Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A toned-down rant on education, with bonus crackpot theory

So this is very cool.

It's TED Curator Chris Anderson's animated talk, "Questions No One Knows the Answers To." Are kids everywhere watching this? And adults as well? I hope so.

As I have mentioned, I went to an excellent public school and had a presumably excellent science education therein. Yet never, not once, did it dawn on me that the purpose of this education was to be able to answer questions that were as yet unanswered. In doing countless experiments that turned out either right (yay, you got the blue foam!) or wrong (you idiot, you made black sludge!), and taking lots of multiple-choice tests, I was given to understand that science was about confirming what was already known. The black sludge was simply an error, not a result of processes that were just as real, and just as interesting in their own way, as those that made the foam. Science was proving you could follow the directions.

I can think of a number of reasons I got this message. One is that I was an extraordinarily rule-oriented child (I am only a little less so as an adult). After all, I also didn't get that art was about "expressing yourself," so much as properly rendering what you saw in front of you. So I may have simply missed the part about how we were learning scientific techniques through these repetitive experiments, so that we could later use them to make new discoveries. It may also be that my own teachers either didn't know or didn't think it important that science was about discovery. Their emphasis on mastery of the known might have reflected their own experiences and philosophies.

Or there may have been an even larger purpose behind this kind of teaching. The system cannot function if everyone in it is constantly innovating. Nothing would get done. In truth, we need people--lots of people--to implement known processes and principles. Maybe that's what this education was about: because most people will (by choice? by necessity? whose choice? whose necessity?) be implementers rather than visionaries, they must be trained as such.

Was there such a governing philosophy behind education? Is there one now? All the standardized testing going on now suggests that the answer to the second question is yes. Even if that is not the stated purpose of the testing, it will assuredly be a pronounced effect. Is that intentional on some deep, unacknowledged level? Or am I just being paranoid, or unrealistic? Should I just be grateful for the conscientious training of drones? I'm one, also, most of the time.

1 comment:

John said...

This is a very beautiful and interesting article
The most educating one i have read today!

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