Education Reform: What if the Core Theories are Flawed?

Education Reform: What if the Core Theories are Flawed?

Sirian
Sirian

June 2nd, 2003, 11:19 pm #1

As part of the thread about current world politics I started lower on this page, Jester and Ozy and Pete and some others got onto a tangent about education. That has sparked a strong response from me. I started to post this in reply to one of Jester's posts, then later decided it deserves its own thread. So here you go.


Class size is currently hailed as the main issue. While it's not unimportant, it's nowhere near the root cause of the system's failures.

Do you know how much money is spent per child in the schools within the District of Columbia? The amount is very high, yet the school results remain abysmal. The class sizes are very small. The student to teacher ratio is down to something far below anything I ever got, yet the results remain poor.

Class size is pretty much an excuse to hire more teachers. That's it.

Our culture is a bunch of blind sheep. We have a populace trained to place faith in "experts" as if they were gods.

* People see ads for drugs on television and actually believe the claims, as if a pill was something magical, instead of a crude instrument that does a dozen things to your body chemistry, only one of which is desirable, and even that comes up short of making everything right again. "Side effects", as if those were minor, are marginalized, dismissed.

* Doctors are hailed as miracle workers. We call their work "treatment" and "cure", yet the actual results are rarely talked about, such as how in the wake of an operation, any operation, that your body never fully recovers its former functionality. Doctors can make a lot of bad things better, and that's truly wondrous, but it stops short of the hype we are constantly forcefed.

* Lawyers are widely hated, but the law is such an entangled mess, you can't do without them. Yet who ends up writing almost all of the new laws? Lawyers turned politicians. And people are trained to listen to both as if their work can make problems go away. Sometimes that does happen, but mostly not. And law enforcement isn't much better. We're also trained to trust the police, but the reality is, the police can't stop most crimes or even catch most criminals. They do help the situation overall, and by a lot, but they can't actually protect you against any threat that can be carried out before police can reach you, and they can't protect you from ongoing threats or determined attackers. In those situations, you are on your own.

* Psychologists. We're trained to believe in what they tell us, too, and to pay out huge money to get their insights. Are they REALLY that much more sophisticated than ancient mystics?

* Advertisers. Most people have heard the quote from P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute." We all understand that there are marketing gimmicks designed to part us from our money, to influence us to buy things we otherwise wouldn't. Yet do people stop and question this whole marketing paradigm? Not often, it seems. We are trained to be consumers, to absorb goods, to crave material possessions to fuel our consumer economy.


Everybody who has ever tuned in to a weather forecast knows that human beings do not yet know enough to be able to make even simple weather predictions reliably. How many times has your local meterologist gotten it wrong? And how many times have you made plans based on his forecasts, relying on his science and skills and predictions to plan your own activity, only to get stuck in the wrong kind of weather for what you planned?

Most people seem to grasp that meterology is still a developing science -- that we ARE gaining ground and improving the predictions, but still come up far short of understanding enough to reduce the error rate to insignificance.

Most people I know are skeptical of weather forecasts. Everyone makes jokes about it, but they still tune in because the meteorlogists do have a record that is better than random guessing. They do have some insights into the variables that make up the weather.

So why isn't this same comprehension of imperfect performance applied culture-wide to all fields of human endeavor? Why aren't we, culturally, as skeptical of doctors as we are of meteorologists? Do you personally think the doctor is any better at treating human injury and disease than the weatherman is at forecasting rain or sunshine? Or is that simply too uncomfortable to ponder, the risking of your life in someone else's hands who may not actually be able to cure your ills? Would you gamble your life on the weatherman's predictions??? You do something similar when you visit doctors. (Ever REALLY thought about what it means that they measure the results of major surgeries via a statistic of how many folks end up dead within five years after the procedure?) Do you really buy the line that drugs represent a magic pill to cure all your ails? Do you really think the psychologists have more than a crude understanding of what really makes people tick? Do you really think the police can make you fully safe? Heck, in regard to some threats, can they even make you safer at all? Or does taking your security for granted actually increase your risks in some regards? Do you really think the government can solve all of society's ills by taxing more of your money and throwing it at the problems through a bureaucracy? Do you really think that when a dentist drills a hole in your tooth and fills it with something hard, that the tooth is as good as new? Do you really believe that the leaders at the United Nations have a clue?

Oh wait, went too far with that last one.


Education is just as clumsy and backward as the rest of these professional fields. In some ways, it is even worse. Meteorology is at least a hard science. There are a lot of variables that go into weather patterns, which we don't understand yet. We probably haven't even identified all of the true variables, but we are moving forward. As more data is gathered and analyzed and the scientific method applied to it, better understandings emerge and predictions improve. We are now saving actual lives with improved storm warnings, improved building codes in storm-wracked regions, and improved emergency response mechanisms.

Do you realize that of all the items I've mentioned, that meteorology is the MOST reliable? You might want to chew on that thought for a while.


I have a unique perspective on education.

I went to Baptist private school through first grade. That included a few months of full-day Kindergarten-4, a year of full day Kindergarten-5, and first grade. Most public schools don't have K4 and only offer half a day for K5. When I came out of first grade, I was a year ahead of public school students. All three years in early Christian private school were done in different locations, yet within the same Baptist school. (They had a main campus and some branches, and the main campus moved to a new building between K5 and First Grade for me).

I went to public school for second and third grade, right here in Pennsylvania, as I lived with my mom's parents while she went through college in DC. She got an Associate Degree in accounting. More on that later. I moved back in with my parents for Fourth and Fifth grade, and there, too, the location changed as between years, a new school building was opened.

So in my elementary school education, I had six and a half years of school up through fifth grade, all but one pair of those years involving a different school building and most of them involving new classes. I got a lot of experience at being the New Kid. I also got an up close and personal look at a variety of schools, both private and public, both rural and urban, across two states.

My apathy with sixth grade grew out of control as I was flunking and headed for total goof-off land. My dad pulled me out of school and I stayed out for two school years. When I went back, they had to test me to see where I belonged (expecting to put me back into the sixth grade) and they had to abide by the results they were handed. I tested at eleventh grade, but +I+ made the choice to back that up to tenth grade, after discussing the full pros and cons with the high school guidance counselor. I completed a normal run of high school, finally all in one place, and graduated at age 15, having skipped grades 6-9.

That's unusual in itself, and I was a "bright" student from the get-go. However, I enjoyed especially good schooling in private school, which gave me a solid foundation, and then in fourth grade I ran into something else: the Church of Scientology.


Those of you who have read most of my posts to this forum may remember that I've talked a little bit about this subject before. You may remember that I'm long since disassociated with that group, that I consider my total experience with it a mixed bag with some dark moments and elements, but also some bright spots. One of the brightest spots was (is) their student technology.

The Scientology philosophy is broken into two halves: training and processing. The training involves learning the "technology", studying the texts, the writings of the cult's guru, L. Ron Hubbard. The processing involves having his processes performed upon you by Church counselors. The culture within the church is almost militaristic: specifically, naval. Each church is run largely like a ship, with the totality run like a merchant navy.

Anyway, each church has its own Academy: a small school within the church where church members pay for training courses. There are no teachers. There are, instead, supervisors. The content of the curriculum involves studying Hubbard's philosophy and teachings, and the process abides by his philosophy on education. There are three core elements, called the Barriers to Study. According to Hubbard, these are the three mechanisms that lead to noncomprehension, to the inability to grasp or to retain information studied. His theory holds that overcoming the Barriers to Study will enable any student to achieve 100% comprehension on any subject. Fairly early in the process of training, each student takes on the course involving the education philosophy, complete with taped lectures by Hubbard from the 1960's, in which he goes into detail about how to apply oneself to studying. He used a lot of humor and a lot of analogy. (Parenthetically, you could see a lot of his style reflected in my own writing style, even now, as I developed an appreciation for his thoroughness, humor, comparisons and depth. Much of my ability to think critically was developed and honed while studying his philosophy, so I couldn't have avoided being impacted by his ways if I had tried. There is no doubt that if nothing else, the man was hugely prolific).

The study tech was damned impressive. That's the clever nature of the Scientology recruiting method. You are first given entry-level courses or processes, which are very affordably priced. There is a hard sell aspect to the notion of "judge for yourself." There is a religious fervor, even, to how zealously hands-off the church staff are taught to behave in regard to potential converts, to those interested in learning more about the philosophy and what it has to offer. All the entry-level materials are constructed out of bits Hubbard culled from a variety of sources, chiefly eastern religions and philosophy. Almost none of that was original content from him, but he did have a flair for assembling it. Folks enticed by the various means to get people in the door (by tweaking their curioisity) are sold these entry level training courses or processes, which almost invariably impress the hell out of everyday folks, since they actually produce the results advertised. No unreliable weather forecasts here. No lawyer doublespeak. No faulty doctor's diagnoses nor treatments that don't work out as advertised. No auto-repair estimates that grow and grow as mechanics magically find more things wrong with your car. No fuzzy approximations or half-assed results. The soft sell given new recruits belies the true nature of the organization, but there you have it. You get filled up with all the most reliable stuff the philosophy has to offer, right up front, enough of it that, at least compared to other religions or to the general culture, you get shocked out of that comfort zone where the experts never quite really seem to know what they are talking about. And that's the one thing they do reinforce to you: contrasting what they have to offer with society at large. You get a constant message that Scientology has Found Some Real Answers, and you get to try a bunch of them on for size and make up your own mind. Very few people walk out the door at that point, and those who do are left alone. There's no actual brainwashing. There's just a very nasty trap.

Once you come to agree that all the introductory level stuff is highly effective, complete with your own actual results of having tried it out, then you start to get the pitch about the upper level stuff, about climbing the Bridge, as they call it. Yet to begin that climb up out of the entry level stuff, you have to pass through the indoctrination materials. This is where they get you. You are lured with a grand promise that the Tech is like the stuff you've already learned and been processed through, only better. Much, much better. The higher you go, the church line holds, the better it gets. The same degree of reliability and effectiveness holds all the way up through all of the church's teachings, and you are shown any number of true believers at all the various positions on the Bridge, who all tell the same story: Yep, It Works. They even still pay lip service to the notion of judging for yourself, but in truth, they indoctrinate that out of you. The notion of questioning what you are taught remains ever present, but only as a specter, a comfortable illusion. If you actually do run across anything that makes you doubt, you get hit with a logical fallacy of distraction. That's very easy for them to do, since there are so many church policies, and if you run afoul of the least of them, you can be sent off to Ethics Processing, where you get put through the ringer examining your own flaws until you repent are "freed" from these "reactions". That, too, is very cleverly managed, because they don't actually force you to the conclusion. They leave you with only one conclusion to draw and wait for you to come to it on your own. That's actually a rare abuse of the Ethics side of the church, too. Most of the Ethics Processing actually is legitimately tailored to addressing corrections. People get sent there for lying, cheating, stealing, missing their church appointments or commitments, saying or doing anything that hurts other people, etc etc. The thing is, between this process of rooting out your sins, so to speak, and leading you to choose not to repeat them (because there is strong emphasis on doing the right thing), combined with the indoctrination about never, ever, EVER altering or changing the church procedures and rituals and processes, you enter into a never-never land where there is no cultural tolerance for debate or dissent. It's not suppressed, per se. It just doesn't exist. By the time you run across the kinds of things that should be questioned and poked and prodded, it's too late for you. You already have developed the faith, backed by all the entry level stuff that DOES work as advertised, reinforced by all the other true believers around you, and contained within the strict discipline of the culture where if you wander out of the conformity they can tie you up in knots and hold your faith hostage against you (since you do believe that the church holds your eventual salvation) until you step back into line.

And all of that is made possible by just how good the entry-level stuff is, how effectively it works. The study tech may be the best of that, too.

