I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. – Mark Twain
Many educationalists are saying it, many parents are saying it, many teachers are saying it, but most important of all, many children are saying it.
The current education system is broken.
Schools have turned into factories that are supposed to be turning out potential ’workers’ in industry and government; a sort of assembly line for human robots.
The schools’ role appears to be to:
- Keep children out of the way of adults so that the adults can work for industry and government and thereby keep the ‘economy’ growing and those in power can stay in power
- Instil ‘cultural propaganda’ and politically acceptable societal norms into potential workers
- Promote ‘obedience’ and deference to authority
- Teach unquestioning acceptance of their control by others.
This is not education.
There are positive aspects still to school. Children still learn to read and write it is true. Most come away with a reasonable grounding in arithmetic, and where the parents are abusive or dogmatic, controlling or the home environment is damaging, school provides a marginally safer haven than ‘home’, for a while. Furthermore, mixing with other children and making friends, learning co-operation and unselfish behaviour, is also positive.
I have split this subject into two blogs, simply because it is incredibly important, and because most WAMers have children that this affects.
What are schools like today – the state education system in particular? What characterises our schools? In going through this list, I will compare the actual with the recommendations of Comenius in his Didactica Magna.
Jan Amos Comenius; (28 March 1592 – 15 November 1670) was a Czech speaking Moravian philosopher. He is best known for his tireless efforts to reform education. Throughout the world universities, schools, programmes and charities carry his name in recognition of his achievements. The Comenius Medal is a UNESCO award honouring outstanding achievements in the fields of education research and innovation. A number of Foundations carry his name. A great number of universities and schools bear his name. So he is a man recognised for his genius and wisdom.
Children are taught ‘subjects
Despite the fact that life itself is an interwoven loom of all sorts of interrelated facts, these facts are separated, so that when we do ‘geography’, for example, we may see field systems that are the result of historical events, but unless we ‘do’ ‘history’, we are of course none the wiser. Even cooking involves economic decisions, chemistry, physics and art. What did Comenius say?
It is a mistake to teach the several branches of science in detail before a general outline of the whole realm of knowledge has been placed before the student, and that no one should be instructed in such a way as to become proficient in any one branch of knowledge, without thoroughly understanding its relation to the rest.
Children are rewarded for remembering things
Children are judged in school via ‘exams’, which are entirely a test of whether the person has committed to memory what they have been told. There is no chance to question what they have been taught and in fact reward is usually given to those unquestioning pupils who are capable of committing any information, however biased or illogical, to memory. Note that the world does not work via exams in actual life, as such even the use of exams is a false method of judging anyone. What did Comenius say?
The pupil should be forced to memorise as little as possible, that is to say only the most important things. Of the rest they need only grasp the general meaning.
‘Clever’ people can memorise rubbish and reproduce it in exams. Wise people question everything they are told. The world does not become a better place by having trained parrots.
There is no questioning of the teacher or the texts
In most classroom settings the pupils sit in rows listening to a teacher spouting from books which are part of the curriculum. There are set books, there is a set curriculum. There is no debate, there is no time given for alternative views or texts; if the text is boring, out of date, or simply wrong, the child is forced to accept this and learn it anyway. What did Comenius say? He said there should be debate, discussion, many texts, choice and exploration.
Whatever has been learnt should be communicated by one pupil to the others, that no knowledge may remain unused. For in this sense only can we understand the saying ‘thy knowledge is of no avail if none other know that thou knowest’. No source of knowledge therefore should be opened, unless rivulets flow from it. The key is to be found in this well known Latin couplet:
To ask many questions, to retain the answers and to teach what one retains to others; These three enable the pupil to surpass the master.
To many children, school is not just boring, it is a sort of purgatory
There are many children, – bright, full of life and energy, curious and eager to learn, whose entire being is destroyed by school. They figuratively die inside. All the love of learning is lost, the curiosity goes and the spark goes out. They sit, day after day with their eyes wandering to the window, aching to be somewhere else. And my goodness!, psychiatrists have been very quick off the mark here, eager to get customers and the revenue from drugs and we now have the condition known as ADHD.
