(Should I wait a full week? Nah.)
“My education was interrupted only by my schooling.” – Churchill
It doesn’t have to be this way. Plato and Aristotle didn’t go to graded classroom schools for 16 years; Hypatia and Hildegard of Bingen didn’t sit in desks with 50 kids the same age getting lectured. Even today, on the off chance you find truly educated adults, there’s no chance they got that way via a standard k-12 education. Like Churchill above, at best, they got that way despite it.
Based on the available evidence, the typical department head at our major universities isn’t nearly as well educated as, say, David Farragut or Abigail Adams, a couple of American heroes who, as we might put it today, were educated via some combination of homeschooling, independent study and tutoring. Back then, pretty much everybody who was educated was educated in such a manner. Based, again, on the available evidence, there was a far larger percentage of truly well-educated people back then than there is today.(1) This predates the insane herd-everybody-together-by-age model imposed on us by our self-appointed betters over the last 150 years.
Throughout all of history down to this day, no well-educated people got that way by sitting in a desk and learning to regurgitate answers from a textbook. The very idea is only 200 years old; it wasn’t tried in America until well into the 19th century, and didn’t come to completely dominate education here until about 75 years ago. Up until maybe 40 years ago, one could even come across teachers who, whatever the designs of the system, were intent on educating their charges, and sometimes even succeeded. Now? Such an one will have the entire weight of established practice brought to bear on him, to bring him in line.
So, what is it that we are supposed to learn, that we had to throw out thousands of years of educational experience and success and replace it with a rigid, insulting and compulsory model?
The questions are at the end of the chapter. The answers are in the teacher’s book.
In a way, that’s it. That’s all there is to it. Materials are presented; the allowed or insisted upon questions are asked; the correct answers are given. Rinse. Repeat.
For 12 to 16 years.
You think it’s about reading? If it were, the first day of school children would be asked to show how well or not they can read, and then those that could already read would be excused while those who needed (and wanted?) some help would get it. Is that what happens? Why not? Math? People who want their kids to learn math send them to the Russian School of Mathematics or Khan academy or use some other non-school approach. If your goal was to make kids loath math, on the other hand, you could hardly do better than the current practices found in our schools.
And so on. A successful school kid’s ignorance of reading and math, not to mention science, history, literature, ‘civics’ and so on is profound, such that around half of the super-elite students who attend the University of California – the kids with 4.0+ GPAs, numerous Advanced Placement classes, and high SAT scores – have to take remedial classes in math and writing in order to succeed in college-level classes. This, by the way, after decades during which college has been dumbed down.
So, what exactly did they *do* K-12? Less time and effort devoted to ‘education’ in the past resulted in a good number of multi-lingual (Greek and Latin) kids who could do calculus, play musical instruments, draw convincingly, knew their history, geography, how our government was supposed to work, and so on. Now? What is the time spent doing?
Have you witnessed, inside school or out, the ritual whereby the authority figure asks some version of “Who can tell me X?” with the expectation that kids (of all ages) will raise their hands and shout out answers? The telling part is that no matter how much the question is couched in ‘there is no wrong answer’ or ‘there is more than one right answer’ or ‘I want to know your opinion’ language, the authority figure is just asking in order to receive *one* answer – his answer.
We know he has received his right answer when he moves on to his next point. (2) He asks the question not out of interest in hearing what the people think, but rather to test how well they can regurgitate what it is they have been told or how quickly they can get in line with the group behind the right answer. (3) He may think he’s asking in order to get their attention – that’s the usual thought, mixing it up a bit so that it’s not just the speaker droning on and on – but he could get it by asking a legitimate question where he does not know the answer. That virtually never happens.
This lie – it is a lie to claim to be asking for opinions or views when in fact you are hunting for one ‘correct’ answer(4) – has been practiced on us so often and from such a young age that we’ve incorporated it into our intellectual and social background. This is a fancy way of saying we’ve been inured to how outrageous, petty and manipulative it is.
I mention this as a relatively trivial example of what we’ve become as a nation. We are a nation of parrots, of perpetual children.
Elections have become a giant game of ‘who can tell me the answer I want to hear?’. Over that decade and a half of intense (and getting more intense) training, we are made to identify with what the schools tell us we are. We are the smart kids, we got the grades – that’s who we are! We name the resulting group-think ‘critical thinking’ – an Orwellian phrase for an activity that involves neither criticism nor thought.
Weepy hysteria results when other people refuse to give the right answer, the answer all right-thinking people insist on – because the wrong answer flies in the face of all that training, all those gold stars and pats on the head and acceptance letters to colleges and good grades and degrees, all the material and especially psychological goodies one gets for telling the teacher the answers the teacher wants to hear, class after class, day after day, year after year, for a decade and a half. This is not about losing an election – it is about having a world view crushed. We got a buffoon instead of a felonious traitor. This result requires burning the cars of strangers?
This observation is not, at its roots, partisan, although in the just passed elections it played out that way, more or less. Both parties support the schools, arguing, rather, just over how many and in what pattern the deck chairs should be rearranged. No iceberg is ever sighted. The problem for me, even as I take some comfort in watching so many of the correct heads explode, is that the enemy is playing the long game, and has been for a century or more. We can already see how many young people, deluded into thinking they are the brightest, best educated and most moral people the world has ever known (thus being immunized against self-reflection and ever learning anything) are convinced that this election was a DISASTER! And it was, for the regurgitate on demand world of schooling. But unless these kids can break this illusion, realize that they are just as ignorant, stupid and prone to immoral acts as anyone else now or ever, they will, with righteous zeal, be right back at it like the perfect little clone army they have trained to be.
- Chesterton, on the advantages of being educated as the Puritans were educated versus modern education: “Nobody could read the Bible without gaining a glorious mass of information about fighting, about faith, about religions true and false, about mystical or magical or mysterious beings such as hover round man in all the legends and literature of the world. The little boys who grew up in the dark Calvinistic houses of our great-grandfathers did, in actual fact, grow up with their heads full of a noble noise of conflict and crisis; valiant and vigorous action described in the grandest English that our national history has known; the noise of the captains and the shouting; the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof; and he that drew a bow at a venture and smote the king between the joints of the harness; and he whose driving was known from afar off, for he drove furiously. That, under all its other disadvantages, is what I call being educated; certainly it is being much better educated than a miserable little prig who must not be told that Joan of Arc carried a battle-banner, but must be assured that she only carried an umbrella.” On the New Prudery, 1935
- Who has not experienced the hilarity of watching some teacher or speaker play this game, yet having the audience not promptly supply the right answer? How they will sputter and plead and shame. This is the sign of an amatuer. Pros recognize that this game is a variation on the rule of Sun Tzu (or maybe it’s Machiavelli? Both?): never give an order you are not sure will be obeyed.
- A side benefit: courtiers and sycophants sometimes find themselves in situations where they have not been given specific instructions on what responses and behaviors their lords and masters expect. Here we practice the only logical process required of such followers: inferring from what is known to what must be – in their god’s head. That this also provides an opportunity for delightful torture of said courtiers and sycophants is a bonus – for the lords and masters. Handy for picking out who’s not fully with the program and making examples of people. It’s a superset including the “Don’t be the first one to stop clapping” thing. (pp 69-70)
- Even when it’s clear that the speaker is asking for the one correct answer, the public nature of the interaction – someone will be praised, others risk being shamed – makes this a dubious practice at best. It is using group pressure to make people get in line with whatever the group seems to think.