Elementary and high school experience started with the kindergarten teacher being my mom. School was about playing, socializing and having fun. High school was about cat and mouse games of staying out of trouble and being terribly bored. My junior year was skipping 2 days a week, showing up for test and otherwise working on the farm. I went to the first two days of my senior year, dropped out and a few months later got my GED. Did a year of manual labor and concluding I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Starting the college at the correct time, it was again about having fun, socializing, young women and avoiding academic probation. The sophomore year ushered in the new plan. Which was to take whatever courses sounded interesting. Education and living were relatively inexpensive. Thus, began the 10-year plan for a four-year degree. College was Plan B. If nothing else was exciting. I would attend another semester. Plan A was “don’t let school get in the way of your education.” This plan worked well until the 8th year when my first child was born right at midterm exams of my last semester. Pending of his birth was the cue. I got it put something together and get out of school. The last semester was scrambling to pick up the required introductory level courses to graduate with a degree in communications and psychology. Plan B was a lot of fun; taking whatever sounded interesting: biology, horticulture, soil science, plant pathology, philosophy, anthropology, engineering, linguistics, business, architecture, art history and others I don’t recall. Retrospectively, having the ability to take whatever courses were interesting was a great thing; being a solid “generalist.” I then stumbled into mental health for 7 years. Followed by impulsively deciding to go to grad school. Applied for a PhD but allowed in the master’s program. The agreement with my wife and two young children was to do the master’s and get out. Which ended up being 72 semester credits in a year and a half. Subsequently was invited to stay for my PhD. But decided it was best to get on with family life.
Most of my academic experience was just screwing around. I really didn’t enjoy school until I could take whatever I was curious about. And then it became fun and interesting. Grad school forced me to focus on the skills of efficient learning. Being married, two young children, working 20 hours a week and doing 18 graduate credits per semester was the GRIND. I did not have the time, energy or money to be screwing around. It was a passion that got me through it along with the heroic graciousness of my wife and children.
First is the tale of the old school. It’s the “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.” Diving into the foundation of the old school perspective of education. What is the founding principle or premise of this school of education? Think about it, what is the purpose of education? Why do we need education? What to teach and why? Put on your thinking hats, you can do this.
The founding old school premise is that we are a blank slate; a “tabula rasa.” We know nothing, come from the dust, wallowing in the mud. We are the product of random genetic mutations that somehow developed, most recently from primates. If left unschooled, we are merely the salvage beast that would continue to exist in ignorance. Therefore, education helps us to develop from crawling to standing upright. The development of increased brain capacity is thought to lead to the ability for language, subsequent civil society and the primacy of the ego’s rationality. Higher-ordered thought and religion would enable us dominion over nature.
The entire process is learning about the “what, why, when, where and how” things work so that we can have dominion over nature and our salvage instincts. It presumes that if we are “educated,” we can climb to the top of the food chain. An educated individual is like the kings and queens that have dominion over all that is seen. If one cannot purview this dominion, they suffer from some lacking. Is this the result of nature/genetics or nurture/lack of opportunity? Regardless, it is best remedied by more education. School is the great equalizer so that all could fulfill their highest potential. The goal of teaching our children is so that they will attain success. To be triumphantly crowned as a winner.
Being schooled in the ways and means of dominion ensures success. Educated is gaining knowledge. And with knowledge, specifically the skills of analysis, interpretation, synthesis, innovation and execution the person’s success is evidence of their motivation, effort and determination. This is the foundation of education. Elementary through high school is developing a base of knowledge of what, when, where, how and why. And the secondary education is gaining skills of analysis, integration, synthesis, innovation and execution. These skills are relatively simple. It is asking questions. What is it? When did it happen, where, how did it happen and why? And analysis are the factors, how do these factors combine, is there a different result possible, what we could do differently and how do we make it happen?
