Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Why Johnny Can’t Get Ahead

 

I have a theory: American education is great at teaching facts but not much else. What it’s not great at teaching, and what fellow Ricochet member Brandon apparently is great at teaching, is how to think critically. It is such a gift to have teachers who find ways to help students understand that critically analyzing data and rhetoric is more important than mastery of any set of tasks, or any set of skills. Knowing how the war of 1812 started is great factual information and may, at some point down the road, be important to a student. But knowing how to evaluate an author’s biases and explore the depth of his data analyses so as to formulate independent thoughts from those evaluations is far more important. But it isn’t taught. At least, not that I’ve seen. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

I believe that so many schools spend so much time teaching facts because facts can be easily mastered, easily listed, and objective scores determined from this kind of rote memorization. It makes teaching, and more importantly, grading, easier, and less subjective. It also turns students into fact repositories, not thinkers. We need more thinkers. Anyone can repeat facts. It’s the analysis of those facts that is the really important skill that must be learned to obtain success in life.

In spite of this, the job of many teachers in many systems, particularly those where the state tests student’s performance on standardized tests, is to teach the test, not the subject. That is such a disservice. Allow me to demonstrate with my own mistakes in this area.

In 2011, I became interested in Amateur radio. The FCC at one point required a person to learn and master Morse code (sometimes called CW for continuous wave) in order to get a license. When that changed, I decided to get a license. The technician exam was heavy on theory, but like all things done by the government, the evaluation of a potential licensee’s knowledge is measured against standardized tests, and the government puts out the actual test questions that will be on the test. You read that right. There are websites that will create practice tests for people getting ready to test so that they can see if they have mastered the material. And these practice tests are made from the actual questions in the question pool.

I simply studied the questions, all 300 of them, until I knew the answers to the questions and not the material that the questions were designed to test. I went from Technician to General, and on to an Amateur Extra license in six months. I passed each test with better than 95%. And there is still a great deal about radio that I do not know, I build that knowledge every day. But in terms of understanding some things (like antennas) at a deeper level, I do not. I cheated myself.

This is what high schools have become. They are institutions that teach the materials and skills to be able to score high enough on the ACT or SAT to get into college. They long ago stopped serving the idea of molding students into useful members of society. Instead, they became about teachers demonstrating that they could produce students who could pass tests. Education, then, became about pleasing instructors by passing tests, not about learning and using the knowledge so acquired. Thus, when these students reached college what they became was Jello molds for the socialist gelatin the professors poured in. There’s no need to wash a brain that’s already clean.

What high schools need badly, in fact, what all forms of education need badly, is a curriculum built around critical thinking and success-related skills. Consider just the importance of one success skill in particular: goal setting. A Harvard Business School study demonstrated that the three percent of students graduating from its MBA program who had written goals earned ten times as much as the students who graduated without specific, written goals.

The study found that only three percent of the students had written down their goals prior to entering the program, while some 13% had goals, just not written ones. Apparently 84% of the students entering had no goals whatsoever. As Yogi Beara is credited with saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there, you’ll be lost.” That study proved it. When a Harvard MBA gets you $158,000 walking in the door, a person making ten times that amount simply because of a series of written goals likely has enough to pay off his sizeable student debt.

Another problem with American education is that it puts subtle emphasis on things that do not matter. Prom Queens, class presidents and social clubs in high school all put value on the ability to be popular and well-liked. While these are important, to some people they all too quickly become ends of their own. It is more important to be popular in high school than smart. The blog piece by Peter DeWitt (no relation) sets out how quickly things that would be minor issues laughed off at 23 become suicide-inducing dramas at 15. We do not teach students the simple fact that association with smart, successful people is often the catalyst to becoming great in any endeavor. As a friend of mine put it, if you want to learn to fly, you don’t spend time hanging out at the submarine base. Yet that is exactly what high school has become for so many students who choose the easy path in high school. You do become known by the company you keep. It has the power to alter your life’s goals and choices. Yet teachers do not spend any time discussing this because there is no class called “Your Life 101.”

