How often in life do you get an idea that you can’t express verbally or in writing? Often a flash of insight will feel whole and obvious, but like dreams, when you try to explain them their logic falls apart. Expressing one’s thoughts is hard. Finding words to explain how you feel is even harder. Whether talking with your soul mate, best friend, or writing an essay for a bunch of unknown and unseen strangers, putting the exact words together is major work. It takes persistence.
How often have you not said anything rather than struggle to find the words? How often have you seen a fantastic movie that moved you at a very deep level, but when your friends asked you about it, all you could say was, “I loved it.”
That happens to me all the time. And since I blog I’m always trying to express an idea that feels obvious to me but one I fail to give whole to my readers, or even to myself when I read what I’ve written months later, after I’ve forgotten the original inspiration.
What we have here is a failure to communicate, as a line in an old movie goes.
Friday I read a series of articles in Scientific American about new educational techniques and my initial feeling was a kind of revulsion. I immediately jotted down some notes, and yesterday I wrote an essay about how I felt. The results aren’t what I intended. That essay was too generalized. If I tried again, how could I approach it differently?
The first essay doesn’t convey the revulsion of my initial reaction. I had A Clockwork Orange kind of image of educators forcing kids to learn. I imagined teaching machines that literally forced data into children’s minds, overstuffing their little heads until they were ready to puke words. At what point does K-12 education become cruel and unusual punishment, or even brainwashing?
Part of my initial reaction was to ask: Are we requiring kids to learn too much?
The secondary reaction to that initial reaction is: What is enough education? What information should everyone have at immediate recall to make them a good and useful citizen?
Another part of my reaction is personal experience. I read a lot of books. I’ve read thousands of books, and tens of thousands of essays and watched thousands of documentaries, and one of the things I feel at 61 is I haven’t processed that information very efficiently, and maybe learning about reality could be more systematic and concise.
We can never know everything there is to know. Not even close. But K-12 and undergraduate curriculums try awful hard to give students a good approximation of all knowledge. And part of my gut reaction to those articles in Scientific American was a criticism of not how we teach, but what we teach. But to get into that topic would require writing a book.
I guess the feeling I wanted to communicate whole about my reaction to what I read was this: Can our education system teach more by teaching less? Can’t we teach kids to be self-educators, to become highly efficient autodidactics that are hungry to learn on their own? Shouldn’t we reevaluate what the standard curriculum should be so that it’s a toolkit for learning and not a vast database?
JWH – 7/24/13