“How were classes today?”
I would bet large portions of my monthly income that the above conversation has not taken place between a high schooler and his parent in America for decades.
Now I know why.
I am writing a curriculum workbook for The Academy I wanted to give the students a quick intro to logic. I wrote down the the basics in an accessible, easy-to-read format, and I felt proud. A friend of mine looked it over and said, “It sucks. It’s boring.”
Why? Because I took what I love about logic, dumbed it down, and spat it out.
How did I personally become interested in logic? I dove into the ocean of argumentation and swam around. I felt the need to understand the basic fallacies, the building blocks of a syllogism, the types of argument. I knew their was too much content for me to handle, but I became motivated by my own desire to ingest as much as I possibly could.
The same is true of my friend Andrew Johnston. He’s “math-minded” but has been bored to tears by every math class he ever took (and excelled in). It wasn’t until, by mistake, a friend of his gave him a Calculus 4 book that a passion for learning awoke within him. Now he loves math.
Do you want to know what they learn in Calculus 4? The same content as Calculus 1 all over again. How can that be? It’s simple: In Calculus 4, they cover the exact same stuff, but do not dumb any of it down. They present the same stuff they covered in Calculus 1 but without lying about the utter tentativeness of mathematics theory. No, here they present the really big, scary intimidating math problems as the exist in the minds of the brightest professional thinkers alive today, without deception, without apology. The writers of a Calculus 4 textbook are simply presenting difficult problems and inviting readers into the investigation. “Come along! I love this problem. It’s stumped me for three years. Take a crack at it, will ya?”
Education has become an artificial step-by-step process whereby hubristic instructors declare what will or will not be “easy enough” for increasingly stupid generations of school children to “get”, coaxing and cajoling them to learn it. Self-motivated learning is the only learning. If a subject isn’t interesting, and I mean from-the-gut, visceral, “God, this hurts and I love it” interesting, then the subject will lie unattended.
I’m not talking about infants or pre-schoolers, but pubescent children of fully functional intellects. Millions of bored-to-death high schoolers can testify: “This sucks. It’s boring.” If not even the textbook writers aren’t taking their writing seriously, then why should anyone else? “If you’re bored than you’re boring.”
What’s the alternative? Something more like apprenticeship. As a student of architecture could be forced to build doll houses until he’s “qualified enough” to go on a real construction site, where he’ll learn an entirely new and independent set of skills, or could follow around real engineer/architect on site, full of awe and humility, gripped by the overwhelming process that is construction.
Students used to be trained not on stupid versions of cool problems but the coolest, most difficult, most cutting-edge problems of the day. Gradation took place naturally according to ability and personal desire, rather than artificial testing. This way is better.
Children grow up by being given responsibilities just too much for their current level of maturity. They then sink or swim. I am plucking the plank from my own eye. As long as we’re feeding them (and ourselves) dumb-downed versions of what is actually fascinating, we will lose their interest and probably their well-being.