The Scientology Academies don't just brag. They walk the walk. You have to achieve 100% comprehension of materials before you pass any training course. The courses are all designed by Hubbard, a check list of activities which include both materials to study and practical demonstrations of your grasp on the material. At every step of the way, you are rigorously examined by the academy supervisors. Each item that you complete must be verified by a supervisor. The actual supervisors enlist the aid of other students ahead of you, higher than you on the Bridge, to help them out. ALL students who have completed the study course itself, and the particular course you are studying, are qualified to examine you. There is a specific procedure to the supervision. You are tested against all three of the Barriers to Study and asked questions about the material at random, at the sole discretion of the examiner, until they are satisfied. IF YOU MISS ANYTHING, get any item wrong at any point, you flunk the exam and start over. That usually does not mean a complete retread, but occasionally it does. Only when you have 100% command of the material do you pass. The examiner will sign your course book signifying that you've completed that item, and you move on to the next one. A typical course includes hundreds of such items. Some of the most advanced courses have thousands of items. And this is not a "study for the test" system. This is a system about comprehension. If you fail at any point on any point, you can be "sent back down", complete with a bunch of Ethics Processing to figure out whether or not you were doing something in bad faith. That may sound despotic, but in fact it wasn't, because that was all but unheard of. I could still pass the exams today, some twenty years later. The study tech worked.


From the perspective of someone held to a 100% standard over a span of years, and able to meet that standard, and looking around seeing EVERY OTHER STUDENT in the academy also able to meet that standard, the performance of our education system is barbaric. Our expectations are way too low, the study methods poorly constructed, the testing system doing more harm than good the way it's assembled, and the notion of resolving this mess by throwing more money at it is positively criminal. Criminal, I say.

There is one down side to the Scientology study approach: speed. I spent six months just studying and passing the study tech course itself. Most adults could pass it in one month, but I was nine years old when I took it. I had a deeper hole to climb out of. I had to reach 100% comprehension on what amounted to an entry level college course, at nine years old and in the fourth grade. Nobody made any fun of my pace. In fact, they were all very encouraging -- maybe even impressed. But that's a topic for another day.

Speed is compromised when 100% comprehension is held to be the standard. But if you apply the same methods that lead to 100% comprehension while chugging along at a faster pace and not stopping to go back for what is missed and misunderstood, you still come out way ahead of the game.

Endless homework and repetition? Waste of time. That's like trying to conduct brain surgery with a sledge hammer. Cramming for tests? Waste of time. Even if you pass the test, you won't remember the material a month later. Then what good was it? Nothing more than aiming for that sheepskin you can put on the wall, to give you that competitive edge on your resume through an equally barbaric job application process, where your actually ability to do the job isn't in the top five most important considerations. That's not to say that a sheepskin is worthless. You CAN get a great education at university. The problem is, you can also pass the tests without real comprehension, in too many cases. That won't hurt a given student, though, if they apply themselves. Many don't, but some do, and lacking any competitive system that performs better, what's the alternative anyway?

Just like when you get sick, what choice do you have but to go see a doctor? If they can improve your odds at all, even a little bit, that's worth it, right? Same with a lawyer. Same with the weatherman. Yeah, maybe he botches a lot of forecasts, but that's all you've got available. The best option is one that comes up short of the ideal, but beats doing nothing.

Our schools could do so much better.


So what are these three Barriers to Study?

1) Lack of mass.
2) Too steep of a gradient.
3) Misunderstood words.

Lack of mass? Mass is the real item, the physicality. If you are studying car engines, you can study the theory all day long. Unless your brain gets some of the mass to go with it, you won't comprehend. The cliche says a picture is worth a thousand words. The mass is worth a million, a billion. Words alone can't teach you. You have to get your hands on the mass of what you are studying. Photos may do it, in some cases. Illustrations, diagrams. The genuine article is best, though. If you are studying car engines, your comprehension will be highest if you have a car engine to handle in accord with the theory about engines. If you are learning to build an engine, you've got to go through the steps of taking an actual engine apart and putting it back together. Then you'll remember what you learned. It will stick in your brain, because the brain is biologically tailored to deal with mass and images of mass, not language. Language is just a form of communication of ideas. Words and phrases trigger concepts already backed by earlier learning. The more mass you get, the better it sticks.

Some concepts are built upon a foundation of other concepts. If you try to learn higher concepts without having learned the foundation, your understanding will crumble. Likewise, you also need enough time to absorb the mass and the theory. If you try to study too quickly, you just won't retain the information. Some reptition may be in order, to slow down and go over material in more depth. Each person on each subject has a different comprehension speed, affected by things like interest level, urgency of need, motivation, etc. Sometimes when you have trouble comprehending, you are simply trying to climb too steeply, to ascend too steep of a gradient, too high of a "learning curve". In this case, the only way to comprehend is to slow down or else back up to more basic concepts that you've missed.

Finally, our brains go blank when crossing a word that is not known. Our brains associate the wrong mass with a word that is not understood. In either case, a misunderstood word marks a tripwire to comprehension, a stumbling block. When whole sections of text fail to "stick" in your brain because a hole caused by one of these undefined words swallowed it up, you will spend time reading only to find it went in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Misunderstood words can be even worse. You don't just have a hole in your mind, but a cross-circuited image that will produce an even larger hole because your brain will blank out when it realizes that the pieces don't fit. Worst of all, if there is no logical inconsistency, then the ideas will stick, but you'll have faulty ideas in your head. You will learn the wrong thing and get tripped up when you try to put this idea into practice.


The Scientology study approach is to first check for misunderstood and undefined words. Your vocabulary will swell in a hurry as you take Scientology courses, because you are NOT moving on past any given item until you can pass an exam in which you accuately define every word used in the material! That's right, you not only have to learn all the material, you have to learn the dictionary, too, at least to the extent of defining every last word. You've got to learn them all. The typical exam involves supervisors hunting through the text for all the biggest or most unusual words, any special jargon, but there will sometimes also ask you to define even simple words.

If you can pass the vocabulary check, you move on to the comprehension exam. You are required not just to answer questions, but actually to demonstrate the concepts. You have to show the supervisor the mass. You'll do this with a "demo kit", a collection of odds and ends bits of stuff: buttons, paper clips, small objects of whatever variety. These items are used as symbols for things: objects, people, components, whatever the material involves. As you answer the questions about the material, you have to demo the ideas, show the relationships and interactions.

If you can define all the words, answer every question put to you, and demonstrate every concept you are challenged to display, you will pass the exam. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of thousands of these exams, called "check outs". Someone who has already passed that course will "check you out" on the material, and you don't move on until you have it 100%.

For the most important concepts, after completing a major section of a course, there will be practical items: drills, lab work, exercises, whatever. This is the equivalent of the part where you take the car engine apart and put it back together, or assemble a working engine from parts, or even go out and order all the parts yourself and build your own engine, or even make the parts yourself -- or the equivalent of these things -- all depending on the gradient of the course you are taking. The final test always involves proving that you can apply what you have learned. In some cases, clay models are used for demonstration. There was a procedure for modeling a concept with clay, which I won't go into. These were some of the hardest course items to complete. You do not get to explain anything. The clay has to speak for you. If you can model the whole concept in clay by these rigorous standards, you would pass.

If at any point you proved unable to demonstrate a given concept, the examiner would start hunting for undefined or misunderstood words in the material. Invariably, one would be found, cleared up, and you'd start over from that point.

By the time you had taken all the entry level courses, your vocabulary would be beefed up and you'd tend to move along more quickly. Just having a strong vocabulary in itself would greatly aid comprehension in general, even when you weren't specifically studying a given topic.

I know that I turned into a walking sponge. Was I a bright kid? Yes. Super genius who could skip all the material from grades 6 to 9 and not miss a beat? No. I got a full secondary education's worth of vocabulary studying six hours, one day a week, on again off again in the Scientology academy, for a year and a half, at age nine to ten. I got seven years worth of English education in the equivalent of a few months of part time study. At age 12, I tested at the 90th percentile for the eleventh grade on the evaluation test I took to get back into public school and I still wonder what they were smoking with that analysis, because I really DID have four years' worth of gap in my education on topics like history, civics, grammar, even math. It seems just being bright and paying attention to life as it passed me by qualified me as better off than nine out of ten students who had gone through grades 6-10, when I hadn't. That's just crazy. The standards on that test were pathetically low. Or rather, the standards the students were being held to were pathetically low if 9 out of 10 of them couldn't do better than me on that test when I hadn't even taken the courses!

Fortunately, I went to a good high school. I did not apply myself to "getting good grades" but I did mostly apply myself to learning the material. Counting the straight A's I qualified for from the ninth grade I didn't actually go through, my four year GPA was over 3.6, and a bit less than that just for the three years I actually took -- good, but not stellar. My test scores were much better than that, of course. My lack of enthusiasm for completing all the homework, and my large number of absenses (in which I did miss out on some of the material) dragged down my average.

I scored only a 600 on the English part of my SAT. Part of that was from leaving a bunch of questions blank at the end because I wasted too much time in the reading comprehension section. I was NOT used to playing timed word games with misunderstood words. I actually found the concept insulting. My reading comprehension is 100% on all subjects when I fully apply myself. I'd proven that under far tougher conditions and standards than the SAT. The notion of teaching students to "figure out the context of words by educated guesses using the rest of the sentence" is a fucking travesty. Yeah, that's a skill, and yeah it helps if you're in a hurry, but it's a bad habit to form and a criminal thing to encourage.

If I had practiced the SAT (in my hubris, I didn't bother) and formed a strategy for improving my total score, I would have done better to skip that whole reading comprehension section, complete all the other questions first, then go back for that one. Not only would I have managed my time better, but I wouldn't have clogged my head with all those holes from the deliberately esoteric words thrown in there to trip students up.

My cat could design a better English exam!

As good as my vocabulary was, I realized from that test that I still had a lot of room to grow. My training in recognizing when I had tripped past an undefined word slowed me down, too. I would never allow that on something urgent. I'd stop and crack open my dictionary. No use hurrying if I only get the wrong answer. Defining all the words actually speeds learning anyway, once you are past the early stages of building your vocabulary and study skills.

If I had managed the English part of the test more effectively, I might have scored 650, maybe even approaching 700. Anybody earning 800 on the English part of the SAT gets my respect. They would have to have a massive vocabulary. Massive. That was pretty much all the whole test measures anyway.

I got 750 on my math half. That was a disgrace. Simple algebra and geometry, and I missed how many questions? I'm sure I made mistakes on a few, but there were other questions I remember being so poorly written, they were ambiguous. They could have broken more than one way. I couldn't understand how such an important test could include ambiguous questions. My county math team organizers did a better job writing questions. I had 100% comprehension on all the math concepts involved, and I'd proven that before, too. I may have made arithmetic errors on a few questions, but to lose 50 points worth of questions? I'm positive I chose wrongly on some of the ambiguous questions.

And this was the "all important" college entrance exam? Ambiguous math questions that didn't even cover most of the math I had been studying, because it was dumbed down to a lower common denominator, and an English test measuring the degree to which I can avoid screwing up if I guess at words instead of bothering to crack open a dictionary? What are they smoking?





Those of you here who participate in the Civ3 aspect of Realms Beyond have all seen my Scientology study training in action. If you think about it, you will realize that all those screenshots I include with my reports greatly helps you to "get the mass" so you can follow along with what was happening. If you think about it, you'll understand that my training game way back when dropped all the way back to the beginning, teaching about fundamentals, about the basics of the game that are needed in order to be ABLE to learn about the higher theory that advanced players are always batting around. If you think about it, you will notice that I take pains to define terms I will use. I don't keep redefining them over and over, though, so if you came in late at some point, you may not grasp all the jargon used, and that could be standing in your way of comprehension.

My training game was specifically designed to be effective as a study tool.

I asked everyone to shadow each round. That wasn't for variety. It was so they would get the mass. The mass of playing each round would allow my criticisms to stick, allow players to relate to the concepts in a way that would produce comprehension. It even allowed, up to a point, for players to relate to criticisms leveled against other players.

I deliberately focused on the little things, like which tiles to work first and why, like how and why to manage which tiles a city worked or how to evaluate your short term needs, to identify what would best speed your growth vs what would best aid your security, and how to evaluate which priority was more urgent. I started with a very low gradient and kept it rather low, a friendly learning curve.

I did focus on terms, on concepts, on words. Even so, this was still the weakest area and almost certainly responsible for those who still had some troubles with the ideas. I could bring ALL the students along to 100% comprehension if we could meet face to face and go through the full process of defining all the words and demonstrating all the concepts.

Griselda says that the training game I ran helped her to figure out how to play. Others have praised my reports. In all cases, I have understood how to write to improve the odds of readers comprehending. I don't use inflated words to try to sound grandiose. I try to paint vivid pictures using humor, analogy, and insight, and to supply the mass with screen shots.