Values like persistence, perseverance, and the importance of a creative vision are not taught, and sometimes they’re difficult to teach. For these the great writers like Napolean Hill, Claude Bristol, Maxwell Maltz and even Zig Ziglar can provide the kind of mind-opening experiences that allow people to see beyond today and plan for a new tomorrow. For me, Think and Grow Rich made a huge difference in my life. Even though I am not a salesperson, Zig Ziglar’s See You At the Top was another eye-opener. There are so many others, like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit that could really go a long way to making the next generation the very best generation. If only the majority of students could be exposed to these works.

Yet, my guess is that if you went to your local school board and voiced these issues you’d be met with a lot of “we’ll consider that carefully,” and then see a whole not of nothing because such education is not in the state’s curriculum. So the successful students get this at home, and they absorb it from their parents and grandparents. They see what they did to get where they are, and they internalize their stories and methods. Sometimes the best predictor of a successful person is the struggle of their parents.

When BLM and the other socialists talk about income inequality, they are never really talking about lifting everyone up, but bringing the wealthy down. That is why socialism has never worked. It has never worked because it has never made any life better. Handouts do not motivate people to be better, they motivate them to do less. Everyone understands this at a personal level, which means the socialists are lying even unto themselves.

One of these days I hope that teachers like Brandon manage to make the inroads in the education system that are needed to teach critical thinking and success philosophy to the upcoming generations. But as long as we keep education federalized, with bureaucrats making decisions in DC for people who live in Kansas City, that will never happen.

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  1. Sandy Member

    You make some very good points, but in my experience American schools do not teach either facts or critical thinking. Memorizing has been declared “boring” for several generations now. Someone once pointed out to me that children are wonderful memorizers and childhood is the time to commit a lot of important things to memory, including mathematics and poetry, but teachers find it drudge-work. Unfortunately you can’t think critically without knowing the critical facts. As for “teaching to the test,” yes, it has problems, but state tests were instituted largely because we had a great many functionally illiterate high-school graduates and state legislators became alarmed. You can’t pass state tests, as poor as they may be, without being able to read, so they were an improvement.

    • #1
    • August 11, 2020, at 2:45 PM PDT
    • 27 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We can’t be truly equal until everyone has nothing.

    • #2
    • August 11, 2020, at 2:55 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  3. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    My initial impression is that I disagree with this post, rather strongly. I may not be understanding the point correctly, I guess.

    I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    I’m reminded of the “wax the car” and “paint the fence” scenes from The Karate Kid.

    I also think that “critical thinking” is overrated. I’m not against it, and it is useful, and it is my impression that very few people can do it well. There is the occasional genius who makes a major contribution, and we all benefit greatly. But most of life consists of following relatively simple rules, and doing a diligent job within an area of established competence.

    For example, I don’t want a “free thinker” fixing my car or re-wiring my electrical box. I want someone who knows how the job is supposed to be done, and is able to do it.

    • #3
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:04 PM PDT
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  4. Kephalithos Member

    @sandy is right. You can’t walk through an American high school without hearing the words “critical thinking” being slung around. What the term means to the teachers who mutter it like some religious incantation is anyone’s guess, but it’s obvious it doesn’t mean “being able to analyze an argument intelligently.”

    Increasingly, “critical thinking” has become a Trojan-horse shorthand for “thinking like a critical theorist.” This allows ideologues to reassure concerned parents while simultaneously training their children to hate them.

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    • August 11, 2020, at 3:11 PM PDT
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  5. Richard Fulmer Member

    Two of my kids are 8th grade math teachers. Their biggest issue is not that their students are stuffed full of facts, quite the contrary. Many of them can barely read.

    • #5
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:16 PM PDT
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  6. Richard Fulmer Member

    Anthony L. DeWitt: American education is great at teaching facts

    If, effing, only.

    • #6
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:25 PM PDT
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  7. Kephalithos Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment): I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    The Deweyists who wrote my elementary school’s math curriculum would disagree. They believed that students could discover the rules of mathematics themselves by playing around with plastic knick-knacks (“manipulatives,” in arcane educator-speak).

    God forbid that we force our budding Pythagorases to memorize anything — or, heaven help us, use some kind of algorithmic shortcut. The horror!

    • #7
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Kephalithos, Master of Acedia (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment): I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    The Deweyists who wrote my elementary school’s math curriculum would disagree. They believed that students could discover the rules of mathematics themselves by playing around with plastic knick-knacks (“manipulatives,” in arcane educator-speak).

