Things every child should know

1074It’s not just brain food

The war against cognition is past its infancy and I’d like to go back to where it changed.

For a start, the difference between Scottish and English education used to be marked but I can’t comment on the Scottish today.  Wiki says:

Traditionally, the Scottish system has emphasised breadth across a range of subjects, while the English, Welsh and Northern Irish systems have emphasised greater depth of education over a smaller range of subjects at secondary school level.

An example of this breadth is in Music – formal music education begins at 4½ years and can progress as high as postgraduate studies.  I took Latin and Music and Chemistry, none of which I formally used after school but which produced a certain person, as it did with all the other kids, who knew at least some of what has gone on in the world.

The behavioural sciences took over in the 1970s and so things like rote learning went out the window, along with any concept of core knowledge.  I’d describe core knowledge as knowing how to do a quadratic equation in Maths, knowing subject, verb and predicate in English, knowing about the angle of incidence and reflection in Physics, knowing the periodical table in Chemistry, knowing amo, amas, amat in Latin and how to address a table when you meet one, knowing the basis of Aristotle and Plato in philosophy, knowing a smattering of languages, e.g. French and German, at least to a moderate level and so on.

It’s the restriction of the breadth of education which is the first problem, followed by specialization too early, the educational atmosphere inimical to learning, the overemphasis on behavioural science, in the most unproven way, where the happiness of the learner is paramount and takes precedence over knowledge and where standards are dumbed down to produce pass rates.

The reason why education is not desired?  You don’t need it.  The dumb dropout just goes onto the dole and everything’s right for the future.  Education then becomes a money racket which only the well-off can afford and only middle-class parents can pay for.  The middle-class itself is shrinking and is funding the welfare system.

Into this, certain commenters come in and say there are different types of knowledge, meaning that the traditional stock of knowledge is not all that important, which is a very interesting thing to say, given that they themselves are educated in the old way and are quite knowledgeable within their specialized field.

One thing militating against knowledge, apart from the politicization of the educational process into some sort of “find yourself, love all minorities” indulge-fest is the total time given in course hours.  In Russia, say at Year 10, students take about 43 or 44 lessons a week in core subjects and then specialist subjects such as advanced music are taken on top of that.  A typical day sees the kid doing eight x 40 minute lessons, perhaps six on other days, including Saturday.

Every day, in one or more of the subjects, there is a “control” lesson where the kids stand up and recite what they learnt the previous evening – something that’s pretty inefficient, given that they then forget it and it is replaced by new knowledge.  I saw some of the things they had to learn for the next day, say in Russian history and it was astounding – we’re talking some five or six A4 pages crammed with data.  They’d need to be able to answer questions on that.

The way they’d be marked was that if they made even one error, they dropped from 5 [excellent] to 4 [very good] and two errors would receive 3 [good] and that was seen, even by the pupil, as shame and a reason to be upset.  The student would beg to be allowed to take the test again and was usually given the chance, often by the teacher, in her own spare time.

So it is a more or less continuous examination process and represents an extreme I’m not sure suits the Anglo-Saxon temperament, even at its very best.  What I do know is that even the dustman can quote Pushkin.  When two Russian girls and a boy came over to our school many years ago, the top girl who was also top in her class in Russia, wiped the floor in every subject by a huge margin and she was astounded at the laziness of British pupils and how they were not made to do anything.

The weakest – the other girl – whom I caught out making mistakes, even in her Russian, held her own in most subjects and was in the top 20%.  Even the worst Russian pupil I saw was in the top echelon in Britain.  Unfortunately, they knew nothing of Eastenders or the music scene.

You need to go over there and see this in action to see what I really mean about the difference in expectations of what is reasonable.  It’s easy to say the English child is today mollycoddled but look at the Japanese or Russian and the gap is stark.

In the U.S.A., it’s even worse.  The land of “no one has to do anything he or she doesn’t want because he’ll sue the teacher or the college or both”, the dumbing down is endemic and by and large, the schools are under the control of PC teachers.  I know this through my dealings with U.S. teachers and through the mass of reading material on the net from within the American educational community.

How to reverse it?

