Ten "Wrongs" Can't Make A "Right" (Abridged)

Is the grand edifice of education built on a foundation of quicksand?

Here is a list of the false beliefs at the core of prevailing educational practices:

1. “If you teach, they will learn”
    If schools want a particular person to learn a particular bunch of stuff, they designate someone as a “teacher” who will impart the requisite information. But teaching does not necessarily lead to learning. Having someone talk to us about something that doesn’t interest us, doesn’t imply that we’ll absorb it. 

2. “Trained teachers are the only ones qualified to impart knowledge in the subjects they teach”
    The main focus in teacher training is on trying to show prospective teachers how to get students to learn stuff they don’t want to learn. There is no requirement that the trainee be an expert in the subject being taught – no prerequisite. How can they impart knowledge they don’t possess? The most qualified people to teach material are those who have studied it most intensively, and such people are not recruited or hired.

3. “Human knowledge can be divided into discreet subject areas”
    When you think about a problem, do you first say to yourself, “What subject area does this problem fall into?”, or do you seek to solve the problem? In real life, “subjects” are a useless detour on the path to wisdom.

4. “There are experts who can identify what everyone must know to be successful”
    Change in every walk of life is accelerating at a dizzying pace, and no one can predict what will be important and relevant when the child of today becomes the adult of tomorrow. Every child knows this. Why don’t the adults who run schools?

5. “Children cannot be trusted to discover, and find ways to master, what they need to know to be successful adults”
    No one has ever presented a justification for this view of children. The human species survived for over 200,000 years without schools and our young are born with the ability to grow up into functional adults without a government mandate.

6. “Schools are needed to separate true information from the mass of false information that can mislead children”
    Representing that information as more worthy of consideration than that garnered by the efforts of the students undermines students’ confidence in their own judgment, and merely trains them always to yield to the judgment of others considered their superiors.

7. “Science labs show students how scientific experiments are done”
    In schools, science is represented as an unimpeachable source of valid information. In fact, school science labs teach the exact opposite of what is purported. Students learn that science is an exercise in getting the answer that the authorities in the field have approved.

8. “Success is doing things right; failure is doing things wrong”
    Schools hammer into students the notion that being a good student means getting everything right, that the GPA reigns supreme, and that the more “rights” you have accumulated, the better your prospects are seen to be for your future. Actually, we never really learn much from doing things right. Mistakes are the quintessential opportunities for gaining knowledge, insight, and wisdom. Worshiping at the altar of the GPA is following a false god.

9. “The way for children to learn how to be citizens of a free society is to teach them about it”
    How can we hope to understand the value system of American culture if students are trapped in a totally autocratic school system where they have no rights, no system of fair justice, and no say in the rules that govern them?

10. “There exist objective ways to evaluate any aspect of people’s intelligence, knowledge, and prospects for their future success”    
    Humanity has managed to display high levels of creative thought and understanding in areas of boundless variety. Who can be so bold as to attach a measurable number to something that has no limit, especially as we experience an enormous “information explosion”.

Ten Wrongs Make – One Grand Mess
    When any social institution turns out to be based on false premises, it is only a matter of time before it collapses of its own internal contradictions. 

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.