Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Learning and Other Things

Rue sous la neige, Argenteuil - Claude Monet (Source)
An interesting piece over at Maggie's Farm got me to thinking. (Which can be somewhat dangerous as those who know me can attest. Oh yeah, I could have given you the direct link to the article, but you really need to visit the Farm. I ask myself why it took me so long to find it! But I digress.)

What, exactly, is education? What is its purpose and are we doing a good job of it?

I see education taking four different forms, some of which continue until the day your number is up and it's time to join the choir invisible.

First of all there is education in one's early childhood. This we get from our parents and other relatives. If one is an older sibling, one might participate in the education of one's younger siblings. (Which can be unpleasant for the younger siblings if the eldest is a bit of an insufferable ego maniac. Which of course I was not. Overbearing at times? Yes. Insufferable? Well, you'd have to ask my brothers.)

This early time is when you learn the framework within which you will operate throughout life, where you get the lens through which you see the world outside of the family home. If the early years are bad, chances are the rest of your life is not going to go well.

So upbringing and the environment within which it takes place is, to my mind, critical. One can't plant crops in poor soil and expect award winning produce. It doesn't doom one to failure but it doesn't help.

Secondly, after the home, there is the peer group, the kids you hang with but aren't related to. In my neighborhood I was the oldest kid, so I got my own way, most of the time. I was, I like to think, a benevolent dictator. But dictator I was, in many ways. Going off to school made me realize that while I was the biggest fish in my neighborhood pond, there were much larger ponds out there. Some of the fish were even bigger than me!

Going to school and meeting other kids one's own age was interesting, broadening, and enlightening. For one thing I discovered numerous new cuss words which apparently my parents didn't even know. I was disabused of that notion the first time I exercised my new vocabulary in front of my Dad. I didn't get my butt smacked but I was educated in those words which shouldn't ever be used. Especially if the grown-ups are around.

Sometimes you learn from your peer group what not to do. Sometimes you learn the hard way.

Naturally school was not just an opportunity to learn new speech forms and hang out with other children of one's own age group. No, they expected me to learn other things as well. Like reading, writing, and (as Jethro Bodine might have called it) ciphering or arithmetic as it's more commonly known. Mastery of those skills was critical, at least to my way of thinking. Everything which followed was based on those three skills. This is what I call the third stage of learning. Finding out new facts and remembering them.

Now while there might be more than one way to get an answer in mathematics, 2 + 3 will always equal 5. Always. And you really have to know that. Arithmetic is essential to all other cognitive skills requiring calculation. Would you want the guy flying your airplane to not know that x amount of fuel is necessary to fly y miles? Simple math yes, but there aren't many correct answers. (Yes, yes, I know, altitude, wind speed, weight and other things impact that. But I think you get my drift. Oh yeah, you need to factor drift in as well...)

In reading and writing we're a lot more strict about spelling than way back in Revolutionary times. Back then spelling was a bit more subjective and loose than now. While you can get your point across when you write, "Tha dawg bitted mee," you're going to have trouble getting a job which requires some skill with the English language. But the doctor will treat you for a dog bite.

If you look at this and have no idea what it means, your chances of getting ahead in life are pretty slim.
"Place the corner of the plastic triangle so that the long edge abuts the side of the longitudinal axis of the upright aluminum stringer."
An extreme example yes, but I think you get my point. (If not, complain in the comments. I love comments. Even the ones with lots of typos.) The ability to read is important, try getting any kind of job if you're illiterate.

Now the article I linked to (via Maggie's Farm) makes the assertion that there is much to be learned in life without the need for a formal education. Yes, all of human knowledge can be accessed in books, online, periodicals, etc. But not all of that information is accurate. Some training in logic and thinking is important.

I had terrible grades in college until I learned that rote memorization was not enough, I had to apply what I had memorized and extrapolate, interpolate, and yes, sometimes guess at the next step. In the middle of my junior year all the lights seemed to come on at once. After that college was a breeze. Part of that attainment of knowledge was based on experience. Sometimes bitter experience. (Of the "Well, I won't try that again" kind.)

And therein lies the fourth part of the equation: experience. You gain this by interacting with the rest of the world. If you have attained a basic set of facts and "play well" with others you gain experience in many things.

