Rebirth of Reason

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Monday, March 24, 2014 - 11:25amSanction this postReply

Good article, Joe.  It makes me sad to think of what our schools could be, but for the small-minded nature of teacher's unions, and the collectivist's drive to push propaganda rather than encourage thinking skills.  I imagine what it would be like if in each grade in school those young minds encountered teachers who were really bright and highly skilled in teaching their subjects as integrated examples of critical thinking, creative thinking, of opening new areas of thought in ways that integrated with existing understandings.  Good teachers would know that their primary job is to help students learn how to think - to think well.


Teachers should be paid more than doctors and their training should be at least as long.  The competition to hire the best teachers in a free market school system should be fierce.


Your article had me making a list of what schooled knowledge should be seen as (most of which mirrors elements you wrote of):

  • Concrete usefulness (as you mentioned, skills like reading, writing... and facts that turn out to be helpful)
  • Rich background of examples of thought about ideas of importance (again, as you mentioned)
  • Learning or experiencing the way we can treat ideas in one area as useful metaphors in another
          - I regularly go back and forth between computer programming, psychology, and evolution - kind of mapping one onto the other
  • Thinking skills (concrete patterns of how to work a problem - how to recognize it, how to break it down, processes to apply to it)
  • Understanding the nature of human awareness, our emotions and our motiviation as they relate to knowledge and thinking
  • Self-awareness - thinking about thinking.... to exand one's capacity to think, to grasp our motivations - real-time
  • Openning of new areas of thought (biology. geology, history, etc.) to deepen our understanding of our universe
  • Critical reasoning skills - logic - identification of fallacies
  • Teaching the understanding of hierarchy, context and purpose in examining thoughts
  • Grasping, and working with the principles of grammar as understood to be directly standing for thoughts

Post 1

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 1:04pmSanction this postReply

Joe - Nice article. As a trivia hobbyist, the distinction I often make is between trivia and "minutiae." Trivia are important but little-known facts an educated person should know because they are culturally or historically significant. Minutiae are the more numerous, more peripheral, and more forgettable details that don't capture the most important facts in a subject matter. I think it's always good to learn trivia because it widens your knowledge base and awareness, and it's sometimes worth learning minutiae, at least temporarily, if it provides important context to the key facts and ideas. So maybe the Civil War battle dates are ultimately forgettable, but learning them once gives you a better understanding of the Civil War as a whole. Math is a little different because in most cases math is more about teaching you how to think and apply logic, so there is inherent value in the exercises even if the material don't transfer to an occupation or hobby later in life.


Steve - Teachers should be paid more than doctors? Really now, that's a bit silly. Medicine requires much more specialized training than teaching does, and it makes sense that this is reflected in the price. Would you want somebody with a college degree prescribing you medicine or operating on you? And why would a first-grade-teacher need 10-12 years of specialized training? Teachers have never, in all of history, made more money than doctors in any part of the world, so you can't rightfully claim the pay disparity is due to socialist culture or unions, although those have certainly had a negative impact on both professions.


(Edited by Robert Baratheon on 3/24, 2:21pm)

Post 2

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 3:42pmSanction this postReply



We don't have a free market in education, so current teacher's income levels isn't relevant.  And what history has provided in this or other cultures, doesn't stand as proof that this function hasn't been grossly undervalued.



 One of the first things we need to hold in our focus is that knowledge is the result of an active process - often a process that is on-going and builds over time, and that is far more complex than just remembering trivia or minutia.  Knowledge isn't just a collection of facts.  It involves definitions, abstractions, inntegration into what we already know, logic, context, purpose, the hierarchical nature of knowledge, and continual self-monitoring of our motivations and purposes and the state of our focus relative to what it should be for the task at hand.



A first grader is in the early stages of learning to think.  That is massively important to his future, and to the future of society.


The basic mental processes acquired here will have a very significant effect down the road because what is being laid down in the early years is the foundation. They are learning to deal with their emotions, to think with logic (hopefully), to learn basic skills like reading and writing, to adjust their behaviors for social situations, to follow their passions in the area of learning, and much more.  On the negative side, the defensive mechanisms that will frustrate them from reaching their potentials are also being laid down in these years.


The basic mental processes that a first grader performs are the same ones we perform and for similar purposes - he needs to grasp what exists, what it is, what is its importance to him, how to deal with it, how it relates to things he already knows, how to evaluate others and their behavior, how to relate to them effectively, , etc., etc. The difference is that the first grader is at the beginning of a long road and has much less experience or existing knowledge to help put things in context. And the skill it takes to teach these things when they have to be reframed in forms that are grasped by a first grader with their limited frame of understanding is harder, not easier.  


