Education, knowledge, and skill

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Something about watching my wife homeschool our passionately headstrong daughter has made me think about education as a whole and what we value.

I think there’s something that we forget about in later grades with kids, and that’s the importance of practice and repetition.

I understand that our entire education system is meant to fill the kid’s head with as much knowledge as possible as quickly as possible in order to send them to the next step. Tests are meant to measure if the kid is doing well enough, and originally if they weren’t, they’d have to do the class again. (I don’t think they do that anymore.)

It’s a system that favours “clever” children. Those that can do something quick and efficiently the first time. Unfortunately, it’s also a system that in the end fails those same kids. Because they didn’t need help, they never learned study skills like time management, note taking, or prioritization.

The Awkward Yeti comic Motivation to Learn

It could be that I’m slowly turning into the “old artsy hippy”, but I think we need to start prioritizing doing something properly over doing it right. The current education system pushes kids to be smart or first in their class and not to be good or deeply know their subject.

One of my favourite teachers in high school taught me a valuable lesson when I asked her a ridiculous and precocious question in chemistry class. She said something I’d never heard a teacher say before, “I don’t know. I’ll look into it and get back to you.” She did and honestly I can’t remember what it was about, but I remember that statement and it has shaped a lot of my thinking since.

No knowledge I learned in school, no fact I had to memorize, no test I’ve ever taken, has been as important as the ability to research something. Boss wants a special pivot table in Excel, give me some time to look it up. I need to figure something out for a book, look it up.

So many of the abilities I use for my various jobs and projects, I learned from struggling in university or work, not from being clever in high school.

You don’t get better at something by constantly struggling to regurgitate what your teacher says. You get better by practice and repetition.

It’s also important to understand that our system favours a certain demographic of people. Not just post secondary education, but also the lower grades. Minorities and lower income families have a massive disadvantage in the way our education is set up.

I was extremely lucky overall, but there were advantages that I didn’t get because I was from a low income home. I didn’t get to do the more expensive sports or activities, I didn’t have the option of music, I didn’t have the newest tech, I didn’t have access to paid tutors, and I had to work through my university (3-4 jobs 30+ hours a week). I was, however, the only child in the house, I had a large extended family I could to for help, I had an excellent high school, I was clever, and I was a white male.

Basically, I think the push for the best grades leads kids to rely on natural cleverness or memory, and doesn’t lead to people who understand how to manage their lives or how to work to make or learn something with depth.

Repetition, practice, research, time management, and being able to admit when you don’t know something are skills that we need to pass on. Also critical thinking and detecting bullshit.

Be safe and be kind,

Éric