Monday, 14 May 2007

Teaching vs. Education vs. Learning

Last Friday I made mention of a post in which EoR, a noted online skeptic (and if you don't know the true definition of that word you really need to research it), had made a reference to how lacking a basic scientific education is today. In my post I used fairly broad terminology and suggested that I thought that education in general was lacking.

EoR responded, posting a comment in which he raised a very interesting point:

Thanks for the mention.

EoR isn't sure it's the lack of education so much as the lack of teaching critical and analytical thinking skills. If you have those then you don't need experience (especially since there's always going to be a new quack coming along with a new magical claim)"

Having sat through what passed at the time as education in Australia, from pre-school all the way through to grade 12 and on to four years of full-time tertiary study, I agree that the lack of education per se is not the problem, but that the nature of it is. And EoR is quite right. The problem is: How would you fix that problem? What would you teach?

Spend any time around the Internet looking at a specialist topic (programming, to pick one not-random example) and you will soon realise that there will be somebody pushing a dearth of education as being a problem: The most recent example I remember is how mathematics is taught and how this handicaps potential future computer programmers. I'm sure he's right, but I'm more interested in how education might handicap potential future adults in general.

Closer to home, I frequently have discussions with my partner over what should be taught from day 1 of school, including First Aid, road safety and possibly at least one foreign language. But how to teach logic, critical and analytical thinking skills and the nature and processes (and why they're so important) of science to children who are still in the Preoperational stage of cognitive development?

I'm not a teacher and I can't answer that, but I'm tempted to say: At any cost. Douglas Adams gave an interview once in which he was asked about his firm atheism and used one sentence that made me instantly, insanely jealous: "I was taught history really rather well, and logic really rather well..." I wasn't. I suspect between DNAs education and mine, nevermind the country, there was a shift to modern theories of education which emphasised... I'm not sure what, but learning of traditional subjects probably weren't involved. And I was undoubtedly the poorer for it. I don't remember being taught logical thought processes in a classroom at all. I may have missed that lesson, or it may have been assumed, or it may have been discarded as unnecessary and in that case it was one of the biggest mistakes made.

My education was delivered by passionate people who, almost unanimously, I liked. And they were supported and they knew what they were talking about (mostly). But the curricula were, to put it mildly, lacking. And somewhere along the way whoever set the curricula forgot to include the parts that help people learn. Like analytical thinking skills.

For those who don't have a good basis in science, and wonder if you're being rippped off, may I heartily recommend that you read this over at Quackwatch. It'll help. I promise.

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