Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Succeeding in spite of schooling

(While reading John Taylor Gatto's books, there have been so many ideas I have loved, excerpts I want to post here as food for thought. The problem I found is that his ideas evolve bit by bit so that to take a small, manageable portion to post here is impossible without the longer context within which it is found.

Then I realized that to copy and paste his ideas here is exactly opposite to the ideas which I am so drawn to. Instead, I want to use his ideas as a springboard to my own personal, in-depth study and analysis on education. Otherwise I would simply be conforming and accepting another person's ideas, which is diametrically opposed to what Gatto is advocating, indeed, what is is warning against. So any of the thoughts in these posts are mine, as I reflect on my own education experience, the components I see of schooling and education, and how I think they are working or floundering, helping or hindering.)

Are today's great minds succeeding in spite of schooling?

Can creative genius, revolutionary ideas, come from the current model of school?

While teaching a good variety of subjects, schooling a mass student body of thousands of children on a nation-wide curriculum doesn't really seem the ideal place for new ideas to emerge.

More than that, great minds are usually those who have come up with an idea so completely different from the norm that it propels its discipline forward in a gigantic leap. I'm not sure that kind of erratic and marginal behaviour would emerge from an "A" student in the school system.

To get your As, you must learn your lesson from the teacher, and then demonstrate your ability to memorize exactly what they have taught you. If that is the model of our school system (and it is) then it would stand to reason that humanity would never learn anything new. Students learn 'x y z' from their teachers, and once they have shown to understand those concepts, can then qualify to become teachers and instruct the next generation of students in those same concepts.

Where is the deviance in this model? Where is the latitude to allow a child to meander down another road, that just might lead to an important discovery? Really, I think "genius" is simply a different way of looking at the world. In a school system that demands memorization and regurgitation of the same facts over and over again, can anyone look at the world in a different way?

I heard a news report not long ago of an amazing medical breakthrough...discovered by a 17 year old boy. When he was 14, he found a passion for medical research. He sent letters to many labs, begging them to allow him in to their workspace, to be privy to their ideas, to watch them at work. Every response came back in the negative, all except the very last one. This medical professional decided to allow the boy in, let him pursue his passion as an apprentice. He was allowed to do nothing but watch, and watch he did. He took every action in, pondered every experiment, digested every variation. After a while, he started sketching out some of his own theories. And wouldn't you know it - he eventually stumbled onto exactly what his mentor was searching for.

It all happened outside of school. But no one could say the boy was not getting an education. In school, he could take a biology class, just like all the other kids, and label the anatomy of a frog and stare into microscopes at meaningless and disconnected slides. Out of school, his imagination was given a place to soar.

In Amish communities, the government has allowed practical work on the family farm or in the family business to be a substitute for the nation high school curriculum. While the schedule of every day must be carefully documented and presented to an "educational expert," the government has concurred that the Amish form of learning is no less valuable or useful than the crowding of thousands of kids into a public system.

Hmmm. I just had an interesting imagery pop into my head. Have you ever seen video of mass production chicken farms, where the chickens are packed into the barn so tightly they cannot move? Contrast that with the idea of "free range" chickens, who are free to roam around a field, wandering in any direction they choose, pecking at the grass and squawking to their neighbours. We freely acknowledge that it is better for the chicken to roam free, and that the mass farming version stunts the chicken's growth in every way.


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