On education

Don't Waste Absurd Resources in Ill-thought "Education"

There is still another sense in which I don't believe in Artificial Intelligence : I don't believe there can be much sense or progress in that forced substitution of the natural (innate) human intelligence, by that kind of artificial, standardized "intelligence" that the academic system is now and since so many decades, pretending to industrially produce and distribute into the brains of all its pupils and students.
Focusing on statistics, it would seem like providing a heavy formal education to the maximum of people is a top value for the good of the growing generation. However, when asking a student "How much of what you have learned or are currently learning at school is likely to be useful for you in your future life ?", it is commonplace to hear the answer is "only a small part". And usually they are right. Because statistics-based discourses of "how education is valuable to get a future job" and so one are one thing, while the reality of life is another. Yeah indeed there is a correlation because there are usually better chances for clever people who will succeed in life, to also have good marks when they are students, so that, therefore, good marks may happen to be a convenient indication that only takes 2 minutes to check, for employers trying to hire, no matter the ridiculous waste of "studying" years used to produce these certificates. But correlation does not imply the kind of causation that is usually assumed here, in a way that would genuinely justify the years of sacrifice behind in obedience to the system.

The idea of paying students to learn, was raised in at least 2 essays:

I see no sense there. It would be much, much too expensive for donors. Of course I agree that there is something deeply wrong with the current teaching system and the big debts it puts on students (that is what happens in US where I never was ; I live in Europe where education is paid by the states, which means by taxpayers, and I don't see it going so well either). So I see more future in MOOCs that would be potentially costless for everybody, even if it may not fit all students. Other options how to learn, are described in Don Limuti's essay, such as "The One to One training classes at the Apple Store". However I cannot see how such things can be officialized and measured in such ways that it can receive any public funding without any risk of abuse. If the quality of this solution is its freedom then it should not be spoiled by any kind of bureaucracy which public funding would require.
Because for an authority to pay for education, it has to control that it actually fits some specific standards or contents. But who defines the standards ? Who controls that they are satisfied ? Eugene Klingman wrote "Systems can be designed to minimize cheating". I don't think so. Any system to minimize cheating would be so heavy and rigid that it would be totally incompatible with any possibility for such an education process and assessment criteria to make any sense.
And how dare we assume that there is any sense assuming the possible existence of a universal, mesurable and relevant standard for education despite the diversity of minds to educate and the very definition of what needs to be nurtured : their originality ? See more comments here.

Teaching History of Science ?

This idea that just passively receiving a body of knowledge as a dogma is not the only way and may not be the best way to get a generation of true free thinkers and researchers in new frontiers of science, is raised by the essay Back to the Future: Crowdsourcing Innovation by Refocusing Science Education by Travis Ty Norsen :
"if we want a future in which further liberating innovations are the norm, we must find a way to produce scientists and engineers who are comfortable with controversy and have sound judgment about which controversial issues and hypotheses are fruitful to engage with. A natural way to achieve this goal and to help science education better capture the true nature of science in the process is to refocus science education around historical scientific controversies and their eventual resolutions. "
However, while I sympathize with the ideal of letting into the picture some process of scientific discovery with its uncertainty and its trials and errors, I personally dislike the specific method suggested here. Maybe some students would enjoy such an historical teaching. I have nothing against them, however I want to point out that this is not the solution I would have fit with. So I want to explain here why, in order to call for letting other students another way than the one suggested there if they feel as I did.
I did not like school teaching. I felt better to learn maths and physics in my free time by my own research, and so I succeeded to understand General Relativity on my own when I was 16, not even following a book on the subject. And the reason why I preferred my own research than what was taught to me at school, is NOT that my research was a draft of trials and errors while school teaching was presented as a dogma. Far from this. On the contrary, it is because I felt my own research to be a cleaner, shorter, more direct cut towards the ideal mathematics and physics as they should be, than the "dogmatic way" that was offered at school. Thus, the problem I felt with the dogmatically repeated established body of scientific knowledge, is not that it looked too clean, but that it did not look clean enough in my taste. Indeed I am a Platonist for maths and physics, and I don't like to waste any time with the errors of the past. And I consider that the specific dogmatic way in which things are currently taught, remains too much polluted by the errors of the past which do not let the pure beauty of the ideal maths and physics visible enough.
It was already quite painful to me to be coerced to endure the relatively wasteful historical draft of math and physics curricula as they happened to be fossilized in their current state by the passivity of teachers who just repeat the ways of other teachers without any serious effort to consider the possibility of a new cleaning. My pain would have been even harder, and, may I say, plain torture, if I had been coerced to endure the still dirtier drafts of previous generations in their lengthy and painful attempts, heavy of errors and hesitations, before they could reaching the understanding that came later. I like the truth, as it is one and pure. I dislike human errors and lengthy trial-and-error processes, as they are dirty accidents, just one possibility of try that happened to be followed by other people, while it could have turned out otherwise as well. I need to pass them by, to escape that pollution.
If you want to teach the errors of the past, then you are raising these errors into a new sort of dogma, as if these hesitations were more essential truths than the truths that they were attempting to discover. If you are in a state of ignorance not knowing in which direction the truth is, you have to manage with your thought to find a way that may be the solution. But I don't see the sense of forcing today's people into the particular states of errors that some people of the past happened to be in, and what their personal ways out of these problems turned out to be. Because any research path, any state of incomplete knowledge and attempt to go further, is accidental and personal. You cannot repeat them.
A guided visit into the precise way someone happened to go when he left the beaten paths, as if it was this guided visit was the solution to teach the people how to leave the beaten paths, is a contradiction in terms. If leaving the beaten path is not natural for somebody, I doubt it makes any sense trying to teach it at all. And it is a waste. The research path that led to modern science took the works of many scientists during centuries to process. It would be too lengthy to bother repeating that lengthy draft all over again in the life of each future scientist who has only one life to learn everything he needs and then bring his own further contribution.