A friend or colleague might recommend a restaurant you wouldn't have gone to on your own, whether you like it or don't like it is immaterial, you tried it, you had the experience.

One thing that Mr. Lind addressed in his article was the shared experience of culture. Growing up we all knew who Robin Hood was (whether fictional or real, the concept applies, someone who fights for the underdog). We knew the history of the United States in broad terms and were familiar with the men who formed the nation. (One thing that was lacking was the role of women in those formative years. While we know who Martha Washington was, we really didn't know her role outside of being General Washington's wife. We're better at that sort of thing now. Same goes with the roles non-whites played. There were more people of color involved than just Crispus Attucks and George Washington Carver!)

Mr. Lind mentioned the three "R's," in passing, but the thrust of his article was what he called the four "I's." Which he listed as
  • Initiation - learning some set of core stories and symbols which are shared by all,
  • Indoctrination - what he also calls civic education, a political consensus which by its nature includes some values and excludes others,
  • Inculcation - the instilling of knowledge or values, what the dictionary also defines as "the process of instilling or impressing ideas,"
  • Instruction - how to read, how to write, how to do arithmetic, the mechanics of learning is how I see this.
You really should chase that link up top, I thought the article was excellent. His closing paragraph was awesome -
"In any event, Instruction is not that important, compared to the other three I’s. An educational system that turned out students who could write code, but were bullies, narcissists, and petty tyrants who knew nothing about the Constitution and could not name any cultural figures other than those in contemporary comic books or movies or video games would be a catastrophic failure. The chief purposes of American education should be to initiate students into enduring, central national and civilizational traditions, to indoctrinate them into the principles of a democratic republic, and to inculcate ethical habits and polite manners. An educational system that turns out technically competent graduates who are also anomic sociopaths would deserve a failing grade."
Uh yeah, we're not doing that very well. We are producing those folks mentioned in the last sentence. Lots and lots of them.



Why Monet as the opening illustration? Why not? I so enjoy his work, I ain't what ya call one of them "anomic sociopaths."

Oh yes, Happy Birthday to The WSO. And the Navy. But I didn't raise the Navy.


30 comments:

  1. Back in the Day, (that would be in the Pre-Sarge era, right after the dinosaurs died out) , my two go to sites were Lex's and Maggie's Farm. I've rarely commented at Maggie's Farm as I didn't thing anything I said added to the quality of the post. That hasn't stopped me her of course.
    I read his post when it came out and had many of the same thoughts you did. Well thought out and well written.

    As for typos on comments. With a combination of small phones, bad eyes, autocorrection tendencies of iPads, and haste to post, we should be lucky if the comments are readable at all.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Case in point ....Think not Thing.

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    2. Second case in point Here not her. Damn iPad!

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    3. Hahaha!

      You somehow managed to illustrate a number of my own frustrations with devices without a full size keyboard.

      Blogger seriously needs to provide us with a comment editing capability similar to WordPress. It can't come soon enough for me!

      Seriously though, I can't believe I didn't know about Maggie's Farm until a few weeks ago. Better late than never I suppose. (I actually left a comment on the post mentioned herein. It's brave I'm getting in my dotage.)

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    4. I'd be happy if they'd figure out the double comment problem.

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    5. I know that happens with my Android. If I hit publish and then quit, I'm fine. If I hit publish and try to go back a screen, it publishes it again.

      I suspect iPads have similar behavior. But I'm just guessing.

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  2. Education is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

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    1. Sound wisdom indeed.

      Another reason why I think the Supreme Court gets it wrong from time to time.

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  3. I was a lot better at hands on learning than book learning.
    Math was not my forte until I was able to put it to practical use.

    I was fortunate enough to always love reading so comprehension followed along.
    With that was a basic understanding of tasks which made hands on learning easy.

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    1. I'm okay at both. Note I said "okay," I don't claim brilliance on any topic or endeavor. I'm happy with being competent.

      I cannot understand people who don't like to read. For me that would be like saying, "I don't like breathing."