Look at all that is involved in teaching the forming of concepts,or of grasping principles of logic in a way that is age appropriate for a 5 year old, along with the psychological aspects of mental/emotional development. This is every bit as complex as many of medicine's different areas. You ask why a teacher might need many years of specialized teaching? Well, look at the state of education today. Look at the failures to apply critical thinking that exhibit themselves in todays voting public. To get my license as a psychotherapist required 8 years - and I think that a top notch teacher should have more.


But none of this is anything more than just my opinion, because I'm not trying to do what the government does - that is, I'm not trying to make some mandatory standards.  If we had a free market in education, competition and growing awareness of what was possible and what the differences between the best and the not-so-good would end up telling us what is required to be one of the better teachers, and what they would bring to the profession, and what they would be paid.

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Post 3

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 4:29pmSanction this postReply

Steve - You're making the progressive mistake of conflating "value" with price. Price is a mathematical indication of supply and demand. The concept of value incorporates many other considerations, which are not necessarily reflected in a price. The obvious example is that air has considerable value - an infinite value even - yet it is free because there is a (practically) infinite supply. Nobody is debating the value of teachers - of course they are important for all the reasons you list and more. But the price of teachers is low because there is a huge supply of them and it's not that difficult to become one. True, there is not a perfectly free market in education (or in any sector of the economy), but there is still a market, and there are still supply and demand forces at work. If you look at teacher salaries across all the different states and in private schools, they vary but they don't vary that much. Average teacher salaries are consistently above average private sector salaries, but they're never on the order of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars that doctors earn. Private-school teachers typically earn less than public-school teachers, which implies that teacher salaries are artificially high, if anything.


Now, I get that you're advocating higher selection standards commensurate with the higher salaries you are proposing. But we need millions of teachers, and it turns out, there are lots of other important professions that need smart, qualified people too. Really smart people aren't as drawn to teaching as they are to other professions - know why? It's boring. There is very little intellectual stimulation teaching little kids, and it's the same thing, year after year after year. 


Don't think I'm hating on teachers, by the way - I married one, and my parents and siblings are/were teachers as well. I substitute taught for a few years while I was finishing school. My wife is getting her doctorate in education, and she agrees with my assessment that after 1-2 years learning the basics, extra instruction of teachers doesn't make a big difference on ability one way or the other. If you believe those like Eric Hanushek, teaching ability is mostly an innate skill and isn't significantly correlated with qualifications or experience in any event (http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2011/08/hanushek_on_tea.html).

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Post 4

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 5:26pmSanction this postReply



I did NOT conflate price and value. I understand the difference.

... there is not a perfectly free market in education...

Given more than a 4:1 ratio of public to private k-12 schools - tax funded and unionized, I'd say that your statement is so grossly understated as to be misleading.


If you look at teacher salaries across all the different states and in private schools, they vary but they don't vary that much.

Without a much freer market that statement isn't relevant.


Private-school teachers typically earn less than public-school teachers, which implies that teacher salaries are artificially high, if anything.

Your interpetation is without foundation. It is much more likely that teachers prefer private schools to public schools enough to accept a lower wage.  And in other cases, there may be teachers that couldn't get a job at the public school, but could find a private school that paid less.   


I get that you're advocating higher selection standards commensurate with the higher salaries you are proposing.

I'm advocating a totally free market in education. That will set whatever selection standards and whatever salaries come into being. What I'm saying is that we, as a society, don't understand the importance or the complexity of teaching.


Really smart people aren't as drawn to teaching as they are to other professions - know why? It's boring.

I think that you're wrong. Really smart people aren't drawn to unionized, low paying jobs where every bit of their activity is driven by burecratic regulations and where neither hard work nor success will bring rewards. And anyone who grasps the level of complexity of what is going in a child's mental/emotional development is not going to be bored - they are going to be excited to particpate in a meaningful way.

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Post 5

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 6:01pmSanction this postReply

I think that you're wrong. Really smart people aren't drawn to unionized, low paying jobs where every bit of their activity is driven by burecratic regulations and where neither hard work nor success will bring rewards. And anyone who grasps the level of complexity of what is going in a child's mental/emotional development is not going to be bored - they are going to be excited to particpate in a meaningful way.

