Reconceptualizing Education

I’ve spent nearly a lifetime, albeit a short lifetime, navigating through the United States educational system. I’ve succeeded, in a very traditional sense, throughout primary, secondary, and post-secondary curriculums. Yet, as these studies are coming to an end, I’ve been doing a great deal of questioning as to what I’ve really learned throughout this time, and what I think I should have been learning. Education serves as a reliable barometer as to what a society values. It seems readily apparent that this country values competent cogs above all else, or, industrialized citizens. Yet, what relevant role does this play in a rapidly changing American economy?

A great deal of the following ideas derive from Maslow (on a theoretical basis) and Huxley (on an anecdotal basis). What I wish I would have been learning doesn’t exactly differ from the subject matter I have been learning. The problem, though, presents itself in presentation, in the means. There is nothing inherently wrong with learning the governing laws of the world in which we inhabit (physics and mathematics). The subject matter is useful in a number of different fields. Yet where I think our educational system is failing us is in robbing these subject matters of their awe-inspiring aspects. Physics and mathematics, as they are currently taught, have been reduced to the rote memorization and application of formulas. Sure, this produces competent, linear-thinking engineers and mathematicians, but it does nothing to produce the novel, creative thinkers we covet, the next Einsteins, the next Leibnizs. These men were taught to see beyond the formulas we’re all familiar with. The formulas weren’t presented as reality, they were guidelines to a far more complex reality.  No one can be expected to fully immerse themselves into a subject matter if they are not encouraged to, and presented with the awesome nature of their subject matter.

This is not to imply that every man will be naturally inclined to be amazed by the governing laws of reality, as in mathematics. Our various idiosyncrasies dictate that our curiosity and our creative abilities will naturally lead us to absorption in one field over  another. The point is, that we must foster an environment for these innate curiosities to be expanded upon and explored. This is how we produce the individuals whose curiosity will produce the next wave of scientific and artistic breakthroughs. As it currently stands, we have made ourselves reliant on the extraordinary perseverance of a select minority to foster their own path to true education. Yet this is to deny ourselves the rewards of an entire population’s worth of untapped potential.

Most students are lost at a very early age as they find their education being dictated to them in a disinterested fashion, less concerned about the fostering of curiosity and wonderment than the reproduction of meaningless answers on a standardized test. It must be recognized that the need for industrialized cogs is quickly diminishing within this country and if we are to persist within this changing environment, then the core tenets of our educational system must change with it. The emphasis must be turned away from the production of competent works, to the production of competent thinkers, of competent innovators. Our system, as it currently operates, seems set up to inhibit the production of such individuals.

This article was written by Anthony Benedict. Anthony helps to run and maintain inetzeal.com. This website is an entity of an Internet marketing company which provides many services, which includes a white label link building service, as well as many other white label SEO services.

6 comments

  • I agree with so much of what you’ve said here. I teach at a top-rated public university, and the saddest thing I see is that the students don’t even understand what learning really is. As an undergrad (given, yes, quite a nerdy one), I loved taking classes in stuff that I just thought was interesting. But my students think they should only have to take courses in their major and get really mad if they have to take other stuff. Business students say, “Why should I care about sociology? I’m going into finance.” and English majors say, “Why do I have to take science? I’m going to study books.” And neither realize that gaining a wider view of the world will effect the way they engage in their “careers.” I try to focus on critical thinking skills, no matter what I’m teaching, and my experience over the last 11 years has been coming up against increasing resistance to this. They only want to know what’s going to be on the test, what they need to do to make an “A,” and the process or the content of getting those things is peripheral at best.

  • I agree that everyone needs a well rounded start. This is a great article supporting the “theory” side of Math Wars that have been occurring in the US for the last 20 years. Scores in our testing show the result. Kids are no longer taught basics- except in private or really good public schools until university- everyone else is taught theory.
    This is the part I totally disagree with:
    ” Physics and mathematics, as they are currently taught, have been reduced to the rote memorization and application of formulas. Sure, this produces competent, linear-thinking engineers and mathematicians, but it does nothing to produce the novel, creative thinkers we covet, the next Einsteins, the next Leibnizs. These men were taught to see beyond the formulas we’re all familiar with”
    The ingenuity of the country is built on the backbone of people with a basic (and above) basic understanding of math and physics. You are saying that Einstein did not have a strong background in mathematical equations? He did not get it from school- but he was the leader of writing and brainstorming the equations. He saw math as other genius see music. Do you think that genius like his are only one in 50 years? I think that the current lack of basics and outdoor time stops the genius from growing.
    The problem with getting away from teaching basic skills (which is what I pick up here) is that the educated household will still make sure their children get their multiplication facts and physics theories. The others are just displaced. It is a class schism that the US can no longer afford. What happens when your children’s children get to school and the teacher no longer can add or multiply because the theory was much more important than the basics? The US used to be tops in innovation- but now we are losing our place to those who have strong basics- China and India.

