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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We're All Education Experts

Well, perhaps not experts at education, but if you're reading this, you're at minimum fairly experienced at learning.  If nothing else, you learned a language and how to read that language.  You've probably learned the meaning of tens of thousands of words in that language so that, all by itself, is some pretty impressive learning.

Along the way, many people assisted (or attempted to assist) that learning.  Some of them may have had positive effect, others may have had negative effect, but I'd bet that most had limited effect.  Yet nearly all of those that were "officially" involved in your education are likely to believe they were absolutely critical to your success in being able to learn a language and read.

I find it very unlikely that most educators make much of a difference at all since nearly everyone who has normal brain function learns a language and learns to read whether or not they have good teachers, bad teachers, multiple teachers, or no teachers (e.g. home-schooled).  They learn to read whether or not the school they go to is well funded or poorly funded.  They learn to read whether they dream of becoming a writer or whether they're content to play video games for the rest of their lives.

Learning is an innate human behavior.

No doubt you'll take exception with at least a little bit of what I've written above.  You've likely had a teacher or two that you thought were great.  Perhaps they were inspirational, perhaps they really did make it easier for you to learn something, or perhaps they just made learning fun.  I'm not claiming none of that is possible, only that you probably would've at least learned things like language and reading even if you never had those teachers.

I studied education and learning at one point and even have a chapter in a book about education.  What I've concluded after studying, observing, and thinking about learning for years, is that with one critically important exception, almost nothing makes much of a difference in how much a child learns.  After accounting for that exception (which is very difficult), intelligence, IQ, teachers, education funding, government policy, teaching methods, etc. all have relatively minuscule effect, at least for fundamental skills such as basic language and reading.

The things that matters, indeed the only thing that really matters from my observations, is the parents' attitude and familial attitude towards learning.

I don't just mean that Pops say, "you'll do me proud if you learn real good."  It's rather that the parents are into learning themselves.  As a result, they read to their children all the time starting at a young age.  They play counting games like counting the number of lights in a tunnel while driving.  They'll talk about the world and the universe and gravity and the planets and engines and heat and leaders and history and on and on and on.  They show curiosity and instill that curiosity in their children.

Then their children are good at learning.  Nothing else much matters.

I read an instapundit post that the French were banning homework with great bemusement this morning:
As Education Minister Vincent Peillon told Le Monde, the state needs to “support all students in their personal work, rather than abandon them to their private resources, including financial, as is too often the case today.” The problem, in other words, isn’t with homework per se. It’s that some homes are more conducive to homework than others.
But this is exactly right in an upside-down sort of way.  The children with parents who don't much care about learning have an overwhelming disadvantage in doing homework.  Of course they also have an overwhelming disadvantage in all things educational.

So ultimately, we'll have to follow Swift's Lilliput and take all children from their parents at birth in order to ensure that "No Child Gets Ahead".


Anonymous said...

No child outside the nomenklatura will get ahead. Those children will go to different schools while the state creates a population of peasants to rule over. More and more I see this as an effort to recreate the feudal system.

Hey Skipper said...

So ultimately, we'll have to follow Swift's Lilliput and take all children from their parents at birth in order to ensure that "No Child Gets Ahead".

IIRC, and I think I do, such a thing is precisely what Lenin wanted.

erp said...


Peter said...

I must say I feel somewhat sorry for the poor kid whose pleasure at teasing his little sister in the backseat is repeatedly frustrated by the compulsory counting of lights in a tunnel, or whose ball game with his pals is cut short by yet another riveting lecture from Dad on gravity.

I'm surprised at you, Bret. You seem to dabbling in the world of modern neurotic parents where learning is natural and fun, where children are lumps of clay out of which engaged parents can sculpt best-selling authors or Nobel prize winners in physics, and where the properly inspired child magically absorbs Chaucer in his spare time.

Let's have a little perspective here. High standards at home, a respect for learning and an interest in a child's educational progress are indeed important factors in a child's ultimate success, but they do not in themselves trigger a zeal to master the periodic tables or the rules governing the use of the subjunctive.

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "Let's have a little perspective here."

The last part of your comment must've gotten cut off because you've told us what things don't "in themselves trigger a zeal" to learn this and that but you didn't tell us what does. :-)

Note that I did qualify the extent of parental effect on learning to "at least for fundamental skills such as basic language and reading" and maybe arithmetic but I'll agree that the "periodic tables or the rules governing the use of the subjunctive" (um, what's a subjunctive?) are different. Subjunctives are more subjective when it comes to zeal for mastery. But those basic skills enable doing anything and everything else.

