Friday, September 7, 2012

Abolish Education: Photosynthesis

Before I move on I'd like to expand on my last post and talk a bit more about how and why we learn things. One thing that has always struck me as odd about the way we teach people is the way we force them to learn answers to questions that they haven't even had the chance to ask. We just drop information on people completely out of context. For example, a child will turn up for a science lesson and get told about photosynthesis before they've even had a chance to wonder themselves about how plants work and grow. It's daft to just dump knowledge on people and expect them to take it in without giving them a chance to develop an appetite for that knowledge in the first place - they haven't had a chance to ask the question, so why would they want or need the answer.

The stupidity of this way of getting people to learn things might be better illustrated by looking at how people find answers to questions naturally in real life. Whether it's a scientist trying to find the answers to life's mysteries or simply someone trying to find out something as mundane as where the train station is, learning generally begins with a question. How big is the universe? How does the human body work? How do I send an email? etc, etc. You begin with a desire to do something or find out something and you go on a journey towards the answer.

For example, if you need to find out where the train station is you ask yourself "where's the train station?" If you don't already know you then think how can I find out. Then you do something that might help you find the answer, you might wander around town looking for it, you may ask people in the hope that they can tell you, you might go and get a map. All this is pretty simple and obvious, but it illustrates that learning begins with a desire or a reason to do something. And that there's a journey from the question to the answer.

So, someone who wants to find out where the train station is probably needs to catch a train - either that or they have a genuine interest in train stations. Likewise someone who wants to find out where the Andromeda galaxy is probably already has a genuine interest in space. You wouldn't just randomly tell someone where the train station is if they have no interest or need to know it. So why just randomly tell children about the Andromeda galaxy, or photosynthesis, if they don't have any prior curiosity about it.

Learning should begin with questions and curiosity - and each person has their own unique questions and interests. We shouldn't be forcing people to take on board information they have no desire to learn. We should just let them wander where they feel they need to go.

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