This week, I'm moving on to another item concerning societies. I'm moving from culture to education, which is one of the chief methods by which culture is created and passed on. I'm not an educator, but like all of you, I have spent many years of my life in an education system. I don't have children, but children all around the world are joining me in society after passing through their own education system. I'm not an expert in education, but I know it's important enough to pay very close attention to experts who do devote their lives to this field. I have an old friend Jonathan Martin who has been a very progressive teacher and headmaster at schools in the past and who is now consulting to schools around the world about how they can improve their techniques. He runs a wonderful blog that explores trends in 21st century education and I have picked up not only many interesting ideas from his site, but perhaps more importantly, a small passion for news about the field. (Inculcating passion, curiosity, the desire to learn - these are big themes of his.) And there is no shortage of stories about education in the news. Just in the last few weeks there have been fascinating articles about the need for greater professionalization of teachers, the ongoing exploration of MOOCS (massive open online courses) and their place in learning institutions, and even the technique of encouraging "cheating" in the classroom to help students understand the game theories that underlies all our social interactions. I love reading about these things.
Another leading education thinker is Ken Robinson (who I probably came across on Jonathan's blog ages ago, but I don't really remember anymore), who has given a couple of very compelling TED talks about the education system. His first one, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, contains the following quotes:
"Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects ... at the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. ... And there is a hierarchy within the arts: art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to students the way we teach them mathematics. Why? Why not? ... We all have bodies. ... but we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side. ... The purpose of education systems throughout the world now is to produce university professors. They are the people who come out at the top. ... But they are rather curious ... They live in their heads, and slightly to one side. ... Our education systems are predicated on the idea of academic ability. ... They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. ... The hierarchy rests on two ideas ... 1) the most useful subjects for work are at the top ... and 2) academic ability (is paramount), because the universities designed the system in their image. ... The consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative, people, think they're not."
(see the entire talk here:)
Ken Robinson's second TED talk urged precisely this need to change. It was called Bring on the Learning Revolution and you can watch it below if you like.
Gene-culture coevolution, the ability to learn and pass on our learning from person to person and generation to generation is the greatest strength of our species. Education is required for the further progress and survival of the species. Education is required for each individual to find his or her place in society where they can be happy and productive. This is the purpose of education - to ignite the spark of learning that lies within each human and make accessible the learning that they need.
The diversity of our species is what makes it so strong and adaptable. Education needs to account for this diversity in the population. Education needs to take into account different abilities and interests. No one should or needs to be left behind. Society requires many levels and different kinds of ability. Society works much better when everyone is in their own “flow states,” when they are functioning at levels that are just hard enough to challenge them out of boredom but not so hard as to induce frustration. A one-size-fits-all, production line mentality for education makes no sense with this view of humanity. The goal is not minimum of complication, it is maximum production. Different requirements should not be stigmatized, but celebrated, and met. Education in this manner costs less than a broken society filled with uneducated and unhappy citizens.
The ongoing development of our brain over the first 25 years of our lives implies the need for a long education. One of the defining characteristics of our brain development is the increasing capacity for long-term thinking as we age. While we are young, society must restrain our actions because that is when we are more likely to be short-term-focused and destructive to self or society. Education should have as one of its goals the inculcation of a long-term cooperative outlook on life.
These are just a few guiding thoughts - vision statements as it were. Like pretty much all of my topics right now, whole books can, are, and should be written about them, but those details will be explored later. For now, it's enough to point the general direction and move on if it is agreed to. In the spirit of a life-long education, I hope you will share with me any points of view I haven't taken into account. We need to hear them, and I would be glad to learn about them.