Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Follies of Education

Ok, education is never bad. However, the education system in America, as well as that under which I studied in India are pathetic messes as far as I can tell. This seems to be the modern model of education - but is tremendously flawed. Here are the salient issues that I find.

Killing Curiosity

The first and foremost problem with education today is that it kills the natural curiosity of a child to learn. There are many reasons for this. First off, the pursuit of the fascinating is discouraged by the education system. Instead, education is rationed out as a one-size fits all, the same cornmeal to those that like cornmeal and those that like potatoes. Second, the natural curiosity and learning off of it by a child is perceived as an existential threat both to the teacher and to the system itself. Harper Lee points this out in "To kill a mockingbird," how reading, writing etc were assigned their respective levels, and if you learned early that was an inconvenience; how knowledge beyond that of the teacher got you into trouble. We have a system that punishes rather than rewards, and there is a set syllabus, with little leeway for the pursuit of what the child finds fascinating; little leeway for the child to try something on his own and fail and learn from failures either.

Mediocrity of Textbooks

When you read a book of classic literature; say Edward Gibbon for the history of the Roman civilization, or Two years before the mast, just for the sake of erudition, there is something about the book that captures your attention, that holds you spellbound and makes you want to dive into the book and never come out until you've read it bookend to bookend. Take a subject textbook taught in school, and you just feel confused, repelled by the propaganda and put to sleep by the lacklustrousness of it - what kind of drudgiferous dronogenitors come up with these books.

I remember being drilled into remembering that the tropics of Capricorn and of Cancer were at 23.5 degrees eitherwards of the equator and the Arctic and Antarctic circles 66.5 degrees. Why? Because it was defined so in the book. Yet only once I was a grown man, searching out of my own curiosity did I find that there was a perfectly sensible reason. The arctics were the lowest points from either poles where there was at least one day of perpetual daylight and one night of complete darkness in a year, and the tropics were the farthest points from the equator where there was at least one day when the sun was directly overhead -- all this due to the axis of the earth being tilted 23.5 degrees off the orbital plane.

Why do our textbooks fill themselves with inconsequential material of tremendous volume while omitting such essential observations. Or take the history textbook - show me one history textbook that is actually history and not propaganda. It's scary to think someone was paid for making such abominations.

And the preponderance of these textbooks take away from the child's opportunity for other reading. We have tremendous lists of top books by various compilers - why don't we pick some classics, absolutely disallow the school system to tamper with their content in any way, and use those to replace some of that mediocre textbooks of today? Especially for subjects such as history and languages.

Lack of interaction among varying age groups

This is one I would not have thought of myself had I not come across the idea in a newspaper article critiquing education today. Children essentially learn by emulating adults; it's the mirror neurons forming character from what they see around them. This is especially noteworthy in a day and time where nuclear families are the norm, and there is few familial contexts where children are exposed to adults, or older children. And when we say emulating adults, we miss the importance of older children as well.

Yet in school, each class is a bunch of children of the same age or almost the same. There are few activities at school where children are encouraged to go across the age lines, to learn from older children, even if that risks being bullied. In fact, the fear of the children being bullied makes schools cast firmer walls between different classes. And there's hardly any adult they see either. I believe this is maybe the most underestimated ill-influence of schools in children's lives.

Mediocrity of teachers

This is a contributing factor, and a well beaten horse. Teacher's are paid poorly, and so there is little incentive for society's cream to become teachers. But beyond that what other factors could one envision?

For one, the teacher today has a diktat of curriculum handed down from up above so that there is little flexibility for the ingenuity of the teacher to show itself. This is a tremendous put-off for enterprising people from pursuing the job of a teacher. America from a few generations ago is a shining example, where there was little regulation on curriculum, and so every small town had a teacher who was good at a different subject; and the subsequent fame of their pupil generally stood testimony, albeit maybe a little too silently, for this fact. The preponderance of liberalism, the libelous policies such as no child left behind and other regulations of the sort etc essentially effaced the ability of a teacher to actually teach, or to engender enthusiasm and curiosity in their students, and this is reflected in the quality of graduates today.

The other big problem with teachers is their character. Already given there are few adults in the lives of children these days, the quality of those few is extremely important. Yet every grown up today can pinpoint some teacher from their past who would have been their role model of how to hate others - the very children who were supposed to be their wards. I have made friends with a few teachers here, and even tried to date some of them - the attitudes and dimwittedness emanating from some of them is appalling.

That is not to say there are no good teachers. I myself have had the pleasure of being pupiled by some amazingly wonderful teachers in my life - people who I will forever be grateful to. The monumental question is how can we identify, nurture and reward them, and give them the flexibility that can only be intrusted with a good teacher of doing whatever is best for the education of their wards.