    God forbid that we force our budding Pythagorases to memorize anything — or, heaven help us, use some kind of algorithmic shortcut. The horror!

    Not past the age of four or so.

    • #8
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Kephalithos Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    Kephalithos, Master of Acedia (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment): I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    The Deweyists who wrote my elementary school’s math curriculum would disagree. They believed that students could discover the rules of mathematics themselves by playing around with plastic knick-knacks (“manipulatives,” in arcane educator-speak).

    God forbid that we force our budding Pythagorases to memorize anything — or, heaven help us, use some kind of algorithmic shortcut. The horror!

    Not past the age of four or so.

    It really does seem like the majority of math textbooks are written by people who think of all students as potential pure mathematicians. It never seems to occur to them that, for us mortals, math is hard and boring, and we need all the help (read: memorization and shortcuts) we can get.

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    • August 11, 2020, at 3:37 PM PDT
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  10. Hoyacon Member

    As others have indicated, would that the schools at least taught facts.

    My experience with the Jesuits–who come in for more than their share of grief here–is that they do “critical thinking” well. Or maybe it’s just “thinking.”

    • #10
    • August 11, 2020, at 3:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. David Foster Member
    David FosterJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Here’s a little parable I wrote about Thinking and Memorizing…

    Consider these lines from a song by Jakob Dylan:

    Cupid, don’t draw back your bow
    Sam Cooke didn’t know what I know

    In order to understand these two simple lines, you have to know several things:

    1)You need to know that, in mythology, Cupid symbolizes love
    2)And that Cupid’s chosen instrument is the bow and arrow
    3)Also that there was a singer/songwriter named Sam Cooke
    4)And that he had a song called “Cupid, draw back your bow.”

    “Progressive” educators insist that students should be taught “thinking skills” as opposed to memorization. But if it’s not possible to understand a couple of lines from a popular song without knowing by heart the references to which it alludes–without memorizing them–what chance is there for understanding medieval history, or modern physics, without having a ready grasp of the topics which these disciplines reference?

    And also: what’s important is not just what you need to know to appreciate the song. It’s what Dylan needed to know to create it in the first place. At least in theory someone who heard the song and didn’t understand the allusions could have spent 5 minutes googling and figured them out, although this approach wouldn’t be conducive to aesthetic appreciation. But had Dylan not already had the reference points–Cupid, the bow and arrow, the Sam Cooke song–in his head, there’s no way he would have been able to create his own lines. 

    There are skills which facilitate thinking across a wide range of disciplines: such things as formal logic, probability & statistics, and an understanding of the scientific method–and, most importantly, excellent reading skills. But things like these certainly don’t seem to be what the educators are referring to when they talk about “thinking skills.” What many of them seem to have in mind is more of a kind of verbal mush that leaves the student with nothing to build on.

    There’s no substitute for actual knowledge. The flip response “he can always look it up” ignores the way that human intellectual activity actually works.

    None of which is to say that traditional teaching practices were all good. There was probably too much emphasis on rote memorization devoid of context–in history, dates soon to be forgotten, in physics, formulae without proper understanding of their meaning and applicability. (Dylan needed to know about Sam Cooke’s song; he didn’t need to know the precise date on which it was written or first sung.) But the cure is to provide the context, not to throw out facts and knowledge altogether–which is what all too many educators seem eager to do.

     

     

    • #11
    • August 11, 2020, at 4:02 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Mark Camp Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    My initial impression is that I disagree with this post, rather strongly. I may not be understanding the point correctly, I guess.

    I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    I’m reminded of the “wax the car” and “paint the fence” scenes from The Karate Kid.

    I also think that “critical thinking” is overrated. I’m not against it, and it is useful, and it is my impression that very few people can do it well. There is the occasional genius who makes a major contribution, and we all benefit greatly. But most of life consists of following relatively simple rules, and doing a diligent job within an area of established competence.

    For example, I don’t want a “free thinker” fixing my car or re-wiring my electrical box. I want someone who knows how the job is supposed to be done, and is able to do it.

    From the beginning, we advocates of the American idea–a self-governing people–have known that such a form can only exist in a society of educated citizens.

    By “educated”, we have never meant what you mean by the term: able to re-wire an electrical box. On the contrary, a slave society and a free society both have an equal need and an equal tolerance of skilled mechanics.