Smaller class sizes is NOT going to magically repair the holes in a child's comprehension. Better paid teachers won't do it. New books won't do it. New school buildings won't do it. New bureacracy won't do it. More standardized testing won't do it. Less standardized testing won't do it. School vouchers won't do it. No amount of money poured down the drain of the broken teaching methods and pathetic standards we have now is going to make anything better. The Barriers to Study have to be torn down, one child, one subject at a time. We need an education revolution, throw the whole broken system out and start over, rethink our approach to learning.

Our schools are getting worse and worse because we are moving farther and farther away from the wisdom of the past. The old Master-Apprentice relationship solved all three problems. The student got the mass and then some. They got so much mass with hand's on training that they would eventually become a full master in the craft themselves. They got a manageable gradient with an education in their craft pieced together over many years. And they got taught all the words and terms of the craft as they went, learning what each tool and raw material and process was called and what their functions were.

The old apprenticeship system was not efficient in terms of broad education or mass availability, but it was damned well effective in preserving all the tidbits of advanced technology (advanced as related to the given time period), teaching students all they needed to know to perform their chosen trade.

Schools didn't used to be separated by grade. We had a lot of one-room schools, with younger students tossed in with older ones and absorbing some of what the older ones were being taught. There was no radio, no television, no movies. People had less leisure time and lived in a much harsher world, much more sink or swim, where the students themselves were more motivated, had picked up a better appreciation for study by way of what it could do for them. Most children were worked by their families, and whatever education there was was always hands-on. We didn't even have photography until the 19th century.

Our schools used to emphasize shop work. Students learned how to do carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics, and more. Students got held back if they didn't learn and retain enough of the information. There was also less information to learn: less theory, less complex theory, lesser degree of removal of student from practical application of theory. Folks learned more total information because of "Jack of All Trades" syndrome: covering a lower gradient on a wider number of topics, with better comprehension and retention across all of them. As education has moved more and more toward specialization, we have shifted away from practical application toward pure theory. We have adopted some fatally flawed education theories and embraced them system wide. We have grown more and more inclusive of the populace, where less prepared students with less responsible parents -- students who used to get completely left out of the education system and were relegated to lives of hard labor -- have been added to the mix, without the needed reforms to bring them along the same as better prepared students coming from parents who have taught them more, spent more time on them, and given them a more solid foundation prior to entering school.

Both the actual performance of the brighter students and the average performance of the total student body are on the decline. As standards drop, the best and brightest are bogged down by a misguided effort to try to keep everyone of the same age group on the same learning gradient, combined with the continued lowering of standards to be more inclusive of the worst performers. Some genuinely cannot handle even a modest pace without a lot more attention and a better designed educational approach, while others get bored out of their minds. Boredom is lethal. It almost swallowed me whole in sixth grade. If I had been forced to slog along like that without enough challenge, I would have grown increasingly restless and rebellious. I was already on the verge of open rebellion at that point, totally disenchanted with a system that didn't give a shit about me as an individual, but merely wanted to force me through its meat grinder.

Our system is so badly broken it is shameful, but like all other institutions, reform is difficult because there is a large body of folks invested in the status quo, with their egos on the line, their way of making a living on the line, their expertise and experience would be challenged, and so on and so forth. It would take a lot of work to reform and improve the system, but a few simple changes could dramatically improve the overall performance, and an effective top-to-bottom overhaul could end our education woes, making as dramatic of a leap forward in results as we did with the printing press to increase availability of books and the effort to institutionalize literacy among the whole populace. There is that much improvement available just with what is currently known but not being used, and it could be fully implemented in less than a decade.

The current educational debate stinks. When I listen to the various arguments, the options that we are fighting over, to me it sounds barbaric, like midieval astronomers arguing over competing theories that explain why the world is flat. None of these folks have it right, and no amount of funding of their theories and approaches is going to improve the state of the system.

The core problem as I see it is expectations and standards. We the people do not, on the whole, realize what a massive pile of BS we are being sold here. The system is not going to go forward without first going backward to purge itself of flawed educational mechanisms. A lot of dead weight needs to be cut loose. A whole new approach is needed, one that is better tailored to results, which prioritizes individuals and meets the needs of individuals, grouping students by performance, not age, and enabling them all to make the most of their opportunities by focusing on tearing down the barriers to study, improving comprehension and retention across the board. We've got to get over misguided notions of soothing people's egos by trying to treat everyone the same. That is the worst injustice of all. It mistreats the few who need an even slower pace, and it badly abuses those who need to be cut loose to move faster. This isn't even so much about ability as it is about the home environment. Better nurtured students will be ahead because they are getting education at home and through all aspects of their life, while others are neglected. Ability does vary, but preparation and support vary much more widely. Parents are the indispensible element, and the system needs to better accomodate for that, both for the parents who slack off and fail to prepare their children and for the parents who are so effective that their children can not only handle more challenge but NEED it.

Reforming curriculum pacing is dangerous because the potential abuse of faster-paced students viewing themselves as "better than" slower paced students would be a problem, but who are we kidding? That problem is there anyway. Even within our current grade system, children are grouped into smaller packs working at different paces, especially with reading. Test scores vary, achievements vary. Comparisons are inevitable.

More social education is also needed: more values. We've also gone backward at breakneck speed in purging most moral values and judgements from our schools. That was perhaps a necessary step in order to also purge bigotry and all forms of hatred, but now we've got to purge the purge. There are ways to agree on values that would be religiously neutral. Building character is important. Many teachers find creative ways to instill discipline on students and lead by example, but the system too often works against them. We DO have a lot of good teachers -- in fact, that's the one aspect of our educational system that is holding it all together in spite of institutionalized failure -- but there are a lot of bad administrators who get in their way, saddling them with rules and limits and demands that force them to conform to a system that is designed to be broken. The whole system lumbers along and is being slowly hacked to death by special interests and squeaky wheels who force changes in the wrong direction on the basis of faulty concepts, faulty demands, and misguided ideals. The same tired old myths are batted around, the same failed ideas forwarded over and over. Are the ideas ever blamed? No. Are the core theories challenged? No. Some insignificant cause is always blamed: not enough money, classes too large, books too old... On and on and ON AND ON AND ON the bullshit goes, until it swallows up all hope of genuine reform.

The only ones who get heard in the debate are the "experts" who have gone through the system. You need a degree in education to be heard on the topic of educational reform. That would make sense if the current educational theory were the best technology available, but it's not. So what we have here is a system that is designed to preserve itself. The top priority is not results, but protecting vested interests.

In that regard, the teacher's unions, school boards, education departments and all the other mechanisms designed to protect the interests of the people in the system now all stand in the way of real solutions. Will we overcome that? Not through the current proposals. No way, no how, no matter how much money we throw at it. The only way real reform can go forward is through an effective assement of why the current mechanisms produce poor results and how to address the root causes of the failures.


Although I have an understanding of how to study anything effectively, I don't always observe proper discipline. I've cracked open my dictionary in the course of reading this forum only a couple of dozen times over the years. I should probably have done so two or three times as often as I did. I do a lot of reading and sometimes blow past words and don't care. That's not good. I know it means I'll blank out, that I won't recall what I read, or at least a goodly chunk of it, but sometimes when reading for pleasure I get lazy and don't want to do the work. Nobody will be testing me anyway, so what does it matter?. Sometimes I take better care of myself, sometimes not. Some books are so wordy in terms of vocabulary, though, that I can't even get through them at all without a dictionary.

The worst such example I ever encountered was the fantasy author, Stephen R. Donaldson. Reading his two Thomas Covenant trilogies was tortuous. I was literally cracking open the dictionary two and three times per page. Abominable. The gradient was actually too steep for me! My head got filled with so many new definitions, the lack of mass was eating at my comprehension. I actually cracked out a demo kit -- the only time I've done that since leaving Scientology in 1986. And that still wasn't enough! Not enough mass, too many new definitions, too much to try to absorb at one time. I did get through the books, and I could probably pass a general test on them even today, but I had had to go back and look up some of the same words over and over as the definitions weren't sticking. Donaldson threw the language around for its own sake, as if he were trying to impress us with his vocabulary instead of prioritizing the effective telling of his story.

I learned an important lesson from that: there's a difficult tradeoff that writers must make between choosing the most accurate words and embracing a wider audience. The more words you use, especially uncommon words, the more you shrink your audience, the less that people will understand what you have written, the less they will comprehend, the less they will enjoy it. Yet you also need to use rich enough language to make the words sing, to fully communicate what you are trying to portray. As a writer, I have had to learn to measure this tradeoff, to try to reign in my vocabulary, to choose simpler words when I can but not let myself be held slave to the lowest common denominator. There is a peak to the bell curve, at which the use of rich language to paint a better picture crosses with the undefined word barrier, which clouds or even destroys that picture. My duty as a writer is to tailor the best total result to my intended audience, to aim for the best picture I can paint without overshooting the audience's ability to follow along. That's a frustrating dilemma that would cease to be a primary issue if only all readers were educated to have the tools, if they so desired, to be able to understand anything I might write.

I get teased a lot about the length of my forum posts, but most of that is coming from folks who just can't stay tuned in. They lack the attention span, and I understand why. As soon as they trip over words they don't know or don't properly understand, they blank out. A couple of those and they're toast. Disparaging the writer acts as a defense mechanism to make them feel better. They lose the comprehension and lose the will to continue reading. They lose interest, and they have been taught to blame that on the writer rather than taking responsibility for it themselves. Only the brighter and better educated can follow my posts all the way through and grasp it all, even when I make conscious effort to limit my word usage to common vocabulary. Even then, we all trip up sometimes. Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts. I've gotten lost in posts and had to back up, track down the word or words I tripped over and open the dictionary. I'm more motivated to do that either when I'm especially interested in the material, or else locked in a heated debate and NOT wanting to lose the argument.

People don't actually know what to DO when they find themselves not comprehending something! I can't imagine being powerless like that. I've been infused from childhood to have total faith in my ability to learn anything to which I apply myself. That's a kind of intelligence that is not genetic. Anybody can learn how to learn. Anybody can learn how to think. We may not all learn and think at the same pace, or with the same acuity on a given topic, but we can all get there if we use an effective approach.

That's not taught to our children, though, is it? Over and over, the system grades them, stamps them, files them, numbers them, reinforcing the idea that their ability to learn is out of their control, that they have been born with a certain "intelligence" and can never exceed it. Poppycock! The system is specifically geared to rip the creativity right out of them, strip them of individuality, and crank out good little consumers and factory workers, mindless drones beaten down into conformity. Blah. It's barbaric, I tell you.

I could probably make some kind of difference if I went on a crusade to reform education, but I'm already on another crusade I consider even more urgent. I might be able to contribute support for effective reforms, but at this point I have no intention of leading the charge. Maybe at some point I'll change that, but not today. Or rather, this post represents the limit of what I'm currently willing to do: write about it. Who knows? Maybe one of you will pick up the gauntlet. At least you have the exposure to some of these possibilities, some new food for thought that may do some good for somebody, at some point.


- Sirian
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Pete
Pete

June 3rd, 2003, 2:53 am #2

Hi,

Overall, I think that it lacked "mass". Lots of autobiographical material, most of it interesting if somewhat tangential. A fairly general bit of some of the drawbacks of the educational system, but light on the specifics. And almost totally lacking on any proposals for a cure. I'd say, overall, you need to temper your L. Ron Hubbard with a fair bit of Ernest Hemingway (and perhaps limit your vocabulary to that of Churchill -- never say "intestines" when "guts" will do)

Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts.

Yep. Sometimes because the complexity of your arguments causes me to miss a turn and I need to retrace the route to find the right road. Sometimes, however, because "the game's not worth the candle". Your estimation and mine of the amount of work reasonable for the excavation of your meaning in the pit of your words does not always match. And I've never found you too terse

Now, to the topic at hand. There are many problem with the educational system. I've thought of this topic some. That my mother-in-law and her husband are both retired teachers has something to do with it. That I've taught all or part of twenty four years also contributed to my interest. So, starting from what I see as the basic problem:

There is no such thing as "teaching" there is only "learning". The most a teacher can do is present the material in a way that it is more easily assimilated, and make the material sufficiently interesting to motivate people to learn it. The best teacher in the world can teach nothing to those who do not wish to learn. Those that do wish to learn will do so without teachers. They'll find other sources, or figure things out for themselves. It will not be as easy as a good teacher can make it, but those that want to will learn.

