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School and education


I wanted to tackle this subject for some time now, and decided to write this short review of the schooling system today. This probably applies to all the education systems on the planet, but since I haven’t been everywhere, I will talk from the perspective of what I have seen.

First of all, I want to point out the difference between schooling and education. We know that schools and universities are referred to as the “educational institutions”. However, this term was probably coined by politicians, economists or such. The education part of the schooling system seems to not be that large. This is primarily because of the level of education of college and university professors.

To make certain things clear, I define education as the collected knowledge of an individual which the individual understands and is capable of using in a meaningful and effective way. The school is not a prerequisite of being educated. A shoemaker is educated in the art of making and repairing shoes. He does not require complex mathematics to do what he does. Experience attained during one’s lifetime is also another form of education.

As for schools, they seem to be hindering creativity due to their organization. The schooling system is organized in such a way that its main goal is to produce workers for those in power. Those in power want drones who are capable of solving complex tasks, but who are limited enough not to question the system, in order to bring more profit to those in power. Mathematics and language are given the priority in the schooling system, because these subjects are considered to be the most important in the current economy. As someone who is engineering inclined, I agree that mathematics and sciences should be prioritized, because they help develop the critical and logical thinking. However, the way these subjects are taught is, in my opinion, not the most efficient/effective way.

Mathematics and science have the task of describing the world and the way it works. These subjects are often marginalized, stripped of actual meaning, and reduced to bare formulae. A formula is merely a written form of a natural law that requires understanding. Memorizing it will not lead to understanding of the underlying principle, however the reverse does work. Of course most of the children/students being taught science find it boring: the way it is taught is boring and has very little to do with the actual world. To efficiently describe some physical phenomenon the teacher himself should understand it and draw a meaningful connection between the phenomenon and the formula he is presenting. This is, obviously, not being done.

Human beings are imaginative, intuitive creatures. Our brains are capable of thinking in abstract ways. But when you start thinking in formulae, you get detached from the real world and the bare fact you are trying to understand. These subjects should be taught in a way that would reflect our imaginative nature. Of course, some have taken this literally and reduced college to kindergarten. Imaginative does not imply putting together a collage of colored paper during the physics class with university students, but presenting the matter in a meaningful and understandable way.

Art and music in schools are mostly being classified as the less or least important subjects, as they do not help in narrowing of the minds of students and turning them into drones. The current schooling system aims to make as many “in the box” experts as possible in order to make the economy better and in order to bring more profit to the rich. I have seen a lot intelligent people unable to make a simple drawing. To me, this seems to be a result of over-schooling. They do not seem to be intellectually incapable of producing artwork, they just seem to be constrained by all the data they memorized. Their depictions of still life are inaccurate when compared to the actual image they were trying to reproduce, and this is probably due to having a lot of information about the items in the image they haven’t had time to process and understand.

I have seen, in a documentary, a drawing of a running horse drawn by a little girl. The image was impressively accurate. When the girl was asked to do the same a few years after, she was unable to do it. First time when she was drawing the image, she was probably reproducing exactly what she was seeing. After some time, when trying to do the same thing, what she saw needed to pass through the prism of what she memorized (I deliberately avoid saying learned, as learned implies understood) and came out as a modified version of that image. Once you learn the notion of a horse, when seeing a horse, you try to draw a horse and not the actual image you are seeing.

Somewhere in the process of developing the “education system” we started to produce narrow-minded drones. The most successful students (in terms of grades) are placed as teachers in the colleges and universities. Obviously, the grade is a measure of one’s capability of absorbing presented information. Absorbing, not understanding. These people then become in charge of grading future students. The only way they know how to teach or grade students is from what they memorized during the classes they so pedantically attended. To feed the irony, I will use a computer science analogy to describe this process: narrow-minded students are recursively being chosen to teach the future generations of students. Most of the teachers have a list of “correct answers” to the exam questions, and if a solution or an answer is different from what they have seen before, they will designate the answer as incorrect.

We are all subject to this brainwashing, but there is some choice we can make about what we do and how we behave. If we refuse to accept everything being presented to us without questioning it, we might be able to break out of the cage the current system is holding us in.

If you found this article intresting, you might find these TED conferences with Ken Robinson interesting: Do schools kill creativity and Bring on the learning revolution.

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