Thoughts on education, innovation, and teaching to the test.

This article is certainly worth a read.
A venture capitalist take on education

At a fundamental level there is a problem with the system *as it is*. Though I’m less likely to jump in the trenches of those that bemoan the specific loss of music class or art class. There is a merit to the thrust of the point schools do not reward dynamic or adaptive thinking, many schools do not offer or incorporate expressive and artistic subjects as part of the curriculum. In many ways we have an educational system in name only, huge diploma mills certifying compliance and an ability of children to regurgitate facts in the correct sequences.

On a very natural level the idea of an education predicated on just giving the right answer misses the point. It isn’t merely about “giving” the right answer, it’s about fostering the development of habits and processes unique to different people to facilitate their ability to create and communicate those answers with others. It should immediately strike anyone who is a business owner, entrepreneur, innovator, or artist that how we go about educating does little to encourage the development of skills and idea frameworks we need in our fields to be successful. By and large we learn (and functionalize) knowledge by emulating the processes of others. It has often been pointed out that the evolutionary and neurological machinery of the human brain isn’t geared so much towards discovering new knowledge in so much it is geared towards communicating, language (symbolism) and towards collaboration. Our brains are geared towards incremental social accumulation of knowledge. In a sense the hard drive for storing human knowledge isn’t kept on just one person, it’s distributed throughout the social system with every productively engaged person operating as a storage of a couple bits of information and a relay for a knowledge signal through that society.

Human success is far less about having the specifically correct answer at any time as much as it is about being able to ask for, communicate, and apply those answers to different situations. For instance by virtue of of social, cognitive, and communicative systems it is unnecessary that we all know how to make tires. Instead hundreds if not thousands of people spread out the world over all contribute a tiny bit into the productive process that produces tires. From the oil workers, to the transporters, to the factory workers at the steel mills and rubber production facility to the stock workers and technicians at the dealership, the ergo sum total of the knowledge needed for this process is non-local to any particular place. It is instead distributed in the extended order of social coordination. Our social and economic system relies on distributed, non-local knowledge, and operates as an extensive neural network of many people the world over coordinated through passions, profits, and purpose. Schools in their present form fall well short of meeting the needs of our system.

This article confirms a conversation I recently had one of the conversations was with a friend of mine who is now a primary school teacher.He pointed out the primary education public school model is highly bureaucratized and geared to teach to the test. Although he “teaches” his classroom, he cannot actually “run it” his curriculum goals are handed down, benchmark goals for test results handed down, his schedule is frequently and considerably manipulated by administrators and underlying his own practical concerns with management the curriculum doesn’t reward dynamic or original thinking. Educational goals are largely incoherent with an overwhelming emphasis placed on teaching to the schedule and pushing for mechanistic rote responses to test questions. He is routinely expected to sacrifice free time and unstructured activities so as to “make up” hours with rote education approaches for response and simple process questions tested for on the SOLs.

These kind of practical administrative restraints make innovative and alternative class structures difficult if not impossible. While perhaps not wholly reflective of a uniform set of experiences in all public schools the image of children as young as 9 years old expected to slog through rote lecture without recess or creativity oriented programs is mind boggling. Where is the innovation? Where is the focus on maximizing the potential of the future? Where is the awakening of the mind into cognizance, awareness that we are all little parts of a vast integrated and interdependent system? Where is the development of the sense of self, dignity, rewarding of curiosity and ingenuity?

What we see is a system not only out of sync with the economic and social needs of the larger human social system but we see a large bureaucratic machine slow to adapt, fixed on benchmark performances, and obsessed with the image of education rather than content. In some ways while the high school dropout rates have plummeted we’ve built a system that accommodates the lowest common denominator granting diplomas with little signal content distinction.

Microaggressions and the Frail Young American Mind

Greg Lukianoff being interviewed about the article
Greg Lukianoff talks microaggressions

Great video and article at The Atlantic about the ruinous doctrine of being responsible for everyone’s hurt feelings. He stresses that we should recognize that American families have raised a generation that don’t believe that there should be any pain in life.

The alternative is to teach young people to think, which involves challenging their ideas and potentially causing some pain. From Lukianoff’s article (co-authored with Jonathan Haidt):

There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.