Friday, June 01, 2007

Accessibility and Education

I mentioned yesterday, that today's world highly values accessibility. Most people would rather have resources at there fingertips than to plan and prepare what knowledge they would need to acquire. Unfortunately much of what is accessible is consumer driven or unrefined, unsupported information.

Yet, this presents of accessibility deters our incentive to learn.

In orthodox Judaism there is a history of young males going to Yeshiva and dedicating themselves to the study of Talmud and the Torah. Students would not only know massive passages of the Torah by heart, but they would also the beliefs of different commentators and other respected text.

This type of educational expectation is not drastically different than what you saw in Chinese culture between 600 AD and 1905 AD with their Imperial Civil Service Exam. In China, any young male of almost any class had the opportunity to climb through the ranks of the social hierarchy by taking a grueling civil service exam. There were three levels of exams, each administered upon passing the earliest one. These exams took years to prepare for, and involved memorizing long passages and books deemed Confucian classics, as well as military strategy, civil law, ritual, and art. The test took often took 24 to 72 hours which were to be taken in one sitting.

The education strategy of the orthodox Jews and dynastic Chinese are the furthest thing from today's education strategy. The emphasis is not on memorizing information and passages, but rather on super specialized skills. This has largely changed because of the emphasis on specialized labor (encouraged by economist Adam Smith in 1776 when he wrote Wealth of Nations, Henry Ford in 1910's when he mass-rolled out the Model T's and paid his employees well, and in 2007 when Seth Godin wrote The Dip).

If this is the way it is, an onslaught of a new time how do schools teach? Is a well rounded 13 years of primary and secondary school history, science, math, and reading still what optimizes students? If schools adapted with the social-economic business climate what would schools look like, and how long is this sustainable?


crackers and cheese said...

Interesting, someone was just telling me this very thing - how interesting it is that in our K-12 education, we're expected to master many things and be able to do everything ourselves, yet as adults in our careers we specialize and delegate.

But somehow I think this is the way it should be - starting broad and wide with knowledge and abilities, and funneling down into specialized skills as we mature and make adult decisions. How could we expect an elementary aged child to make a career decision in what to specialize in without life experience? Besides, that's the time when we're best able to learn, as our brains continue to develop into adulthood. Whether it's relevant in adult life or not, why not pour in as much knowledge as you can while the brain can absorb it more readily?

If I could change on thing about our educational system, I think we should definitely start teaching foreign languages in our schools earlier. Maybe it's not a national goal or necessity right now for our citizens to be bilingual, but it sure is becoming a great asset. Talking with my international friends who are bilingual or trilingual, they started learning a second or third language in elementary and by the time they come to college, they have had 10ish years of experience with that language.

Terence Towles Canote said...

The way things are today, when everyone is expected to be specialized, brings to mind a quote from Robert Heinlen--"Specialization is for insects..."

jasdye said...


ever heard of the NCLB? the way that's working now, especially for the younger children of poor and minorities is, let's teach toward a test, test, teach for a test, test, rinse, repeat.

so, in other words, not much teaching. (of course, this is coming from a jaded, young teacher in the inner cities who is taking grad courses in education, with a lot of dewey thrown in there).

although i don't think every form of education works for every person (not everybody should go off to the university), i don't believe that specialized tracking (especially from a young age) is beneficial to anyone but the rich and powerful.

i think that john dewey may have it right, though. the best education prepares the student for whatever may lie in the future - so, in a sense, the students should be intellectually and morally strong and very adaptable.

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