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Know Your Heritage

November 18, 2012 Leave a comment
Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books Set

Encyclopedia Britannica Great Books Set

Having an extraordinary method for acquiring knowledge I think it will become extremely important to have a very clear idea of what to learn, and what real knowledge is. One possible guidepost to this might be “The Great Conversation” The essay by Robert Hutchins that introduced Encyclopedia Britannica’s “Great Books of the Western World” collectionoriginally published in 1952.

There are things that I appreciate about the essay, and also things that I do not like.

“The Great Conversation” is valuable, partly because it presents a clear statement of the aims of education, and does a good job of showing how alternative, partial views of education fall short.

Is there such a thing as an education, apart from training in how to make a living, do a job, serve as a technician, or specialist or professional? Is the aim of education purely for the purposes of being able to work? Is there something you should be learning in school that is distinct from what you might learn at home, at church, in the Boy Scouts or the Y.M.C.A.? Or is socialization, teamwork and sportsmanship really the whole point? Do your teachers need to know the details of your talents or your personal path in life to properly educate you? Is there such a thing as an education that does the necessary job of imparting an understanding of what it is to be a human being, know your part within your culture, and how your specialty relates to the big picture of the human race and your culture?

For those who find something of value in the ideals of education offered here the information, communication and media wealth of the Internet age makes this kind of education dependent on little more than the desire, some consistency, and that you pay your utility bills.

Here are some links to get you started:

Great Books Online – a collection of links to online texts on another wordpress blog.

The Great Conversation Reading Group – Website for a yahoo group dedicated to reading the Great Books

Librivox.org – Come here to find some of the great books available for free in an audio format. Alternative media sometimes aids the understanding, or maybe the attention.

I welcome all thoughts related to the Great Conversation or the Great Books in your comments below.

Categories: Education

The Difference Between School and Education

October 28, 2012 Leave a comment

What I have to say about school and about education is not going to make a lot of sense unless we make a distinction between these two words. If I criticize the basic ways in which schools throughout the world operate, many people will assume that I criticize education, or think learning to be of little value, because being schooled, or graded etc. means the same as being educated or being knowledgeable, to them.

I want to make it clear that I think knowledge, learning, education, and the training and developing of the mind, and mental abilities such as reading, rhetoric and arithmetic, are very important. They are often downright vital to our survival, or at least to our capacity to live anything resembling a good life.

I also think that it could be profitable to examine just how much, and what kind of knowledge is most valuable, and how much we mistakenly wish others to achieve because we want them to imitate us, or satisfy some fad about what we think it would be better for people to know.

But being educated is not the same thing as having been to school. The school is an institution, and education is the goal for which it was instituted, just as our legal system is an institution, and justice is the goal for which it was instituted. We should know that justice is not always done when a sentence is carried out. We should realize that when laws are passed they do not always have the effect of producing or promoting right action. We should know that though it may be the goal that a trial with a jury finds truth, yet not all verdicts are true, regardless of the etymology of the word.

A school is a name for an institution, and a building. Education is what is supposed to happen there. Schooling means grouping, usually children, usually for the purpose of having similar lessons, similar curriculum and being graded according to one standard. One has had schooling if they have spent time in school or with the sort of teachers who are members of the institution.

Once we have made the distinction it should be easy to understand that a person can be educated without having attended an institution devoted to the purpose of education. A person can learn without schooling, and it is also an unfortunate truth that many people attend schools without learning any of the things we expect them to learn there.

I learned to make the distinction mostly from essays by John Taylor Gatto, a retired teacher who had been twice named New York City Teacher of the Year, and once New York State Teacher of the year. He is the author of “Dumbing Us Down” and other books.

Categories: Education Tags:

I am not dead.

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

For nearly two years and a month I’ve been away from this. I started it earnestly enough, but never made it a habit. Soon to come: a post about the value of consistency.

After reading over my previous posts I see that I need to work on my writing style. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary, and I often feel like it is important to be very specific, but I have a bad habit of being stiff, redundant and difficult to read.