Let’s break this down. There is knowledge, analysis, synthesis, innovation and execution. Knowledge is the “what.” The trick about knowledge is the ability to search for what you need, knowing where and how to find it. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I took a class in “library science.” Holy crap, why wasn’t I taught this in middle school? It would have saved me tons of time and frustration. This requires basic reading but also learning to find source materials. The secondary level of education is first figuring out the premise or learning the concept of first principles thinking. First Principles Thinking: The Most Powerful Way To Think – TechTello I did not figure this out until graduate school. Both these two simple techniques ought to be introduced in middle school and heavily required in high school. They probably were, but I was too distracted. I don’t know, but a simple course of “how to learn” would be a brilliant required class for middle and high school.
Knowledge is the basic “what.” It seems simple and straight forward. However knowledge does not exist in a vacuum. It depends on a host of factors, e.g., cultural, historical, empirical, political, theoretical, etc. contexts. Knowledge exists in relation to the philosophical, religious, physics and metaphysical context in which it is embedded. Of course this type of questioning is not generally considered until at the university level of education. For example a steel nut and bolt is a simple physical item, but it did not exist 200 hundred years ago because metallurgy, economics factors of mining, manufacturing, design and machining knowledge and ability did not exist. Knowledge and the context in which it is embedded is constantly changing due to new theories, economic realities, historical interpretation, political agendas, etc.
Analysis is the “what and why” of something. At a primary level, it is how do the pieces fit together? And once understanding how the pieces fit together and then see how they work together; lends knowing how to take things apart.
Synthesis is basically understanding the how’s and why’s. And then asking questions of what if? It’s basically the ability to move different parts around. Or thinking outside the box, using a fresh box or throwing the box away. It is questioning and wondering along with some good old imagination.
Innovation is then trying to put the pieces in a different configuration or trying out different dynamics or relationships and how things may work or could be applied differently. At this level, innovation is basically a change of perspective, application and execution. It involves coming up with an idea, conceptualizing how it might work relative to the theories and then making a reasoned plan. And then execute the plan and perhaps see what you can salvage from the mess.
Execution is simply implementing the plan. It is the operation, logistics of strategy and tactics. Which includes being flexible and adaptable with intuitively seeing the important dynamics. At some point, a person develops a framework in which to hang bits of information in an organized manner. Often kids are first taught the basic who, what, when, why and how. However, having an overall conceptual framework (big picture) helps to organize, analyze/evaluate, absorb/integrate and place the relevant information. There are many frameworks one can use such as historical, systems, factor, components, development, progression models, etc. It’s basically figuring out a useful big picture (frame work) to hang information and concepts on in an organized manner. The two essential things are to be curious, have first principles thinking and have a mentor help you figure out a big picture that works for you.
Often experience happens and then later; we rationalize or recognize the dynamics and actions of the experience. These are the “ahh ha” moments of discovery and enlightenment. Much of execution is a free-flowing dance rather than following detailed step-by-step instructions. One needs to innovate, revisit or be open to the reconfiguration of synthesis, questioning one’s analysis and being open to discovering new pieces of information or knowledge as the experience unfolds.
Execution involves the ability to both simultaneously observe and evaluate what is happening with the plan you have put in to action. This takes two minds. One mind of paying attention to what is happening in front of you. And the second mind is paying attention to the context, dynamics and terrain/environment of what is occurring. It is like paying attention to what is on the ground in front of you. While also maintaining a 10,000-foot view of the larger perspective. Realize that execution involves having a plan but as soon as the plan starts, one also needs to be adaptable/innovative and have a toolbox of tactics of how to get to the goal. Sometimes the goal is not attainable for many reasons and thus the execution becomes a salvage operation. A salvage operation can be a Plan B. It is finding out what there is to learn and how might I apply this newfound information in a similar situation.
