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
The idea of paying students to learn, was raised in at least 2
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
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 ?
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
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
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
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
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
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Geniuses who Don't Fit into the System
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humanity's failures to steer itself properly