The slow, inexorable answer is that the knowledge itself hasn’t disappeared from the books – book burnings haven’t begun yet in the west but like the Wren Chapel cross, knowledge has just been put in the cupboard and locked or else sits on shelves gathering dust.

The question of how to reverse this process is the same question as how to get the politicians to take notice of their constituents, the ongoing problem Albion Alliance is grappling with.  There needs to be enough outcry for a new generation of essentially dumb [due to their own education] but questioning and upwards thinking educators to once again hold knowledge in high regard – then something might happen in response to parents’ demands.

7 comments for “Things every child should know

  1. January 25, 2010 at 14:34

    “In the U.S.A., it’s even worse.”

    No argument there; that’s why so many people are starting to use home schooling. Most home schooled students perform better in college than those from the public education ranks. Too much of the modern public schooling here in the US is concerned about social programming rather than knowledge.

    “You can’t make Socialists out of individualists – children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.”
    -John Dewey, founder of the modern school system in the US.

  2. January 25, 2010 at 19:02

    “certain commenters come in and say there are different types of knowledge, meaning that the traditional stock of knowledge is not all that important”

    “Different types of knowledge?”… “The traditional stock of knowledge is not all that important?” Who said or implied these things? I looked back to try to identify who you were attacking but can’t find who.

  3. ivan
    January 25, 2010 at 21:06

    I was a teacher – many, many moons ago, early 60s and even then there was a move away from learning anything by rote.

    On of my favorite ways of starting a lesson was by handing out slips of paper and giving a 20 question test that required one word answers. The glasses used to love them and were vying with each other to get full marks. Since I taught both maths and chemistry and the kids were in both subjects, they got both in each test. I would also use snap multiplication questions that required an answer in less than a second.

    The main reason I did things like that was to get the kids thinking. Teach a child to think and reason and they will go far – those that don’t will end up on the streets with nothing to do and all that brings.

  4. Mariana
    January 25, 2010 at 21:13

    Home schooling is ideal but both parents have to be committed, especially the one who is at home not earning any money and looking after the children, I tried and failed because of lack of commitment from the children’s father so the solution was to go to France where things aren’t quite as bad (yet). Many Brits have done that.

  5. ivan
    January 25, 2010 at 21:48

    One thing I should have added is that if we allow the decline in educational standards and the paying teen mums to have babies then we are headed in the direction of the film ‘Idiocracy’ see opening http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2682654/idiocracy_opening_sequence/

  6. January 25, 2010 at 22:03

    Not you, Andrew and we’ve already had this one out elsewhere.

    Ivan – rote learning and chanting tables, doing 20 questions and the like is a tried and true method of learning, especially if you provide it as an incentive. Kids do love it but those who don’t succeed in this sort of thing – you allow them to speak on something they are good at later in the day.

    Most kids seem happy enough to accept that in some areas they’re not in the top bracket and in other areas they are. For example, I wouldn’t take Andrew Scott on in his specialization and am I distraught about that? Quite the opposite – I admire the man. His grasp of the historical roots of today’s politics could do with some brushing up 🙂 but I wouldn’t care to argue with him on Climate Science, for example.

    Any good teacher who loves his kids will find out what the non-achiever is interested in and do a lesson on it sometime later in the week. It’s not pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes and giving prizes to all – it’s working out a way to build him up which doesn’t compromise the standards by which the others are judged.

    It used to be that teachers taught to the top of the class, aptitude wise, then the middle and in recent decades – to the lowest common denominator. This is wrong and there are other class models which will achieve the same effect of catering for the lesser achiever who fails in core subjects.

    If there is a broad enough range of options pre-GCSE, then the kid can find a way through, providing the teacher is interested in his learning rather than in a broad ideological social construct. If not, then he pursues a different line, e.g. a trade. If this is a stigma, then there are two considerations – is he just being bloody minded or is he determined to put in the effort required to overcome his handicap to succeed?

    An example – I took Issues in Biology as a subject at university because I was hopeless at it. If I see another double helix, I’ll go crazy.

  7. January 25, 2010 at 22:12

    Mariana – your comment snuck in under the guard. Yes – it needs commitment as with anything one tries to succeed in.

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