On Education

Dear Miru,

Today, I want to tell you about Education.

Even if we would want them to, our children don’t accept the concept of schooling as the transfer of a canon of established facts. They are so much used to Wikipedia and Google that it would be practically impossible to convince them that carrying knowledge with you, in your head, is of any use beyond winning a game show on Sunday night.

This has been said many times before, especially with regards to the infamous British education system.
In 2013, we have all watched Erwin Wagenhofer’s film “Alfabet”. It seems however, that nothing has changed and that in 2015, students are working their way through a stale old curriculum using brand new technology.

There are initiatives promoting the use of digital devices with screens in the classroom, but they hardly constitute a paradigm shift. On the contrary, by “gamifying” the existing curriculum, they turn the old idea of what learning ought to be into an immutable truth while giving in to the trend of screens everywhere. A history lesson becomes a timeline on a touch screen with moving graphics of the battle of Waterloo; math becomes silly comic characters, desperately designed to “engage”; language learning is reduced to a set of fun exercises supervised by similar imbecile characters. It is believed that the children are glued to their screens anyway and the education system just tries to accommodate.

For those who don’t like to fight a lost battle, the proliferation of everything digital is not a threat but an opportunity. Let’s forget all the conventional “subjects” taught in school. It allows us to see more clearly than ever what constitutes the essence of an education. So, here is how I envision my twenty first century school.

The subjects in my school are not geography, history, biology, English, Spanish, math, physics or economics. Students follow mandatory courses in reverse engineering, Internet researching, social networking, algorithm design, statistics, functional programming, computer simulation, pattern recognition, predicate logic, data science, philosophical debating, economic modeling, sentence parsing, proof by induction, or pretending to be somebody else.

These are all very abstract “modes of operating your mind”

These are all very abstract “modes of operating your mind”. These skills are not something we infer after we have sat through years of rote learning in the classroom, but the key skills to master from the beginning. Students learn for example how to “think like an economist” or how to “think like a mathematician” rather than Keynes’ theory or the rules of function differentiation. The reason is that they’d forget about it anyway, unless they have a genuine interest and take the facultatory course.

I don’t know if this makes enough sense. I give priority of ways of operating the mind because I believe we can apply them to anything as long as we are “just curious”, as Einstein said. Perhaps you find all this thinking trickery boring. Of course you don’t have to become an expert in all these “modes of thinking”. That would be a preposterous requirement. And apart from that, you will be able to master most of them all by yourself once you have laid the groundwork. Actually, all education should do it lay this intellectual groundwork and nurture your enthusiasm. As soon as this has been achieved, we should get out of your way as soon as we can.

You’ll learn alone and with others. You’ll know where to search and what to search for.

One word about physical education. The most important part is that we don’t disable all you’ve taught yourself as a toddler. Your dancing, your playful dexterity when typing on my keyboard and making a total mess of my manuscripts, your own uni—- being in the world as a body. Go ahead and learn how to play soccer, tennis, how to skip rope, leap, row, fence, box, swim, balance. Just never forget physical education is not teaching you a norm of how your body should behave. In its essence it does the same as all education: It teaches you how to play with others.