Reality 101

The hardest part of education is not getting new information in, but getting old (incorrect) information out. Once an idea makes its way into a person’s reality, it will be defended against all ideas that contradict it.

Teaching is all about opening minds. Once minds are open, there is no limit to what people can learn.

But dissuading people out of their comfortable beliefs is hard. Beliefs become habits, and whether they make sense or not, they require no thought — they become the path of least resistance.

Our culture does not embrace new ideas. Culture only appears to be all about What’s New — new stuff to buy, listen to, try, wear, eat, drink… But what appears new to us is really only novelty, a variation on what we already have accepted.

The minds of kindergartners are already full of a reality they ‘know’ to be true. With each year of school, that reality becomes more and more firmly entrenched, unless successfully challenged.

This is what makes teaching teenagers so frustrating. They are all sophomores – wise fools. They have enough knowledge to think that they know everything, and nothing we tell them makes a dent in that reality.

I was no different. My parents got much smarter as I got older.

It is my job to prepare kids for the future, to the extent that is possible. They are completely uninterested in this for the most part because they have already figured out the future. They are solipsists, believing that they are entire universe, and that reality is therefore whatever they believe. They have been told since early childhood that they can be whatever they imagine or dream, that they are unique and special, and if they believe in themselves, everyone will recognize their specialness.

The self-esteem movement in education has done a great deal of harm. Our children’s bodies get larger, but their minds stay small.

I explain to a student that his college application essay sounds too frivolous.

He replies, “What I wrote is who I am.”

I explain that he is not writing for his own amusement, but to persuade someone that he is worthy of something he wants — admission, scholarships, money, a job.

He says that he would not change what he had written (i.e. his self-image) for anyone. They will have to accept him as he is.

He believes that what I am telling him is an opinion. He does not understand that my opinion is based on evidence, while his is based solely on his right to have an opinion. He’s entitled to it.

Wisdom is gained slowly, and is mostly a process of realizing how little we actually know. The universe gets bigger and we get smaller. Socrates said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

I am told to engage my students, to have them do group work and projects. Let their learning be driven by interest, we are told.

Will they learn anything from talking to each other, valuing one another’s opinions? They live in a cave, breathing the same foul air, and complain every time we open windows.

I am ready to strip away years of educational theory and return to the Socratic method. People become educated only by shedding false realities; all we are doing is reinforcing mistaken ideas because we don’t want to damage their self-esteem.

It is not coincidental: when education began to abandon the methods used for thousands of years, knowledge became relative. We don’t challenge people’s beliefs; we embrace diversity.

Diversity is a reality, not a philosophy. People are not all alike. Many issues are a matter of opinion.

But we have accepted a false reality. There is no longer an accepted canon of knowledge, there is no cultural literacy that all children need to learn. We allow them to speak English poorly, don’t teach them manners, and encourage them to have dreams but not to work hard.

When they finally understand, they will know that they have been cheated.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. The Excited Neuron
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 15:13:05

    Wow. Amazing post!!

    Reply

  2. The Excited Neuron
    Oct 23, 2010 @ 15:13:36

    I’ll be adding you to my blogroll.

    Reply

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