Thoughts on Education

Education is the best hope for solving human problems. Without good education, people have few options in their lives. Education warms up life and makes it flexible.

The problem of education is the time children allow us for it. In advanced countries,some children give us their attention for only an hour a year, and the more time they spend in school, the less attention we get. What do we really want to teach these children in our one hour per year? In the less advanced countries, children don't see schools at all.

As the world's population gets younger, the problem is compounded. Each year the number of uneducated people increases. The rise of fundamentalist religion and general incompetence is indicates educational crisis.

I would like to make two suggestions here. First, if you only get the attention of children for an hour a year, take steps to get more time. Second, make sure that the absolutely important things are taught in the absolutely minimal time--focus the curriculum.

Getting more Time

Getting more time is a matter of making learning more available and more attractive. This requires change of structure and attitude on the part of educators. Every avenue of availability should be used. Education should be marketed like soap and available on every street corner. Of course, it is easier to market something when you know precisely what it is you are marketing, which leads us back to focusing the curriculum.

Focus the Curriculum

Teaching the most important things first is a big change. Prioritizing the curricula is difficult because everyone has his own favorite thing that must be known. The list grows and is seldom or never pruned. The list doesn't have a good fit with the needs of real world people.

People need to read and write. People need technology, simple math, and emotional-spiritual-ethical skills. Almost no one needs to know the capitals of the states or how to factor polynomials.

Note the shortness of the list: reading,writing,technology,simple math, and emotional-spiritual-ethical skills. That list covers the core curriculum for a sane planet. Additional skills can be obtained as needed if the core is chosen properly. If the core skills are not there, it is possible to get a doctorate and still be lost.

Here is the focused curriculum in more detail:

Reading and writing

Reading is really a simple thing. About 50 sounds are represented by 26 letters. About 70 percent of all communication involves 100 common words. Teaching reading as if it were simple should be simple.

The worst mistake made in the teaching process is public reading aloud. The children who read early excel at this, ruining the experience of the others. If reading aloud must be done, it should be done one on one in the most supportive environment possible. Other means can be used to determine the level of reading skill. Note this complaint is coming from someone who excelled at reading aloud.

The other mistake is in not providing something fun to read. If a child wants to read comics, give him comics.


My main point about technology is:technology is simple! The technology tool kit is small and the tools are used over and over in different contexts.

Technology is about doing. It should be learned by doing. I've never known a nerd who didn't build something.

Here is a description of a good one year course in technology.

You may have noticed that science is not on the list. This is because science depends much more on technology than technology does on science. If you understand science, technology may still be a mystery, but a technologist understands science instinctively. The other reason is that technology is science made useful. Why burden children with something which is often useless?

Simple math

The most important math is how to use a calculator, how to deal with linear relations and proportions, andworking with triangles. I once did a simple analysis of Eshbach's Fundamentals of Engineering which showed that 70% of the formulas in the book were linear. Of the remaining 30%, most were related to simple triangles (simple trigonometry or pythagoream theorem squares).

In math, as everywhere else, teach the things really used first!

Emotional-spiritual-ethical skills

The first point here is the one about the importance of self-esteem. A.S. Neil (Summerhill) taught little else on the theory that someone with enough self-esteem can learn and do whatever is necessary.

An environment of criticism and punishment erodes self-esteem, praise builds it.

It is very hard for someone to give self-esteem without having it. Teachers should be screened forself-esteem first, and for academic virtues last.

While teaching religious doctrines in public schools is justifiably repugnant, a spiritual relationship to the universe is valuable and helpful. Many skills can be taught here without arousing anyone's theological ire. A main theology-free spiritual skill is simply the ability to quiet oneself and listen for what can be heard. Another is learning the value of praise and gratitude. Another is learning how to love.

Ethics can be taught from one of the variations of the golden rule (scientific types might like Kant's "categorical imperative"). I like the creatve power of the yogic five abstnences--non lying,non stealing,non violence, non grasping, and non lusting. Being drawn into any one of these is a life changing experience.