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June 15, 2007


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laurence haughton

I don't disagree. In fact (after reading Taleb's "Black Swan") I see you two are on the same page. But schools are no hotbed of change leaders. Can we realistically expect them to do anything?

Who, among the members who said our problem is "Lack of people who can innovate", is doing anything radical about it. Seems like we've got a lot of CEOs who say, "Change is critical... you go first."

Lance Knobel

I agree completely with your criticisms of both the standard education system and (in the earlier post) with the attitudes of most hiring managers who seek high GPAs from Stanford or whatnot.

I'm disappointed, however, that you seem to present the purpose of education as furnishing the right workforce. That may be a product of a good education system, but I don't think it should be the purpose. Let's have an education system that results in ethical, creative, good people and everything else will flow.

Howard Gardner's most recent book, Five Minds for the Future, is quite eloquent on this point.

Incidentally, however poor the US system may be in producing adaptable, creative minds, most other systems internationally seem to be worse.

Colin Kingsbury

David Gelernter (who is nothing if not one of the more creatively stunning intellectuals of our age) has a piece in the current or most recent Weekly Standard talking about how public education is basically obsolete because we as a nation no longer truly have a shared communal notion of what schools ought to provide. While he's coming at the issue from a right-of-center perspective, you can hot-swap his value points with left-of-center ones and the essential logic of the article is equally sound.

There is an interesting issue here in that prior to the 19th century, education was entirely a function of class, and not much more systematized than the way people learn golf or tennis. Parents hired tutors for their children, who learned in a direction and at a pace largely of their own choosing.

The problem, of course, is that this model was not scalable, and it's in the 1800s that we begin to see education as something other than a luxury, like downhill skiing. Education became something that cultivated individual virtue (with strongly religious overtones), which ultimately made better citizens, and now you needed a way to mass-produce education at lower cost.

In some senses, now ought to be a great time to be a 10-year-old autodidact. As a kid, I had a skinny set of Golden Book encyclopedias that were falling apart from being read through so many times. Now an old PC and an Internet connection gives you the wealth of the entire world. And yet, on some level, kids of 200 years ago (if they were male and upper class) perhaps had a lot more practical opportunities at their fingertips. Children were viewed a lot less sentimentally, and were accepted into what we consider adult-level responsibilities much sooner. John Paul Jones began his naval career at 13, and this was not unusual for the time.

We don't need to go back to the horrors of child labor in textile mills to see that a lot of young people would probably be happier getting out of school a lot sooner. My only concern with Jeff's line of argumentation is that I fear replacing our current system with something every bit as costly and bureaucratic but which accomplishes even less. To paraphrase Chesterton, "the old man is always wrong, but the young man is always wrong about what ails him."

John Sumser

My thoughts:


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