Sunday, August 19, 2007

Lake Woebegon, where all of the children are above average...

We commonly see comments and criticisms about education. We believe have a right to our opinion, as well as our criticisms, because, after all, we are all products of our school systems.

Or do we? It might be that we need to become a little more sophisticated in our understanding.

Learning is not something that teachers have a lot to do with. To learn something, you have to first get it into your mind and manipulate it such that you come to a completely personal understanding of it. If you do not do that, the thing which you are trying to learn escapes you as soon as you stop thinking about it. Teachers provide exposure, but students must do the work.

To learn something well, you have to use it repeatedly and consciously, otherwise, you will never learn to do it without first thinking about it, if you in fact remember it. There is no other way to learn because this is how our brains are wired, and how the necessary connections get made.

Notice, that in none of these things is there any mention of a pry bar being applied to the brain of the student, and in fact, all learning requires effort on the part of the student and no one else.

You see, learning requires a work ethic, exposure, and little else. Our ancestors made good use of starvation and freezing to death as an immediate motivating factor for several million years. A cold night makes for the development of work ethic around gathering fire wood, and even today, hunger drives us to go to the market or the refrigerator.

No large multi-million dollar edifice is required, and I would wager that a lot of my readers will have gone to school in buildings that were either WPA projects in the 1930's, or temporary buildings put up to school us boomers in the early 1950's. (Our teachers were not all that well qualified in those days either, as most had only certificates or teacher's college educations, but few were blaming them in those days as I remember it, and none of them were at the upper end of the middle class either as teaching was a working class employment in those days).

Children are hard wired to learn, to please the adults in their lives, and you can't keep them from trying to do it. They are not hard wired to learn any single topic however, and they will happily learn anything that is placed before them, indiscriminately.

There are also children who are not capable of performing well in a normal classroom environment for any number of reasons. As you might recall from your own school days, there is an extremely high price to be paid for those who do not conform to the expectations of their peers; the system requires conformity, and cannot function without it. (School systems populated by non-conforming groups, due to parental expectations, mixed teacher expectations, cultural or societal expectations, disparate income levels and mixed ethnicities tend to have a lot of problems).

If the expectation is not to learn, and behave, and to succeed in the ways that the system in place will reward, then the system will have little relevance to the students, and vice versa, in that if the students are not able to conform, lack the resources and the social skills to conform they will not be able to perform satisfactorily inside a system that requires all three to function, and the system itself will be dysfunctional. (None of these factors is under the control of the teachers).

In a different environment, the child might do well, but then again, they might not. There are lots of ways to teach, but remember, there is only one way for learning to occur.

In a perfect world, the way we measure success in education causes a fair amount of failure, after all, half of the children will always be below average. Only in Lake Woebegon is this not true, and of course, if you are an idiot, you might pass legislation and provide funding for something called, "No Child Left Behind," thinking that this will somehow change statistics as a science, or the statistics as a measured outcome.

We have idiots who actually think that they can force all of the educational outcomes to Lake Woebegon standards. I have nothing but praise for the extra funding, but I have nothing but contempt for the attempt to legislate reality. This only encourages cheating, and because it cannot be done without cheating, those who succeed will be the most dishonest and in complicity with the idiots.

The bottom line, as I currently see it, is that anything that causes a child to manipulate his environment and the objects and ideas within it educates. Anything that distracts from that, reinforces ignorance.