School’s in session

Although study after study confirms that the single most important element to success is what we used to call “grit”, before quietly dealing with whatever obstacles came your way became un-p.c., our education system is still geared toward rewarding “hard work”, no matter how unproductive, and “self-esteem”, no matter much that warps a child’s sense of quality.

Given a level playing field of intelligence, the person who focuses more on the job to be done, the methods of accomplishing that task, and what the final outcome is to look like, and who then applies himself to creating that final outcome, will do better than the one who says, “I’m smart, they told me I was smart, I can use the ‘think system’ till my brain hurts, then tell them I worked really hard, and I’ll get the lollipop.”

It’s good old-fashioned industrious endeavor that makes a difference in this world, not luck, not being rich, and certainly not waiting for someone else to lead.

Given an unlevel playing field, where one person is much smarter than another, the one who focuses on the job to be done, the methods of accomplishing that task, and what the final outcome is to look like, and who then applies himself to creating that final outcome, will do better than the other—no matter the native intelligence of either. And if it’s the less intelligent one who is doing the applying, he will get smarter in the process.

Our education system is all about labeling children, and putting them into “tracks”. Once a child is labeled, it’s almost impossible for him to move into another track. The argument in favor of this system is that those children in the lesser tracks can “get the help they need.” They don’t need help—they need the opportunity to attempt, the chance to fail (especially to fail badly), and the encouragement to try again, until they succeed. What they get is the assumption that they will fail, and the door shut in their face if they attempt to succeed using some means that has not been pre-approved.

Success in the current system is defined as the ability to parrot back the pre-packaged dogma that has been propounded by the authority at the front of the classroom, who is parroting what some textbook author has decided is the wisdom of the day. True success is learning enough about a subject to question its assumptions, apply critical thinking to the answers that are given, and deciding for oneself whether the answers make sense. Not much opportunity for that in today’s schools. Even if a teacher wanted to give his students the opportunity to go through that learning cycle, there’s not enough time in the day, what with all of the standardized testing, and the prep for the standardized testing, and whatnot.

I was astounded to read recently about a history professor (!), who, when questioned about what had occurred at a trial in the 1920’s, went to what the authorities had written about that trial to find the answer. He admitted that it took him awhile to figure out that, maybe, just maybe, the appropriate source might be the trial transcript itself!

We have gotten so hung up on the idea that the experts have spoken, and that’s the end of the matter, that we have gotten away from the concept that we all have the right to question, to discover, to investigate, to learn. Even though study after study has shown that we learn best by doing and by questioning authority, somehow we just can’t seem to learn that important lesson.

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Education

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