I'm wondering on what you are basing your belief, because although I would *like* to believe this is true, it doesn't square with my own experience teaching and the experiences of most of the teachers I know. My wife is a very smart person who loves education, has two masters in education, and is two years away from a doctorate in education - she's very much aware of the theory - but she grew bored of teaching after a few years, and this year will be her last in the classroom. My father and mother are both smart people who love kids and education, but got bored of it. My father went into administration and became a principal, while my mother stuck it out and was very burned out when she retired - 30-40 years is a long friggin time to be in a classroom - I would have probably shot myself before that, to be honest.


Brain chemistry and education theory is interesting on the intellectual level, but at the end of the day, you're hanging out with a bunch of kids and talking to a bunch of kids all day. You're teaching them concepts tailored to developing brains that are elementary and simple to adults. It's not multivariable calculus. You're dealing with kiddie problems - kids crying, kids fighting, kids who don't want to do their work. And then you get to teach the same material next year. And the next. And the next. Forever. It's noble work, but intellectual-types tend to get tired of it fairly quickly.

Post 6

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 7:06pmSanction this postReply



You have your opinions and I have mine.  You like to argue these kind of things, I don't.

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Post 7

Monday, March 24, 2014 - 7:21pmSanction this postReply

I thought we were having a discussion. My mistake.

Post 8

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 2:46amSanction this postReply

People should expand their knowledge and continue their education thruout their life. Hopefully all the new information obtained is useful -- helpful in obtaining individual happiness. And useful knowledge generally leads to more useful knowledge. In contrast, useless knowledge is, well, useless. Kids in school today seem to uselessly focus on higher mathematics and foreign languages, while largely ignoring truly useful and helpful subjects like history and literature. Pretty much all knowledge gained should have its practical application. Properly educated people don't have any conflict between their theoretical understanding and its pragmatic application. Indeed, the two reinforce.

Post 9

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 5:12amSanction this postReply

The problem is we don't have a reliable means of knowing what will be useful to us or make us happy in advance. Curricula are best guesses at the knowledge required to be a culturally literate person.

Post 10

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 - 12:33pmSanction this postReply

Joe's article asks "How Useful is your Knowledge" - and my reply is that the most useful knowledge that I have is about how to think.


There is that old saw about give a man a fish and you feed him for the day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Or, to be more precise, you teach him how to feed himself.  And in that sense, knowledge is like fish. We need knowledge for specific purposes.  Knowledge has to be learned, and that is an active process.  There are specific processes that will let us acquire and validate knowledge.  Children can be given one fish after another as they move through school, but it is my hope that they teach the children to think... that will feed them for a lifetime.


When you give someone information, it can be given as the content upon which the principles of thought are illustrated and demonstrated and exercised. For example, no one memorizes the outcomes of all arithmetic expressions such that if you see "217 + 321" you will remember the number "538" - no, you practice the appropriate arithmetic principles on those numbers.  And at a later date we might be taught how to think about arithmetic principles for the purpose of validating them - just a more abstract level of critical thinking about a kind of content.  We have been taught how to fish in that sense, in that area.  The particular numbers we practiced upon, or the word problems that presented us with an opening set of numbers, or the example of deriving a given proof were just our practice material. It was handy, for some problems, to provide us with some content that would bear remembering, like Pi. And it was handy for us to remember specific content or approaches when we studied in other areas, and that is the frosting on the cake, the extra, because the primary purpose was to learn how to think - independently and critically and effectively. And the areas viewed collectively can have a primary purpose of teaching thinking in general.  For example, when we look at a society and events or properties of that society, it is useful if we are able abstract and integrate across the boundaries of different disciplines, like economics, political science, psychology, history, etc.


Today, in nearly all of the schools, we are taught content (fed fish) and we learn what we can of fishing mostly on our own. In other threads, Fred Bartlett has mentioned that one can't be given an education, you have to take it. Very true. But it should be noted that what is available in the school for taking could certainly be of better quality. What we see today are a bunch of bags of mixed fish, many of which are rotten, and just the occasional discussion of fishing.


I remember being impressed with the curricula of St. John's University (take a look at the reading list near the bottom of the Wikipedia article). They move their students through a 'great books' set of integrated courses that move through history from Ancient Greece to more modern times. I have no idea if this worked or not - and clearly it would be dependent upon the teachers as to whether students were being molded in conformist ways, or encouraged to think for themselves, and inspired to think deeply, but I was impressed with them stating up front that these courses were just the content used to teach the movement of ideas through time and that even that was just to have quality ideas on which to teach critical thinking.