Now, with the internet, there is a vast base of knowledge at our fingertips. Has the internet become the great equalizer? Currently issue is, what knowledge? What is and how is knowledge valid verses what is garbage? How does one determine what is real knowledge verses non-sense? In the past, it was simply what worked and what didn’t. Now one must consider effectiveness, efficiency and economics, which is about complex energy calculations and theoretical considerations. Certainly, the internet is a relatively efficient technology for accessing knowledge but now the issue is the quality, purpose and the underlying premise of knowledge.
The presumption is that everyone wants opportunities for an excellent education. To have the experience and opportunity to develop these abilities. Primary education is the what, why, how, when and where. And high school is the formal introduction of academic models for analysis, integration, synthesis, innovation and execution/application.
The secondary education level occurs in college and graduate school. It is about theory, application and using models or paradigms. These paradigms have their subsequent history, theories, research, methods, interpretation, etc. However, models and paradigms are merely different colored lenses which highlight different aspects or qualities that enable us to see something in slightly different ways. For example, in photography or looking at the heavens we use different lenses to highlight different aspects of what are looking at. A simple change in the lens of a camera or telescope will create a different view, a different understanding, a different interpretation of what we are seeing. And likewise, if we are looking at the heavens using an old-school optical telescope or a microscope versus infrared versus x-ray, we will see different aspects. It is quite simple.
So different models have different premises, technology, methods, etc. They can be time-based, space, environmentally, motivational, goal, frequency, etc. Our understanding of the world is literally based on various models. For example, with an analysis of a crime, there are environmental, historical, risk factors, economic, cultural, resource, political and the list is endless. Each of these various specialties has vested rational/logical scientific or empirical method to support and validate their model or perspective. These are merely conceptual or “first principles thinking.” But it is not the crime. Do not mistake that the model is the elephant (blind men and the elephant analogy).
Often, application at the conceptual level is the utility of the problem-solution model. The key factor is the perception or definition of the need/problem and subsequent solution(s). Application centers on defining the need/problem and the subsequent solutions. But even the simple problem-solution model can be hampered by issues of mindset, economic/financial feasibility, time and logistical parameters, etc. Thus, the sage axiom of “if you want an excellent answer, you have got to ask a brilliant question.” However, one must also pay attention to details and day-to-day activities that involve logistics, management and flow of the actual implementation, execution. And if needed willing make reasoned adjustments, i.e., “innovate, adapt or die.” And then there is the salvage operation of what must we do today to survive, to live and fight another day.
If we only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. But in real world experience it helps to have different tools and match the right tool for the right job. Folks that have only academic conceptual knowledge and understanding sometimes don’t have the “know how” to make it work in the real world. And if a person only has the “know how” they may not know or understand the “why” (theory) of how it works. Of course, folks with real world experience along with theory, research/data and application experience will be in-demand.
Classroom education is essentially gaining the knowledge and skills to be successful. But what drives the desire of an individual to learn something? Is it because we want to become successful? Perhaps we have been told and are expected to get a grade A education. If we want to become successful, motivation is based on their definition of success. It is reaching for a worthy goal. Getting the golden ring is the measurable sign of success.
Some folks are just expected to get an education and told that they will do so. This type of motivation is based on external influences that are demanding a certain level of achievement that has been internalized. But what if there is some internal conflict or difference between what a person is told to do versus what they want to do? Has that educational experience been a waste… what they can salvage… how does one navigate the internal conflict/dissonance? Many folks have an excellent education but work far below their educational level.
Or are we are just interested, curious and wanting to find out for ourselves? Motivation because you are curious or find it interesting. It’s passion is an intrinsic/internal “I wonder” motivation. Each type of motivation has different results. Success driven motivation may end up feeling rather empty and superficial. The prescriptive motivation often feels more like coercion. While the intrinsic or internal motivation and feel more like a joyful and happy adventure. Depending on one’s motivation (inspiration) perhaps be correlated with one’s ability to endure the path or adventure of education and experience?
Schools of Distinction!
