Optimal thought and optimal fitness through reason, logic, science, passion, and wisdom.
“Our schools are broken” by Alexandra Heeney
“Our schools are broken” by Alexandra Heeney

“Our schools are broken” by Alexandra Heeney

Questioning. Independence. Self-directed thought and action. These are very important values that should be developed during one’s education and that are discussed in Alexandra Heeney’s article about Greg Whitely’s recent documentary. Good for them for appreciating those values and for promoting them in our culture. 

In Our schools are broken: An interview with director Greg Whiteley about his Sundance doc ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ (Stanford Daily, February 6, 2015), Alexandra Heeney writes:
But times have changed, and Whiteley continued, “Compliance, following instructions: those don’t serve us very well in the 21st century. If that’s all you can do, and you show up to a job interview, your employer is going to look at you, and just say, ‘Well, I really don’t need people like that, because I’ve got a computer, or an algorithm, or a piece of software, that is compliant or follows instructions. I need somebody that can come here and think critically, and not just problem-solve, but detect problems. I want you to point out to me problems that I’m not even aware of and solve them.’ That’s what employers in the 21st century are looking for. It’s what life is looking for.”

One of the problems with our current, traditional education system is its emphasis on rote memorization — cramming for a test rather than applying the knowledge you’ve learned to a situation that’s actually useful. Dintersmith described the basis of the current system as a myth: “The [idea] that if you just take notes, memorize, and go back into a class and either recall content or definitions or string pieces of content together, into a formulaic essay, or do low-level procedures, in a science or engineering class, and that you’ve actually learned anything is exactly that: it’s a myth. Which we hope people say [when watching the film], ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on?’ “

When Whiteley interviewed Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard, Dintersmith recalled that Mazur “concluded nobody was learning physics at Harvard. All they’re learning is to memorize formulas, shove numbers in, and not make a mistake on units or the math. And so his [class] is entirely different, where he delivers thought-provoking conceptual questions.”

(c) Stanford Daily
In a comment to the article, Ben Moudry of The Grove School said:
Most schools are not setup to work with the gifts and tendencies of adolescents, but instead often have environments that work against them. This is why many middle and high schools are holding cells for adolescents causing teachers, students, administrators, and parents to all be frustrated and consistently at a state of tension, stress, and apathy. The true capabilities and nature of adolescents will only be known when there are in a learning environment designed for their age, with materials and experiences created for their developmental needs and tendencies by adults carefully trained in the development of and experienced in working with adolescents.

(c) Stanford Daily

Amen. That’s how I felt in school: as if I were in a holding cell.

Read more. Good article (I like a lot of what it and the documentary say, and the direction they are going) — but it and the documentary (from what I gather only in this article) make some fundamental errors of omission. No wonder, since fundamentals are not obvious and are hard to put a finger on and grasp. Took me a long, long time — and I could do it only by standing on the shoulders of giants.

They identify some abstract ideas and concrete procedures that are done right in Montessori, but not in conventional education, but they don’t see the fundamental philosophical issues that shape education. They miss the fact that human life demands more than “a level of obedience and compliance and the ability to follow instructions,” and that education has the purpose of developing our minds so that we are ready, not merely to work, but to live as an adult. In other words, their perspective on education is wrong. Claiming what they do about people in the 20th and 21st centuries is absurd. Employees did not need to think critically? They needed only comply? Why and how did factories get improved? Workers did not need to find ways to make things more efficient? They did not need to find ways to make things safer and healthier? They just stood their like robots without concern for their own well-being or for how it impacted those they loved? They did not need to plan on how to get a better job or how to organize their finances? Nonsense. The author and film maker need to think more critically about education and human life. Education needs to prepare us to deal with questions like “What is justice?,”  “What is a good diet?” “Can I trust this authority in diet or health? Why or why not?,” “How do I assess this doctor’s claims?,” “Is this a good movie?,” “What should I let my kids read? Why?,” “Child experts say I should force shoes on my child’s feet, but my child complains shoes hurt. What should I do? How do I gather information to do what is best for my child?,” “How can I measure the status of my health?,” “What is the math behind investment? How should I save for my future?,” “For whom should I vote?,” “How do I know, anyway?”

Human life demands independent thought and critical judgement. Education needs to develop the rational faculty of man, no matter what time in history or in what place the person is.


This latter point leads us to the important fact that the author and filmmaker need to study an essential thing underlying education: epistemology, the theory of knowledge. Education is clearly about imparting conceptual knowledge and training a person to use reason. (Contrast education with the learning of other animals than man, and contrast education with other forms of training we have in life, and this becomes clear.) Knowing that conceptual knowledge is hierarchical and contextual is critical for designing a proper theory of education and a proper school. One should also know, on some level, the importance of induction and integration to conceptual knowledge. Without induction, we have no deduction — because we don’t have generalizations to apply to particulars. And when you understand some philosophy and epistemology, then you will understand why conventional, modern education is so wrong and what to do about it. The destruction is wrought by the ideas and methods of Plato, Kant, Dewey, and others. What we need, if we want individuals at their best, are the rational, objective ideas and methods of Thales, Aristarchus, Hippocrates, Aristotle, Aquinas, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Gauss, Rand.

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