Educating the Worker-Citizen

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"Looking back over the last century," writes John Rudolph of the University of Wisconsin, "one finds that perhaps the most significant scientific influence on American educational policy can be traced not to the factories of Detroit or Gary, but rather to the wartime laboratories of Berkeley, Los Alamos, and MIT." Rudolph makes his case in an interesting paper published last year in Teachers College Record, tracing how World War II and the Cold War transformed both American science and American education.

[Via Infocult.]

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  1. I grew up in the 70’s and went to some of the best public schools around. The problem with science education as I saw/see it, is that k-12 teachers don’t know the first thing about real science. The curriculum is fine, but all they understand is technique and cutesy “Mr. Wizard” type demos. There was never any direct discussion about evaluating the worth of ideas via ‘the method’ or about the refinement of theory and the cycle of experimentation. Teachers only knew or cared about generating passing test scores. They might have known about what the student would need to know for the following year, but had no clue as to how the material underscored scientific education at the high-school and college level. Consequently much of what we learned in early years was overly simplified or just wrong and had to be unlearned later.

  2. I went to public CA schools in the mid-90s, albeit in a realtively well to-to area, and I was impressed with the quality of education. We actually discussed the scientific method and how it applies to modern science. We also learned about the evolution of theories, why certain theories were popular at their times, what debunked them and that our modern science is not perfect. Granted these tended to be AP classes and I know for a fact most students did not pick these up. There have been many times when I will rattle off some random, though relevant at the time, piece of knowledge to a couple of my friends and they’ll ask, “Where’d you learn that?” Oftentimes I’ll respond, “In Mr./Mrs. ______’s class. You were sitting right next to me.”

    Though it is a pet peeve of mine when they say you can’t subtract 4 from 2 because it’s impossible and then 4 years later you learn about negative numbers. Ditto goes for square roots of negatives and imaginary numbers. But I do think that there are concepts that would merely confuse the hell out of a kid. I just think there has to be a better way than saying you can’t do that because the kid with the parents that are actively involved in a child’s schooling will simply teach it to the kid and the only thing accomplished is confusing the hell out of the kid. I remember an argument I had with a teacher debating negative numbers in elementary school and she made it seem like I was revealing a state secret.

  3. Mo,

    They’d do much better to say “We’re pretending now for purposes of simplification that you can’t do it, but you’ll learn how in a few years.” Especially if they encouraged you to investigate it yourself on your own.

    But aside from a few maverick teachers I’ve known who want to monkey-wrench the “human resources” assembly line, most squeal like stuck pigs at the idea of individuals learning ahead of their “peer group.”

  4. During WWII there were numerous crash courses in engineering set up by the government; become and engineer in months in other words. These sorts of course were especially important for women, as many of the women in these courses ended up pioneering the field for women in post-WWII era.

  5. You made my day, Plutarck. There’s also an online version of DS.

  6. You know, I remember the same sorts of things in my own elementary school. So for instance there were only 3 classes of cloud spoken of, as if that was all there was to know – the idea of a “cumulo-nimbous” (sp) cloud was never mentioned. They taught it as if it was all there was on the issue, never mentioning that the 3 types are only base types.

    The worst was perhaps with learning “cursive” – thing is, not for a few years did we learn that the bastards were teaching us “begining cursive”, which was effectively only slightly like cursive writing, and had effectively not a damn bit to do with anything whatsoever – total waste of time, throw-away knowledge that was supposed to be later changed to formal cursive, yet again taught as if that was all there was to know and as if it was the real thing.

    It would seem that Gatton was right – a teacher’s first job is to confuse and frustrate. One example of this given by the late John Holt goes to phonics as well, with cutetsy-wootsy rules like “When two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking.”

    Isn’t that cute? The problem, of course, is that TWO words in that sentance violate the very rule that is being taught. Two more words in the sentance right before this one violate the rule as well. It’s worse than the whole “I before E except after C…” crap. They teach rules as if they are universally applicable, only to find out later that there are so many damn exceptions that the ‘rule’ did nothing but confuse and frustrate. Add to this the fact that so many words that one encounters in life aren’t even from English itself, and thus will break all normal english spelling ‘rules’.

    I have to thank you, Kevin – because of your mentioning that “Deschooling Society” book, I went looking at it on Amazon and ended up going through like 20 similar books and picked up a few to read in their entirety. I thought the school system wasn’t much up to snuff before, but now I’m begining to think that many of them are actually worse than having no school system whatsoever.

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