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.