|Rue sous la neige, Argenteuil - Claude Monet (Source)|
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.
Oh yes, Happy Birthday to The WSO. And the Navy. But I didn't raise the Navy.