A Rational Approach to Education



I invite the LW community to help me identify where my thinking about education is wrong here...

While it is necessary to continue to improve our educational systems for youths, we must do a better job of focusing our energies on educating adults, for it is adults who make the decisions about how our society runs, and how we educate our youths. If adults are not sufficiently educated, then youths will not be sufficiently educated.

What kind of educational program do adults require? I advocate a "pull model" of education: adults must be compelled of their own accord to seek knowledge, because learning can at times be quite difficult. Why is it difficult? It challenges our world views, which can be a very scary thing, particularly for people whose world views have remained essentially unchanged for decades.

On the whole, however, the model we currently employ for education is a "push model": we tend to tell people what they must learn in order to be educated. And in the name of efficiency we pre-construct programs of study. But the push model is impractical. It does not account for the range of human experience and desire. To try to force a person to learn probability and statistics, for example, when they have not yet developed a healthy desire to learn it is too stressful and does not allow their minds to be open to reflecting on and integrating the new concepts. The time for a person to learn a given topic is when they begin to ask questions about it.

How can we create an environment that fosters a pull model of education? First, we can offer a series of courses in multiple disciplines that people can sample. This would consist of a broad range of courses in the arts, sciences and humanities. Rather than lasting for several months at a time, they would last for only a few weeks---long enough for the student to get a sufficient introduction to the topic. And they would be fun. For example, people could get a sense of what they can gain from learning probability and statistics by giving them play money at the beginning of a class and having them gamble on some well-constructed games. Then they can be taught some simple, but perhaps non-intuitive mathematical "tricks" that would allow them to be more successful as they play the games.

By sampling a broad range of topics while engaging in discussions about issues facing current society they will both identify things they are talented at and things they would like to see changed in the world. Once these have become clear, with sufficient mentorship the thing they want to focus their studies on will crystallize for them. Once their focus has crystallized, it is time to work with them to build an individualized, interdisciplinary program of study in which everything they study is directly related to what they wish to accomplish, and they understand the connection. Then they will spend some period of time acquiring the skills they need to accomplish their goals.

How should they acquire these skills? By and large we offer only a single model of teaching and learning---lecture, exam, grade (often followed by forgetting; see Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4)---although some people are making a lot of money convincing large groups of people that online learning is the way to go, but it appears that few people actually learn well this way. The real point---and people who study education know this, they just don't implement it because the current system is so entrenched---is that people process information in different ways, and we must provide an environment for people to learn in the way they process information.

As people acquire the skills they need, they must put them to use in order to maintain them. This will be done by having them engage in projects that are directly related to what they wish to accomplish. This will also give them practical experience in the world.

What should be the cost of such an education? This depends on the economic situation of the individual. We live in a stressful world. The very people who most need education have very little money to devote to it, even if they desire it. Their education must cost only as much as the individual feels he or she can afford, otherwise they will simply not show up.

Will this create a world in which everyone, or even most people, understand topics like probability and statistics? Maybe, maybe not. But if a large group of people learn even a little more about a wide range of topics, and learn to enjoy and respect learning and knowledge, then we will be far more likely to be living in a more rational world.

Ok, there you go. Have at it.