    We mean the capacity for intellectual and moral reasoning. “Critical thinking”, if you will. Rather than holding the ability of the citizen to think independently of those who would own him in contempt, we regard it as essential if he is to break the shackles they have placed on him, and to keep them off.

    • #12
    • August 11, 2020, at 4:10 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Freeven Member
    FreevenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Anthony L. DeWitt: My theory is that American education is great at teaching facts…

    This is something I pay a fair bit of attention to and I think the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the opposite: that our schools are guilty of gross malpractice when it comes to teaching even basic facts. I’m reminded of a video where they walked around an Ivy League campus asking When was the Revolutionary War, and who did we win our independence from? Answers ranged from 1950 to 1980, from Canada to Mexico. These are supposed to be our best and brightest kids.

    Regarding critical thinking, I’m a fan of the work of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham. According to him, the evidence is pretty clear that critical thinking is not a skill that can be taught. Rather, it emerges over a couple of decades or more as one learns basic facts and background knowledge.

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    • August 11, 2020, at 4:36 PM PDT
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  14. CarolJoy, Thread Hijacker Coolidge

    I no longer remember the name of the professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell who stated some long time ago, perhaps toward the end of the 1980’s, that it disappointed him that no longer were most students from a farming background.

    As after all, children who grew up on a farm had mechanical engineering built in to them. Farmers could not afford to spend a day ordering a part and three days waiting for delivery – they have to take the tractor apart and get it up and running so they can plant or harvest while the weather is good. If Susie or Johnnie happened to be around to hand dad the wrench, that became a foundation for their education.

    If a replacement part was needed, that too would screw up the schedule, so things were improvised with what was at hand.

    So a good deal of what we are losing in terms of having an analytical society could be due to how in our modern lives, all our appliances are either too complicated for anyone who is not a specialist to deal with repairing, or else too simple to bother with it.

    If your TV breaks down, buy a new one at a website and have overnight delivery. The multi-purpose tractor has been replaced by the million dollar combine that few people could repair unless they worked for whatever outfit designed and built it.

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    • August 11, 2020, at 4:52 PM PDT
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  15. Mark Camp Member

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Anthony L. DeWitt: My theory is that American education is great at teaching facts…

    This is something I pay a fair bit of attention to and I think the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the opposite: that our schools are guilty of gross malpractice when it comes to teaching even basic facts. I’m reminded of a video where they walked around an Ivy League campus asking When was the Revolutionary War, and who did we win our independence from? Answers ranged from 1950 to 1980, from Canada to Mexico. These are supposed to be our best and brightest kids.

    I’m afraid I had the same violent reaction to the idea that our system educates kids on facts.

    Regarding critical thinking, I’m a fan of the work of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham. According to him, the evidence is pretty clear that critical thinking is not a skill that can be taught. Rather, it emerges over a couple of decades or more as one learns basic facts and background knowledge.

    The question you raise is one I wonder about every day, and have for a long time.

    Can critical thinking be taught? I was very much influenced by A. Nock’s book “Memoirs of a Superfluous Man”.

    He thought that it was a fool’s errand and a historically proven impossibility to teach the general public to read, through massive literacy programs. He said that now everyone is literate, but still only the same small majority can read. If you cannot read, you cannot be educated. You can never learn to think.

    He resigned himself to being a “superfluous man”: a man who was educated, a man who could read, a man who could think.

    His pessimism is depressing. I try to resist it. More and more on Ricochet I get the sense that people are learning to read and to think, and that the only reason they didn’t is that their teachers never tried to teach them to. It’s easy to get through school without thinking, just as it’s easy to get through gym class without ever recording your best possible time in the rope climb or the 100 meters. Training is painful. Someone has to drive you to do it and encourage you to do it.

     

    • #15
    • August 11, 2020, at 5:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. kidCoder Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    For example, I don’t want a “free thinker” fixing my car or re-wiring my electrical box. I want someone who knows how the job is supposed to be done, and is able to do it.

    American Education had better not be about learning to fix cars or program computers or design rockets. Other countries already have that, and they do OK at it.

    • #16
    • August 11, 2020, at 5:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. kidCoder Member

    Kephalithos, Master of Acedia (View Comment):
    It never seems to occur to them that, for us mortals, math is hard and boring, and we need all the help (read: memorization and shortcuts) we can get.