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Post 11

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 5:40amSanction this postReply

First off: Total agreement - stimulating article - Thanx :)

however I'm missing the 'resolution': is knowledge or is it not 'useful' ... guess everybody defines that for him/herself ;)


Some topics that stood out to me I'd like to contrast with how my kids were taught at a private school. I've no idea if the three schools my kids were taught at are in any way comparable to American private schools, so let me delineate the basics shortly.


There are no 'classes' of one year only 'projects' for about 3-4 months (at most 6 months for complex topics). Each student is not assigned to a project by age or previous successfully completed projects, but only by a short test done by the teachers teaching that project (about 2-3 per project part-time). Project groups are dynamic between 3-9 students (rule was 'no two-digit project-size') and can change based on the phase they are in (some students only want to learn particular subjects of such a project).


Example: we want to build a bridge across the brook behind the school-building to reach the orchard on the other side (the school-gardener was not very pleased, but we'll get to that later ;).

Topics to teach: physics (stream flow, structural engineering), finance (allowances are not for free), 'wielding the hammer' (yep - they actually built it :) - and some 'politics' as it turned out when the gardener heard about the project :D

So first step was to calculate the physics of that bridge: can it actually be done by a group of kids without large construction machines, what's the flowrate during spring-thaw, is bank-soil stable enough for support, what size of timber and depth of foundation is required, etc..

Next step was calculate the finances of that bridge, check prices on materials (tools were available), calculate return of invest (student allowances never 'automatically' covered project costs, but only based on it's merits - there were projects that were scrapped at this stage), builders fees of the students and teachers who built it were calculated against the total cost and added to the allowances as earnings, calculate fees per crossing or 'flatrates' over 10 year period of use, etc.. Turned out the teachers used the bridge most for 'contemplative breaks' and not so much the students who already new where to cross the brook on foot - maybe the teacher's were just not that fond of taking off their shoes and getting their feet wet ;)

Of course they also built it - that bridge was in effect for 3 years until it was dismantled. The original project-group who built it left school and decided to scrap it as no one wanted to take over maintenance and toll collection. So the bridge was a financial loss resulting in a (temporary) drop in allowances, but nobody really minded that - they still had fun breaking it down :D (especially the gardener who volunteered his services for free ;)

Plus, as already hinted several times, the unplanned bonus: they had to deal with the school-gardener who was not very pleased that more kids got into his orchards :[ After 'negotiations' with the dean (even simple complaints and quarrels were dealt with in an official capacity - including parent involvement on site - darn how I hated that sometimes :D), some of the fees were diverted to the gardening funds as compensation for 'stolen and broken goods'.


So here's what stood out to me what is 'wrong' with todays teaching and (hopefully) could be remedied by a 'free school market', if it would develop anywhere close to those few private schools who dare the government to be different (it's a yearly struggle here in Germany to remain open):


Knowledge and intelligence are neither measured by age, nor past achievements, but by topic, interest and personal performance at a given time. Institutionalized teaching that plans only in one-year curricula and takes years to change such a curriculum are not equipped to handle such a variety. Current schools and teachers would be hopelessly disqualified to meet such demands.

Which brings me to the topic already argued above by Robert and Steve: a teacher who is capable of constantly adapting to such widespread requirements has to be much better educated and of course draws a much larger salary. I paid between 2.000,- and 5.000,- Euro (depending on projects) per month (about 8-10 months per year) per kid (only 4 wanted higher education) but it was worth every penny. No teacher can keep up with such demands and draw that kind of salary without being highly qualified. All 4 of my kids got their 'Abitur' (college degree) two years ahead of normal classes (which meant cramming a lot of useless information in the 3 month prior to tests, but once you know how it's easy to do) and they retained a lot more information, knowledge, way-of-learning, than I ever did in my 13 years of school and 6 years of university.


So once we leave school what happens next? We still keep learning, learning new ways or putting in effect old ways we already internalized, we reach the ripe old age of 'generational learning'. Apart from the obvious flaws that not every old woman becomes a wise crone, I'd like to contrast it to a very new way our current generation has found to learn: 'learning of the masses'.

Information and knowledge is at everybody's fingertips these days. You can look up Wikipedia as Steve did, you can post a question on the web, you can instantly chat up your community of dozens of 'friends' to get a quick response. We are developing towards a large network of learning-exchange that could actually lead to some global intelligence some day (I'll skip the problems of the 'uneducated masses' or I'll wax polemic again ;). So the wise crone is not necessarily wiser about todays world than the 'global-brain' could someday be (what does that say about our politicians?).

