18 July 2007

Modern Education Now

From Dave Pollard’s always thoughtful How to Save the World comes this insightful overview of Our (as in “American”) educational failure and how to make it work. And if the themes look familiar to Jenius readers, it’s because they are: As a Jenius, I know whose shoulders to stand on. (All emphasis is Mine.)

What is the purpose of education? Those of liberal bent tend to assert it is to allow us to become what we were intended to become -- fully capable individuals and members of community. Conservatives are more inclined to believe it is to acquire the essential survival skills of modern society, efficiently. And there are practical souls who think its purpose is to learn how to make a living.

How would we 'score' the current formal education system of affluent nations on its ability to achieve these purposes? I would grade it rather poorly:

  • Enabling us to realize our full capability – D
  • Enabling us to acquire modern survival skills, including how to make a living -- F

Institutional education has no time, ability or flexibility to help us realize our full capability. Besides, its methods -- teaching in the abstract in classrooms disconnected from the 'real' world, to bums on chairs -- are not effective because this is not how we learn…

The survival skills we need in a modern society are not addressed by the teaching of obedience, numeracy, literacy, and 'management skills'… to survive we need to learn how to learn, we need to understand how the world works, we need to learn to think, critically, creatively and imaginatively and adapt, how to work together, and how to self-manage -- to take care of ourselves and each other. Formal school systems teach us none of these things. Because they are so artificial, inflexible, and predicated on 1-to-n knowledge transfer, and because they depend utterly on the passivity of students, they cannot possibly hope to teach us these things…You learn how to understand your strengths and passions, how to find partners for an enterprise, how to do research on what people need, how to innovate continuously, how to imagine possibilities, how to collaborate, by doing, by practicing, by discovering what works and by making mistakes.

Our formal education system has no time for practicing and allows no room for making mistakes. In this system, practicing is remedial work for those not competent enough at rote learning and not blessed enough with native skills to get it right the first time. And in this system, making mistakes is fatal, carrying the unbearable stigma of failure…It doesn't seem to have occurred to the proponents of our education system that if students aren't succeeding, it is the teachers who should be given a failing grade.

The greatest critics of the formal education system…would have us believe that the designers and proponents of this compulsory system deliberately conspired to make students helpless and dependent (incompetent to make a living for themselves, and hence frightened and compliant to the point they will put up with the drudgery of wage slavery). Whether or not this is true, the reality is that now, thanks to automation and other technology, we no longer need that fear and obedience to keep the industrial economy humming along…(because) (i)n fact, that complacency and incompetence has now become a liability.

…(W)e need to create an entirely new learning process, and let the old system crumble…I suspect this new learning process would have these attributes:

  • It would be a self-managed process, both at the individual and at the community level. We would trust people to do what they want, to learn…When I was in my last year of high school, we were exempted from classes if we attained certain test grades, and by the end of that year we had learned to learn from each other and from the real world, away from classrooms and teachers, so well that our 'de-schooled' group won almost all the scholarships.
  • It would be based on apprenticeship (which literally means 'grasping', 'understanding'), learning by observation of those acknowledged by the learner as having exceptional capability, and on practice (literally, 'becoming better').
  • It would be playful, joyful, fun.
  • Skills like literacy and numeracy would be learned in the context of apprenticeship and practice, not as separate 'subjects'.
  • The entrepreneurs and artisans from whom we learn would not be paid, but would know that they would eventually be rewarded for what they showed others…
  • The role of those who care about learning would be creating tools that make learning easier and more powerful.
  • The activities of selected mentors would be primarily listening, facilitation and, when requested, coaching.
  • A key objective of the process would be achieving autonomy, freedom from dependence, self-sufficiency.
  • Another objective would be cultural regeneration -- relearning local (connected to place) skills that have been forgotten.
  • The process would be improvisational and evolutionary, not planned or designed.
  • It would be based on growing hopefulness, not raising expectations or achieving goals.
  • It would entail renouncing those technologies and other obstacles that impede true friendship, which is essential for collaboration and learning to make a living together.

Now back to Me: It isn't a matter of if We are going to make this change, but when. The modern world is increasingly "compete or fester," and whether you like that or not, it's what's real.

The Jenius Has Quoted.

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