A Communist Rationing of Education in America

America has a funny public school system. Even though we are a country that respects individual accomplishments, and do not want communism, we already have fairly well imbued communism into the education system. Your children are fettered to "assigned" schools. Makes one remember George Orwell's novels when you think about it. It is essentially a rationing of education - thou (or thy children) shall only receive that which the gu'ment deems essential. This is thy fetter, thou shall not rebel, but shall remain fettered to the post that the big brother has assigned to you. It is despicably disgusting that the "progressive" left is what is advocating this - but I guess in a sense it is not surprising because the progressive left has always had its neck deep in the sands in their advocacy of communism/socialism/collectivism.

Fact however is it doesn't work. When a school sucks, the parents taking their children elsewhere is feedback to the school that they suck. Instead, that avenue is ruled out for the parents, and the funding structure of the schools being such that their quality or lack of it doesn't affect their funding, there is no incentive for them to perform or even to just not suck. Whereas, if the parents were paying, and if they took the kid elsewhere, the money also walked away with the kids.

It is time the folly of taxpayer funded education is abolished. Some kids are always going to be less educated than others. There is no reason to make quality of education the albatross of entire neighborhoods.

Class sizes

I grew up in a school where the class size was 40 students. I don't think I suffered any due to this. In America that class size would raise an outcry. Yet maybe the real problem is a mediocre teacher obsessing too much over each kid?

Even if the class size is big, the kids can learn to cope. In fact, a larger class size will make more friends - if only the teachers / adults just got out of the way. They will fight, they will cry, they will hurt themselves, but they will learn from it all - it is all part of the growing up process.

And in raising the class size, (provided it's not government doing earmarked-funding) maybe we can pay teachers better, and thereby get better teachers?

Lack of immersion in Nature

If you don't run out a husky, especially a pup or a young husky, they become irritable and annoying and difficult to deal with. Children are not all that different.

Back in the day, when quarter section farms were where children grew up, they got abundant play. And they had many siblings as well. (This blog "Just your average nuclear family" that I came across is a good example - even though there wasn't a quarter section, there was plenty of space and siblings for play).

Today, a child growing up in a crammed apartment, really never gets any play - never gets any opportunity to run around in nature, sate their curiosity and expend their energies. Also, there are fewer (if any) siblings, and the modern fashion of not trusting your neighbors makes sure that there aren't many friends either. So naturally the child does not grow holistically, and even becomes irritable and unmanageable.

Suddenly they are labelled ADHD/ADD or a plethora of questionably distinguishable clinical conditions, and enthusiastically made into patients which is the modern euphemism for cash cows of the healthcare ripoff, er.. system. Sometimes, I feel sorry for those children.

The making of sheep

Of all the ills of the present day education system, this one is the most unpardonable.

Education today does not make enterprising independent individuals - "men" as we would traditionally call them (or women); rather it just makes grown boys (or girls), already bent to the yoke, incapable of decision making, independence and enterprise.

Schools today instill fear and subordination into the child right from a tender impressionable age. Independence is viewed as a problem - fashionably termed insubordination, and is punished and persecuted, rooted out at the very bud.Yet if you look at it, it is independent thinkers who identify problems and formulate solutions, who further the state of society.

Likewise, a present day child has the parent, then the school as a body of authority. They are brought up to believe that respecting and obeying authority is the supreme quality every well behaved person must have. If unfortunately your parents are religious, add to that a Church and a Sunday School. When quarrels break out, instead of standing by and letting the children figure it out themselves (there is a noteworthy example of this is R H Dana's Two years before the mast), parents and teachers intervene all too quick. When the teacher thinks the child's behavior needs correction, instead of working it out with the child - on an equal footing as would happen in the real world - the malapert teacher summons the child's parents to school - a shameful act of embarrassing an impressionable mind on the part of the teacher. The fear of the principal etc is also drilled into the child at an early age.

What is the consequence of all of the above? For one, the child grows up as a rather incapable man. He is not really able to sort out differences with others on his own, and recedes into characters that can only interact amicably with like minded people. I'd attribute today's Left vs. Right rift in a great degree to this reason.

But more importantly, the mode of problem solving for problems with the neighbor is to always engage authority, the parent, the teacher etc. The child knows none better - and as the child grows up and gets out of school, the cry for more and more government. The children are oxen so used to the yoke that they cannot stand the independence required of a free man. And so more and more freedoms are signed away to the government, which explains the political situation in America today.

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