And let's no stop there: what about cross-generational learning? That's how learning started in the first place: some ways of using tools, acquiring knowledge, survival strategies, are passed on through the generations (genetic?). The best teachers in the world could not have taught a Neanderthal how to work with a computer or handle global finance.


Which brings me to my third and last observation: with all that variety (directly available and not) should it not also be 'normal', self-understood and acceptable, that some children should not have to go to school at all? As this is a fishy legal topic I'll continue 'hypothetically' with an abstraction of an actual case. @Steve: no I'm not resuming our offline discussion about learning (or not learning) how to sail ;)

If a child's inclination lean e.g. towards the natural, tending plants and animals, caring for forrests, living off the land as they call it. Wouldn't it be the best use of that child's time and intellect to only teach it what is required for that life? And I'm not talking about a degree in forrestry or veterinarian - I mean teaching simple daily tasks and knowledge about a specific plant or animal that it wants to care for and live with/by/from. Any formal schooling for such a child would not only be a waste of time and money, but would also result in resentment and scarring (emotional and intellectual). Point in (extreme) case: all these 'awful' school-shootings we hear so much about from across the pond. Not to mention one of my favourite movies: Carrie :D

I realize that it's a very tough decision to make at such a young age when a child changes it's mind later on. There's still the opt-out 'she can learn later' - with the disadvantage that later learning would be much harder. Still - who's entitled to make that decision? The 'uneducated' teachers (no trashing intended here - simply not educated to make such decisions), the 'educated' psychiatrist (which psychiatrists actually learns how to decide if a child should not be taught when it's a legal requirement?), the 'stupid' beaurocrat (again no trashing intended - he just has to follow the regulations without having his brain or his personal opinions interfere)?

Try to persuade your local government (that only has your best interest at heart and works only for your benefit) that your kid does not belong in school ;)


PS: topic for another post ... all that emotional and social miasma that goes with raising kids - which also happens to happen in school ;) finding the right surroundings (school), with the right teachers (not just intellectual teachers), the right 'classes' (where you can pick if you want to learn how to deal with a bully or simply move on to another 'class').

All that goes with disseminating knowledge, building intelligence, and is dealt with in very conflicting ways ... never was my cup of tea, so I'm just glad I got out of it with the kids mostly intact ... maybe someone more qualified would care to elaborate on that?

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Post 12

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 8:12amSanction this postReply

I surely don't think it should be a law that every student go to school until some age or until he is able to pass some test. Separation of government and school.

But also, I think there is a lot of social stigma against "child labor laws" which prevents children from becoming apprentices. This prevents children from learning real life skills (versus in an educational environment, where no matter what it is always artificial and potentially useless information being learned). Its impossible to say for sure, but my inclination would be that if children could spend more time working and less time at school, then they'd be much more successful in later life. Particularly compared to government school, where children learn by habit to sit slouched on their butts all day, and slack off, while being given everything for free by forced redistribution and being there by force... hello forced indoctrination of poor posture, sloth, socialism, and paternalism.

Given that teachers say that students "forget a great deal of what they learned over the summer and have to re-learn it all over again"... that's indicating to me that children are spending way too much time "learning", and that they could learn the essentials in much shorter time than we allot for it. This leaves a lot more time for children to experience and learn the real world, and be practical and gain self esteem for themselves by "working". But this again requires that people get over the social stigma that children working is bad. Everybody wishes their children to be like the children of the rich upper class who don't have to work at all... but of course, if the rich upper class children are just given all of their desires without learning personal responsibility and self sustainment... then those children are more likely to become spoiled useless adults who lack self esteem (from lack of practice/experience) and waste away their parent's fortunes.

I personally think government schools should not teach history. Its impossible to separate propaganda from history... particularly on wars, money, government, anything social really. History of technology and history of life are less philosophical... although the latter (evolution) conflicts with some's religious nonsense, which is an unfortunate side effect of government schools.

I'll split education into two non-political subjects:
- Reality: science, planning/engineering, math
- Communication: verbal communication, textual communication, sensory communication

And then one political subject:
- Human Action: society, politics, economics

- Science is about learning what is and how things work, how to figure out what is and how things work, and how to verify such for yourself. There is biology, chemistry, physics, and information (computer) science.
- Planning/Engineering is about learning about how to make new processes, technology, and tools using practical scientific knowledge.
- Math is arithmetic, algebra, statistics, information theory, trigonometry, calculus, differential equations. Math is necessary for both science and engineering, and should be taught as a dependency for the science and engineering, where science and engineering examples are frequently used to introduce math. Math should really really not try to deviate too much from practical. For example, "geometry" is basically a class on logic, and I think its too focused exclusively on angles, logic should be taught in a way where it applies to all sorts of aspects of science. I think teaching computer programming is an excellent way to teach logic.