So, a core problem with the educational system is that we expect teachers to "teach" instead of expecting students to learn. As if knowledge were some kind of fluid that could be poured by a sufficiently capable teacher into the brains of the student with no effort on his part. Indeed, it goes much further than that. Education is not respected by the majority of the people in the USA. It is actually held in thinly veiled contempt. This is a fundamental social issue. It shows itself in the terms used for educated people. It propagates itself by the stereotypes that are used in the media for educated people. Even most of those who give lip service to "education" are really thinking "training". They look at education as something to open the door to a good job. They consider the degree sort of a white collar union card.

Now, I firmly believe that unless and until we turn that attitude around, until we develop a society (like pre-WW II Germany, like many of the Asian nations) which respects, actually venerates, education, any other measures we take will have scant success. As to how to accomplish this objective, I have no idea. Propaganda might work. Example might work (assuming we could find an educated leader to be a role model).

As I said, if we can't turn the attitude around then I think the battle is lost. If we can, what's left is details.

Detail one, the school year. Our present school year is based upon the needs of an agricultural society and designed around a lack of air conditioning. Neither of those two considerations apply any more. The faults of the school year is that it is both too long and too short. It is too long a period for someone who almost but not quite understand a subject to repeat. It is too short a period in that school should take up more than half (180 days) the year. A much better school year would be one based on four thirteen week periods (in a fit of originality, let's call them "quarters"). Each quarter consists of eleven weeks of school and a two week break. At the option and discretion of the parents, a child could take one quarter in four off (although such a practice should be discouraged).

Now, during the eleven weeks of school, no "distractions" should be allowed. No holidays (they can be shifted to the nearest two week break), no "in service" days, no half days. On the other hand, the two week break is a total break. No "special tests", no reading lists.

A side benefit is the cure for the Summer blues. Most teachers will tell you that the last month before Summer and the first after are wasted. That last month, the kids are too busy thinking of Summer to let anything else into their consciousness. The first, they are too wild to learn anything but the discipline they forgot.

So, after the national mind is changed, the next change is the calender. The second detail is the school day. The breakup of the school day into "classes" does not come about for most students till junior high or even high school. Which means that a person struggling and failing in, say, math cannot just repeat math, but must either be "promoted" (and thus saddled with what will probably become a lifelong problem with math or be "failed" having to repeat not just math but all the subjects that did not cause a problem the first time (and thus probably becoming bored leading to school being a "turn off").

The combination of a quarter system and a class system would permit the presentation of material at a pace sufficiently fast to maintain the interest of the brightest students. The norm would be for a student to retake a significant (say a third or so) fraction of the courses over. It would be expected that the teacher would give additional attention to those taking a class for the second (or third, or . . .) time. The "quantum" of progress would be small enough to permit a minimum of loss through either frustration or boredom. Each student would be able to progress at his own pace while avoiding the unrealistic teacher to student ratio required for a truly "continuous" education.

The next issue, as I see it, is the question of what "mastery" of a subject means. Outside of school, there is no "passing grade". I think moving this into the school would be a great idea. So, for instance, a paper isn't submitted, graded, and forgotten. Instead, it is critiqued, rewritten, re-evaluated, and the process continues until the paper is acceptable (perfection, of course, being impossible). I would extend this to the school as a whole. No grades, just "completed" meaning that the student has mastered the material in sufficient depth and detail that he can use it as a foundation for further learning. And not the "100%" nonsense that you were spouting, Sirian. That is meaningless. Sure, you can memorize a text to 100%. You can even apply it in some cases to 100%. But everyone in every field is capable of more or less understanding. If Joyce is 98% and the average forum poster (not here) is 10%, then what is a reasonable mastery of English?

Finally, the curriculum itself needs to be closely examined in terms of what is reasonably learned when (languages being easy in the early grades, memorization not). And it needs to be reexamined in terms of what an "education" really means. Too much stress is being placed on facts and regurgitation, not enough on thought processes and the skills of learning. Somehow, that too must be changed.

Now, in order to do this, a better system needs to be in place. One in which the teachers are the supreme authority in all things involving education. To do this, first require that anyone teaching teachers have at least 10 years of experience in the K-12 classroom. No more of these theoretical idiots with PhDs who wouldn't know a child if it bit them. Next, institute a tenure process for teachers. Have the granting of tenure be by peer review, not from the administration. And have a big enough time requirement (five years or more) for tenure that the fast faders will wash out. Then, let the school system be run by the teachers. Require that a school administrator be a tenured teacher. Indeed, require that an administrator devote some time (maybe one course a quarter) to teaching. Require that the district administration be conducted by a board of school administrators, etc. Let those that best understand the system run the system.

Simple. But it all takes the support of the society. And just not the financial support, although that is important. So, just get the majority of the ignorant, uneducated, American public to support, indeed to worship, something they don't even understand and the problem will be solved.

--Pete

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Jester
Jester

June 3rd, 2003, 3:47 am #3

What was the saying...

Never utilize three syllables when you could employ two or use one?

Jester
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Jester
Jester

June 3rd, 2003, 3:56 am #4

Hi,

Overall, I think that it lacked "mass". Lots of autobiographical material, most of it interesting if somewhat tangential. A fairly general bit of some of the drawbacks of the educational system, but light on the specifics. And almost totally lacking on any proposals for a cure. I'd say, overall, you need to temper your L. Ron Hubbard with a fair bit of Ernest Hemingway (and perhaps limit your vocabulary to that of Churchill -- never say "intestines" when "guts" will do)

Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts.

Yep. Sometimes because the complexity of your arguments causes me to miss a turn and I need to retrace the route to find the right road. Sometimes, however, because "the game's not worth the candle". Your estimation and mine of the amount of work reasonable for the excavation of your meaning in the pit of your words does not always match. And I've never found you too terse

Now, to the topic at hand. There are many problem with the educational system. I've thought of this topic some. That my mother-in-law and her husband are both retired teachers has something to do with it. That I've taught all or part of twenty four years also contributed to my interest. So, starting from what I see as the basic problem:

There is no such thing as "teaching" there is only "learning". The most a teacher can do is present the material in a way that it is more easily assimilated, and make the material sufficiently interesting to motivate people to learn it. The best teacher in the world can teach nothing to those who do not wish to learn. Those that do wish to learn will do so without teachers. They'll find other sources, or figure things out for themselves. It will not be as easy as a good teacher can make it, but those that want to will learn.

So, a core problem with the educational system is that we expect teachers to "teach" instead of expecting students to learn. As if knowledge were some kind of fluid that could be poured by a sufficiently capable teacher into the brains of the student with no effort on his part. Indeed, it goes much further than that. Education is not respected by the majority of the people in the USA. It is actually held in thinly veiled contempt. This is a fundamental social issue. It shows itself in the terms used for educated people. It propagates itself by the stereotypes that are used in the media for educated people. Even most of those who give lip service to "education" are really thinking "training". They look at education as something to open the door to a good job. They consider the degree sort of a white collar union card.

Now, I firmly believe that unless and until we turn that attitude around, until we develop a society (like pre-WW II Germany, like many of the Asian nations) which respects, actually venerates, education, any other measures we take will have scant success. As to how to accomplish this objective, I have no idea. Propaganda might work. Example might work (assuming we could find an educated leader to be a role model).

As I said, if we can't turn the attitude around then I think the battle is lost. If we can, what's left is details.

Detail one, the school year. Our present school year is based upon the needs of an agricultural society and designed around a lack of air conditioning. Neither of those two considerations apply any more. The faults of the school year is that it is both too long and too short. It is too long a period for someone who almost but not quite understand a subject to repeat. It is too short a period in that school should take up more than half (180 days) the year. A much better school year would be one based on four thirteen week periods (in a fit of originality, let's call them "quarters"). Each quarter consists of eleven weeks of school and a two week break. At the option and discretion of the parents, a child could take one quarter in four off (although such a practice should be discouraged).

Now, during the eleven weeks of school, no "distractions" should be allowed. No holidays (they can be shifted to the nearest two week break), no "in service" days, no half days. On the other hand, the two week break is a total break. No "special tests", no reading lists.

A side benefit is the cure for the Summer blues. Most teachers will tell you that the last month before Summer and the first after are wasted. That last month, the kids are too busy thinking of Summer to let anything else into their consciousness. The first, they are too wild to learn anything but the discipline they forgot.

So, after the national mind is changed, the next change is the calender. The second detail is the school day. The breakup of the school day into "classes" does not come about for most students till junior high or even high school. Which means that a person struggling and failing in, say, math cannot just repeat math, but must either be "promoted" (and thus saddled with what will probably become a lifelong problem with math or be "failed" having to repeat not just math but all the subjects that did not cause a problem the first time (and thus probably becoming bored leading to school being a "turn off").

The combination of a quarter system and a class system would permit the presentation of material at a pace sufficiently fast to maintain the interest of the brightest students. The norm would be for a student to retake a significant (say a third or so) fraction of the courses over. It would be expected that the teacher would give additional attention to those taking a class for the second (or third, or . . .) time. The "quantum" of progress would be small enough to permit a minimum of loss through either frustration or boredom. Each student would be able to progress at his own pace while avoiding the unrealistic teacher to student ratio required for a truly "continuous" education.

The next issue, as I see it, is the question of what "mastery" of a subject means. Outside of school, there is no "passing grade". I think moving this into the school would be a great idea. So, for instance, a paper isn't submitted, graded, and forgotten. Instead, it is critiqued, rewritten, re-evaluated, and the process continues until the paper is acceptable (perfection, of course, being impossible). I would extend this to the school as a whole. No grades, just "completed" meaning that the student has mastered the material in sufficient depth and detail that he can use it as a foundation for further learning. And not the "100%" nonsense that you were spouting, Sirian. That is meaningless. Sure, you can memorize a text to 100%. You can even apply it in some cases to 100%. But everyone in every field is capable of more or less understanding. If Joyce is 98% and the average forum poster (not here) is 10%, then what is a reasonable mastery of English?

Finally, the curriculum itself needs to be closely examined in terms of what is reasonably learned when (languages being easy in the early grades, memorization not). And it needs to be reexamined in terms of what an "education" really means. Too much stress is being placed on facts and regurgitation, not enough on thought processes and the skills of learning. Somehow, that too must be changed.

Now, in order to do this, a better system needs to be in place. One in which the teachers are the supreme authority in all things involving education. To do this, first require that anyone teaching teachers have at least 10 years of experience in the K-12 classroom. No more of these theoretical idiots with PhDs who wouldn't know a child if it bit them. Next, institute a tenure process for teachers. Have the granting of tenure be by peer review, not from the administration. And have a big enough time requirement (five years or more) for tenure that the fast faders will wash out. Then, let the school system be run by the teachers. Require that a school administrator be a tenured teacher. Indeed, require that an administrator devote some time (maybe one course a quarter) to teaching. Require that the district administration be conducted by a board of school administrators, etc. Let those that best understand the system run the system.

Simple. But it all takes the support of the society. And just not the financial support, although that is important. So, just get the majority of the ignorant, uneducated, American public to support, indeed to worship, something they don't even understand and the problem will be solved.

--Pete
Your post reminds me (not just in the pun sense) of Neil Postman's writings on this topic. Much of what you say is very similar to ideas presented in what little I've read (Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The End of Education). If you haven't read it, you might want to. I found it interesting, anyway.

Jester
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Joined: October 14th, 2002, 6:20 am

June 3rd, 2003, 7:36 am #5

Hi,

Overall, I think that it lacked "mass". Lots of autobiographical material, most of it interesting if somewhat tangential. A fairly general bit of some of the drawbacks of the educational system, but light on the specifics. And almost totally lacking on any proposals for a cure. I'd say, overall, you need to temper your L. Ron Hubbard with a fair bit of Ernest Hemingway (and perhaps limit your vocabulary to that of Churchill -- never say "intestines" when "guts" will do)

Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts.