    Why do you think that the US’s highest score in education is self esteem and the lowest is mathematics?

  • I agree that our educational system is hopelessly antiquated. The lecture, study, homework and test method was understandable 100 years ago, but it’s intolerable today. Sir John Templeton predicted that over half of the universities will disappear in the next 50 years and most education will be conducted with interactive electronic systems. That sounds pretty radical, but I believe he is correct. Look at how the Internet has already made libraries obsolete. Higher learning needs to become much more affordable, efficient and accessible. We can’t tackle the complex problems of the 21st century, with educational systems and institutions created for the 19th century.

  • I think i was lucky. My father was a science teacher so I got to play in the science labs in the afternoons and see all the animals in jars etc. I agree with your sentiments about gazing in awe at the universe. I think this is lost on a lot of people who think that science removes the sense of amazement. It does the complete oposite.

  • @Anthony- While I understand your frustration I think you are missing the bigger picture. I too have spend significant time in the education system, but am a bit older after having spent significant time in the business world as well. While I agree it would be nice for the US system to teach more for theory and spend less time teaching to pass tests, what is the end game? Yes we might miss the next Einstein, however what are we educating for?

    The US system is designed to have people come out of the schools and begin working. This is how it has been for many years. You are not supposed to come out of high school and be scholarly and learned. It is designed so that people can do tasks, perform jobs which expects a minimum level of skill, and can learn things along the way. Almost like manual labor jobs (factory, etc.) Can people with HS diplomas do more? Yes. I am not being an elitist, but I am explaining the system. If someone wanted to become more educated, they go to college, so they can have a better career and better life (in theory). This is where the scholarship (ie. theoretical learning) comes into play.

    I went to a school (middle, high school) which decided to focus on “college prep”, and they taught theory along with the practical side of the house. If you wanted to learn the theory, then great, if not, then it was not on the test. This is where you started to see the “going to college” or “going into the workforce” split. If you look long and hard at what you are saying, basically it is all to do with theoretical and practical application of skills. Practical application of skills means you know how to hit a nail with a hammer properly and can do that task repeatedly. Theoretical skill talks more about knowing you are imposing force with a large heavy object onto a small object thus due to Newtonian Physics forces the nail into the board based upon angle and force.

    Each have their place in society. As America grows and changes, we need more people doing the second than the former, however people have to want to WORK for it. That is where I see your issue fail. In China and India you are talking about, these people are starving, and working hard core to get their only child an education. They go to school not as a requirement, but as a way out of poverty. They are driven to learn more by forces that middle class kids know nothing about (and thus care more about passing tests than learning why). Secondly, don’t think that these schools are not teaching to pass the test. Teachers are ranked on how many kids get A’s, not how many fail or learn. Children are told how to pass the test and a lot of their work is rote memorization, they just have more of it than we do. I grew up in this system living overseas, I know how their school system works.

    Yes they are smart, yes they have degrees and many have advanced degrees. However the biggest thing that is different between countries is that they do not have imagination, or creativity, or the ability to look outside what they are taught. This is where American schools excel. If you have ever worked w/ an Indian or Chinese Computer Science major, they know the theory like the back of their hand, but go outside what they have been taught and you have a hard time keeping up.

    The thing I see is this. You are asking to go from one way to another (practical and theoretical) education. I think that is the wrong way to do it. I like the European model. Let them test. Do they have the practical or know how to do things from a practical stand point or do they question why, and want to learn. Break them apart and teach them different things. Those that are in “trade school” as they call it, are those that are taught the skills to be part of life, and to do jobs that are more manual in nature. While those that show an inkling of curiosity and lust for learning, will do so by doing college prep and eventually college.

    Is this perfect? Nope. Does it help manage your issue? Yep. Just food for thought.

  • I totally agree. As a student I myself used to completely dislike the routine of going to school everyday, study (or rather cram) texts all focused only to get good grades in exams. What did I learn, the answer always used to be “NIL” because it was all compulsion on me. Fortunately I landed in professional course which was fairly practical and I developed interest otherwise I would have been a helpless victim of this system.

    One more thing that I have felt and would like to bring out is that parents will (my daughter must become doctor, etc.) which makes everything even worse because in that scenario you just cant enjoy what you are doing because the education system is non practical and you anyways don’t wanna do what you are asked to do.