Do you ever get to writing about a subject and then develop the sneaking suspicion that people are just going to go: TL/DR?
| 1. Stop letting idiots teach your kids. |
This one’s pretty friggin’ obvious, America. You can’t stick your kids in a classroom for eight hours a day with someone who spent eight hours a day in the same broken system and expect results. Now, the optimist might hope that those future educators pick up the knowledge they didn’t gain in high school during their stay in college, but unfortunately, young teachers are usually education majors in their larval stages.
Have you ever taken a look at the curriculum in most education departments? How about spending a little less time teaching people how to teach, and a little more time teaching them what the fuck they’re talking about. Call me crazy, but I suspect the English teacher who spent her four years in college writing big-ass papers and reading big-ass books will probably know a hell of a lot more about teaching kids to read and write than the English education major who took as many hours in courses like Educational Psychology as in actual English classes.
You think that English is about teaching people to read and write? Are you high or something? You don't go to college for four years to learn to read and write, you go to college to learn about literary interpretation and story writing and.... Well, all the things that are actually on an English major's course spread.
You want to learn to read and write you get some English as a foreign language teachers in and you drill that shit.
But really - you're talking about taking the products of a broken system and using them to teach the people in that system anyway. How are they going to tell people what they're talking about when half of the people in college don't know what they're talking about? Magic?
| 2. If your test is a Scantron, you didn’t learn anything. |
I’m not against standards, or accountability, or any of the other buzz words educators use to defend federally mandated tests. I’m just against the whole idea of a multiple-choice, Scantron-type test. Yes, it makes for easy grading for a teacher. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t show that your students learned a damn thing.
The ability to memorize facts and formulas is only half of education. The other half is your ability to put all those pieces together and formulate actual ideas of your own. Otherwise, your ‘education’ is useless. Essays, short answer questions – hell, even oral exams – demonstrate a hell of a lot better whether or not a child has actually learned anything in school.
Accountability tests are a good thing. Multiple choice tests are not. And speaking of accountability…
No. No. No. No. No.
Just because you put it in prose form doesn't mean that it's not a memory test.
When I was teaching people to pass their exams back in my A Level courses I worked out formulas for filling out the essay answers. I specifically instructed people not to come to a conclusion supporting one side or the other of an argument - even where the answer was obvious. The model I used went like this:
You would have a point - which was actually two points since you'd be making the opposite side of the point in a minute. You'd have a piece of supporting evidence. Then you'd have an analysis, where you talked about the potential flaws with the evidence.
And then you'd do the same for the other side of the point, and find a bit of evidence that supported that point of view, and talk about the flaws in that side of the evidence.
And then after some back and forth where you'd used up everything you could remember you'd write a conclusion about how the issue could be seen from both sides.
People went from getting Cs and Ds to getting Bs and As. They learned nothing of worth in my opinion other than a simple pattern that they could recite in a test. It proved they could read the newspaper more fervently than someone else - it showed no understanding of the basic rules of reasoning, or how evidence actually worked or....
| 3. Teachers are students too. |
And I don’t mean this in the hippie “a teacher always learns from his students” way. Yeah, no shit, a teacher always learns something from his students. More importantly, a teacher should still be learning from friggin’ books and classes.
If students have to take constant federally-mandated tests, then teachers damn sure should. Fields advance, conversations progress, and society evolves. Why should our teachers be a relic?
You ever wonder why your college professors were a hell of a lot more intelligent than the majority of your elementary and high school teachers? Well, more schoolin’ helps, but the other reason is because your college professors are supposed to continue educating themselves throughout their career. Most university teachers won’t acquire or maintain a job at a good school if they don’t continue to research, write, and advance their knowledge of the field. Why do we not expect the same out of teachers at lower levels? It’s bogus. Don’t just replace the old ass books in shitty schools, replace the old ass teachers, or expect them to keep up with the field.
