A Paradigm Without Structure

Both the content and delivery of this illustrated lecture are excellent:

I share Professor Ken Robinson’s skepticism about a supposed ADHD epidemic, but when he goes on to describe studies that a shift in an education paradigm should address, the academic conclusions begin to look a bit too free-wheeling. He describes a study in which children are measured by the number of uses they can think of for a particular object, say, a paperclip. 98% of kindergarten children, apparently, score at the level designated as “genius,” and the percentage decreases as they progress through school. The implication, obviously, is that school suppresses the true genius that lies natively in all children.
From the lecture, though, it appears that “genius” is essentially a measure of one’s ability to come up with random connections, which seems to me to miss the point of education. It brings to mind a model for artificial intelligence that attempts to simulate creativity through randomness on a computer, matching flagging matched concepts when there are a certain number of coherent connections. The other part of actual genius, though, is the ability to reconnect those random associations into something relevant… something useful… something funny.
The Einstein, in other words, isn’t the kindergartener who can see beyond the paperclip in his or her hand and assign to it all kinds of other uses were it otherwise than what it is. The Einstein can recognize that it, rather than something else, would be useful for some particular purpose.
I’m responding to a very short summary, of course, but I’d think the better test would not be to hand a kid a paperclip and ask, “What could you do with this?” The better test would ask, “How could this be used for X.”
One gets the sense that academic theorists have this excited feeling that they’re on the brink of discovering the key to a new paradigm for education, if only they can think beyond the boundaries of an inherited pedagogy. If only they can, in a sense, teach the kids to apply their free-range creativity to solve particular problems. I suspect that won’t prove possible, because in order to solve problems, one must recognize and categorize — and thereby characterize for the purpose of modification. These are restraints.
Such is the model of creative evolution. Classical music, for one, pushed boundaries, but from within. Composers discerned the theories that their predecessors had employed (sometimes unawares) and modified them, broadened them, created new challenges for themselves from within them. At some point, though, those boundaries became so abstract that they broke free from aesthetics, which is a immobile attribute of humankind compared with theory. Once that happened, the theory was into the stratosphere of incoherence.
And so to standardized testing. It should be possible for an educated society to recognize some plain basics without which all of the free association in the world will be so much gibberish. Such are the bases of standardized scores: Basic math. Basic literacy. Basic logic.

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Russ
Russ
10 years ago

The Einstein, in other words, isn’t the kindergartener who can see beyond the paperclip in his or her hand and assign to it all kinds of other uses were it otherwise than what it is. The Einstein can recognize it, rather than something else, would be useful for some particular purpose.

That’s a terrible example. Clearly you haven’t read much of what Einstein actually thought about discover and scientific inquiry. For instance:

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
(The Saturday Evening Post, 26 October 1929)

I think Einstein would cleary have recognized the genius of children making what you cynically dismiss as “random connections.”

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

I think I have some rather valuable insight to this issue. I went to private school for most of my life, but was a ‘terrible student’, even though I obviously knew how to do most of the work I was assigned. For example, I simultaneously failed a math class but aced an AP chemistry class that involved more advanced math.
I spent the last two years of school at a charter where we had no classes, and focused on ‘finding our curriculum inside the real-world work at internships’. The charter saved me from dropping out and it also prepped me for the ever-important first ‘real’ job, which can shape your whole career.
I actually got in quite a bit of trouble at the charter towards the end of my time there. I was in the first graduating class, and I was -very- concerned that we were graduating kids who couldn’t read well or do basic math. I can understand trying to get away from the ‘rote education’ model, but only after the basics are mastered. If you can’t do basic math and write proper English, you’ll likely never be able to participate in even the bottom-rung of the middle class.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

I’m sure that Russ’s study of Einstein’s views on discovery and scientific inquiry doesn’t extend much beyond finding that quote.
Nothing Justin wrote is in conflict with what Einstein wrote there. Nor did Justin dismiss anything cynically as “random connections”. Once again, Russ is misquoting and misinterpreting Justin in order to fabricate a lie.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Russ writes:
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
(The Saturday Evening Post, 26 October 1929)”
First, two things. I am not sure what I think of the paper clips example, two, Einstein was known to lose his way home and stop for directions.
Now, as to Russ’s criticism let us examine an old saw “in the right place at the right time”. It is my experience that it frequently takes a lot of work to be “in the right place” when the “right time” comes along.
Re: knowledge and imagination. I think what can be imagined is limited by the amount of knowledge the imaginee has. To over simplify, how does one “imagine” flight if you have never seen a bird, or a plane? How does one “imagine” the calculus, if they have never known a number? These kids did not “imagine” a paper clip. They imagined what could be done with what they already had knowledge of. If they had a stack of paper, they might imagine the paper clip; but that is not the example set. Consider the knowledge these kids bring to the paper clip; just the knowledge of malleable metal is the product of thousands of years.
“I have stood on the shoulders of giants” A. Einstein

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Whatever you think about my Einstein quote, theoretical physics is a terrible example of inquiry for the purpose of “what could you do with this” or “how could this be used for X.” That’s more the type of thinking engineers like myself do, but it’s hard to see how those questions make sense when considering what forces were at were during the first moments after the creation of the universe (and yes, I know that Einstein’s theories did eventually impact thinking in the applied sciences).

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

The Einstein quote is fine. It just doesn’t fit the dishonest purpose to which you tried to put it.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

What purpose is that? Do tell.
I’m not even sure what point Justin is trying to make (something about the bureaucratic wonders of standardized testing, I think), much less why you get so apoplexic when I question what’s arguably a minor point in his argument.

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

I think that what Justin is trying to say is that he AGREES that times are different, and education might need to change to serve the current and future economy, rather than one of days gone by. The problem is that if we totally scrap the old model, we’ll be graduating children who don’t even have the barebone essentials (reading, writing, arithmetic) to get by.
What good is a very talented ‘thinker’ if they can’t read a newspaper, balance a checkbook, or tell you about how voting works?

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

What good is a very talented ‘thinker’ if they can’t read a newspaper, balance a checkbook, or tell you about how voting works?

So which part of the standardized tests gauge that? If you really want to fix education, why ignore the advice of the experts from industry? Again, here’s Deming (from “The New Economics,” P.145):
books.google.com/books?id=RnsCXffehcEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=deming+new+economics&ei=7n3JR82QOojAiwHDjswH&sig=2R5wtLrXi88s90F796RDCwdHMk0#v=onepage&q&f=false

A remark on education. There is deep concern in the United States today about education. No notable improvement will come until our schools:
– Abolish grades (A, B, C, D) in school from toddlers on up through the university. When graded, pupils put emphasis on the grade, not on learning. Cooperation on a project in school may be considered cheating… The greatest evil from grades is forced ranking–only (e.g.) 20 percent of pupils may receive A. Ridiculous. There is no shortage of good pupils.
– Abolish merit ratings for teachers.
– Abolish comparison of schools on the basis of scores.
– Abolish gold stars for athletics or for best costume.
…Our schools must preserve and nurture the yearning for learning that everone is born with (see p.121). Joy in learning comes not so much from what is learned, but from learning.

Apologies for any typos above (had to key that in).

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

I’m sure that Russ’s study of Einstein’s views on discovery and scientific inquiry doesn’t extend much beyond finding that quote.

I’m not an expert, but I have read some of Einstein’s writings. For one, he was a leader of the antiwar movement. Plus, I researched some of his writings because of the quote that hung on his office wall at Princeton, “not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Admittedly, my first thought that theoretical physics was a bad example was because I recently finished “A Brief History of Time.”

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