Friday, March 11, 2016

Some Thoughts on Education

One of my central concerns is education. While on the one hand, I believe that (with obvious exceptions, such as learning disabilities) all students learn the same general way and will learn the same kinds of materials in the same way, there are also bound to be differences in learning speed and in interests (which in turn affects speed, or perhaps vice versa). Because children develop at different rates, learn at different speeds, and have varied interests, I do not believe that children should be educated according to age. I find such a concept ridiculous and arbitrary. While it is true that there is a bell curve of development and learning speed around a child's age, there are a sufficient number who are slower or faster that it makes no sense to make every child advance according to his or her age. Children should advance purely by ability, and that advancement or maintenance of position needs to be determined more often than once a year. This would of course mean a radical change in school structure to accommodate this change, but it is necessary if we want students to learn what they can as quickly and effectively as they can. 

I am persuaded that a lot of lack of interest in subjects comes about because of difficulties in performing certain tasks or understanding the ideas. This happens when a student is moved too quickly through the system. A student should not move until the concepts are fully grasped at a given level. If we divide the school year up into 6 week periods, as happens now, that means a student may master a set of knowledge in one period, two periods, three, or four. Or more. The student would have to repeat that set until it is mastered. With mastery, the student would move into the next section. 

Given the fact that learning is nonlinear, we should not be surprised if a student moves slowly through one set and quickly through another set. Some students have more difficulty getting the foundations--the seemingly simple stuff--but then do exceptionally well with the more advanced concepts. 

Further, learning must be developmentally appropriate. Don't be having students learning the "writing process" when they don't know their alphabet. There is foundational knowledge that must be grasped first. Also, we need to base our system on the way the brain actually works and learns. This means, again, understanding that learning is nonlinear. It also means grooming interest, as interest in something facilitates learning it. I likely would have learned math better and easier had I been made to understand the ways in which it would benefit me in my interests over the years. It really does not take a lot of time and effort to find out what a student is interested in and to connect what is being taught to those interests. It is likely that there are going to be groups of students with similar interests, and coming up with examples that fit those interests should be a part of teaching. 

At the same time, we have to get rid of this ridiculous notion that unless a student can relate to something, we shouldn't teach it. It's ridiculous because no student can relate to anything we teach them until they are taught it, because by definition, you are only learning what you did not previously know. This means we need to teach students more stories, and those stories need to encompass a wide variety of experiences, cultures, ideas, etc. Stories are ways to gain experience without having to actually, physically experience them. Again, we must keep in mind that students who have difficulty reading will not like reading, and as a result they are likely to develop an aversion to reading and then to stories themselves to a certain degree. Of course, so long as a student watches TV or movies, plays certain kinds of video games, or just plain gossips, they are demonstrating their interest in stories. The job of the teacher is to try to get them to enjoy more and more complex stories over time. That means, again, teaching developmentally appropriate stories. And well-written stories. 

It is important that children receive a broad education that includes history, because you cannot know where you're going if you don't know where you've been; social studies, so they can get a sense of where they are in the social world; health and biology, so they can understand themselves from a biological standpoint and from the perspective of being a biological being that needs to be physically healthy; physics and chemistry, so they can understand the structure of the physical world and how it works; economics, so they can learn how money works, the nature of trade and work, etc.; literature, because students learn best from stories, and they need to be taught how to understand more complex stories; mathematical logic, so students can understand relationships among quantities; grammar, so they can learn the structure of language and of thought itself; and ideas, so they can connect everything together, learn logic and reasoning, and understand that they are part of a conversation that goes back thousands of years. Some of this will have to be detailed and particular--grammar and math, for example-- while others, like history and ideas, can be more general, so long as the students understand their place in history in regards to events and ideas. Note that most of these things will necessarily reinforce reading skills. Some, like logic, will reinforce math skills, though it should be encouraged to bring out math wherever appropriate to the subject. In other words, keeping a math journal in an English class is, to put it bluntly, stupid. But showing the importance of math to biology or economics or general living is of course sensible. 

If much of this goes against the way things are currently done, all the better. What is currently done does not work. The primary job of the teacher is fostering as much interest in a student for the subject in question as humanly possible. When that happens, the student will learn. The "because I said so" approach that dominates clearly does not work, has never worked, and will never work. Of course, this means that teachers themselves have to be interested. If a teacher is not interested in teaching every single subject in, say, 1st grade, that person has no business being a teacher. The teachers' attitudes rub off on the students; if the teacher isn't interested, the students will often not be interested, either. 

Of course, education does not end with high school. Certainly not anymore. And that fact, that over half of all high school graduates go to college, is why colleges are in trouble now. The fact is that most are going to college to get job training. But traditionally universities were not designed for that purpose. No, they were designed to provide a liberal education. The switch to becoming trade schools training people in a variety of trades has resulted in the degradation of education to becoming little more than illiberal propaganda and training programs. Since universities have become trade schools, those interested in providing a liberal education need to develop a new institution to provide that education. It cannot at all resemble the current Prussian-style institution, as that is what has degraded into becoming what it now is. The new institution needs to be practically anti-training in nature, wildly interdisciplinary, extremely integrated, and rabidly liberal, with both unity in variety and variety in unity driving the curricula. It should not be narrowly Classical, but rather broadly natural classical in nature. 

But that is an institution whose details I need to develop more explicitly some other time. 
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