“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Symptoms of ADHD tend to be noticed at an early age and may become more noticeable when a child’s circumstances change, such as when they start school.”
ADHD children are bored children and they can be very disruptive. Believe it not, but the solution psychiatrists use [Ritalin],is an amphetamine, which outside psychiatric use is illegal and causes brain damage and psychosis if used long term.
What did Comenius say?
We venture to promise a Great Didactic, so that the result cannot fail; further of teaching them pleasantly, that is to say without annoyance or aversion on the part of the teacher or the pupil, but rather with greatest enjoyment for both, further of teaching them… in such a manner as to lead to true knowledge, to gentle morals and to the deepest piety.
Learning is by being told, not via finding out
The observational powers of children and people in general have become weaker and weaker, until in this present day and age, most people rely for their information on what they are told and not what they have actually witnessed. Children rarely go outside to actually watch Nature, or to observe. They never draw things, or paint things and both activities help to improve the powers of observation. They live in an almost virtual world created for them by public media, schools and universities. This is a seriously flawed way of living. One is open all the time to manipulation, and manipulated, these days, they are.
All true scientific study should be based on evidence, all true learning should be based on evidence. Facts collected and facts verified. Experiments, measurements, facts.
Obiter Dicta – Louis Agassiz
The only true scientific system must be one in which the thought, the intellectual structure, rises out of, and is based upon, facts.
He is lost, as an observer, who believes that he can, with impunity, affirm that for which he can adduce no evidence.
Have the courage to say: ‘I do not know.’
Professor Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873) was a Swiss biologist and geologist recognised as an innovative and prodigious scholar of Earth’s natural history. He has become widely known from his study and thorough regimen of observational data gathering and analysis. Agassiz received Doctor of Philosophy and medical degrees at Erlangen and Munich, was Professor of Natural History at the University of Neuchâtel, was awarded the Wollaston Medal by the Geological Society of London, and was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1847 and became a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard, where he founded its Museum of Comparative Zoology.
In all his classes Agassiz’s first lesson was in OBSERVATION. Lane Cooper recounts:
Observation and comparison were in his opinion the intellectual tools most indispensable to the naturalist, his first lesson was one in looking. He gave no assistance; he simply left his student with the specimen, telling him to use his eyes diligently, and report upon what he saw. He returned from time to time to inquire after the beginner’s progress, but he never asked him a leading question, never pointed out a single feature of the structure, never prompted an inference or a conclusion. This process lasted sometimes for days, the professor requiring the pupil not only to distinguish the various parts of the animal, but to detect also the relation of these details to more general typical features. His students still retain amusing reminiscences of their despair when thus confronted with their single specimen; no aid to be had from outside until they had wrung from it the secret of its structure. But all of them have recognised the fact that this one lesson in looking, which forced them to such careful scrutiny of the object before them, influenced all their subsequent habits of observation, whatever field they might choose for their special subject of study…
What did Comenius say?
[One] reason why so few scale the heights of wisdom is that if any wish to grasp the true nature of things by patient observation and experiments repeated as often as possible, the process is wearisome and is at the same time deceptive and uncertain. For instance in such accurate observations the most careful observer may make an error and as soon as one error creeps in, the whole observation becomes worthless.
If this be true, how can we dare hope for a universal, sure, easy and thorough road to learning? I answer: Experience teaches us that this is true, but the same experience teaches us also that proper remedies can be found.
Experience is deceptive in order that our attention may be excited and that we may feel the necessity of penetrating to the essential nature of things. And judgement is difficult, in order that we may be urged on to eagerness and to continual effort … we must lay a foundation that is not to be shaken, and that will not deceive us, in the place of a tottering fabric of superficial observation.
Learning is not done via exploration at the pupil’s own pace, but by directed information at the teacher’s pace
Even after we have left school, we describe the process of roaming around the Internet, using our curiosity to guide where we go to next, as a ‘distraction’. It is not a distraction, it is how learning should work, the almost effortless act of remembering things in which we are genuinely interested.
Man was made to explore, his very being is infused with that curiosity which used to keep him sane and safe. But a teacher or university lecturer, primed to go through the curriculum at his or her own pace, and working to a timetable, has no appetite or time for diversions. This may be why the educationalists have had to resort to exams. No one learns anything in a classroom.
