Re: Education
Tue, 27 Apr 1999 00:07:16 -0500

David Musick expressed many very good ideas about education in his recent post, and I would like to toss in my 2 cents.

First: best practices in education.

Thanks, David, for expressing the rather unpopular view that there aren't any. Very true. Too many variables, as you already said. Most particularly, I would call attention, as you did, to the differences between people. What may work best for one may be an utter failure for another.

Second, David again expresses one idea about learning that needs to be absolutely central to any theory of learning. INTEREST. If it isn't there, then the learning isn't effective.

Further, I would make a stronger statement: if it is there, in sufficient quantity, then the method of education is nearly irrelevant. Indeed, whether one has any formal system in place is irrelevant for those who are sufficiently interested. So to some extent, Doug Bailey's original question of how to get kids to assist children in developing keen analytical minds might be partially rephrased in terms of how to help children become interested in things that would develop their minds.

I might depart a little from Mr. Musick's formulation that

>... it is important to develop educational systems in a way that
>find very compelling.

However, my disagreement is only that I don't find it necessary to develop educational systems at all...for reasons that David lays out very well as he continues his discussion.

Foremost among those reasons is that children naturally enjoy learning. Thus, as David says, there is no need for compulsory schooling. In fact, my inclination is to believe that it is difficult to prevent kids from learning, unless one places them in a compulsory learning context.

If I may borrow a slightly graphic illustration from my friend Rob... There are lots of things we all enjoy pretty, sex, learning, Music, etc. Any of these can be a very significant source of positive feeling. However, as soon as the idea of forcing someone to do one of these activities happens...The consequences to the person become appalling. Those with memories of being forced to eat certain kinds of foods, may still have dietary problems because of it. Those who HAD to listen to some kinds of music often can't appreciate that kind any more. I'm not going to talk about sex here, so I'd ask eveyone to take a look at the analogy with learning, and see if anyone agrees with the potential damage.

David says something like this, though I think a bit milder with:

>Basically, whatever form an educational system takes, it should be
>very interesting and fun and it should rely on people's natural
>enjoyment of learning to motivate them to improve their own learning
>methods and to seek out new knowledge and skills to learn.

He then goes on to answer Mr. Bailey's question about activities to recommend.

He says:

> I
>would recommend the sorts of activities that require lots of problem
>solving skills, analytical skills, creative skills and project
>development skills.

And then further goes on to suggest that computer programming does all of these things.

As a educational philosopher by avocation, and a programming instructor by (current) vocation, I can hardly disagree with him.

However, I would suggest that we look further into what other activities could help with that.

Both personally, and as an educator, I have found several other branches of study that perform all of what is suggested above. I did my early play in Mathematics, rather than in computer programming. I thought that the systems were beautiful...and I enjoyed the sense of competence. Particularly once one gets into Algebra+, there's an elegance to Math that is sometimes fascinating to kids.

As a note, I've previously been a math instructor, and found that for those kids who choose an interest in math...The learning takes place at a rapid rate. I find that the numbers suggested in the Sudbury Valley books (that Jocelyn Brown recently recommended) are very believable in terms of math instruction: 20 contact hours for K-8 mathematics, given that the children decide ON THEIR OWN to learn it.

Also, any branch of science works...or gadget-building (electronics, robotics).

Another area that I found very helpful was my role-playing game experience. Certainly develops problem-solving, creativity, planning, and analysis.

I also benefited from political argument in my house and playing chess.

But as something of a radical, I'm inclined to suggest a much stronger statement.

I think nearly any activity can be an appropriate vehicle in which kids can learn about the above skills. The key to the whole mess seems to me to be the approach that relevant adults take to their life, or that activity.

I think that Mr. Musick did a wonderful thing for his 7-year old nephew by taking and showing him programming.

Why did that work so well, though. (please forgive my presumption, David).

  1. Kid was interested first.
  2. Kid was in control
  3. David really enjoys programming.
  4. David shared that enthusiasm.
  5. David shared, in a non-condescending fashion, his thought process for the activity.

If those factors are there...hard not to have learning.

That is not to say I could help a kid develop a keen analytical mind by teaching them, say art.

But ONLY because I am rather pitiful as an artist.

I would expect that perhaps any keen analytical mind that David could help to develop by teaching programming, or myself by teaching math, could be as well developed by Natasha teaching Art.

If the kid has interest...let them run with it. It will help...and it will get them something I think even better than the keen analytical mind. It will get them a sense of control over their lives.


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