Yep. Sometimes because the complexity of your arguments causes me to miss a turn and I need to retrace the route to find the right road. Sometimes, however, because "the game's not worth the candle". Your estimation and mine of the amount of work reasonable for the excavation of your meaning in the pit of your words does not always match. And I've never found you too terse

Now, to the topic at hand. There are many problem with the educational system. I've thought of this topic some. That my mother-in-law and her husband are both retired teachers has something to do with it. That I've taught all or part of twenty four years also contributed to my interest. So, starting from what I see as the basic problem:

There is no such thing as "teaching" there is only "learning". The most a teacher can do is present the material in a way that it is more easily assimilated, and make the material sufficiently interesting to motivate people to learn it. The best teacher in the world can teach nothing to those who do not wish to learn. Those that do wish to learn will do so without teachers. They'll find other sources, or figure things out for themselves. It will not be as easy as a good teacher can make it, but those that want to will learn.

So, a core problem with the educational system is that we expect teachers to "teach" instead of expecting students to learn. As if knowledge were some kind of fluid that could be poured by a sufficiently capable teacher into the brains of the student with no effort on his part. Indeed, it goes much further than that. Education is not respected by the majority of the people in the USA. It is actually held in thinly veiled contempt. This is a fundamental social issue. It shows itself in the terms used for educated people. It propagates itself by the stereotypes that are used in the media for educated people. Even most of those who give lip service to "education" are really thinking "training". They look at education as something to open the door to a good job. They consider the degree sort of a white collar union card.

Now, I firmly believe that unless and until we turn that attitude around, until we develop a society (like pre-WW II Germany, like many of the Asian nations) which respects, actually venerates, education, any other measures we take will have scant success. As to how to accomplish this objective, I have no idea. Propaganda might work. Example might work (assuming we could find an educated leader to be a role model).

As I said, if we can't turn the attitude around then I think the battle is lost. If we can, what's left is details.

Detail one, the school year. Our present school year is based upon the needs of an agricultural society and designed around a lack of air conditioning. Neither of those two considerations apply any more. The faults of the school year is that it is both too long and too short. It is too long a period for someone who almost but not quite understand a subject to repeat. It is too short a period in that school should take up more than half (180 days) the year. A much better school year would be one based on four thirteen week periods (in a fit of originality, let's call them "quarters"). Each quarter consists of eleven weeks of school and a two week break. At the option and discretion of the parents, a child could take one quarter in four off (although such a practice should be discouraged).

Now, during the eleven weeks of school, no "distractions" should be allowed. No holidays (they can be shifted to the nearest two week break), no "in service" days, no half days. On the other hand, the two week break is a total break. No "special tests", no reading lists.

A side benefit is the cure for the Summer blues. Most teachers will tell you that the last month before Summer and the first after are wasted. That last month, the kids are too busy thinking of Summer to let anything else into their consciousness. The first, they are too wild to learn anything but the discipline they forgot.

So, after the national mind is changed, the next change is the calender. The second detail is the school day. The breakup of the school day into "classes" does not come about for most students till junior high or even high school. Which means that a person struggling and failing in, say, math cannot just repeat math, but must either be "promoted" (and thus saddled with what will probably become a lifelong problem with math or be "failed" having to repeat not just math but all the subjects that did not cause a problem the first time (and thus probably becoming bored leading to school being a "turn off").

The combination of a quarter system and a class system would permit the presentation of material at a pace sufficiently fast to maintain the interest of the brightest students. The norm would be for a student to retake a significant (say a third or so) fraction of the courses over. It would be expected that the teacher would give additional attention to those taking a class for the second (or third, or . . .) time. The "quantum" of progress would be small enough to permit a minimum of loss through either frustration or boredom. Each student would be able to progress at his own pace while avoiding the unrealistic teacher to student ratio required for a truly "continuous" education.

The next issue, as I see it, is the question of what "mastery" of a subject means. Outside of school, there is no "passing grade". I think moving this into the school would be a great idea. So, for instance, a paper isn't submitted, graded, and forgotten. Instead, it is critiqued, rewritten, re-evaluated, and the process continues until the paper is acceptable (perfection, of course, being impossible). I would extend this to the school as a whole. No grades, just "completed" meaning that the student has mastered the material in sufficient depth and detail that he can use it as a foundation for further learning. And not the "100%" nonsense that you were spouting, Sirian. That is meaningless. Sure, you can memorize a text to 100%. You can even apply it in some cases to 100%. But everyone in every field is capable of more or less understanding. If Joyce is 98% and the average forum poster (not here) is 10%, then what is a reasonable mastery of English?

Finally, the curriculum itself needs to be closely examined in terms of what is reasonably learned when (languages being easy in the early grades, memorization not). And it needs to be reexamined in terms of what an "education" really means. Too much stress is being placed on facts and regurgitation, not enough on thought processes and the skills of learning. Somehow, that too must be changed.

Now, in order to do this, a better system needs to be in place. One in which the teachers are the supreme authority in all things involving education. To do this, first require that anyone teaching teachers have at least 10 years of experience in the K-12 classroom. No more of these theoretical idiots with PhDs who wouldn't know a child if it bit them. Next, institute a tenure process for teachers. Have the granting of tenure be by peer review, not from the administration. And have a big enough time requirement (five years or more) for tenure that the fast faders will wash out. Then, let the school system be run by the teachers. Require that a school administrator be a tenured teacher. Indeed, require that an administrator devote some time (maybe one course a quarter) to teaching. Require that the district administration be conducted by a board of school administrators, etc. Let those that best understand the system run the system.

Simple. But it all takes the support of the society. And just not the financial support, although that is important. So, just get the majority of the ignorant, uneducated, American public to support, indeed to worship, something they don't even understand and the problem will be solved.

--Pete
For those of you wonder, I'm one of the Civ folks. Anyway.

Let's see if I can offer something of a student's perspective, here. I went through K-8 and HS in a pair of sub-200 kid rural schools, and I'm currently in the 4th year of a 5 year college education. My mother was not only the HS secretary, she was deeply involved with both my schools. And I got to hear ALL about it. So in terms of unique perspectives, I suppose I have one.

The number one problem that I see in education is not class size, though it might make some difference for the lower grades (I dunno. I started tuning out my teachers about the time I realized 2+2 did not = 5 like they said). Speaking from a college perspective, lecture hall classes are maybe a bit large, but I've been in classes with 60 people before, and it's not especially challenging. Then again, trying to take math or C programming in a lecture hall was an exercise for failure, whereas history was not. Depends widely on the subject, I'd say.

Funding's part of it, in that our relatively poor rural high school didn't have the cash for any of a variety of subjects which consequently left me lacking, despite my own efforts. I, who am now in the fourth year of earning a history degree, who am acknowledged by everyone I know to be about the most knowledgable person on the subject they know, took ONE history class in high school. US History. That's what there was. Yes, there was a single year of "Global Studies" which acted like it would give you an overview of world cultures and geography but didn't, and I had a half year of American Government, but that's it. I had to teach it to myself. We didn't have calculus, either, or much in the way of science classes. It's a lot harder to teach yourself calculus than history.

Scheduling I find to be a total nonissue after a certain point. Yes, I can see the advantages of something like what Pete describes, and were I to be going through the system again, I'd prefer it that way. The summer brain drain may affect some. It did not affect me to a noticable extent. The REAL problem, as I see it, is the rediculous day to day scheduling I had in high school (K-8 we didn't have a schedule). 4 periods per day, 1.5 hours a hit with a 50 minute 4th period, half hour lunch, and a rediculous 4 minutes for passing times. Alternating periods every day, but the last period was 50 minutes every day. Friday was nicer. All 7 periods, 5 minute periods.

The point there is that 1.5 hours is a lot to try and do class in, even in college. In HS, it's mind numbingly boring. The lectures put you to sleep, or you're given busy work to fill up the time, whatever. For most things, 50 minutes is enough.

Which sort of haphazardly brings me to standards. I like the idea of holding the student back until the get the idea in question. I like the idea of abolition of grades (and while we're at it, let's abolish page limits for papers). I'm a fan of essay and paper-based testing, something which I didn't really hit until college, but something that helped me out. Standardized MC testing is for the birds.

We also need to take a serious look at what we expect kids to know upon HS graduation. Taking my own HS as an example, it was something like:

4 years of english
3 years of math
1 year of health
1 year of PE
.5 year government
1 year US history
1 year finance/economics
2 years science
2 years foreign language (Spanish, in our case)

I think that's it. We had career education, but it was in the form of a useless yellow packet we recieved sophomore year and which nobody actually completed until the last month of senior year. I don't remember what was in it now. They added a half-year course of it for the grade below me, but, still. I'm lucky I know how to write a resume.

I could go into a very long and involved rant about the changes I'd make to that particular set of requirements, starting with that PE requirement, but I'll save it for the moment.

Save for one brief story. In a geography class I took in college, I heard the professor say one day: "Well class, I noticed the other day that some of you looked very confused when I mentioned the Cold War, like you don't know what it is. So I suppose I had better explain it."

I blame the high schools for that.

OTOH, any changes to grading, etc, are sooner or later going to run into the wall that most every employer, let alone college, that I've seen wants your GPA. Colleges further want to know your SAT score (I'm with Sirian here, incidentally). THAT needs to be adressed in some fashion before any changes can take place.

Finally, I want to talk about teachers here for a while. With respect to Pete's ideas about teacher-driven schooling, which I think would work well with halfway decent teachers running it, out where I come from it would fail miserably.

That needs some elaboration, I suppose. Off the top of my head, I had maybe five teachers in my K-12 experience that I actually believed were good teachers. Out of maybe 20 or 25 of them. I've seen teachers that didn't know their subjects (remember my 2+2=5 example? That was first grade), teachers who just couldn't teach (my HS health teacher, who taught by lectures so boring it's the only class I've fallen asleep in), and worst of all, teachers who held personal vendettas against the students. That was actually common in my school. One teacher flat out picked a couple of kids she didn't want to graduate, and did everything possible to flunk them out. Happened to a friend of mine. For myself personally, another teacher started up a fued with the administration (my mother, you will recall, was part of said administration), and thus it got taken out on ME. I think my 6th grade teacher may possibly have been certified insane. I've seen so many bureaucratic wars between teachers, administration, and students, I'm not sure if I have enough space to relate the stories. And you want to put these teachers in CHARGE? Hell no.

Thus there's got to be some sort of teaching standards. Knowledge of material, and ability to teach it. Ending the vendettas is beyond me. I like the idea of requiring 10 years of classroom experience for the teachers of teachers.

Ability to teach is the big one, though. Teachers need to be comprehensible, and teachers need to bloody well entertain me. Yes, I said I want to be entertained. Boredom, as Sirian said, is the killer. At this point in my education, I've lost track of courses, easy, non-challenging courses, that I've done badly in because they bored the hell out of me for one reason or another. I might be the stereotypical intelligent underachiever. Grade school bored me to tears, but I managed As anyway. In HS I was still bored to tears ("Oh. Another metaphor? I suppose."), but this time it killed my grades, and I didn't recover until near the end. In college, I was so bored senseless for such a long time, I almost flunked out.

There's always the good ones, though. Teachers who CAN explain the material, CAN make it interesting, and CAN tell me WHY I should care about their subject. Doesn't take much, really, lot of cases. I had a prof once who used to show slides of the stuff we were learning in history. That was cool - I went to lectures just to see what he was going to show. Movies. Projects. Whatever.
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Joined: August 29th, 2001, 4:26 am

June 3rd, 2003, 9:58 am #6

As part of the thread about current world politics I started lower on this page, Jester and Ozy and Pete and some others got onto a tangent about education. That has sparked a strong response from me. I started to post this in reply to one of Jester's posts, then later decided it deserves its own thread. So here you go.


Class size is currently hailed as the main issue. While it's not unimportant, it's nowhere near the root cause of the system's failures.

Do you know how much money is spent per child in the schools within the District of Columbia? The amount is very high, yet the school results remain abysmal. The class sizes are very small. The student to teacher ratio is down to something far below anything I ever got, yet the results remain poor.

Class size is pretty much an excuse to hire more teachers. That's it.

Our culture is a bunch of blind sheep. We have a populace trained to place faith in "experts" as if they were gods.

* People see ads for drugs on television and actually believe the claims, as if a pill was something magical, instead of a crude instrument that does a dozen things to your body chemistry, only one of which is desirable, and even that comes up short of making everything right again. "Side effects", as if those were minor, are marginalized, dismissed.

