Educate by Guiding Discovery

Our schools educate by means of lecture or reading assignments. Comprehension is measured through testing recollection. That is setting the bar too low. That is not a process which encourages intelligent thinking. It encourages lazy thinking. The habit of lazy thinking ultimately results in lazy thinkers. An education system centered on the process of listening and remembering does not support progress. It actually stifles change by creating opponents to it. No student raised in such an environment will be comfortable with new ideas. Change is brought upon by those who are comfortable trusting in their own logic, who do not rely on the opinions of others to confirm their ideas. This is America and our education system is not only lagging behind the rest of the western world in math, science, and literacy, we aren’t even encouraging free thinking. Can we set the bar a little higher please?

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We are testing for the wrong things and kids aren’t dumb, they react to the system by which we measure them. They learn to take tests or be labeled dumb. If we were to test for inventiveness or originality, they’d excel at that instead. But we don’t. We lecture, assign chapters, and test, often with trick questions. The hardest working students become wonderfully competent at listening, reading, and test taking. A child’s choice is adapt or fail.

If we want more progress, we need to provide incentive for kids to proactively figure things out and problem solve. This isn’t just to raise more adults who will invent and innovate. This would also increase the general comfort level people have with new ideas and reduce the percent of the population who oppose change. It is a full circle that would bring exponentially more innovation. More innovators, more people embracing new innovations. When more ideas take hold, more people are motivated to come up with even more ideas.

To accomplish this, our education system needs self-discovery and practical application to be pillars of its structure, as they are already pillars of real world success. They are, though, not to be found in present day school curriculum. We need to move away from our current model where we might ask a student to memorize a formula. Instead, we must expect them to understand the underlying mechanics of a formula. If a student can’t explain why a formula works, they shouldn’t be allowed full credit. Even if they memorized the formula they need to understand that memory, even exceptional memory, is in-glamorous. In the age of the Internet, Google, and Wikipedia, knowledge is a fading advantage. The future will put higher value on decision making, problem solving, and creativity.

The new method should start early. Don’t teach basic math, help kids discover it. Give kids problems, motivation to solve it, and let them mull it over. Give kids lots of incentive and enough time not rush. Without teaching them a thing ask if they can solve the problem “6+X=15” and tell them that if they do it they get no homework. Then ask them to solve “6X+3=33” and tell them if they get it, they get double recess all week. Give them 20 minutes. If necessary, maybe a hint. Nothing more. Regardless of whether they figure it out, the learning that comes from 20 minutes of thinking about and genuinely trying to solve the equation is huge. If we get kids to spend one hour every week, just one, really critically thinking about math, they’d all ace the math exam come SAT time.

I’ll let Einstein conclude:

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