Friday, March 22, 2013

Why the schools can't teach the very smart, the autistic, and boys in general

This is incredibly cynical, and incredibly right:
      The third lesson I teach kids is indifference.  I teach children
not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it
appear that they do.  How I do this is very subtle.  I do it by
demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up
and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with
each other for my favor.  It's heartwarming when they do that, it
impresses everyone, even me.  When I'm at my best I plan lessons very
carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm.  But when the
bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we've been
working on and proceed quickly to the next work station.  They must turn
on and off like a light switch.  Nothing important is ever finished in
my class, nor in any other class I know of.  Students never have a
complete experience except on the installment plan.

      Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth
finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?  Years of bells will
condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer
important work to do.  Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their
argument is inexorable.  Bells destroy the past and future, converting
every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living
mountain and river the same even though they are not.  Bells inoculate
each undertaking with indifference.
There's a lot more, all of it as breathlessly cynical and astonishingly on target as this.  And I cannot read this without thinking about the Iron Law of Bureaucracy:
... We had it, but not too much of it and only as much as an
individual wanted.  People learned to read, write, and do arithmetic
just fine anyway, there are some studies which show literacy at the time
of the American Revolution, at least on the Eastern seaboard, as close
to total.  Tom Paine's Common Sense sold 600,000 copies to a population
of 2,500,000, 20 percent of which was slave and another 50 percent

      Were the colonists geniuses?  No, the truth is that reading,
writing and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit as long as
the audience is eager and willing to learn.  The trick is to wait until
someone asks and then move fast while the mood is on him.  Millions of
people teach themselves these things; it really isn't very hard.  Pick
up a fifth grad textbook in math or rhetoric from 1850 and you'll see
that the texts were pitched then on what would today be college level.
The continuing cry for "basic skills" practice is a smoke screen behind
which schools preempt the time of children for 12 years and teach them
the seven lessons I've just taught you.
How big an Educational Establishment would you need if you only needed 100 hours (or 1000, or even 10,000) to educate the kids to the point where they could learn whatever else they needed on their own.  We're told that 10,000 hours is how long it takes to gain a mastery of any subject - rock guitar, carpentry, programming computers.

10,000 hours is about five years, working full time.  A cynic might say that's about how much time it takes to turn off a whole bunch of students from education - the very smart, the autistic (a different form of the very smart), and boys in general.

And so the furious resistance to metrics that define what success and failure mean for the Educational Establishment.


Chris said...

It was not quite as bad when I was a child (graduated HS in 1969), but I do remember the time in junior high (middle school to you youngsters) when I had to write "I will not sneak out of the lunch room to go to the library" 500 times. Even then the powers that were didn't want unsupervised reading.

Teke said...

My daughter has aspergers. It drives the teachers nuts because she's not bell next. She doesn't want to stop what she is doing if it has her interest and focus, she will keep going back to it.

kx59 said...

I know this is a bit off the actual subject of the post, but I take issue with the premise "10,000 hours to master any subject".
Come on now. school subjects perhaps.
Rock guitar, requires some innate talent and some natural dexterity that not everyone has, and lots and lots of practice. Unless you are classifying a three chord progression as mastery.
And just to push the envelope on the "any subject" terminology, I know of no Architect trainee with 5 years of full time experience that is going to design and document a 60 story building for you.
It's not even a question of them screwing it up, they wouldn't even know where to start.