Education has moved from the experiences of a one room school where there was one teacher and kids that ranged from very young to young adults. These one-room schoolhouses had to learn to work together. These schools were community or family based. Students had to help clean, start the fire in the stove to keep warm during the winter and had to help each other get to and from school. The older ones had to help teach the younger ones. Much of the educational experience was “the see one, do one and teach one.”
These days education is expensive. Whether we are talking about capital expenditure of buildings, operations and facilities maintenance. Or the staffing, technology infrastructure, ongoing training required for professors, etc. The cost (time and money) of college and graduate school is out of reach for most families. And going into debt is a matter of personal financial/economic risk/benefit calculation with no guarantees, except for incurred debt. Enrollment in the technical and community colleges has exploded and oriented to vocational needs of the local community and its industry. The focus is on the “how to” but doesn’t question larger social and economic contextual questions or our current global challenges on this planet.
The basic question is, what are we really teaching? Are we teaching people what to think? Or are we teaching people how to think? Has education become an initiation and indoctrination? Has it become a jumping through the hoops to join the circus of debt slaves, or a rocket scientist or of the the enlightened class of wonders or being a barista with a Ph. D level of caffeinated dry wit?
And what is research? How is the research method done? Who funds it? How is the data compiled and what is it used for? And who benefits?
Testing is gathering data. What are we testing for? For whom is this data for? How is this data validated? And how is it to be used? For feedback, for innovation, for measurement of performance? Performance of whom; the students, the school district or the teachers? And how or is it even correlated to expenditures and capital improvements? Is the community/and or the property owners who pay taxes have any measure of effectiveness of how effective these funds are being used?
An interesting facet: is of “informed consent” for learning and testing. The idea of informed consent, is to be aware of what is being taught, tested and why. What are the goals of the course, class or degree. How are the test to be administrated and to whom, who is funding the test and how will the results be posted, used and results given back to the parties being tested? It is basically a good faith contract of participation between both student and the educational institution. The teaching and class work is in the form of a syllabus of the course. For a degree it is outlined in a “program” were a student is accepted in and accepts the conditions to graduate and for testing there is (or should be) an informed consent. I wonder if each student and parent signed a contract for learning each year; how might that influence the educational experience?
The whole idea of informed consent is the acknowledgment and agreement participate, knowing the potential costs, risks and benefits of participation. And for testing how the data will be used and how one has access to the results. I wonder if there is even a mention of the option to opt out and how these opportunities to opt-out of these tests are presented to both the student and parents? And are there any academic ramifications? This brings up some ethical questions at the level of an institutional review boards for school districts. It begs questions of how are the selections made of “state mandated testing,” it’s funding and ramifications for students, families, teachers and community.
Many of these issues are circumvented by the concept that each student’s scores are not attached or identified to a specific student. Results are compiled and noted at a classroom, grade, school and district levels to evaluate performance. But at the economic level school districts that have a higher social, economic class affords a tax base that consistently performs better, have lower drop-out rates and fewer rates for crime and incarceration. Thus, there is the question of equal access to education and how are the measured differences to be addressed? Of course, these are complex questions with even more complex discussion and with mind-boggling state statutes, regulations and administrative endeavors.
Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of education. We have expanded the I’s and the T’s. Is not the I’s only include; instruction, indoctrination, investigation, intervention and imagination? And the T’s; is it only teaching, training, tutoring, technology and testing?
So ends part one “old school” the set-up for part two; “new school.” As in other areas of life, there is change occurring in finance, economy, religion and politics. It also positioned education for significant change. It’s important in life to stop and ask fundamental questions of what are we doing, why are we doing it and how is it done; where and when? The lesson of history is that if we are not aware of our history, we are doomed to repeat it. If we know what has happened, we can at least try something different.
Homework: Go watch the movie “School of Rock” with Jack Black (2003). School of Rock – Wikipedia
If you have children, the 5-part series on parenting may also be of interest.
Peace, love and light!
10/9/2022, updated 4/2/2023