On Education

Although the ideas I am about to formulate here predate this brilliant lecture by Doctor Russell Ackoff, the lecture formulates a challenge to which I am about to respond.

How shall we alter the educational system in order to preserve and nurture the natural curiosity in children, encourage creativity, and stop demotivating them to learn and explore? (Setting aside the fact that no government on Earth is interested in this cause.)

First things first: the elementary school.

Since the first grade we introduce and maintain this entirely artificial division into disciplines. What for?! It is not only counterproductive, it is also unnatural. So the first step is to simply revoke the disciplinary division in the elementary school. And I love this idea, because it does not require to add something to the system or complicate the system in any other way, it is the opposite, to remove unnecessary elements, to simplify the system and to reduce its maintenance cost. Thus, the only discipline in the elementary school should be the «Nature Studies», everything else should be either trashed or incorporated into this topic. Even the language classes! Yes, I know that the language is a perfectly artificial construct in this particular context, but it does not mean it can not be taught within a «Nature Studies» course — language is a tool for any course and it should be taught as such, to the extent necessary for a particular applied topic, and only when the topic requires some language improvement on the students' part. This will also keep students motivated to learn the language at all by demonstrating them the real utilitarian value of the language in contrast to the classical abstract useless language classes (please, trust me, I have come to this conclusion before I met Dr Ackoff, and it was pleasure to hear his «C. Chaplin movies» example).

Second aspect of the language classes in the elementary school is that they are (in the present curriculum) inadequate to the first-graders preschool qualification (in both possible directions, in 99% cases, because the curriculum simply disregards the actual students' knowledge and assumes a rare case instead). Dr. Ackoff provided an example of a ghetto where students were way below the standardized curriculum assumption, I have an opposite example which equally (or may be worse) denounces the standardized curriculum approach. In my school ALL the freshmen were able to read and write way before the first-grade, while the first-grade syllabus prescribed to teach us all for the entire first year how to read and write. We all have simply lost a year of our education, pretending that we learn some boring shit we already knew. I was reading newspapers when I was 4, and it was NOT UNUSUAL (back those days television used to be a holiday entertainment) our parents were reading newspapers every day. We were all exposed to newspapers, and (guess what kids love to do most?) we were copying parents' habits! And then I went to school where I was forced to pretend that I am unable to read, and they literally forced me to read SLOWER than I naturally do at the time, dividing words into syllables which appeared to me embarrassingly stupid. Thus, the «language» course should be regarded as an auxiliary course and should be taught only on-demand.

As a kindergarten kid I was fascinated by the perspective of the school. My «graduation» from the kindergarten was the happiest day of my life because of the school, my imaginary school of course, not the real one which I was yet to discover. On the «graduation» day all kids were given precious presents that were: a backpack (very well crafted with a bunch of textbooks in mind), a pencil box, a set of rulers, some notebooks, and other useful stuff — I am sure you've got the idea. No one was disappointed! It was not only expected to go to school, it was longed. By the time I had accumulated quite a bunch of questions about this physical world around me: why boats float? why concrete solidifies? why matches combust? etc. — naively I hoped that the school would give me the answers. [censorship cut] Thus, my first «Sep 1» ironically called «A Knowledge Day» turned out to be the last exciting one. The core of the primary school is the avoidance of the kids' naturally occurred questions. This has to end, if you want to teach children instead of dumbing them down, the school must exploit the natural curiosity by giving proper, full, extensive answers to all kids' questions regardless of the question complexity, even if a question requires the atomic physics then the atomic physics should be taught, any age, any amount of time it takes. Answering questions should be the core an THE MOTIVATION of the syllabus.

Next part: Middle School


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