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    2. When I was in the classroom teaching (a computer course), I heard a couple of kid griping about how much they hated geometry and how they didn't see any use for it at all. They knew what I'd done before I became a teacher, of course. I explained to them that the F-15 required 6000' to do a 180 degree turn. So, if I wanted to roll out behind somebody, I had to be offset by 6000' when I began that turn. I then explained to them that 6000' equated to 1 degree off my nose at 60 miles, 2 at 30, 4 at 15 and 6 at ten (which is when you generally started the turn), so all I had to do was put the target offset by any of those degrees at a given range. And, oh by the way, in geometry that was called an angle, side, angle problem . I had a couple of converts that day as to the usefulness of geometry.

      I'm in agreement with Reading=Breathing.

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    3. I actually heard two people on the radio discussing how useless geometry was, I nearly lost it.

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    4. I flunked Geometry in high school... I think it was partly a matter of personality conflict as well as poor attitude ...aced it in college after three years of learning how to determine course and speed of other ship in the Navy, and working with a truly interesting math prof from Notre Dame.

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    5. With math it's all about who is teaching. I've had abysmal math teachers and I've had brilliant ones. The brilliant ones teach you how to apply it, the abysmal ones want everything memorized.

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    6. I failed Geometry the first time through because the teacher wouldn't accept " stands to reason " as a valid step in the proof.

      Paul L. Quandt

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  4. Topical Post Sarge, thanks. I had read the MF post and the article. I have been listening to the Hillsdale Dialogues (Hugh Hewitt & Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College) and the audio portions of the classes that Hillsdale College offers for free, for most of this year. Some of the information is a refresh of what I know, but a great deal of the information is new to me and I love it. Filling in the knowledge gaps that I have and helping me to understand how our Founding Fathers (arguably the greatest collection of intellect and experience in the history of Western Civilization- regardless of what Woodrow Wilson thought) developed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I'm still working my way thru the Federalist papers. I attended a lecture by Dr. Arnn earlier this week on "The Constitution and the Salvation of Free Government". It was the best few hours I've had in a long time. We need to get the Federal Government totally out of the education field, and the State Government to a large extent. Other than top-tier home schooling, Hillsdale College is the best that I know of in providing graduates that I think our Founding Fathers would approve of.

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    1. Hillsdale College does some excellent videos, I've seen one or two, noticed they have a lot of stuff over at the Tube o' You. I need to dig into those.

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  5. I make my windshield time more enjoyable, and productive, by listening to these:

    https://online.hillsdale.edu/hillsdaledialogues

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  6. Another good one, coursera, SP? One of the Android apps I often use, online course lectures on all kind of goodies.

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    1. Your spelling is on target (I could quibble about the lack of capitalization but that's a typo, not a spelling error, therefore a quibble). I'll have to check them out.

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  7. I taught in the public school system 30 years ago and was pretty horrified by the educational system and the home-life of most students. After seven years, I quit public schools and home schooled my own children. My son has a Masters in Economics and is a CPA at Halliburton. My daughter graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA and is now a teacher herself. I'm pretty proud of their education, but more than that, they are genuine, good people - something I don't know they would have learned in public school.

    Last year I went back to public school teaching (I really love kids) and was horrified even more how much things have gone down hill since I taught 25 years ago. You would think that a small school in OK would have some pretty good kids, and they have a few, but the majority of kids come from such crazy homes. At one of our teacher training days a nurse spoke on the signs of abuse or neglect in children. My thought: the whole school body was being neglected and abused.

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    1. Sad truth right there Lou. Things are not getting better.

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  8. Quite a lot of what the public system teaches -- fantastic propaganda as factual reality -- should properly be termed child abuse. Not that I feel strongly about the topic...

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    1. I'm finishing up a pretty interesting book at the moment, Ivan's War, about the experience of Russian soldiers in WWII. One thing that has come up a number of times is the attitudes of Russians towards Stalin and the Communist Party. Folks who grew up before the revolution were a lot more skeptical than those who grew up afterwards.

      Indoctrination. Which Mr. Lind discussed in his article.

      It can be good, it can be bad. But yeah, child abuse, we're raising a generation of broken people.

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  9. What is education? Show me the Monet!

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  10. Of all the classes in school the shop classes gave me skills I use today. Did I learn math? Sure, I even have a Commercial Pilot License. Grammar? Well, I clutter up the blog world. Learning to make and mend? Use that everyday.

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    1. Shop was useful, I learned a lot there (like the fact that I'm a lousy carpenter) and it was fun. You couldn't say that about many classes.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)