    It’s funny, because mathematicians use the shortcuts, and it’s only those who are not math-brained who use the schoolbook methods.

    • #17
    • August 11, 2020, at 5:21 PM PDT
    • Like
  18. Mark Camp Member

    kidCoder (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    For example, I don’t want a “free thinker” fixing my car or re-wiring my electrical box. I want someone who knows how the job is supposed to be done, and is able to do it.

    American Education had better not be about learning to fix cars or program computers or design rockets. Other countries already have that, and they do OK at it.

    This is the exact point I was trying to make in another Comment. There is no connection between education and technical training. You can do, or not do, one of them without affecting your ability to do the other.

    • #18
    • August 11, 2020, at 5:27 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk andJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Anthony L. DeWitt: My theory is that American education is great at teaching facts but not much else.

    I once read that the only area where American education ranks at the top of international rankings is Public Speaking. It’s the only country where there’s a greater emphasis on fostering students’ ability to persuade and motivate than to make sure students know what the heck they’re talking about. It’s like, “we may suck at six of the seven classical liberal arts, but at least we kick butt at rhetoric!”

    Apologies that I don’t have a citation for the claim. I don’t remember where I read it.

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    • August 11, 2020, at 5:41 PM PDT
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  20. Brandon Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    We can’t be truly equal until everyone has nothing.

    But even then we will not be equal. If you think that the petty resentments of your fellow man over your superior wealth are awful, wait until you both have the same amount of money. At that point, the most sheer, destructive aspect of the human condition is brought forth. That person you hated because he had more money that you? Well, now that he has nothing, he’s still happier than you. His wife still loves him more than you. His kids are better behaved, and he has more respect from the community. You have found that the money didn’t make him better than you; being better than you allowed him to earn more money. When the monsters among us realize that there is no mechanism to erase that kind of equality, that’s when things really get ugly. 

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    • August 11, 2020, at 5:47 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  21. Kephalithos Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment): I once read that the only area where American education ranks at the top of international rankings is Public Speaking. It’s the only country where there’s a greater emphasis on fostering students’ ability to persuade and motivate than to make sure students know what the heck they’re talking about. It’s like, “we may suck at six of the seven classical liberal arts, but at least we kick butt at rhetoric!”

    Americans kick butt at rhetoric? News to me.

    • #21
    • August 11, 2020, at 6:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Brandon Member

    OK, let me chime in on this:

    1) Teaching Facts:  There was once a general theory in education that pushing facts based knowledge was fool hardy because everyone in the world has the internet in his pocket. There is some truth to that idea in that sheer, raw knowledge is not the trump card it once was. Knowledge in the absence of judgement, humility, and character is downright dangerous. However, there is a ton of emerging research that those stodgy old essentialists were correct: knowing stuff makes you smarter. Turns out that knowledge doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s like Velcro in that knowledge sticks to knowledge. Once you begin to know stuff, the new stuff you learn “sticks” to the old. The smart get smarter. And, as earlier posters noted, unless you have a baseline level of universal knowledge from which to draw, your critical thinking skills are more or less useless.

    2) Teaching Critical Thinking: I actually do teach the concept of critical thinking, and yes I’m well aware that a whole bunch of people don’t have the foggiest clue about what it actually is. (Don’t get me started on the sheer idiocy of critical theory). I approach critical thinking like this:

    “Kids, you have no idea why you think what you think. I’m sorry, but you really don’t. You believe that you’re making reasonable, objective choices regarding the world around you, but you’re not. The problem is that you are, by and large, using your intuition to make choices, which is fine in low-resolution situations where in-depth analysis isn’t necessary. Intuition is fast, effortless, and self-satisfying; it never tells you ‘no.’ It’s the ideal mode of cognition for picking what you want off the Arby’s menu. However, it’s lousy at picking a career, deciding on which source of information to believe, and how to engage in a rational discussion about complicated topics. You think your analytical mind is running the show. It isn’t. Your analytical side is the tiny little man riding the elephant we call intuition. And unless the rider has been specially trained to control the elephant, that restless pachyderm is going to run your life.

