Students good at rote memorization along with their own idiosyncratic, usually unexamined, gift for self-storytelling are rewarded with positive feedback by a teacher who has to invest attention carefully. “Hmm, let’s pick a student at random, Superintendent Chalmers. Can you answer the question, Lisa Simpson?” Those students who thrive on the predigested stories learn more what and not how to learn, and while they master some information, they must overcome the anti-education of a standard curriculum that’s more about keeping them in line.
So one assumption I have is that creativity is under-served in our schools, because of evolutionary mismatch, and in a lot of cases, The Lord of the Flies scenario might produce better outcomes.
Note how convenient the caste filter of modern education is to a ruling elite who can afford private schools and one-on-one tuition for their students. I’m reminded of the lyrics from the Rush song “Losing It”: “Some are born to move the world — / To live their fantasies, / But most of us just dream about / The things we’d like to be.” This is not some conspiracy, I think. It just works out well that the resentments and shallow strategies most of us adopt for relevance in our school tribes happens to favor those above the fray, those really able to move the world. Marxists like to point out how identity politics serves this function, pitting poor blacks and whites against each other, focused on the crumbs spilled from the master’s table. The framing still works if we consider identity to include those who thrive in public education and those who don’t, regardless of their economic condition.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t proposed a solution here. Ideally, all kids would have the resources of the rich ones: with private tutors, good computers, stable homes, and scheduled, reliable study hours. I don’t have answers about how to best teach students, only ideas about what the problems are. Maybe sophisticated cooperation games in VR will help address the situation: where kids have to learn to develop skills in which they have less aptitude: the class clown needs to focus; the bully to negotiate peace; the scholar to fall back on his or her own authority rather than the approval of the teacher.
So 1) recognize that the classroom is a poor substitute for the tribe, is one idea.
Next, I was thinking about of our approach to education and career development as a bus you get on or you miss. A better metaphor would view educational goals as a mountain. You want to be a musician, or novelist, or software engineer? You have to move a mountain of information from general property to your own mental space, scoop by scoop, through study and practice. This may be daunting, but with this perspective, you always have the opportunity of returning to the work; and your old work is still done. I learned a little Spanish in high school, a little in college, a little reading books and Quora articles, a little on Duolingo, over four decades. Most people I know drop a foreign language after high school. Yes, your skills slip, you forget things, but it’s very easy to dwell on that. Often, they’re really still there, a foundation you can build on. The same goes for exercise as cognitive skill. I gave up heavy weightlifting in my twenties and then picked it up again in my thirties. I had old muscle memory that came back. By forty, I was stronger than I’d ever been in my life.
Why do we insist on getting one career-training bus and get off it before the age of thirty instead of moving multiple mountains throughout our lives, all at different rates, as our enthusiasm for each moves us? The total volume of knowledge moved will ultimately be greater, and we’ll be more mentally flexible.
And finally why don’t we use computers to create and tailor curricula for us? I’ve wondered this for a long time. Why don’t we have an application that builds us curricula of YouTube and other online training resources that have been proven by various performance metrics to best teach people with our goals and our learning styles (both established through test assessment)? What videos helped the most people get As in calculus, and why don’t we all know what they are? This is something that can and should be done!