Review: Why Do I Need A Teacher When I’ve Got Google?

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I finally finished reading this book. Due to several other plans in between reading, finalizing it took longer than what was initially planned, but Alhamdulillah I’m done. And I can say that reading it changed a couple of my current worldview about education and motivates me in continuing my attempts of teaching my students in a ‘non-traditional’ way.

If you were to see all the bookmarks I made while reading the book, reviewing its whole content is rather overwhelming. Instead I will highlight here a summary of its contents. I highly recommend this book to be read by all teachers out there, including parents, because clearly “The mother is the first school. If she is righteous, the progeny becomes righteous.” (Shaykh Ahmad an Najmee).

It’s not a difficult book to read. But in order to actually practice what the book preached, or even understand its rationales and motivations, one, as Yoda once said “…must unlearn what you have learned.” The contents are well researched but they’re far from being boring. It’s written with a sense of humor, as evident partly from some of the chapters’ titles (Including: “It’s the brain, stupid”, “What’s the real point of school?”, “Exams – so whose bright idea was that?!”) The ideas in it are engaging and will challenge the usual way one viewed ‘education’. It’s a book which answers the question it poses as its Title: Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve Got Google?

So why indeed?

Gilbert stressed that in this age where all information is a ‘Google’ away, we still need teachers, but we need them to be good teachers. And by good, he meant teachers that help and inspire students to learn, instead of simply teaching them something. His main emphasis throughout the book is for teachers to teach less, and let the students learn more by empowering them to be less reliant on knowledgeable teachers as the (only) source of their learning. Simply, he’s asking teachers to help students to learn how to think by themselves and thus, eventually learning on their own. In his view, having students that know something is clever, but having them wanting to know something is intelligence. It is this ‘intelligence’ that is going to separate these students from “the one that have been well-schooled and have a good memory”. As one employer quoted in the book stated, when asked how do they know whether the students who have straight As are intelligent: “I just ask them a question no-one’s asked them before”. This is in line with Piaget’s view of intelligence – “Intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do”.

Considering the rapid advances of teaching/learning web like of the Khan Academy and Curriki, teachers must show that they are indispensable. Gilbert suggested that the role of the 21st Teachers involves:
“…helping young people know where to find knowledge, to know what to do with it when they get it, to know ‘good’ knowledge from ‘bad’ knowledge, to know how to use it, to apply it, to synthesize it, to be creative with it, to add to it even, to know which bits to use and when and how to use them and to know how to remember key parts of it… helping them develop their communication skills, their creativity, their curiosity, their ability to work well as a team, their confidence and self-esteem, their sense of what is wrong and what is right, their ability to deal with adversity, their understanding of their role as a citizen of the world… “

Gilbert is not advocating content-free lessons, but to let the students learn the content in such a way that also develops the skills, attitudes and competences, something that the traditional chalk and talk lesson, perhaps and eventually as technology advances, will no longer suffice. Gilbert gives examples of a couple of techniques that he usually used to encourage the development of such skills in classes. He also lists relevant references if one is interested in further pursuing such methods. I also found some of these facts or quotes interesting or even controversial; you may or may not agree with them:

  • ‘We can’t solve the problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. – Albert Einstein’
  •  ‘In school we still perpetuate “The Great Educational Lie” – do well at school and you’ll get a good job.’
  •  ‘Never hire the people with exceptionally high grades at university and secondary school – to do well at school means you play by the rules. To succeed in business you need to break the rules. – Tom Peters’
  • ‘The kind of child you have depends almost entirely on how you bring it up. Genes and inherited dispositions are pieces of trivia really. – Robert Winston’
  • ‘You are a teacher. You are the most powerful people in the world. You mould young minds. More than that, though, you mould young brains – literally. Your actions (or lack of them) directly impact on the actual physical architecture of the brains of the young people in your care on an hourly basis. You are directly influencing the neurological structures of the world.’
  • ‘Punishment should never be emotionally driven. It should be a simple process of ‘cause and effect’, clearly demarked. If you do this, this is what will happen.’
  • ‘There’s no such thing as positive or indeed negative emotions. There are just emotions and our individual responses to them.’
  • ‘To have self-esteem I must feel capable and I must feel loveable.’
  • ‘An exam treats all children as if they had received the best possible education in the best possible environment with the best possible preparation.’
  • ‘If they don’t learn the way I teach them, then I’ll have to teach them the way they learn.’
  • ‘You can’t raise someone’s self esteem. What you can do however is set up the opportunities that allow people’s self esteem to grow.’
  • ‘The job will always be bigger than you are. You will never keep on top of it, like building a wall out of cats, just when you think you have it all sorted out you will have to start again. It’s the same in your lessons themselves. No matter how well you plan, it will not always go well.’

He insists that teachers have great powers in their hands; they make or break a child. Gilbert later in the book quoted and concluded from the McKinsey global research report on ‘What made good school systems good’:

  • ‘…apart from with very young children, there is no evidence whatsoever that reducing the class sizes, by improving the teacher to child ratio makes any difference whatsoever to the quality of education the children receive. What each and every one of the 112 studies the McKinsey report look at on the subject showed that there was one factor that would ‘completely dominate’ any reduction in class size anyway, a factor that their report shows to be the critical factor in the quality of education systems anywhere in the world, namely – you (the teacher).’

He sums up the book by stating that “Poor teachers do damage as they fail in the job they are being paid for. But the good ones, they change everything. What’s more, the future of the world depends on them. That’s why I need a teacher when I’ve got Google.” So which one are you?

The book is published by Routledge, 2011. You can buy it online through at around RM110 plus postage. You can get it cheaper if put up a couple of used ones for sale.

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