I also noticed how many of my professors were shit teachers, hired on largely because they were good at research. Look: the fundamentals of a subject don't change much, and it's not a particularly high standard to meet. You can afford to have teachers behind the cutting edge as long as they're good at teaching those basics.
I was talking to a bunch of teachers a while back - and many of them had to go back and remind themselves of the basics. They could tell you loads of stuff about esoteric particle interactions but they didn't use most of the rest of their knowledge.
So, what actually is wrong with education?
The school system is not designed
to teach. Teaching's just sort of something it ended up doing. The school system that we've got in most of the world evolved out of the needs of the military and the Church in Europe. Why do you think there's a school uniform, why do you think there's a year set segregated into roughly platoon sized classes? Why do you think we have lectures in universities to begin with? Lectures were meant to be so that people could listen to the one (incredibly valuable) book being read. Universities themselves seem to have evolved out of people associating, with various sources of sponsorship, to share their knowledge - (indeed way back before they segregated the disciplines as severely as they are now it used to be the case that students would serve and a specific master for all of their time there.) But much of the background for that knowledge in the middle age was from a broadly theocratic origin - where pretty much all of the knowledge of reading and writing and accounting and so on had been preserved and much of the school system was set up by the Church to teach people the Church's texts. The Sunday school system springs readily to mind - which was essentially the basis of primary schooling; and was based around the idea of relatively strict discipline and teaching, I believe, three religious texts in a very strict manner to people who couldn't afford to take the time off to go to school during the week (i.e. pretty much everyone who wasn't rich).
And it didn't evolve the same everywhere - that's another thing worth noting. In Japan, for example, it used to be the case that the elder boys were responsible for educating the younger. The schools there Gojū
were based around the idea of military units. It was two tiered - system where boys older than 14 were expected to serve as teachers to those younger and included the practice of martial arts alongside a solid rudimentary education. And you can still see some of the effects of that alongside the obvious western influence in their education system today - in the form of their student-run clubs and the concept of senpai
(someone from whom you learn who's not a specific teacher and whom you respect, I suppose would be a reasonable description) and the like.
The origin of that system was from the 1590s, when the Shimazu dispatched a force of ten thousand to invade Korea, leaving the boys of their town running somewhat amock. They were organised into Gojū based on their districts and encouraged to – well, you know, stop being naughty and be warrior like like their fathers. In the … I believe mid 1700s … they organised it into a system to provide a rudimentary education.
It wasn't a particularly good education - involving the drilling of basic texts much as early church educations involved reading the bible - but that's not the point. You get some idea of how.... no-one really sat down and thought it through in one go. It was, for an awfully long time, just little things evolving and being sanctioned
by governments and religious leaders and the like because it was useful to some degree for some need that society had at the time.
If you're talking about what's gone wrong with education you're relying on the idea that it was right to begin with. Yet, while it's true it may have decayed somewhat; in the manner of anything with a high rate of mutation when deprived of selection pressures the trend is rather rapidly towards destruction; that's missing the larger problem: That even if you wind back the clock, reinstitute old ways of doing things, unless you actually know what you want and aim a system explicitly at that you're just going to get the same problem all over again.
So, let's stop correcting little bits and bobs - that's what got us into this mess in the first place - let's create a system that will get us a result we want and then compare it to the current one to see where we're going wrong.
What do we want? Nice, happy, smart people working jobs.
Well educated people. But that's not really an answer, is it? To be educated is the process, not the aim. This is the problem we had last time: ”Everyone deserves an A grade!”
- sure, but does that A indicate they can do anything useful?
Knowledgeable people? The ability to quote lists of presidents may make you well educated in terms of sheer mass of knowledge but you can be a complete moron, know nothing of worth, and anyone with access to a book can perform equally well. Similarly knowing pi to a thousand places or having a list of formula in your head. Or that when Shakespeare talks of rusty gates swinging open he's talking about a woman's legs.... That's trivia with entertainment value but little else. If people want to be cultured, that's fine, but let's not confuse the idea of teaching these facts by rote with the idea of having a cultured society. There are bits of knowledge that are important - but beyond a broad basic grounding there's no reason that someone should need to remember dates and various bits of fluff.
