Child Education vs Adult Education

Nobody will disagree that adult education is different from child education, but this is one of those things that’s forgotten so easily.

For starters, you have to consider developmental stages. Let’s call this “psycho-cognitive” factors. The child’s brain is simply not ‘wired’ in the same way as an adult brain, and throughout childhood you have different stages of development. I won’t go anymore into this here, but Piaget and Erikson have a lot to say. People who design curriculum used to know this, teachers usually do, but politicians and policy-makers don’t know this. We need to stop forcing the child to learn more and more before they are ready. I call this the “what to teach”.

Then there’s psycho-social factors, which determines what kind of learning environment is appropriate for a child. Here, I mean things like attention span, self-regulation and sociability. Like above, there are stages. Getting kids to work in a co-ed situation is easy; teenagers, not so much. It’s easy to keep 17 year-olds seated and quiet, but not so much with 13 years olds; they just talk and talk and talk. Younger kids love music. Older ones don’t. That’s just how it is. So knowing the psycho-social factors will tell you “how to teach”.

Finally, we have psychic factors, which is refers to the ‘spirit’ of the child. I got this idea from Maria Monterssori’s The Absorbant Mind (p. 42):

“A very banal consideration will show that the child does not progress towards death like the adult, the child progresses towards life because the purpose of the child is the construction of man in the fullness of his strength and in the fullness of his life.”.

There is a little bit of woo-woo here, but it’s not so hard to get. Here, we are talking about the ‘seed’ of learning. Think about a tree, there’s a time for growing slowly and growing fast, and even a time for not growing at all. The child is the same. There are times when they pick up things very quickly (0-6) and times when they pick up things slowly (12-14). We are human after all and we go through different life-stages so our education (or need for education), reflects this. The adult (or young adult) is learning to get a job or to make a living. The child is not. The child has no care, and shouldn’t have any care, for those things. The child is busy “growing up”. And that’s what his education should support. Instead, we have people who want thing know more and more things, however useless that may be to his “growing up”. Psychic factors determine the “why to teach”.

So when designing an education, we need to think about what, how, and why. And in answers these we remember that knowledge should always be for the child (not to make the parent or the nation proud), that the environment should be designed for the child (not what is easiest for the teacher or budget to handle), and that the reasons be for the child (and specifically his personal growth, not his economic utility).

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Jay Greene’s Education Myths

Jay Greene looked at some data to unravel some myths about the education system. He has a book, but here’s a summary of the first 5 myths [1]

1. “Schools perform poorly because they need more money.” This is only true in some cases, about 10-15%.

2. “Special education programs burden public schools, hindering their academic performance.” Schools classify with learning disabilities so that the state will give the school extra money, even though the student may only need remedial help.

3. “Social problems like poverty cause students to fail; schools are helpless to prevent it.” This can be overcome and is not automatically a results killer.

4. “Schools should reduce class sizes; small classes would produce big improvements.” There are other factors yield bigger results. The gains by reducing class size are small.

5. “Certified or more experienced teachers are substantially more effective.” Higher qualified teachers don’t produce students with better grades. And teacher’s rise in effective plateaus after a short number of years.

Before You Hand Out Those Rewards – 4 Questions to Ask Yourself

Pernille Ripp reminds us why external rewards aren’t worth the trouble.

  1. They create a division of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.
  2. External rewards weaken intrinsic motivation in the long run.
  3. External rewards take the focus away from the work
  4. If the value of the reward is undermined, so is the effort.

He then goes on to suggest rewards should be abandoned altogether. He is not the first to suggest this. I’m not sure who is, to be honest. Alfie Kohn goes into this a lot in his book titled “Punished by Rewards”. Dan Pink also talks about this indirectly in his book, “Drive”. And there’s a handful of teachers who are doing this and blog about it (google it). So it does seem like this idea is picking up steam.

I have been reward and punishment free for 5 years in my classroom.  I have loved it and yet rewards seem to still crop up every year, typically through school-wide initiatives or team decisions.  Because I try to be a team player, I go with it as much as I can, and yet, the voice inside of me still screams that for most students, extrinsic rewards do not help.  Sure there are a few kids who may become more motivated because of a reward, but I have yet to see a child really change their behavior because of an extrinsic reward system.  So if you are not quite sure whether to give up rewards or not, please ask yourself the following questions.

1.  Will the rewards only go to certain kids?

Rewards have always, in my opinion, been the surest way to create a divided community within a classroom.  A…

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Chomsky on what it means it be educated

Chomsky defines what it means to be educated in this video. Selected quotes below.

“The core principle and requirement of a fulfilled [educated] human being is the ability to inquire and create constructively independently without external controls.” (Chomsky citing Humbolt)

“To be truly educated from this point of view means to be in a position to inquire and to create on the basis of the resources available to you which you’ve come to appreciate and comprehend. To know where to look, to know how to formulate serious questions, to question a standard doctrine if that’s appropriate, to find your own way, to shape the questions that are worth pursuing, and to develop the path to pursue them.” (Chomsky, 1m50s)

“That means knowing, understanding many things but also […] to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents to you and that you develop in the course of your self education and inquiry and investigations, in cooperation and solidarity with others.” (Chomsky, 2m20s)

Gatto’s Scorched Earth Solution to School Reform

This is from Chapter 4 from Gatto’s book “Dumbing Us Down”. The chapter is titled “We Need Less School, Not More”.