    Now, do you know who understands that elephant? The media does and so do politicians. Advertisers understand that elephant like the back of their oily hands. This nefarious cabal of miscreants will gladly drag you around by the trunk for the rest of your life. And if you think that your elephant will stop them, that it will realize that it is being led, then you don’t really understand your elephant–or yourself. They will prey upon your vanity, your sloth, your mistrust, and every other foul, inextinguishable aspect of the human condition. Your only chance of escaping this life-death sentence is to get control of your elephant before they do.

    This is where I come in…”

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    • August 11, 2020, at 6:49 PM PDT
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  23. GrannyDude Member

    What’s odd is that little kids love learning facts, and they love memorizing things. Teachers, being adults, find rote memorization boring, so they project their own boredom onto their pupils. Since teachers in the U.S. are generally not high achievers, academically speaking, there is reason to believe that they aren’t actually particularly good at, or enthusiastic about, the skills they wish to impart to their students.

    My husband, who taught high school art for 17 years, knew the differences in outcomes between the private schools in the area, since all went up to 8th grade and no further. He found that the kids from the “unstructured, child-centered, learner-directed” school were the least capable and the most disagreeable.

    The kids from the Waldorf school were the most competent and willing to try anything. Why? Because, he theorized, they’d already attempted and mastered relatively difficult skills. They could knit a sock. They could carve a spoon out of wood. They could draw a rose—meaning render, with verisimilitude. This gave them confidence. “If I can turn a heel, I can definitely learn to weld!” 

    And Waldorf education is pretty big on memorization. 

    When my kids were little, I made them memorize a few useful things: The 23rd psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, the preamble to the Declaration of Independence…it wasn’t difficult for them. Looking back, I’d have had them memorize more. Critical thinking comes after you have something worth thinking about. 

     

    • #23
    • August 11, 2020, at 7:04 PM PDT
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  24. Barfly Member

    Brandon (View Comment):
    Turns out that knowledge doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s like Velcro in that knowledge sticks to knowledge. Once you begin to know stuff, the new stuff you learn “sticks” to the old. The smart get smarter.

    That’s true all the way down to neurobiology. Every concept in the mind is a single tight little group of neurons. Neurons fire when enough of their afferents fire, and it takes more than one other concept to contribute enough. 

    It’s hard to even learn without already knowing something, again because of biology: synapses become conditioned when both neurons fire. To learn a connection between two concepts, we have to simultaneously activate both of them.

    • #24
    • August 11, 2020, at 7:11 PM PDT
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  25. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brandon (View Comment):

    OK, let me chime in on this:

    1) Teaching Facts: There was once a general theory in education that pushing facts based knowledge was fool hardy because everyone in the world has the internet in his pocket. There is some truth to that idea in that sheer, raw knowledge is not the trump card it once was. Knowledge in the absence of judgement, humility, and character is downright dangerous. However, there is a ton of emerging research that those stodgy old essentialists were correct: knowing stuff makes you smarter. Turns out that knowledge doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s like Velcro in that knowledge sticks to knowledge. Once you begin to know stuff, the new stuff you learn “sticks” to the old. The smart get smarter. And, as earlier posters noted, unless you have a baseline level of universal knowledge from which to draw, your critical thinking skills are more or less useless.

    2) Teaching Critical Thinking: I actually do teach the concept of critical thinking, and yes I’m well aware that a whole bunch of people don’t have the foggiest clue about what it actually is. (Don’t get me started on the sheer idiocy of critical theory). I approach critical thinking like this:

    “Kids, you have no idea why you think what you think. I’m sorry, but you really don’t. You believe that you’re making reasonable, objective choices regarding the world around you, but you’re not. The problem is that you are, by and large, using your intuition to make choices, which is fine in low-resolution situations where in-depth analysis isn’t necessary. Intuition is fast, effortless, and self-satisfying; it never tells you ‘no.’ It’s the ideal mode of cognition for picking what you want off the Arby’s menu. However, it’s lousy at picking a career, deciding on which source of information to believe, and how to engage in a rational discussion about complicated topics. You think your analytical mind is running the show. It isn’t. Your analytical side is the tiny little man riding the elephant we call intuition. And unless the rider has been specially trained to control the elephant, that restless pachyderm is going to run your life.

