Book Review: Rewiring Education by Couch, Towne and Wozniak

Rewiring Education is one of the more interesting books I’ve read for a while; although to be fair, it is possible there is a lot of confirmation bias, because it lined up with most of what I already think about education.

John D. Couch is the VP of Education at Apple. Apple has been involved in Education for a long time, so I guess John Couch has too. The book is written in a conversational tone, and is quite easy to follow. I felt like there wasn’t all that much reference to academic literature, and certainly the technical perspectives were very Apple-centric.

In the early part of the book (I’m not 100% sure which chapter, I listened to it on Audible) the author delves into some of the history of the American education system: particularly the influences of Frederick Taylor, and J.D. Rockerfeller. Frederick Taylor is a well-know character in the industrial revolution, famous for his management theories on how to make manufacturing and other industry more efficient – his central thesis was to define rigorous processes so that skilled labour could be replaced with unskilled labour. Rockerfeller, also well known, became concerned with the future supply of un-skilled labour to work in his factories. So, they lobbied hard and created an education system which guaranteed uniformity. There are some quotes out there which make this seem like a deliberate ploy to limit people; and there are some arguments those quotes are take out of context, so I’m not 100% sure what to believe. John D. Couch definitely seemed to have an axe to grind against these two, and I felt like that whole angle sapped the credibility of the book.

That all said, the reality is our current education system is still fundamentally the same as a system that was created to serve the needs of the industrial revolution, and we’re long past that. I guess the key takeaway about the ills of that system is that different people proceed at different rates, and their education should no more force them along faster than they are ready, than it should hold them back while the others catch up.

One of the other topics I found very interesting was the discussion of David Thornburg’s work; and his theory of the four learning environments: Campfire (instructional learning), Watering Hole (conversational learning), Cave (reflective learning) and Life (experiential learning). My observation is that there are a lot of EdTech companies focused very much on the Cave, and maybe a few on the Campfire, but they all seem to leave out the Watering Hole, and Life.

There was a lot more to this book, but this post has already got boringly long, so I’ll stop here and say, read the book, it is on Amazon and Audible, and probably a bunch of other places.

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