* Doctors are hailed as miracle workers. We call their work "treatment" and "cure", yet the actual results are rarely talked about, such as how in the wake of an operation, any operation, that your body never fully recovers its former functionality. Doctors can make a lot of bad things better, and that's truly wondrous, but it stops short of the hype we are constantly forcefed.

* Lawyers are widely hated, but the law is such an entangled mess, you can't do without them. Yet who ends up writing almost all of the new laws? Lawyers turned politicians. And people are trained to listen to both as if their work can make problems go away. Sometimes that does happen, but mostly not. And law enforcement isn't much better. We're also trained to trust the police, but the reality is, the police can't stop most crimes or even catch most criminals. They do help the situation overall, and by a lot, but they can't actually protect you against any threat that can be carried out before police can reach you, and they can't protect you from ongoing threats or determined attackers. In those situations, you are on your own.

* Psychologists. We're trained to believe in what they tell us, too, and to pay out huge money to get their insights. Are they REALLY that much more sophisticated than ancient mystics?

* Advertisers. Most people have heard the quote from P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute." We all understand that there are marketing gimmicks designed to part us from our money, to influence us to buy things we otherwise wouldn't. Yet do people stop and question this whole marketing paradigm? Not often, it seems. We are trained to be consumers, to absorb goods, to crave material possessions to fuel our consumer economy.


Everybody who has ever tuned in to a weather forecast knows that human beings do not yet know enough to be able to make even simple weather predictions reliably. How many times has your local meterologist gotten it wrong? And how many times have you made plans based on his forecasts, relying on his science and skills and predictions to plan your own activity, only to get stuck in the wrong kind of weather for what you planned?

Most people seem to grasp that meterology is still a developing science -- that we ARE gaining ground and improving the predictions, but still come up far short of understanding enough to reduce the error rate to insignificance.

Most people I know are skeptical of weather forecasts. Everyone makes jokes about it, but they still tune in because the meteorlogists do have a record that is better than random guessing. They do have some insights into the variables that make up the weather.

So why isn't this same comprehension of imperfect performance applied culture-wide to all fields of human endeavor? Why aren't we, culturally, as skeptical of doctors as we are of meteorologists? Do you personally think the doctor is any better at treating human injury and disease than the weatherman is at forecasting rain or sunshine? Or is that simply too uncomfortable to ponder, the risking of your life in someone else's hands who may not actually be able to cure your ills? Would you gamble your life on the weatherman's predictions??? You do something similar when you visit doctors. (Ever REALLY thought about what it means that they measure the results of major surgeries via a statistic of how many folks end up dead within five years after the procedure?) Do you really buy the line that drugs represent a magic pill to cure all your ails? Do you really think the psychologists have more than a crude understanding of what really makes people tick? Do you really think the police can make you fully safe? Heck, in regard to some threats, can they even make you safer at all? Or does taking your security for granted actually increase your risks in some regards? Do you really think the government can solve all of society's ills by taxing more of your money and throwing it at the problems through a bureaucracy? Do you really think that when a dentist drills a hole in your tooth and fills it with something hard, that the tooth is as good as new? Do you really believe that the leaders at the United Nations have a clue?

Oh wait, went too far with that last one.


Education is just as clumsy and backward as the rest of these professional fields. In some ways, it is even worse. Meteorology is at least a hard science. There are a lot of variables that go into weather patterns, which we don't understand yet. We probably haven't even identified all of the true variables, but we are moving forward. As more data is gathered and analyzed and the scientific method applied to it, better understandings emerge and predictions improve. We are now saving actual lives with improved storm warnings, improved building codes in storm-wracked regions, and improved emergency response mechanisms.

Do you realize that of all the items I've mentioned, that meteorology is the MOST reliable? You might want to chew on that thought for a while.


I have a unique perspective on education.

I went to Baptist private school through first grade. That included a few months of full-day Kindergarten-4, a year of full day Kindergarten-5, and first grade. Most public schools don't have K4 and only offer half a day for K5. When I came out of first grade, I was a year ahead of public school students. All three years in early Christian private school were done in different locations, yet within the same Baptist school. (They had a main campus and some branches, and the main campus moved to a new building between K5 and First Grade for me).

I went to public school for second and third grade, right here in Pennsylvania, as I lived with my mom's parents while she went through college in DC. She got an Associate Degree in accounting. More on that later. I moved back in with my parents for Fourth and Fifth grade, and there, too, the location changed as between years, a new school building was opened.

So in my elementary school education, I had six and a half years of school up through fifth grade, all but one pair of those years involving a different school building and most of them involving new classes. I got a lot of experience at being the New Kid. I also got an up close and personal look at a variety of schools, both private and public, both rural and urban, across two states.

My apathy with sixth grade grew out of control as I was flunking and headed for total goof-off land. My dad pulled me out of school and I stayed out for two school years. When I went back, they had to test me to see where I belonged (expecting to put me back into the sixth grade) and they had to abide by the results they were handed. I tested at eleventh grade, but +I+ made the choice to back that up to tenth grade, after discussing the full pros and cons with the high school guidance counselor. I completed a normal run of high school, finally all in one place, and graduated at age 15, having skipped grades 6-9.

That's unusual in itself, and I was a "bright" student from the get-go. However, I enjoyed especially good schooling in private school, which gave me a solid foundation, and then in fourth grade I ran into something else: the Church of Scientology.


Those of you who have read most of my posts to this forum may remember that I've talked a little bit about this subject before. You may remember that I'm long since disassociated with that group, that I consider my total experience with it a mixed bag with some dark moments and elements, but also some bright spots. One of the brightest spots was (is) their student technology.

The Scientology philosophy is broken into two halves: training and processing. The training involves learning the "technology", studying the texts, the writings of the cult's guru, L. Ron Hubbard. The processing involves having his processes performed upon you by Church counselors. The culture within the church is almost militaristic: specifically, naval. Each church is run largely like a ship, with the totality run like a merchant navy.

Anyway, each church has its own Academy: a small school within the church where church members pay for training courses. There are no teachers. There are, instead, supervisors. The content of the curriculum involves studying Hubbard's philosophy and teachings, and the process abides by his philosophy on education. There are three core elements, called the Barriers to Study. According to Hubbard, these are the three mechanisms that lead to noncomprehension, to the inability to grasp or to retain information studied. His theory holds that overcoming the Barriers to Study will enable any student to achieve 100% comprehension on any subject. Fairly early in the process of training, each student takes on the course involving the education philosophy, complete with taped lectures by Hubbard from the 1960's, in which he goes into detail about how to apply oneself to studying. He used a lot of humor and a lot of analogy. (Parenthetically, you could see a lot of his style reflected in my own writing style, even now, as I developed an appreciation for his thoroughness, humor, comparisons and depth. Much of my ability to think critically was developed and honed while studying his philosophy, so I couldn't have avoided being impacted by his ways if I had tried. There is no doubt that if nothing else, the man was hugely prolific).

The study tech was damned impressive. That's the clever nature of the Scientology recruiting method. You are first given entry-level courses or processes, which are very affordably priced. There is a hard sell aspect to the notion of "judge for yourself." There is a religious fervor, even, to how zealously hands-off the church staff are taught to behave in regard to potential converts, to those interested in learning more about the philosophy and what it has to offer. All the entry-level materials are constructed out of bits Hubbard culled from a variety of sources, chiefly eastern religions and philosophy. Almost none of that was original content from him, but he did have a flair for assembling it. Folks enticed by the various means to get people in the door (by tweaking their curioisity) are sold these entry level training courses or processes, which almost invariably impress the hell out of everyday folks, since they actually produce the results advertised. No unreliable weather forecasts here. No lawyer doublespeak. No faulty doctor's diagnoses nor treatments that don't work out as advertised. No auto-repair estimates that grow and grow as mechanics magically find more things wrong with your car. No fuzzy approximations or half-assed results. The soft sell given new recruits belies the true nature of the organization, but there you have it. You get filled up with all the most reliable stuff the philosophy has to offer, right up front, enough of it that, at least compared to other religions or to the general culture, you get shocked out of that comfort zone where the experts never quite really seem to know what they are talking about. And that's the one thing they do reinforce to you: contrasting what they have to offer with society at large. You get a constant message that Scientology has Found Some Real Answers, and you get to try a bunch of them on for size and make up your own mind. Very few people walk out the door at that point, and those who do are left alone. There's no actual brainwashing. There's just a very nasty trap.

Once you come to agree that all the introductory level stuff is highly effective, complete with your own actual results of having tried it out, then you start to get the pitch about the upper level stuff, about climbing the Bridge, as they call it. Yet to begin that climb up out of the entry level stuff, you have to pass through the indoctrination materials. This is where they get you. You are lured with a grand promise that the Tech is like the stuff you've already learned and been processed through, only better. Much, much better. The higher you go, the church line holds, the better it gets. The same degree of reliability and effectiveness holds all the way up through all of the church's teachings, and you are shown any number of true believers at all the various positions on the Bridge, who all tell the same story: Yep, It Works. They even still pay lip service to the notion of judging for yourself, but in truth, they indoctrinate that out of you. The notion of questioning what you are taught remains ever present, but only as a specter, a comfortable illusion. If you actually do run across anything that makes you doubt, you get hit with a logical fallacy of distraction. That's very easy for them to do, since there are so many church policies, and if you run afoul of the least of them, you can be sent off to Ethics Processing, where you get put through the ringer examining your own flaws until you repent are "freed" from these "reactions". That, too, is very cleverly managed, because they don't actually force you to the conclusion. They leave you with only one conclusion to draw and wait for you to come to it on your own. That's actually a rare abuse of the Ethics side of the church, too. Most of the Ethics Processing actually is legitimately tailored to addressing corrections. People get sent there for lying, cheating, stealing, missing their church appointments or commitments, saying or doing anything that hurts other people, etc etc. The thing is, between this process of rooting out your sins, so to speak, and leading you to choose not to repeat them (because there is strong emphasis on doing the right thing), combined with the indoctrination about never, ever, EVER altering or changing the church procedures and rituals and processes, you enter into a never-never land where there is no cultural tolerance for debate or dissent. It's not suppressed, per se. It just doesn't exist. By the time you run across the kinds of things that should be questioned and poked and prodded, it's too late for you. You already have developed the faith, backed by all the entry level stuff that DOES work as advertised, reinforced by all the other true believers around you, and contained within the strict discipline of the culture where if you wander out of the conformity they can tie you up in knots and hold your faith hostage against you (since you do believe that the church holds your eventual salvation) until you step back into line.

And all of that is made possible by just how good the entry-level stuff is, how effectively it works. The study tech may be the best of that, too.

The Scientology Academies don't just brag. They walk the walk. You have to achieve 100% comprehension of materials before you pass any training course. The courses are all designed by Hubbard, a check list of activities which include both materials to study and practical demonstrations of your grasp on the material. At every step of the way, you are rigorously examined by the academy supervisors. Each item that you complete must be verified by a supervisor. The actual supervisors enlist the aid of other students ahead of you, higher than you on the Bridge, to help them out. ALL students who have completed the study course itself, and the particular course you are studying, are qualified to examine you. There is a specific procedure to the supervision. You are tested against all three of the Barriers to Study and asked questions about the material at random, at the sole discretion of the examiner, until they are satisfied. IF YOU MISS ANYTHING, get any item wrong at any point, you flunk the exam and start over. That usually does not mean a complete retread, but occasionally it does. Only when you have 100% command of the material do you pass. The examiner will sign your course book signifying that you've completed that item, and you move on to the next one. A typical course includes hundreds of such items. Some of the most advanced courses have thousands of items. And this is not a "study for the test" system. This is a system about comprehension. If you fail at any point on any point, you can be "sent back down", complete with a bunch of Ethics Processing to figure out whether or not you were doing something in bad faith. That may sound despotic, but in fact it wasn't, because that was all but unheard of. I could still pass the exams today, some twenty years later. The study tech worked.


From the perspective of someone held to a 100% standard over a span of years, and able to meet that standard, and looking around seeing EVERY OTHER STUDENT in the academy also able to meet that standard, the performance of our education system is barbaric. Our expectations are way too low, the study methods poorly constructed, the testing system doing more harm than good the way it's assembled, and the notion of resolving this mess by throwing more money at it is positively criminal. Criminal, I say.

