Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Back to the Future

Education of our children, and in my case, grand children, is a topic that is often devoid of any common sense. Proposals to improve things are usually offered that involve more money spent on "technology" and the latest fads. As pointed out by today's featured article, the way we learn has not changed in the entire history of man, and we already know how to do it.  Yesterday's American Thinker an article that reminded me of the movie title "Back To the Future."  The title of the piece A World Without Schoolteachers is an interesting read, and I recommend it to you, gentle reader.

The thesis of the article is that the new Kindle and Nook book reading devices will have a revolutionary effect on the way children are educated. By bringing so much material into the hands of even the lower middle class student, it is entirely possible that we will return to the old way of teaching children, with better results than we are achieving now. Children will finally be home schooled, with access to tutors and the whole of the Library of Congress:

Tutoring has always been the preferred model. That is after all how the very rich educated their children. Second-best, and not-so-second-best at that, were the small schools where the second tier of society, the well-off not-so-rich, pooled their resources in some public location and shared tutors. (Which is why the British, as in Eton and Harrow, still call exclusive private schools "public" schools.) And of course, the elite universities did their best to maintain the tutoring model of education. Did their best, that is, to steer clear of classroom instruction...

In fact, even the simplest tutoring approach often works magic. Years ago, a twelve-year-old foster child arrived in our home essentially unable to read after six or seven years of classroom "special" education. To the point where he didn't even know how to use a dictionary. Our oldest son, a prolific writer, happened to be visiting us at the time, saw the problem, and came up with a fix. He handed the boy the newspaper he read each morning, told him to sit on his bed, read it aloud, and circle every word he couldn't pronounce or didn't know the meaning of. Then, later, the two of them went over the circled words together. The first day, every fourth or fifth word was circled, but it wasn't very long before the number of circles began to decrease, and something clicked in the boy's mind. "Hey," he seemed to say to himself, "this is not such a mystery. I can get this reading and writing thing working on my own." And he went on to other material. Then, when he was ready to begin high school, the state and local school district sent a team to evaluate him in order to design a classroom program that met his "special needs." Only there wasn't any, because they were shocked to discover that he tested at or above -- and in a couple of subjects, far above -- his grade level.

Now, imagine a child who can already read, and can already use a dictionary:

And that's all it takes. Hand out the reading assignment, be available, or have someone else available to examine the essay they write and perhaps send them back to the same material book for another go or two on the same subject. Because tutoring doesn't teach a discrete body of knowledge as much as it does a skill we don't hear much about anymore: scholarship. Not simply memorizing some facts about a subject, but examining it from one perspective and then another until you develop a detailed, three-dimensional view of the subject. It's your month to learn about the Revolutionary War? Read a biography of Washington one day, then in the next Paine or Jefferson, Madison and Adams. Intersperse these books with a personal account of a common soldier, a slave, a parson of the time. Sample some fiction which portrays the period -- Drums Along the Mohawk, for example. Some of the short and breezy economic looks about the period like The Timber Economy of New England. Maybe read the newspapers of the time.

I have been reluctant to get a Kindle or a Nook, in part because we have a pretty extensive library right here at home. But there are a lot of books I just can not afford, and space here at the PolyKahr estate is quite limited. Perhaps I need to look into getting one of these things and trying it out. The thought that my grand daughter is being indoctrinated that man made global warming is a fact bothers me. Now, whether she eventually comes to the conclusion that man is causing global warming doesn't bother me. Rather, it is that she is being given only one side of the argument, and doesn't have a chance to hear the other side. That is the difference between indoctrination and education. One teach you to believe certain things, the other teaches you to think. Believe me, this world needs more thinkers.

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