Another trouble when trying to teach today's science in the shape of yesterday's controversies, is that, since you have not an infinite amount of time to teach everything anyway, you may let students miss the fact that today's established science is no more as speculative as it was yesterday, since huge lots of confirmations of discoveries came since then. By jailing them into the perspective that it looked like speculation, you may succeed to give the feeling that it is still nothing more than speculation, and that they would be justified to question the conclusions by arguing, from that very historical perspective of ignorance that you care so well to provide, that today's conclusions should be seen as no more plausible than opposite conclusions, such as the Lorentz view of relativity (that the relativistic contraction of length would be a real mechanical contraction in an ether of absolute rest, and that the language and framework of absolute space and time and the resulting complication of the Lorentz transformation formulas would be the truth to understand, as some philosophy of science teachers and even some physics teachers are still teaching, in contrast with Minkowski's more mature approach of space-time as a geometrical whole).
The collateral damage resulting from this teaching path of historical perspective, is the encouragement for people to miss the modern understanding of physics, and therefore dedicate their life to the crackpot science of explaining how Relativity is wrong and the whole scientific community is in error because Einstein's proof of the Lorentz transformation formula had a little mistake or the arguments of his conclusion may be seen not satisfying enough, and another interpretation of the Michelson-Morley experiment remains possible.

So changes in scientific teaching and curricula are really needed, but a simple slogan such as "Let's teach history of science !" cannot be the miracle solution. Other slogans can explored such as "Let Global Public Play with Science".
It takes a lot of work to put all the core knowledge in easier accessible formats. And not only for the superficial format but also for the content of the understanding, as I undertook in this site. That is, re-thinking all over again each needed concept to find out how to most elegantly explain it, and in which context of other concepts. Such a restructuring is a hard task, however it should not be so hard if many people undertook it seriously, because each piece of explanation needs only to be invented once for the whole world, instead of the current way of stupidly repeating the same old ways thousands of times all over the world without progress.
But I'm not sure that even after trying hard to simplify and better explain things (and we can indeed still do much better than is usually done), any really big lot of people will come to understand much science. Just consider how ignorant are so many people about science, on topics which cannot be said "inaccessible" or "mysterious" for the way they are currently available to the public. There is a fundamental inequality of intelligences between humans. Some progress can be made in how many people understand a specific topic, but this inequality will remain.

Pedagocial ideologies vs. practice

Found in the facebook group "Changing Math Attitudes"
I'm sad. In two separate conversations today, people complained to me about the maths program at a local highschool. Both conversations began around the fact that students are flunking this class/classes, and are ill prepared for college and so are taking summer courses at my community college.
This "bad" maths program was described to me in varying detail and what I'm taking away is:
This high school is being very progressive in its math education, and is doing many things Jo Boaler and others recommend. Now, I'm not a teacher, myself, so I have been loving Boaler's ideas so much, with no direct experience of how they play out in classrooms. Of the things students mentioned: grading by group, rather than individual grades, focus on the student "discovering" concepts, rather than memorize-rule-and-apply, lengthy write-ups to justify "simple" mathematical ideas/equations/operations.
Granted, I am seeing only students for whom these approaches very much did not work, but both are clever interested students, who I would otherwise have guessed would show mathematical aptitude. AND these are maths education ideas that sound perfectly excellent to me!
I'm quite disheartened that someone nearby is trying to institute a much better approach to teaching/learning mathematics and that that approach, which sounds so good, is failing its students.
I'm not a teacher, or administrator, so I am not really asking for fixes, but I do want to share that I'm troubled by this, and see if others know of, or have had similar, or other, experiences in using more modern ideas toward teaching math?
Is it possible that some of it is the normal reaction to "new" math techniques (virulently negative regardless of benefit), or that this particular school just can't pull it off because they are still constrained by rigid state standards of testing etc. ? Thoughts?

List of links to related texts : Criticism of the academic system
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