Communication is all about encoding, decoding, storing, and recalling information. Verbal: listening & speech. Textual: writing/typing & reading. Sensory (art): painting, sculpture, music, acting. "Sensory" I mean as analog information

Human Action:
History and Economics heavily involve interpretations of human action and reasons for performing various policies. This heavy political/philosophical/religious... and hence its really hard for me to say that government should dictate anything about what is correct or what should be taught in these subjects. Even picking which historical facts to teach to students can very well be political in nature. Hence I really think these subjects should be separated from government school, and then suplimentally taught by private school or parent's choice. History of scientific knowledge, technology, and communication can all be taught with the non-political Reality and Communication subjects.

Austrian Economics is the application of logic and math to game theory. Of course it is the most objective and practical way to interpret historical facts and predict human action... the lens to look through for studying society, politics, and economics. But this doesn't preclude the government or other political groups from using their arbitrary mathematical equations (Chicago/Keynesian) to interpret and predict human action.


Prosperity/flourishing allows people (including children) to spend more time learning and planning.

Given that the paleo diet results in optimal human health, and paleo diet foods require more human work than the highly automated industrial grain/legume (seed) farming... I think learning to grow (and working to grow) one's own food (paleo foods) is an excellent thing for children to do. But this requires that someone with property allow the child to work the land.

Post 13

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 11:50amSanction this postReply



fully agree on the 'child labor' issue - however even if you prove beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the child does not have to work, but prefers it to institutionalized schooling you still have to force your kid to go to school or the cops will do the forcing for you (other escape-routes not-withstanding of course ;)


also agree on the mixing of knowledge with what is useful (e.g. your example of growing your own food) - that however rarely fails because of opportunity (you can always find ways - somehow) but because of ideology: who decides what's useful? most times you can't even get your parental units to agree on your wishes :D


which brings me to the point I don't agree with: you seem to still be advocating government schools but with very restricted topics ... schools should never be run by governments - and if they do run them they most definitely will not let you choose the topics to teach .... if at all government should offer availability of schooling when parents interfere with a child's wish (and ability) to learn but leave the actual schooling to better equipped bodies ... this covers such topics as funding, parental rights, topic selection, etc. - ultimately I'd always choose someone who is good at doing sth over someone who has the power to force sth to happen, which goes both ways: students and teachers - I'd never pay for a lazy student wasting my money to 'while away the hours' ...


only knowledge that is freely and actively acquired is really useful

Post 14

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 12:14pmSanction this postReply

Great post, Vera! I love the bridge project. That project, and any like it, so tightly presents knowledge as purposeful that no more needs to be said about that aspect. And I think that approach is MUCH more likely to engender a passion for learning - I mean, look how different that is from rote memorization!  And I love the way that a summary of that project shows that knowledge of a subject can be like layers of an onion. They had to peel back layers to see that the soil composition was going to be there, as a requirement, under the knowledge of the constructed bridge. It also encapsulates the idea of integration of knowledge across fields, of the contextual nature of knowledge, of knowledge's hierarchical nature. These are the kinds of approaches that let the youngest child to begin grasping the correct approaches to understanding how to know things, and how to learn things. Good teaching is neither just having students do things and assuming they'll learn the underlying principles, nor can it be all dry academic recitations of those underlying principles. It has to be a combination that is appropriate to where the child is in their development.

Knowledge and intelligence are neither measured by age, nor past achievements, but by topic, interest and personal performance at a given time. Institutionalized teaching that plans only in one-year curricula and takes years to change such a curriculum are not equipped to handle such a variety. Current schools and teachers would be hopelessly disqualified to meet such demands.

Couldn't agree more. To get energetic and out of the box explorations of the best way to get children to learn requires getting government totally out of the equation, and the teacher's unions, and anything else that gets in the way of focusing on the desired results - kids that are learning to think efficiently and whose natural passions for understanding and achieving are unleased.

