Can a Smartphone Make You Smarter Than A Classroom Can?


Education is the most fundamental, most highly contested measure of the utopian ideal of the level playing field. Biased standardized tests, inequities in public education based on income taxes, and the exclusionary nature of the elite private universities perpetuate what is the American caste system.

But from the dawn of the information age, the internet has held the promise of being the great leveler. This evidently was delayed because of the digital divide, where mainly the upper middle class and above possessed personal computers.

With the sudden proliferation of hand-held computing, however, this ideal is becoming real. The day has come “when an individual family can opt out” of formal education in its current form, and “it is no longer David vs. Goliath in a duel to the death, but David leaving Goliath behind in the dust in a foot race.”

This is from an article from Quartz called “Degrees don’t matter anymore, skills do,” which echoes the above assertions while adding a human component that is a diminished but more strategic role for teachers: “The road ahead is clear: the potential in each student can be unlocked by combining the power of computers, software, and the internet with the human touch of a teacher-as-coach to motivate that student to work hard at learning.”

A likely result of this transformation will be a change in the internal narrative of the students themselves. This is exemplified by self-fulfilling prophecies like the common statement “I’m not a math person,” which is debunked by Miles Kimball, a professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. He invalidates this notion by remarking “that the idea of ‘math people’ is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.”

As with most change, there will be massive resistance, and education systems are rife with reactionary sentiment. But meager municipal coffers have given way to innovative charter schools and best-in-class educational innovators like the Khan Academy, who are dragging traditional education kicking and screaming into the future.

The legendary fictional auto-didact Will Hunting nicely sums the notion of disruptive education in his dressing-down of the condescending pony-tailed Harvard grad student at the pub: “you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a [redacted] education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”

And there are not even any late charges when you’re on WiFi.