I assume you're mostly kidding with your comment, but my older daughter just loved to count the lights in tunnels. There was no compulsion from us (though certainly encouragement). I have this memory etched in my brain of approaching a short tunnel and hearing her say, "I want to count the lights. One....". There was only one light in this tunnel and the look of disappointment on her face because there weren't more lights to count was heartbreaking. If there was a longer tunnel nearby I would've driven there.

Peter said...


Given what you have revealed to us about your children in the past, I'd say a little paternal bragging is fully justified. :-)

The low standing of schools today and the tragic stultification by unions and educational bureaucracies is a cause I'm happy to embrace with you, especially with respect to bright kids. My point is simply that we shouldn't allow our frustrations to lead us to romanticize children and embrace the quixotic notion that learning is "naturally" fun fun fun unless parents mess up and make it hard hard hard or boring boring boring. It's all three and the mix varies widely from child to child. You are sounding a bit like a cross between Rousseau and Montessori.

Our eighteeen year old son has always got high marks, but he was engaged in a goat-like ten year campaign not to take the slightest interest in any of his courses and not to be inspired by any of his parents' (increasingly desperate) supplemental efforts, whether intellectual discusssion at dinner time, exposure to culture or even thrilling light-counting games in the car. He just acted as if we and his teachers were getting their jollies administering torture. I don't think I've seen him read a book more than twice even though his father does little else. His passion is sports, especially hockey, and, boy, do I mean passion. He is now in college pursuing a sports management diploma and motivated for the first time, although more by determination than any innate love for what he is actually learning. If we had just bet the pot on trying to ignite that little spark of love for learning you say is inside all kids, he'd still be in grade three.

By contrast, our daughter went into an advanced literary arts programme in high school at age fifteen and immediately caught the artsy bug about literature and poetry. She has now finished her second degree in social work and loved many of her courses. She has a keen interest in books, political/social/cultural discussions and the world around her. She was like turning on a state-of-the-art computer that automatically self-loads all the programmes.

They are both great young people in whom we are well pleased, and both are well-liked, well-respected achievers. What they have in common is the same parents who took the same approach to their education and invested the same efforts to assist and encourage it. What they don't have in common is everything else.

erp said...

Using the time-tested "leave them alone and they'll come home" method worked for us. Our kids and grandkids are all avid learners taking their cue from parents and grandparents without us specifying how they should go about it.

We just returned from visiting our little four year old grand niece who's fascinated by numbers and letters and is far more adept at maniulating my i-Pad than I. Her tiny fingers fly across the screen and when I try it, she patiently explains where I'm going wrong.

What a treat.

Hey Skipper said...

Yet nearly all of those that were "officially" involved in your education are likely to believe they were absolutely critical to your success in being able to learn a language and read.

As far as reading and writing go, yes.

But for math and technical subjects, I think, for most of us, having an expert and a structured environment is essential. I sure as heck wouldn't have sussed Calculus more than superficially otherwise.

The things that matters, indeed the only thing that really matters from my observations, is the parents' attitude and familial attitude towards learning.

Back when Scientific American wasn't so worthless you'd worry about spoiling puppy poop with it, there was an article about a study into why Asian students were so successful in American schools. The motivation was that sometimes the best way to understand failure is to figure out what works.

Their conclusion? the only thing that really matters is the parents' attitude and familial attitude towards learning.

Which is why the fruits of the Great Society's destruction of the African American family are going to be with us for generations to come.

erp said...

Skipper, if you don't have family support (girls don't need to be educated), as was the case with me, then, if you're lucky, you will have teachers, in my case, the nuns, who will inspire and encourage.

That's why it's so important to get the unions out of the schools and return them to local control.

Let local taxpayers pay for the kinds of schools they want and watch people flock to the communities with the best schools, i.e., those who teach kids, not propagandize them.

IMO what the left has done to the black community since the end of WW2 is far worse than slavery and segregation.

The welfare society and the degradation of being told they can't measure up -- need to be kept in custodial care with affirmative action and handouts, etc. is far worse because IMO now, there isn't even the hope of freedom and equality and in many areas, there is no longer a structure of family or community support.