Skilled people? I feel this is closer to the truth. But skilled in what?
The obvious answer is skilled in thinking. And by thinking we tend to mean argument, rationality, getting to the truth.
That's one broad area we might have as a plan then. Most of what you study at school and university doesn't give you that. People say that it does, but studies find that it doesn't. In fact studies show that school actually makes people less
Arts, science, maths, history, business, economics....
Are these really other skills or specific permutations of one or the higher level skill we've called getting to the truth? Does everyone need them? And can they be more efficiently learnt at a later age?
I think it's clear that arts incorporate skills that go beyond general reasoning. How to hold a paintbrush, while it's something that you can work out, isn't something that you're going to get absent actual experience. Similarly for writing stories, or drawing, or carpentry, or programming. These are specialities, if you will, that you have to be trained for.
So, broadly you have learning, working things out, getting to the truth of things - as one string - and then specialities that you teach, preferably, by doing.
Can you work out working things out without working anything out? I would suggest not. It doesn't even make sense to think about it. Sitting in a room hearing about how to work things out will just be back to the old in one ear out the other crap. However, it doesn't follow that you have to teach these through the lens of speciality training. If you know that teaching people to learn and work things out for themselves is what you're trying to do, then you can set up games that will teach that set of skills. You can make it fun.
And then the specialities... how do you get people interested in learning those? It's obvious that people who aren't interested in a speciality aren't going to learn much of it. I can barely remember anything from my A Level English class, and I like books - it's just that the ones they chose bored the hell out of me. You take the specialities out into voluntary clubs, where people who actually do things surrounding the subject they're interested in gather and play games and run projects that relate to that interest.
This also lets you concentrate your efforts - you don't need to teach everyone everything anymore - you're not wasting the math teacher's time on teaching quadratic equations to people who have no use for them, you just have your club leaders, who are ex-professionals in their fields, and you assign teachers on an ad-hoc basis.
And exams, how would you do them? Would you bother? I believe that qualifications are a bad thing for companies and businesses. They're just a way to cut down on the field because people don't have anything better to go off - and as soon as companies can start using your experience to judge you, they tend to do so. Because they don't trust the qualifications, and rightly so.
Isn't “I programmed a robot to do X, I made a relational database to deal with this, I made a search function that did Y, I made a computer game....“ A much more impressive CV than “2.1 software engineering”?
So the clubs are something you've done, you've got your club projects to go off. You make that part of your CV, with your club leader as the reference. And that thins the field down. And the rest is something you can do show in screening or interview - your skills. Since, if you can assume the presence of deep subject knowledge in an applicant, you can find ways to communicate that knowledge and make it pretty much automatic. If you want to hire a programmer: Write me a program that does this and is at least this efficient. You want to hire someone to make predictions about the weather, you find some past event and ask them to make predictions about it....
There are ways to thin down the field that don't rely on standardised testing. Because HR doesn't want to take on the risk of hiring someone and being wrong, but doesn't really get rewarded for hiring someone for being right... we've ended up with a risk average corporate culture, in terms of skills, based off the way our education system's evolved to provide one extremely poor metric (and the lack of any real assurance of being able to keep people if they've trained them up inside the company.) They don't know what's a good gamble so they just try and avoid making any gamble if they can help it.
I think that's how you'd get a skilled workforce of smart people. You'd make education a game, something fun that serves kids interests and lets them do something that they're going to be able to use as proof of their interests to get in and start talking shop.
And you wouldn't have to bother segregating by year, or form group or explicit academic subject, or anything like that. Which is just a result of re-purposing a religious/military system to vaguely approximate the needs of society. That's a very artificial way of doing things that just serves to make things un-fun and feed into a model of standardised testing that's not really working at all.