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Monday, September 30, 2013

Why do we let the general public decide what should be "taught" in school?

An article caught my eye the other day which you can read here


It contained the following paragraph:
Ivan the Terrible encouraged his subjects to drink their last kopecks away in state-owned taverns to help pad the emperor’s purse. Before Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in the 1980s, Soviet leaders welcomed alcohol sales as a source of state revenue and did not view heavy drinking as a significant social problem. In 2010, Russia’s finance minister, Aleksei L. Kudrin, explained that the best thing Russians can do to help, “the country’s flaccid national economy was to smoke and drink more, thereby paying more in taxes.”
Now this column is about education what could this have to do with education?
There is a cynicism in government that includes the idea that the people really aren’t that important. “So they die early, but at least they pay taxes.” This isn’t too far from “so they are stupid and can’t think clearly, but at least they pay taxes.”
Do most governments want their citizens to be stupid? Here is a link to article in the New York Times yesterday.

The headline of the article was: Creationists on Texas Panel for Biology Textbooks. In summary, a committee of people with a religious agenda is deciding how biology should be taught in Texas. 
In today’s Time magazine, we see the following:
The headline of this one is: Atheism Added to Irish School Curriculums A new lesson plan will teach 16,000 Irish schoolchildren about atheism, agnosticism and humanism.
I was reminded of the famous remark made by Mark Twain (about 100 years ago).   
“In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Why do we let the general public decide what should be taught in school? The answer is because we really don’t care what they are taught. We also don’t care that they are taught. By this I mean that the verb “to teach,” when used in a school context, means to tell students what is true so they will believe it. What does it mean to teach atheism (in Ireland) for example? It means people will attempt to teach ideas that oppose Catholicism which is what dominates the schools there. I am sorry but did it ever cross anyone’s mind that both sides are wrong?
Schools should not “teach” anything. Why not? Because what we really mean by “teach” is “indoctrinate.” We want to tell students what to think. Little thought (but much lip service) is devoted to teaching them how to think. We want to “teach” students to be good citizens, to “teach” them about our history, to “teach” them math and science. These last ones are not exactly indoctrination. But what they actually are reminds me of the story I started with about drinking in Russia.
Math and science are meant to teach thinking (or so it is said). They could actually teach thinking of course, but when the scientific questions are given to you, and the right answers are taught to you, science ceases to be about observation, experimentation, hypothesis creation, and reasoning from evidence, and becomes memorization to get good scores on multiple choice tests. 
How does this relate to Russia’s drinking problem? Those who follow the rules and memorize everything they are told to memorize will probably turn out to be obedient tax paying citizens. It is all the same idea really.
Yesterday I was watching NFL football. The face of Sal Khan came on -- I don’t know how many times -- talking about videos that Bill Gates and now Bank of America are backing. Why do they back these small lectures that are meant to get the current high school curriculum banged into student’s heads? Why national TV ads? Because those in power want everyone to do what they say, memorize what they say to memorize, and avoid thinking hard about real issues. Cutely done math tutorials are the latest thinking in how technology can fix education. No one thinks about changing a curriculum that was written centuries ago.
You can’t fix something that doesn’t want to be fixed. You can help those who have bought into the system do math better and aid their chances of getting into Harvard. But what about all the rest of the people? As long as they shut up and pay taxes, Bill Gates, Sal Khan, and now Bank of America, will be happy. No one really cares about the average Joe (or Ivan.) 
They never have.

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