    Now, do you know who understands that elephant? The media does and so do politicians. Advertisers understand that elephant like the back of their oily hands. This nefarious cabal of miscreants will gladly drag you around by the trunk for the rest of your life. And if you think that your elephant will stop them, that it will realize that it is being led, then you don’t really understand your elephant–or yourself. They will prey upon your vanity, your sloth, your mistrust, and every other foul, inextinguishable aspect of the human condition. Your only chance of escaping this life-death sentence is to get control of your elephant before they do.

    This is where I come in…”

    3) Critical thinking when you can, facts otherwise. The students will need both. The former is tougher than the latter.

    • #25
    • August 11, 2020, at 7:15 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Chuck Thatcher

    I sense a majority opinion that the public school system in general does poorly at teaching facts, and also does poorly at teaching how to think.

     

    • #26
    • August 11, 2020, at 7:44 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. Chuck Thatcher

    By the way CW is a method of transmission, Morse code is but one way to use CW. Whatever some FCC test said. 

    • #27
    • August 11, 2020, at 7:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Maguffin Member

    I was lucky – I went through most of my lower education in the 80s, but in a rural area of a conservative state with teachers who were not typically young. So, I was forced to memorize facts. Lots of facts. But they also did not just expect memorization of the facts. Mrs. Nina Lance would rip you up one side and down the other if you submitted an English paper that only used facts. My history teachers were the same way. Try getting through a biology or chemistry experiment and then write it up with only facts with the kinds of teachers I had.

    As @sandy said, having a good body of facts crammed into your noggin’ can assist with critical thinking.

    The problem with education is the education establishment and the fact that they are no longer interested in truly teaching, but in transforming.

    Freeven (View Comment):

    Regarding critical thinking, I’m a fan of the work of cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham. According to him, the evidence is pretty clear that critical thinking is not a skill that can be taught. Rather, it emerges over a couple of decades or more as one learns basic facts and background knowledge.

    It’s a bit funny, because one of the big trends right now in the geeky world is machine learning – and what is that? Stuffing a bunch of facts into a machine so it can start to make connections between them. Hmmm…sounds a bit familiar to something else…

    • #28
    • August 11, 2020, at 8:03 PM PDT
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  29. Quietpi Member

    Kephalithos, Master of Acedia (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment): I agree with Sandy’s comments. You can’t think critically until you know quite a few facts. You can’t solve complicated math or science problems without an understanding first of basic mathematics, and then of algebra and geometry, and often of more advanced math.

    The Deweyists who wrote my elementary school’s math curriculum would disagree. They believed that students could discover the rules of mathematics themselves by playing around with plastic knick-knacks (“manipulatives,” in arcane educator-speak).

    God forbid that we force our budding Pythagorases to memorize anything — or, heaven help us, use some kind of algorithmic shortcut. The horror!

    Both absolutely true, and absolutely true that neither is being taught. In a word, the Deweyists have won. We can only hope and pray that they may have won the battle, but not the war. Because the snowflakes that are currently plaguing the world are the inevitable product of this currently theory of teaching feelings, and neither facts nor logic.

    And BTW @anthonydewitt, congrats on your ham ticket. Maybe we should try to set up a Ricochet net! We aren’t the only two.

    • #29
    • August 11, 2020, at 8:13 PM PDT
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  30. Quietpi Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):
    I once read that the only area where American education ranks at the top of international rankings is Public Speaking. It’s the only country where there’s a greater emphasis on fostering students’ ability to persuade and motivate than to make sure students know what the heck they’re talking about. It’s like, “we may suck at six of the seven classical liberal arts, but at least we kick butt at rhetoric!”

    I dispute this idea to the point of considering the proponent of such an idea as not having the intelligence and therefore the right to an opinion of any sort.

    Once, close to 50 years ago, I heard an interview of a leading San Francisco State Univ. education professor on KGO radio. He made a comment that makes me shudder to this very day. And IIRC the talk show host was aghast. The “professor” said, “As long as the student feels good about himself, then we have done our job.” That was the metric he was teaching his students in this most prestigious university.

    It’s perhaps telling that this would have been maybe three years after the S.I. Hayakawa riots at S.F. State.

    Oh, wait. On second thought this morning, there is one thing related to persuasive rhetoric at which they do excel: yelling.

    • #30
    • August 11, 2020, at 8:17 PM PDT
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