Less is More

Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach

As often happens after an emotionally trying post like the one yesterday, I like to pull back and shoot for the larger picture, to remind myself that the quest for a world where people mean what they say and say what they mean and everything isn’t a big power grab is possible.

And, as often happens, I find the potential for greatness in education. I know that it’s a sig of my blog, and so often seen can be easily dismissed, but it’s true: the only tool that we humans have is our brains, and if we don’t train everyone to use them, we won’t have much of a shot against those who would rather just control the world than try to make nice with everybody.

So, the latest concept. Or, more precisely, the latest iteration of something that’s been bugging me for years. If the purpose of education is to teach children to become useful members of society, then why are they sorted according to age instead of talent and proclivity? Why is it that so many concerned citizens can’t see that the main purpose of age-sorting is to better allow for indoctrination, because it removes the older role models  younger people would ordinarily look up to?

Why is it so hard to reform schools, when there are so many obvious answers that would work so much better? Don’t remind me. I know, once government and anybody get into bed together, the original goal becomes suffocated by the new goal of continuation. And what better way to make sure that government will always be running the educational system than to make sure that it doesn’t work very well.

After all, if schools ran like well-oiled machines, churning out critical thinking geniuses, that paradigm could then easily be shifted, in toto, to private industry, and any old business could keep cranking out the young Einsteins. It is because the educational system doesn’t work, that it requires constant reform, that it must, perforce, remain under the auspices of the government, which will make sure that private industry doesn’t take advantage of our vulnerable children. As Bill the Cat would say, “Gaaaaak!” (Apologies to Berkeley Breathed for usurping his work, if he is a big fan of government-sponsored education).

Anyway, rant run down for the morning, here we go. The surveys are all in, and everyone agrees: the way to learn something is to spend time doing it. Seems obvious, right? You wouldn’t think it would take millions of dollars of studies to figure that one out. Ask any craftsman, any musician, any financial whiz, how they got to be so good, and to a person, they’ll answer, hours and hours and hours of study, of play, of working with and dealing with whatever their area of expertise is. They certainly didn’t become expert by sitting in a chair listening to someone lecture at them, telling them what the right answer is, telling them that there is a right answer.

Even those who accept that repetition and immersion and contemplation are necessary to master academic skills and creative skills don’t seem to grasp that the same is true for more pedestrian pursuits as well.

A. Not everyone is suited for college.

B. We need good plumbers as well as good mathematicians.

C. Both types of craftsmen need the opportunity to hone their skills.

D. Give them the opportunity.

In the November/December 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind, the findings of sports psychologist Daniel Gould were related:

He found that becoming a[n] [Olympic] champion…depended on an ability to focus, mental toughness, facility with setting goals, competitiveness, confidence, coachability, drive, optimism and emotional control.

None of those attributes requires an investment of $11,000 per year per student. The current focus of the educational establishment is more. More schools, more classrooms, more teachers, more books, more crayons, more computers—how about a little less?

Educators complain that they can’t be expected to teach students who come to school unprepared: hungry, hung-over, hating life. I’m not surprised. Even when I’m feeling good, I’m not thrilled about sitting at a desk, being alternately lectured to and lectured at. How about, instead of trying to always teach those students, teachers step back and let them learn?

The best way to learn mental toughness is to try and fail, over and over, until finally, you succeed—or not. It is the trying that builds the toughness. The success is gravy. Our schools have got it all backwards: they tell students that they are succeeding before the students even have a chance to try. Even the brightest student gets confused by the disconnect, and pretty soon, any motivation that they had to try is drained away by their continued “successes” and feel-good moments.

The essence of learning is feeling frustration, not feeling good. You don’t know that you’re not done yet, that there is more to come, until you feel that something is not right about what you are doing. And you don’t know that there is something not right about what you are doing until you’ve had a chance to do it. And you have no chance of figuring out what is not right until you’ve done it—lots and lots and lots of times.

We are denying our children the chance to fail. Anyone, no matter how rich or poor, how well-fed or hungry, or angry or sad, can fail. And should fail. Time and time and time again. The greatest gift we can give to children is to instill persistence. All children have the ability to succeed at something, if we just give them the opportunity. The educational community has brainwashed us into thinking that the key to success is more education, that more degrees equals a better life. Wrong.

More opportunity to practice, to become fully involved, equals a more fulfilled person, no matter the pursuit. Excellence is not limited to academics—it can be found in any endeavor, including plumbing, street sweeping and washing dishes. Success has more to do with mental attitude than it does with a piece of paper mounted on a wall. And it has nothing to do with how much information is poured down a person’s throat.

Want students to succeed? Give them less, let them figure out what to do with it, then get out of their way.

Proofreading, blog content, articles, resumes, all kinds of writing and editing; whatever you’re looking for, I can help. Contact me at tredalong@hotmail.com, if you’ve a need to express yourself more clearly. 

1 Comment

Filed under Critical Thinking, Education, Politics

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