio backup.

Similarly, logging on to mois de l'annee (months of the year) had the English words January, February, and July all spelled with an i at the end instead of a y. May was Mai, March was Maart, and June was Juni. This was probably because the person who uploaded the original lesson was Dutch - only adding to the confusion for English speakers!

This is just shoddy teaching which was further underlined by the reply from a BrainRush spokesperson when I questioned the webpage's shortcomings. And I quote:-

"Most of the BrainRushes in our library are actually created by the community, including the French ones you mention. So yes, there are errors at times. We don't correct BrainRushes that people create. However, anyone can take a BrainRush in the library, make a copy and then edit however they like.'

This is akin to students being allowed to create their own lesson plans, set their own questions, and give their own answers that can be wrong - that is, until they eventually get them right by a process of elimination. Thus even the most challenged child is sure of getting full marks in a test!   Accuracy is clearly not seen as a high priority by the BrainRush project. So smiley faces all round then -- everyone's a winner!  

These educational guinea pigs are in for a rude awakening when they finally leave their sheltered online workshop and get out into the real workforce where they will be expected to get the answers correct on their first and only attempt. Their new bosses won't be so forgiving and provide them with so many chances. Failure to get things right first time in the business world can cost time, money, and even lives and may result in some very short careers for the online-educated generation.

Another downside to the computer-game model of learning is what could be called the 'video-game-rush phenomenon'. Again, from observation, when a child is asked to choose the correct translation from French and recognizes a single word (say rouge for red) in a sentence they will immediately click on the correct answer. But this is because it's a Pavlovian response to the familiar word and not an understanding of the context within which it appears. This becomes very evident if you then start asking children questions about why they choose a particular answer. Given enough time and enough treats you could probably get a chimp to select the correct answers in a BrainRush French test.

BrainRush is just one of many companies including Apple, Pearson, and News Corp who are all salivating at the gold rush into online education. Corporations, some of which do not have exactly the best track record when it comes to accurate information delivery or business ethics, will soon be molding impressionable young minds at an unchallenged arms' length. Advocates for online education claim traditional teaching methods are 200 years out of date and won't work with 21st - century schoolchildren. This specious nonsense denies hundreds of years of human progress using traditional teaching methods. Methods that enabled civilization to land a man on the moon, develop electricity, the internal-combustion engine, the internet itself, and cure innumerable diseases, etc.

In my own area the superintendent has recently announced the engagement of the Discovery Channel to teach our middle-school children. In effect our school district has become a mere pipeline to funnel $400,000 of tax-payer funds from Washington directly into the pockets of the makers of Honey Boo Boo. None of the money will be spent in the local community hiring new teachers. In fact online education ensures software replaces both textbooks and teachers at the same time as class sizes increase.

In the stampede to introduce the one-to-one model of education where every child has their own computer or tablet the mantra of 'education has to be fun' has become obligatory. Yet again these kids are in for a disappointment when they move on to the real workforce where the majority of jobs for most people are anything but fun. Lying around on your belly in bare feet whilst looking at a tablet may be acceptable behavior in the new online classroom but won't cut much ice with future employers when it comes to learning on the job.

A shady alliance of government and their paymasters, the big corporations are about to become the new vivisectionists experimenting with the minds of the next generation. All this in the mistaken belief that the are personalizing education by allowing students to pause and rewind their lessons time and time again until they finally get it right. In the new educational world order everybody becomes an A student and nobody ever needs to find out how dumb you really are.

Teachers didn't invent the bell curve when it comes to childhood intelligence but the advocates of online education truly think they can overcome  this well-documented natural phenomenon by the use of Space-Invader technology. They simply don't comprehend that there is a world of difference between doing the work and understanding the work.

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Ted Newcomen is a citizen-journalist - someone who is tired of the lazy 'lamestream' media circus which is obsessed with the cult of celebrity and just recycles press releases for the establishment.

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If your school district is thinking of introducing... by Ted Newcomen on Monday, Mar 3, 2014 at 10:43:00 AM