Let me start with the last lines from the chapter, his ultimate solution to fixing schools:

“Break up these institutional schools, decertify teaching, let anyone who has a mind to teach bid for customers, privatize this whole business — trust the free market system. I know it’s easier said than done, but what other choice do we have? We need less school, not more” (Gatto, p.145)

This is one of the most radical solutions I’ve read. Unlike other reform advocates, he’s not talking about curriculum design, teacher training, or accountability. He wants to blow up the whole thing. Awesome, I say. Now let me take you through the first part of the chapter to see why he’s come to this solution.

First: the school is a product of and propagator of “networks”. And you guessed it, networks are evil. The network is positioned directly in opposition of the community and family. Relationships in communities and families are based on love, respect, whole-person understanding and all the other human affirming qualities we have. Relationships in networks are based on shared interests and mutual benefit.

You are born into a community and family and your job as a human is to find your place within in and ultimately to live harmoniously with others in it. All members of the communities and families are whole persons worthy of love and respect. Think about your annoying little brother. As annoying as he is, you still love him.

On the other hand, networks only care about one thing: what you offer. You choose (or sometimes are forced) into a network and you either make yourself useful or are relegated to the outside. Think about that kid in class that never contributes during groupwork; you develop a hatred for him. Because he’s doesn’t do anything to help your team achieve some arbitrary objective. Like a bad employee, he needs to go. But in this case, going means being villified by his peers. Notice, it’s the artificial environment of the school that induces the hatred.

“Networks like schools are not communities […] By preempting fifty percent of the total time of the young, by locking young people up with other young people exactly their own age, by ringing bells to start and stop work, by asking people to think about the same thing at the same time in the same way, by grading people the way we grade vegetables — and in a dozen other vile and stupid ways — network schools steal the vitality of communities and replace it with an ugly mechanism. No one survives these places with their humanity intact.” (Gatto, p.51)

Gatto is essentially saying, through schooling, we forget (or never learn) how to value or love people for who they are, but only by what they do for us. The kicker is we that shine this spotlight back onto ourselves and come to define out own worth based on what we can contribute. And contribute to what? Contribute to whom? Abstractions: government, nation, god. At the expense of what? Real human contact and emotion.

“The pathological state which eventually develops out of these [networks] is a feeling that your “friends” and “colleagues” don’t really care about you beyond what you can do for them, that they have no curiosity about the way you manage your life, no curiosity about your hopes, fears, victories, defeats” (Gatto, p.53)

There’s the first reason we need less schools, not more. Schools propagate network structures at the expense of family and community structures. Following closely from this is the second reason for less schooling. Schools promote institutional living, rather than individual living.

Institutional living means surrendering your life, your goals, your relationships for the livelihood of the institution, to work for institutional goals and to value only your relationship with the institution. Think about what happens when a young person is asked to go to war for his nation. He is asked to put aside his whole family (wife, children, parents, cousins, etc.). You’re going to put a heavy strain on your marriage, damage your relationship with your child, and see your parents far less than you otherwise would. The person is also asked to put aside his own aspirations. Forget painting, writing, exploring. Just forget it. But that’s nothing compared to the ultimate demand of the institution, which is to give up your spot on this earth altogether. You will die. For the institution. Without ever realizing your full, or even half, potential, as a human being.

“Institutional life have demanded a role above and beyond service to families and communities. They have sought to command and prescribe as kings used to do, though there is an important difference. In the case of ancient kings, once beyond the range of their voices and trumpets you could usually do what you pleased; but in the case of modem institutions, the reach of technology is everywhere — there is no escape if the place where you live and the family you live in cannot provide sanctuary.” (Gatto, p.54)

The third step in Gatto’s argument against schools is that, as an institution, schools are psychopathic. They will never be able to serve human needs. They have no conscience, nevermind compassion or sensibility. No matter how well-intentioned institutional goals claim or want to be, they will never live up to it. Their stated goals will only ever be undermined by their modus operandi. Like an Edwards Scissor hands trying to caress a baby, it’s not going to happen.

“No matter how good the individuals who manage an institution are, institutions lack a conscience because they measure by accounting methods. Institutions are not the sum total of their personnel, or even of their leadership, but are independent of both and will exist after management has been completely replaced. They are ideas come to life, ideas in whose service all employees are but servomechanisms. The deepest purposes of these gigantic networks are to regulate and to make uniform.” (Gatto, p.145)

So now we’ve gone fairly deep into Gatto’s argument. But here’s not even finished there! I won’t go much deeper into it because this is a blog post. But in the rest of his chapter he goes even deeper to pull out the irrational logic of schools. That when trying to strengthen families, they actually weaken it. That when trying to gets kids to learn more, they make kids dumber. That when trying to better utilize children’s time, they actually just waste it. His contempt for school becomes quite clear.

“We should begin thinking about school reform by stopping these places from functioning like cysts, impenetrable, insular bodies that take our money, our children, and our time and give nothing back.” (Gatto, p.145)

Ultimately, I think Gatto is coming from a good place. For Gatto, education is all about discovering your individuality, finding that spark inside yourself that makes life worth living, and avoiding being sucked into the vortex of institutional living. Schools, on the other hand, turn you into a conformist, usurp your personal goals for institutional ones, and turn you into something only fit for an industrial society. So, what to do? The short answer is to de-institutionalise schools. I’ll save this long answer for another post.