There is one down side to the Scientology study approach: speed. I spent six months just studying and passing the study tech course itself. Most adults could pass it in one month, but I was nine years old when I took it. I had a deeper hole to climb out of. I had to reach 100% comprehension on what amounted to an entry level college course, at nine years old and in the fourth grade. Nobody made any fun of my pace. In fact, they were all very encouraging -- maybe even impressed. But that's a topic for another day.

Speed is compromised when 100% comprehension is held to be the standard. But if you apply the same methods that lead to 100% comprehension while chugging along at a faster pace and not stopping to go back for what is missed and misunderstood, you still come out way ahead of the game.

Endless homework and repetition? Waste of time. That's like trying to conduct brain surgery with a sledge hammer. Cramming for tests? Waste of time. Even if you pass the test, you won't remember the material a month later. Then what good was it? Nothing more than aiming for that sheepskin you can put on the wall, to give you that competitive edge on your resume through an equally barbaric job application process, where your actually ability to do the job isn't in the top five most important considerations. That's not to say that a sheepskin is worthless. You CAN get a great education at university. The problem is, you can also pass the tests without real comprehension, in too many cases. That won't hurt a given student, though, if they apply themselves. Many don't, but some do, and lacking any competitive system that performs better, what's the alternative anyway?

Just like when you get sick, what choice do you have but to go see a doctor? If they can improve your odds at all, even a little bit, that's worth it, right? Same with a lawyer. Same with the weatherman. Yeah, maybe he botches a lot of forecasts, but that's all you've got available. The best option is one that comes up short of the ideal, but beats doing nothing.

Our schools could do so much better.


So what are these three Barriers to Study?

1) Lack of mass.
2) Too steep of a gradient.
3) Misunderstood words.

Lack of mass? Mass is the real item, the physicality. If you are studying car engines, you can study the theory all day long. Unless your brain gets some of the mass to go with it, you won't comprehend. The cliche says a picture is worth a thousand words. The mass is worth a million, a billion. Words alone can't teach you. You have to get your hands on the mass of what you are studying. Photos may do it, in some cases. Illustrations, diagrams. The genuine article is best, though. If you are studying car engines, your comprehension will be highest if you have a car engine to handle in accord with the theory about engines. If you are learning to build an engine, you've got to go through the steps of taking an actual engine apart and putting it back together. Then you'll remember what you learned. It will stick in your brain, because the brain is biologically tailored to deal with mass and images of mass, not language. Language is just a form of communication of ideas. Words and phrases trigger concepts already backed by earlier learning. The more mass you get, the better it sticks.

Some concepts are built upon a foundation of other concepts. If you try to learn higher concepts without having learned the foundation, your understanding will crumble. Likewise, you also need enough time to absorb the mass and the theory. If you try to study too quickly, you just won't retain the information. Some reptition may be in order, to slow down and go over material in more depth. Each person on each subject has a different comprehension speed, affected by things like interest level, urgency of need, motivation, etc. Sometimes when you have trouble comprehending, you are simply trying to climb too steeply, to ascend too steep of a gradient, too high of a "learning curve". In this case, the only way to comprehend is to slow down or else back up to more basic concepts that you've missed.

Finally, our brains go blank when crossing a word that is not known. Our brains associate the wrong mass with a word that is not understood. In either case, a misunderstood word marks a tripwire to comprehension, a stumbling block. When whole sections of text fail to "stick" in your brain because a hole caused by one of these undefined words swallowed it up, you will spend time reading only to find it went in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Misunderstood words can be even worse. You don't just have a hole in your mind, but a cross-circuited image that will produce an even larger hole because your brain will blank out when it realizes that the pieces don't fit. Worst of all, if there is no logical inconsistency, then the ideas will stick, but you'll have faulty ideas in your head. You will learn the wrong thing and get tripped up when you try to put this idea into practice.


The Scientology study approach is to first check for misunderstood and undefined words. Your vocabulary will swell in a hurry as you take Scientology courses, because you are NOT moving on past any given item until you can pass an exam in which you accuately define every word used in the material! That's right, you not only have to learn all the material, you have to learn the dictionary, too, at least to the extent of defining every last word. You've got to learn them all. The typical exam involves supervisors hunting through the text for all the biggest or most unusual words, any special jargon, but there will sometimes also ask you to define even simple words.

If you can pass the vocabulary check, you move on to the comprehension exam. You are required not just to answer questions, but actually to demonstrate the concepts. You have to show the supervisor the mass. You'll do this with a "demo kit", a collection of odds and ends bits of stuff: buttons, paper clips, small objects of whatever variety. These items are used as symbols for things: objects, people, components, whatever the material involves. As you answer the questions about the material, you have to demo the ideas, show the relationships and interactions.

If you can define all the words, answer every question put to you, and demonstrate every concept you are challenged to display, you will pass the exam. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of thousands of these exams, called "check outs". Someone who has already passed that course will "check you out" on the material, and you don't move on until you have it 100%.

For the most important concepts, after completing a major section of a course, there will be practical items: drills, lab work, exercises, whatever. This is the equivalent of the part where you take the car engine apart and put it back together, or assemble a working engine from parts, or even go out and order all the parts yourself and build your own engine, or even make the parts yourself -- or the equivalent of these things -- all depending on the gradient of the course you are taking. The final test always involves proving that you can apply what you have learned. In some cases, clay models are used for demonstration. There was a procedure for modeling a concept with clay, which I won't go into. These were some of the hardest course items to complete. You do not get to explain anything. The clay has to speak for you. If you can model the whole concept in clay by these rigorous standards, you would pass.

If at any point you proved unable to demonstrate a given concept, the examiner would start hunting for undefined or misunderstood words in the material. Invariably, one would be found, cleared up, and you'd start over from that point.

By the time you had taken all the entry level courses, your vocabulary would be beefed up and you'd tend to move along more quickly. Just having a strong vocabulary in itself would greatly aid comprehension in general, even when you weren't specifically studying a given topic.

I know that I turned into a walking sponge. Was I a bright kid? Yes. Super genius who could skip all the material from grades 6 to 9 and not miss a beat? No. I got a full secondary education's worth of vocabulary studying six hours, one day a week, on again off again in the Scientology academy, for a year and a half, at age nine to ten. I got seven years worth of English education in the equivalent of a few months of part time study. At age 12, I tested at the 90th percentile for the eleventh grade on the evaluation test I took to get back into public school and I still wonder what they were smoking with that analysis, because I really DID have four years' worth of gap in my education on topics like history, civics, grammar, even math. It seems just being bright and paying attention to life as it passed me by qualified me as better off than nine out of ten students who had gone through grades 6-10, when I hadn't. That's just crazy. The standards on that test were pathetically low. Or rather, the standards the students were being held to were pathetically low if 9 out of 10 of them couldn't do better than me on that test when I hadn't even taken the courses!

Fortunately, I went to a good high school. I did not apply myself to "getting good grades" but I did mostly apply myself to learning the material. Counting the straight A's I qualified for from the ninth grade I didn't actually go through, my four year GPA was over 3.6, and a bit less than that just for the three years I actually took -- good, but not stellar. My test scores were much better than that, of course. My lack of enthusiasm for completing all the homework, and my large number of absenses (in which I did miss out on some of the material) dragged down my average.

I scored only a 600 on the English part of my SAT. Part of that was from leaving a bunch of questions blank at the end because I wasted too much time in the reading comprehension section. I was NOT used to playing timed word games with misunderstood words. I actually found the concept insulting. My reading comprehension is 100% on all subjects when I fully apply myself. I'd proven that under far tougher conditions and standards than the SAT. The notion of teaching students to "figure out the context of words by educated guesses using the rest of the sentence" is a fucking travesty. Yeah, that's a skill, and yeah it helps if you're in a hurry, but it's a bad habit to form and a criminal thing to encourage.

If I had practiced the SAT (in my hubris, I didn't bother) and formed a strategy for improving my total score, I would have done better to skip that whole reading comprehension section, complete all the other questions first, then go back for that one. Not only would I have managed my time better, but I wouldn't have clogged my head with all those holes from the deliberately esoteric words thrown in there to trip students up.

My cat could design a better English exam!

As good as my vocabulary was, I realized from that test that I still had a lot of room to grow. My training in recognizing when I had tripped past an undefined word slowed me down, too. I would never allow that on something urgent. I'd stop and crack open my dictionary. No use hurrying if I only get the wrong answer. Defining all the words actually speeds learning anyway, once you are past the early stages of building your vocabulary and study skills.

If I had managed the English part of the test more effectively, I might have scored 650, maybe even approaching 700. Anybody earning 800 on the English part of the SAT gets my respect. They would have to have a massive vocabulary. Massive. That was pretty much all the whole test measures anyway.

I got 750 on my math half. That was a disgrace. Simple algebra and geometry, and I missed how many questions? I'm sure I made mistakes on a few, but there were other questions I remember being so poorly written, they were ambiguous. They could have broken more than one way. I couldn't understand how such an important test could include ambiguous questions. My county math team organizers did a better job writing questions. I had 100% comprehension on all the math concepts involved, and I'd proven that before, too. I may have made arithmetic errors on a few questions, but to lose 50 points worth of questions? I'm positive I chose wrongly on some of the ambiguous questions.

And this was the "all important" college entrance exam? Ambiguous math questions that didn't even cover most of the math I had been studying, because it was dumbed down to a lower common denominator, and an English test measuring the degree to which I can avoid screwing up if I guess at words instead of bothering to crack open a dictionary? What are they smoking?





Those of you here who participate in the Civ3 aspect of Realms Beyond have all seen my Scientology study training in action. If you think about it, you will realize that all those screenshots I include with my reports greatly helps you to "get the mass" so you can follow along with what was happening. If you think about it, you'll understand that my training game way back when dropped all the way back to the beginning, teaching about fundamentals, about the basics of the game that are needed in order to be ABLE to learn about the higher theory that advanced players are always batting around. If you think about it, you will notice that I take pains to define terms I will use. I don't keep redefining them over and over, though, so if you came in late at some point, you may not grasp all the jargon used, and that could be standing in your way of comprehension.

My training game was specifically designed to be effective as a study tool.

I asked everyone to shadow each round. That wasn't for variety. It was so they would get the mass. The mass of playing each round would allow my criticisms to stick, allow players to relate to the concepts in a way that would produce comprehension. It even allowed, up to a point, for players to relate to criticisms leveled against other players.

I deliberately focused on the little things, like which tiles to work first and why, like how and why to manage which tiles a city worked or how to evaluate your short term needs, to identify what would best speed your growth vs what would best aid your security, and how to evaluate which priority was more urgent. I started with a very low gradient and kept it rather low, a friendly learning curve.

I did focus on terms, on concepts, on words. Even so, this was still the weakest area and almost certainly responsible for those who still had some troubles with the ideas. I could bring ALL the students along to 100% comprehension if we could meet face to face and go through the full process of defining all the words and demonstrating all the concepts.

Griselda says that the training game I ran helped her to figure out how to play. Others have praised my reports. In all cases, I have understood how to write to improve the odds of readers comprehending. I don't use inflated words to try to sound grandiose. I try to paint vivid pictures using humor, analogy, and insight, and to supply the mass with screen shots.


Smaller class sizes is NOT going to magically repair the holes in a child's comprehension. Better paid teachers won't do it. New books won't do it. New school buildings won't do it. New bureacracy won't do it. More standardized testing won't do it. Less standardized testing won't do it. School vouchers won't do it. No amount of money poured down the drain of the broken teaching methods and pathetic standards we have now is going to make anything better. The Barriers to Study have to be torn down, one child, one subject at a time. We need an education revolution, throw the whole broken system out and start over, rethink our approach to learning.

Our schools are getting worse and worse because we are moving farther and farther away from the wisdom of the past. The old Master-Apprentice relationship solved all three problems. The student got the mass and then some. They got so much mass with hand's on training that they would eventually become a full master in the craft themselves. They got a manageable gradient with an education in their craft pieced together over many years. And they got taught all the words and terms of the craft as they went, learning what each tool and raw material and process was called and what their functions were.

The old apprenticeship system was not efficient in terms of broad education or mass availability, but it was damned well effective in preserving all the tidbits of advanced technology (advanced as related to the given time period), teaching students all they needed to know to perform their chosen trade.

