Our education systems are failing our children. They need to change
“Schools and universities have curricula and they have standards. Curricula mean: You have a particular set of ideas that everybody should put into their minds. Standards mean that people are standardized. In a more rational society, schools would advertise that every child who leaves them is different. But today they advertise the exact opposite.” [Emphasis added.]
As somebody who has worked in education for over 20 years, the quote above felt both depressingly true and — worse — something I’ve contributed to, which came as something of a punch in the guts.
The quote, as with the one below, came from a very interesting interview with physicist David Deutsch in Der Spiegel, and both have been rattling around my brain because I’ve been thinking largely the same thing for years. This doesn’t mean I think I’m as smart as Professor Deutsch, or even smart in general, it just shows that I’m not alone. If we simply plod along the same path, following the same old methods and rules, progress won’t only stagnate, it’ll stop — there simply won’t be any progress at all.
For some, this lack of progress comes with benefits. They don’t need to change, adapt, or do anything much more than they’ve always done. They can justify their lack of innovation and effort by falling back on clichés like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But our education systems are broken, as the mass shortage of teachers shows (a discussion for another time).
Which brings me on to the second quote:
“[U]nfortunately, there’s a sort of cult of the expert. Accordingly, many researchers remain narrowly focused on their particular field, and even within that they are focused on creating usefulness rather than finding explanations. This is a terrible mistake.”
This is inevitable when people are contantly badgering you to pick something, to choose a specialization. I studied law, even though my interests spanned music, design, literature, education, philosophy, business and even a bit of science. Sadly, there aren’t courses that offer a bit of everything you’re interested in until you find something (or a couple of things) you really like, and even fewer people in education who’d advocate such a thing. Choosing a “major” is a kind of attempt to address it, but people who graduate without having clearly chosen a specialization are often looked down upon.
So what’s the message for students? Fit in. You’re not important enough to warrant special treatment. Pass the tests or fail. Choose the sciences or the arts (you can’t have both). Don’t ask questions. Specialize. A jack of all trades is a master of none, after all.
So, what to do? Education needs to be reconsidered from the ground up. We need to remember we’re educating individuals, not amorphous groups. At the same time, we need to remember that teachers are individuals, too.
Different ideas need to be tried: smaller classes, more individual attention, more creativity, more freedom for self-expression, less focus on putting children into categories, more emphasis on the interconnection between disciplines, less bureaucracy, more investment — the list goes on.
This won’t happen overnight. But it should happen, because we owe it to future generations.