And then what about the subject matter and the timing? We go to school and university, and then what?
Education should affect a man or woman throughout their whole life, readying him or her for the changes or social adjustments that are needed at every stage of their lives. Subjects should thus be suited to the stage reached and the need for help.
For example, when a woman has her first baby and help is given about what to eat and what to avoid, and about what will happen and what to do, that is just as much about education as teaching ’history’.
What floors man every time is ignorance. It is ignorance that causes wars, that causes conflict, that causes pain, fear and distress and causes him to make mistake after mistake. An educated man uses reason and knowledge or wisdom to make decisions. An educated man is prepared and fore armed.
We go to school and are taught subjects which bear no relevance to our actual needs at that stage. We are taught to drive by our Dads or Mums, taught how to fill out tax returns by them too. Not at school. Geography in schools is not about finding our way around, understanding countries and their cultures and languages. Geography in schools is maps and figures. I can remember having to learn all the rivers of the UK in a sort of rote fashion. Why? Useless.
What did Comenius say?
It is a common complaint that there are few who leave school with a thorough education, and that most men retain nothing but a veneer, a mere shadow of true knowledge. This complaint is corroborated by facts.
The cause of this phenomenon appears on investigation to be twofold; either that the schools occupy themselves with insignificant and unimportant studies, to the neglect of those that are more weighty, or that the pupils forget what they have learned, since most of it merely goes through their heads and does not stick there.
Why pursue worthless studies? What object is there in learning subjects that are of no use to those who know them and the lack of which is not felt by those who do not know them?
Subjects too which are certain to be forgotten as time passes on and the business of life becomes more engrossing. This short life of ours has more than enough to occupy it, even if we do not waste it on worthless studies. Schools must therefore be organised in such a way that the scholars learn nothing but what is of value at that time.
Starting a revolution in education
We cannot rely on those already in positions of power to change any system, for they have no motive to change the system unless they are suffering under it. Thus any change has to come from the grass roots, by the demands of its ‘customers’ and by the tireless work of those who have a vision of where it should be going. In effect from the united efforts of all those who want change.
Practically all the world’s geniuses and greatest contributors to society did not go to school or university, they were often taught by their parents, or a tutor, or taught themselves. In our own day and age Steve Jobs in the computing world did not go to university. Isaac Newton was tutored at home, the members of the Beatles were either home schooled or played truant, Charles Babbage went to university, but the only benefit he gained from it was meeting his fellow students. You cannot think out of the box, if you are locked in it.
And over the years we have had rafts of illustrious revered men [and women] who have constantly urged us all to avoid propaganda, understand how subversive and dangerous men who seek to control others can be, especially those who set the school and university curriculums. Nietzsche is but one who railed against the horrors of German indoctrination, but Socrates tried to teach the Athenians of his own day how to learn and not believe, as did Plato.
In every age we have had men who have tried to take up this baton. Rudolf Steiner tried to change the nature of schooling back to one of learning how to learn and away from schooling as propaganda. And of especial note are the TED talks of yet another tireless campaigner – Ken Robinson.
You would be in good company if you decided to find ways of changing how your children are educated. In the next blog I will look at some of the good ideas that have come out of this movement to reform the broken education system.
And finally what did Comenius say?
This art of teaching and of learning was in former centuries to a great extent unknown, at any rate in that degree of perfection to which it is now wished we raise it. The world of culture and the schools were so full of toil and weariness, of weakness and deceits, that only those who were gifted with parts beyond the ordinary could obtain a sound education…
… I began to hope that it was not without purpose that the providence of the Almighty had allowed it to come to pass that the decline of the old schools and the foundation of new ones in harmony with new ideas should take place at one and the same time. For he who intends to raise a new building invariably levels the ground beforehand and removes the less comfortable or ruined houses.
We must build palaces to rise above the rot.
If you are interested in learning more about Comenius, this link to our site takes you to his biography and many more extracts from his Didacta Magna https://allaboutheaven.org/sources/1091/190/comenius