I’ve often thought that I should take the style of Rudyard Kipling as my guide. His prose is usually an example of simplicity, and I could use more of that. Tim Ferris said in an interview that he found his voice for “The Four Hour Work Week” by writing it as he would write an email to a friend. I should find some way to make my writing more conversational, and more like my way of speaking. It would also be a good idea to shoot for a maximum number of words, or at least to put a summary of a small number of words before any post where I believe I need to go on at length.

WordPress tells me that before I began this paragraph I had a word count of 200. That seems like a good length to shoot for in future posts. I shall try to keep between 250 and 500 words per post, and if I feel like I need to write more than that I shall have a summary of no more than 200 words.

Categories: Education

Apprenticeships for software developers?

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret: It’s All About Age:

In 2006, Zoho’s CEO, Sridhar Vembu, initiated an experiment to hire 17-year-olds directly out of high school. He found that within two years, the work performance of these recruits was indistinguishable from that of their college-educated peers. Some ended up becoming superstar software developers.

Put this fact into the ledger when trying to reckon the value of a college education in the modern world – both to the student, and to the company that hires the graduates.

There is a widespread belief that our modern world is so complex, so dependent upon high-technology, and specialized knowledge that can only be dealt with by those who have had layers upon layers of theoretical instruction, that it does not make sense for people to seriously start their careers as early as they used to. It likewise seems widely believed that apprenticeships would be impractical for learning to work in the modern world. Here is evidence that it is not.

The best education is not in busywork that students persevere through to inculcate theoretical knowledge, the best education is in doing.

The idea that you can learn how to do a lot of things just in case, is largely an illusion, but the expectation that you can learn them just in time may not be.

Categories: Education

Lessons Forgotten/Lessons Unlearned

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

At one of my graduations I remember a valedictorian delivering a speech where she talked about the importance of education by saying something to the effect that since what you learned could never be lost, or taken away, that it was therefore one of the most valuable things you could acquire.

And perhaps that is true, in some ideal world, such as a Cartesian universe where mind is completely separate from, untouchable, and incorruptible by matter. But for those who live with their feet planted on the soil of the world of experience, where meeting bodily needs for nutrition, sleep, and exercise makes a measurable difference on the permanence of memories – to say nothing of the effects of age, drugs, other poisons, disease, injury or surgery – for those of us in the real world, it is a more difficult problem to count the cost of an education against the benefits it might confer on us.

It should be easy to see, that a clear view of the permanence of knowledge learned has some implications for the value of a college education. And how much more so, with today’s tuition prices, and the frequent difficulty people have in obtaining credit. But when we think more deeply about the age at which a persons mental abilities begin to flower, the value of time, and a young person’s capacity for joy, I think we should also see that how we order the lives of children now in elementary through high school should not be regarded as a settled question.

Schools at every level are better at producing a glamor of education, than they are at actually inculcating information such that it could be available at later times in a student’s life. One example of this is the popular game show challenge, “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” Another is Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University.

The lesson is the same, knowledge you are supposed to soak up in school is anything but permanent.

Why is this so?

Is it because the schools are using faddish teaching methods that are poor as compared with the methods of the past? No. Is it because people are just too stupid to be able to keep in their heads all the stuff they try to teach us in school? No, not exactly. Is it just age related mental degeneration? No.

The reason for this impermanence is very simple, a little depressing perhaps, but natural, and probably necessary. It is that people forget things on average very quickly when they do not rehearse them, or frequently occur as important features of their world. That informal statement is a basic description of a measured drop in retention over time, known to memory experts and some (recent) psychology students as the forgetting curve. It is a statistical law which states that the impressions we make on our memory fade rapidly unless they are reinforced at intervals throughout our life. This is the fact about the brain that makes sense of old adages about learning like “use it or lose it.” and the general understanding that learning is based on repetition.

This is a very well defined fact about memory, and it seems to me that it has many profound consequences, not only for figuring the value of a college education, or the worth of the unhappiness of children sent away to elementary schools each day, but also for the consequences of long prison sentences for the possibilities of rehabilitation. It has consequences for what the value of a broad curriculum is, as opposed to one focused on a few very important things. And it forces us to re-examine the value of socialization that schools are supposed to offer as one of their potential benefits.

Be sure to share your own views on all these questions raised.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my own, unfortunate conclusion, that the sheepskin you get at the graduation ceremony probably has a fantastic chance of outlasting much of what you learn those four years in college.

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