If a child's inclinations lean e.g. towards the natural, tending plants and animals, caring for forrests, living off the land as they call it. Wouldn't it be the best use of that child's time and intellect to only teach it what is required for that life? And I'm not talking about a degree in forrestry or veterinarian - I mean teaching simple daily tasks and knowledge about a specific plant or animal that it wants to care for and live with/by/from. Any formal schooling for such a child would not only be a waste of time and money, but would also result in resentment and scarring (emotional and intellectual). Point in (extreme) case: all these 'awful' school-shootings we hear so much about from across the pond.

Here I disagree - to a degree.  If the child has some learning disability that our best psychological/medical technology can't improve, that's when we would need to have a totally different approach to teaching and what is taught. But if that's not the case, there are basic skill levels that must be attained. I still think that a good teacher in a good school uses what the child is passionate about, as much as possible, as the energizer, in the choice of the content and how it is presented. But with that content, there has to be critical thinking, learning to work well with others (not for some altruistic or collectivist duty, but to maximize ones pursuit of their own goals and for the enjoyment of friends and of comradery), and reading, and writing, and an awareness of the different disciplines and kinds of knowledge that exist. These are the basics that let the child function in the world, and to be able to change careers or goals when they get older.


Also, I don't agree that deeply with an idealizing of "the natural" - tending to plants and animals - as being more natural then coaxing mother nature to generate an piezeoelectric charge by applying pressure to  crystals, or grasping the principles of psychology to help others be able to effect positive changes in their lives.  Technology is as natural a product of man's efforts as a beaver dam is from the activities of a beaver.


What is natural, at its base, is man using his mind to grasp the nature of realty out of which he seeks to achieve his goals - to flourish. And our focus should be on the brass ring - the achieving of happiness to utmost degree permited by external circumstances.  Parents have an obligation (morally, and it should be legal as well) to ensure the child has, and uses learning opportunities that will let them reach those basic skill levels - because those are the tools they will use to pursue their happiness. (p.s., In a forum like this, it should go without saying that the government should not override the parents decisions or actions in this area unless there is a gross negligence. This should not be an area where the government is allowed to put the camels nose into the tent, claiming they are just looking out for child-abuse, when what they are seeking to do is control the educational system.) 


Addressing some of the points Dean raised: it shouldn't be the job of government to say how a child is educated, or how a school does what it does, just as it should not be making laws about restaurants, or grocery stores, or food preparation in the home, or baby food manufacture, but it should have laws saying parents cannot starve their children. How parents make sure their children stay healthy, or learn basic skills, is up to the parent - but that they must do it is a proper government role in defending the individual rights of children - with government interfering only where a court can establish serious neglect or abuse.

Post 15

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 1:06pmSanction this postReply

Thanx Steve - you want to start a school? I'd join in a flash :D

even if we will always disagree on the "the enjoyment of friends and of comradery" - I'll skip those classes ;)


Though I'm with you that good teachers can most certainly get learning-resistant children to enjoy schooling it's very hard to find that hair's breadth between a reluctant lazy child and a true hermit or a very different enjoyment of plant friends and animal comradery (I learned more from my cats about social and romantic behaviour than I ever learned from humans). What is sorely lacking is the understanding of personality in children, which of course is not always fully formed based on age and development (the usual caveat), however when it is beginning to form and manifest itself in the outside world even parents should accept that personality in their children, especially those who claim to love their children unconditionally (I still think that's impossible) and in the same breath tell them 'I'm only doing this for your own good'.


In this instance my most important contribution to my kids' education was not English or computers or trekking or spacial geometry, but an understanding of 'difference', of an individual who talks in very different ways from those around her - and an acceptance of that difference even at the age of six (which of course I'll fully and totally deny if the police start knocking at my door tomorrow ;)

Learning how to tend plants, 'talk' to animals and understand their needs and desires, their way of life, is as much about learning as it is about an affinity to nature - no idealizing required there. That girl of mine knows more about her plants and animals than a university professor or a veterinarian - and I don't mean the mechanics of life, but the life of plants and animals as individuals (no plant grows the same as it's sibling - talk about an objectivist forrest if you want to go out on a limb ;).

There are of course schools for farming and forrestry, so ample opportunity for her learning would have been available, but they also tend to focus too much on the mechanics and technology of farming these days. So in this case learning could best be provided on the farm of two of her mothers - she can tell you the life-story and dreams and even the 'pursuit of happiness' of every plant and animal on that farm :)


So who am I to disagree and tell her to acquire knowledge that is of no use to her?

If some knowledge is not wanted, is even threatening to someone, who are we to force that on a kid just because we think it's our way to our pursuit of happiness?


