Today’s Educational Paradigm March 30, 2011

I might take some of what is said with a grain of salt, but this cartoon video explains issues about education – the number one interest of conservative philanthropists – with a clarity I have never seen before.

rogerh 03/31/2011

The direction that video takes is correct in my opinion.  It’s funny how life teaches some things that validate what was learned in school, and other things look very different in life than they did in school.

A lot of my college education revolved around the educational process, and there are great minds involved in developing educational models and systems and materials and lesson plans and curricula and on and on.  The development of the human mind in terms of capacity and ability certainly played a role in that process, as I’m sure it still does.

As a homeschooling family, we have grappled with all of the dynamics that the video addresses – sometimes more successfully than others.  If, however, I had gone from college directly into public education, I wouldn’t have had the benefit of experiencing and learning how human development works ‘in vivo’ (in real life) vs. ‘in vitro’ (in a test tube e.g. the educational institution).

Without putting the metaphor of ‘industrial revolution’ onto the public education system, I have thought about how the model of same-age, coed, multicultural groups of children (k – 12) are educated.  If my four children are at all representative of the general population, then the needs of a classroom are going to vary incredibly!  Each has different mental abilities, attention spans, emotional responses, physical requirements, circadian cycles, learning styles, etc.  How does one successfully educate such a group?

My first answer is that the requirements for the teacher’s ability in an ‘industrialized educational system’ are immense!  However, we don’t prepare teachers to meet those requirements, and I’m not sure there would be many who would want to shoulder the requirements if we did.  Teachers are prepared to give standardized lessons to average children (a pretty big load in itself) so they can perform well on standardized tests that indicate that a standard set of material has been learned in a standard way and can be reproduced within a standardized framework.  For those ‘non-standard’ children we offer ‘gifted and talented’ or ‘remedial’ classes which essentially means that the standard has been shifted to more accurately reflect the child. This process, by definition, reduces creativity which at one level can be described as the ability to produce something non-standard (i.e. new or original with the underlying foundation of meaningfulness at some level)

We have endeavored to follow the ‘classical education’ model in our homeschool efforts.  The underlying assumption here is that children go through stages of cognitive ability, and that the educational process is grounded in training the mind to think as it progresses through those stages. Rote learning is appropriate at the early stage.  It trains the mind how to receive information, store it and recall it.  Processing that information comes next.  Like ‘Watson the computer’ that beat the Jeopardy champions recently, kids learn how to take information they know and use it to make decisions that are logical based on what is known.  Once the mind has been trained to receive information, process it, and make logical deductions, then it is prepared to do what only humans can do – think abstractly, create.

If the foundation isn’t solid, though, the abstract thinking and creation will be shaky.  For instance, the video says that 98% of kindergardeners can think of more than 100 uses for a paperclip.  Many or even most of those uses will be nonsensical or impractical or impossible.  The speaker didn’t say how many 13 – 15 year olds performed well.  My guess is that those who did perform well also were well developed in their abstract thinking skills and came up with ‘meaningful’ uses for the paperclip.

So, the speaker doesn’t really address where to go in the eleven minute video, but clearly points out some of the challenges with today’s system.  The underlying concept of educational philosophy is the ‘elephant in the room’ that must be wrestled with.  Are we teaching children the rote knowledge and then skills they need to be productive automatons in society, or are we training minds to think abstractly and create like only humans can?

Educational debates are now active in several states including my own.  Many ‘fixes’ are taking shape.  None of them address the elephant.  Perhaps the elephant is gone because our society no longer values creative thinking above functional operation in society.

Menikov 04/04/2011

Agreed. The factory batch process works poorly, and online education is likely to blow it up.

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