But I'm digressing again to make a very singular point - such children and their idea of knowledge and it's usefulness are rare and certainly not the majority. I think we agree mostly on those :)

Post 16

Friday, March 28, 2014 - 6:13pmSanction this postReply



Of course I don't think that the government should be involved in education. I only wrote that as in a given context that there was government involvement in school, that the "human action" part of the education is the source of the propaganda. In learning about reality and communication, the government can teach a lot of useless information... but at least I don't think it can be as corrupted/propagandized.  I guess the material studied during communication can be propoganda.  And the "science" can lack essential features such as learning how to perform the scientific method to validate information.




Post 17

Sunday, March 30, 2014 - 10:26amSanction this postReply

well - as the 'lesser of two weevils' ... I suddenly remember to be a vegetarian :D

sadly you are right of course - government isn't going to go anywhere anytime soon, so a step-by-step approach, getting the worst ideologies out of our schools first, would be sensible ...

Post 18

Sunday, January 31, 2016 - 9:46pmSanction this postReply

Dear All

Greetings from India !


I myself was a student, is a student and would be a student. Life is all about learning.


My observations about Teaching & Learning can be enumerated as follows:

The issue boils down to:
-Why we want the children to get educated ?
-How to get best out of it ?
-What are the hindrances ?


I. Any Ideal curriculum would have the following considerations:


1. Designed (playschool to high-s) as per the level of mental and physical development of the child: as has been found on studying the growth and development of the child. For instance,
a) a toddler may be less comfortable to hold the pencil than a more grown up child.
b) unless and until there is some concrete idea about the world the child may not be able to grasp a concept.


2. Takes into consideration what may be useful in future. This should identify, how the people behaved in the past and what was the outcome. The successes and failures can guide. I don't think, re-experiment/re-invention is needed in many of the cases. Of course, not trying to discourage re-experiments, out of the box thinking.


3. Give a big picture to the child and then let the child experiment with what is liked by him/her to be delved into and then with several such explorations, let the child settle down with what is most liked by her/him.


4. Adequate exposure to history, culture and literature to help the child to understand what the world is about. To help to let know the child how to socialise, adjust in this world. It will also help the child to know what is expected of him in this world. Of course, the person who doesnot want to socialise may have different views.

II. What are the shortcomings in delivery of education and desirable outcome of it ?


1. Apart from the level of match between desirable and what the curriculum offers there are certain points which need consideration.

a) The education begins from home (issue of: learn from own family). In the current scenario where both the parents may be working and even the grand parents may be working there is no or very less support from the family on the educational front for the child. The child learns many of the things from home: habits, handling social situations, mannerisms. But due to less time being given by the parents the child may learn it independently. Thus, there is a risk that many of the worthy family habits, mannerisms may not be learnt by the child. The worthy family traditions may not be carried over.

b) As both the parents are working and due to inflation, the parents are now having less and less kids. Due to lack of siblings, the child being the only child, the child feels lonely. This adds not only to boredom but also adds injury to the insult, whereby child further loses the opportunity to 'learn from own family'.


2. In the past there were less options about the occupations to choose. The options would continue to grow in future. However, it is very important to let the child know that to survive/sustain in this world a bare minimum earning is needed and therefore, s/he should work towards achieving a job (position) which can help to earn that much which not only helps them to sustain but also provides enough to pursue their own interests and hobbies.

When a person thinks that by having a care-free life, a life which can be sustained on unemployment allowance, the life becomes unpredictable and can be miserable. Proper guidance makes life more meaningful and enjoyable.


3. The exposure to a variety of subjects and to some of the subjects which may not be used later though questioned again and again but can be of value because:
a) The basics of learning for each subject are mostly similar.
b) Majority of fields are interdisciplinary. Knowledge from one field may be useful in another.
c) Cross-disciplinary knowledge breeds innovation.
d) Wide knowledge gives confidence and a wider view by opening up the mind.


4. Learning and gaining knowledge is an enjoyable experience in itself. Even after doing a PhD if a person starts farming, the knowledge gained can be of immense help in improving the process of farming itself.


5. Last but not the least, it is very important to get educated even if the education doesnot match with what is desired, to face the world, to survive and sustain in this world. Getting educated can some day take a person to such a height which could not have been achieved if the person were uneducated. It is because of our education we are interacting on this forum thousands of miles away. It is because of education this internet became possible, I am reading what you wrote when I was asleep and I am writing for you to read when you are asleep.

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