Schools didn't used to be separated by grade. We had a lot of one-room schools, with younger students tossed in with older ones and absorbing some of what the older ones were being taught. There was no radio, no television, no movies. People had less leisure time and lived in a much harsher world, much more sink or swim, where the students themselves were more motivated, had picked up a better appreciation for study by way of what it could do for them. Most children were worked by their families, and whatever education there was was always hands-on. We didn't even have photography until the 19th century.

Our schools used to emphasize shop work. Students learned how to do carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics, and more. Students got held back if they didn't learn and retain enough of the information. There was also less information to learn: less theory, less complex theory, lesser degree of removal of student from practical application of theory. Folks learned more total information because of "Jack of All Trades" syndrome: covering a lower gradient on a wider number of topics, with better comprehension and retention across all of them. As education has moved more and more toward specialization, we have shifted away from practical application toward pure theory. We have adopted some fatally flawed education theories and embraced them system wide. We have grown more and more inclusive of the populace, where less prepared students with less responsible parents -- students who used to get completely left out of the education system and were relegated to lives of hard labor -- have been added to the mix, without the needed reforms to bring them along the same as better prepared students coming from parents who have taught them more, spent more time on them, and given them a more solid foundation prior to entering school.

Both the actual performance of the brighter students and the average performance of the total student body are on the decline. As standards drop, the best and brightest are bogged down by a misguided effort to try to keep everyone of the same age group on the same learning gradient, combined with the continued lowering of standards to be more inclusive of the worst performers. Some genuinely cannot handle even a modest pace without a lot more attention and a better designed educational approach, while others get bored out of their minds. Boredom is lethal. It almost swallowed me whole in sixth grade. If I had been forced to slog along like that without enough challenge, I would have grown increasingly restless and rebellious. I was already on the verge of open rebellion at that point, totally disenchanted with a system that didn't give a shit about me as an individual, but merely wanted to force me through its meat grinder.

Our system is so badly broken it is shameful, but like all other institutions, reform is difficult because there is a large body of folks invested in the status quo, with their egos on the line, their way of making a living on the line, their expertise and experience would be challenged, and so on and so forth. It would take a lot of work to reform and improve the system, but a few simple changes could dramatically improve the overall performance, and an effective top-to-bottom overhaul could end our education woes, making as dramatic of a leap forward in results as we did with the printing press to increase availability of books and the effort to institutionalize literacy among the whole populace. There is that much improvement available just with what is currently known but not being used, and it could be fully implemented in less than a decade.

The current educational debate stinks. When I listen to the various arguments, the options that we are fighting over, to me it sounds barbaric, like midieval astronomers arguing over competing theories that explain why the world is flat. None of these folks have it right, and no amount of funding of their theories and approaches is going to improve the state of the system.

The core problem as I see it is expectations and standards. We the people do not, on the whole, realize what a massive pile of BS we are being sold here. The system is not going to go forward without first going backward to purge itself of flawed educational mechanisms. A lot of dead weight needs to be cut loose. A whole new approach is needed, one that is better tailored to results, which prioritizes individuals and meets the needs of individuals, grouping students by performance, not age, and enabling them all to make the most of their opportunities by focusing on tearing down the barriers to study, improving comprehension and retention across the board. We've got to get over misguided notions of soothing people's egos by trying to treat everyone the same. That is the worst injustice of all. It mistreats the few who need an even slower pace, and it badly abuses those who need to be cut loose to move faster. This isn't even so much about ability as it is about the home environment. Better nurtured students will be ahead because they are getting education at home and through all aspects of their life, while others are neglected. Ability does vary, but preparation and support vary much more widely. Parents are the indispensible element, and the system needs to better accomodate for that, both for the parents who slack off and fail to prepare their children and for the parents who are so effective that their children can not only handle more challenge but NEED it.

Reforming curriculum pacing is dangerous because the potential abuse of faster-paced students viewing themselves as "better than" slower paced students would be a problem, but who are we kidding? That problem is there anyway. Even within our current grade system, children are grouped into smaller packs working at different paces, especially with reading. Test scores vary, achievements vary. Comparisons are inevitable.

More social education is also needed: more values. We've also gone backward at breakneck speed in purging most moral values and judgements from our schools. That was perhaps a necessary step in order to also purge bigotry and all forms of hatred, but now we've got to purge the purge. There are ways to agree on values that would be religiously neutral. Building character is important. Many teachers find creative ways to instill discipline on students and lead by example, but the system too often works against them. We DO have a lot of good teachers -- in fact, that's the one aspect of our educational system that is holding it all together in spite of institutionalized failure -- but there are a lot of bad administrators who get in their way, saddling them with rules and limits and demands that force them to conform to a system that is designed to be broken. The whole system lumbers along and is being slowly hacked to death by special interests and squeaky wheels who force changes in the wrong direction on the basis of faulty concepts, faulty demands, and misguided ideals. The same tired old myths are batted around, the same failed ideas forwarded over and over. Are the ideas ever blamed? No. Are the core theories challenged? No. Some insignificant cause is always blamed: not enough money, classes too large, books too old... On and on and ON AND ON AND ON the bullshit goes, until it swallows up all hope of genuine reform.

The only ones who get heard in the debate are the "experts" who have gone through the system. You need a degree in education to be heard on the topic of educational reform. That would make sense if the current educational theory were the best technology available, but it's not. So what we have here is a system that is designed to preserve itself. The top priority is not results, but protecting vested interests.

In that regard, the teacher's unions, school boards, education departments and all the other mechanisms designed to protect the interests of the people in the system now all stand in the way of real solutions. Will we overcome that? Not through the current proposals. No way, no how, no matter how much money we throw at it. The only way real reform can go forward is through an effective assement of why the current mechanisms produce poor results and how to address the root causes of the failures.


Although I have an understanding of how to study anything effectively, I don't always observe proper discipline. I've cracked open my dictionary in the course of reading this forum only a couple of dozen times over the years. I should probably have done so two or three times as often as I did. I do a lot of reading and sometimes blow past words and don't care. That's not good. I know it means I'll blank out, that I won't recall what I read, or at least a goodly chunk of it, but sometimes when reading for pleasure I get lazy and don't want to do the work. Nobody will be testing me anyway, so what does it matter?. Sometimes I take better care of myself, sometimes not. Some books are so wordy in terms of vocabulary, though, that I can't even get through them at all without a dictionary.

The worst such example I ever encountered was the fantasy author, Stephen R. Donaldson. Reading his two Thomas Covenant trilogies was tortuous. I was literally cracking open the dictionary two and three times per page. Abominable. The gradient was actually too steep for me! My head got filled with so many new definitions, the lack of mass was eating at my comprehension. I actually cracked out a demo kit -- the only time I've done that since leaving Scientology in 1986. And that still wasn't enough! Not enough mass, too many new definitions, too much to try to absorb at one time. I did get through the books, and I could probably pass a general test on them even today, but I had had to go back and look up some of the same words over and over as the definitions weren't sticking. Donaldson threw the language around for its own sake, as if he were trying to impress us with his vocabulary instead of prioritizing the effective telling of his story.

I learned an important lesson from that: there's a difficult tradeoff that writers must make between choosing the most accurate words and embracing a wider audience. The more words you use, especially uncommon words, the more you shrink your audience, the less that people will understand what you have written, the less they will comprehend, the less they will enjoy it. Yet you also need to use rich enough language to make the words sing, to fully communicate what you are trying to portray. As a writer, I have had to learn to measure this tradeoff, to try to reign in my vocabulary, to choose simpler words when I can but not let myself be held slave to the lowest common denominator. There is a peak to the bell curve, at which the use of rich language to paint a better picture crosses with the undefined word barrier, which clouds or even destroys that picture. My duty as a writer is to tailor the best total result to my intended audience, to aim for the best picture I can paint without overshooting the audience's ability to follow along. That's a frustrating dilemma that would cease to be a primary issue if only all readers were educated to have the tools, if they so desired, to be able to understand anything I might write.

I get teased a lot about the length of my forum posts, but most of that is coming from folks who just can't stay tuned in. They lack the attention span, and I understand why. As soon as they trip over words they don't know or don't properly understand, they blank out. A couple of those and they're toast. Disparaging the writer acts as a defense mechanism to make them feel better. They lose the comprehension and lose the will to continue reading. They lose interest, and they have been taught to blame that on the writer rather than taking responsibility for it themselves. Only the brighter and better educated can follow my posts all the way through and grasp it all, even when I make conscious effort to limit my word usage to common vocabulary. Even then, we all trip up sometimes. Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts. I've gotten lost in posts and had to back up, track down the word or words I tripped over and open the dictionary. I'm more motivated to do that either when I'm especially interested in the material, or else locked in a heated debate and NOT wanting to lose the argument.

People don't actually know what to DO when they find themselves not comprehending something! I can't imagine being powerless like that. I've been infused from childhood to have total faith in my ability to learn anything to which I apply myself. That's a kind of intelligence that is not genetic. Anybody can learn how to learn. Anybody can learn how to think. We may not all learn and think at the same pace, or with the same acuity on a given topic, but we can all get there if we use an effective approach.

That's not taught to our children, though, is it? Over and over, the system grades them, stamps them, files them, numbers them, reinforcing the idea that their ability to learn is out of their control, that they have been born with a certain "intelligence" and can never exceed it. Poppycock! The system is specifically geared to rip the creativity right out of them, strip them of individuality, and crank out good little consumers and factory workers, mindless drones beaten down into conformity. Blah. It's barbaric, I tell you.

I could probably make some kind of difference if I went on a crusade to reform education, but I'm already on another crusade I consider even more urgent. I might be able to contribute support for effective reforms, but at this point I have no intention of leading the charge. Maybe at some point I'll change that, but not today. Or rather, this post represents the limit of what I'm currently willing to do: write about it. Who knows? Maybe one of you will pick up the gauntlet. At least you have the exposure to some of these possibilities, some new food for thought that may do some good for somebody, at some point.


- Sirian
Thank you Sirian for saving me a lot of time and energy.

My younger sister (who is much more musically inclined than I am) recently told me that a good song should make the listener feel like they have already heard it. And your post made me feel like I'd already read it, when in fact I hadn't .

However, I have been giving this a LOT of thought recently. You see, I have been at both ends of the spectrum. I have been at the high end, getting outstanding results. I acheived joint runner-up dux of my high school. And this was in a year where we had 9 OP 1s. (An OP is a grading system used by the Queensland board of secondary school studies which grades year 12 graduates on a scale from 1-25, where 1 is the highest, and 25 is the lowest, and the results are distributed in a bell curve). The next highest amount of OP 1s our school had acheived was 4. So our upper-end of students was at least double what it had been in previous years. And I came joint-second place. Mind you, I only did the bare minimum work necessary to get there. I NEVER did homework. I NEVER EVER studied. I did any assignments I had to a satisfactory standard (I put in enough effort to get the grades and no more). In Chemistry I did not take a SINGLE page of notes throughout the WHOLE of grade twelve (the final year of school in my state). I never opened a textbook in that subject. Yet I acheived second in Chemistry for the grade. I was only beaten by a girl in my class due to the fact that her practical report got a better mark than mine (due to the aforementioned apathy).

Now I don't say all of this to gloat. Quite the contrary. When I got to University my grades dropped substantially. In Australia, our GPA is ranked on a grade of 1-7, with 1 being fail, and 7 being high distinction. I acheived a GPA in first year of 4.75. I got distinctions in three subjects, passes in 4, and a single credit. That SHOULD have sent alarm bells ringing, but by this time I could not care. I started second year university with an even greater contempt for university than I'd had the year before. I failed 3 out of 4 subjects in the first half of the year. I took the second half of the year off.

So what the hell changed? How does one go from gaining one of the highest honours in high school, to failing 3/4 of their subjects at university? Attitude. You see, when I was at school, I was driven to acheive high results. I had something to prove. I had to do better than the guys in my class. I had to prove to them that I could oblitterate them. But I had to do it by putting in even less effort and work than they did. It was seen in my elite, hyperintelligent circle of friends, as a bad thing to do poorly, and an equally as bad thing to put a lot of effort into study. So what happened? We LEARNED. We paid attention in class, and made sure we understood the topics by the end of the lesson. We went into the subjects with a belief that we were superior to the subject, that the subject was merely something that could be conquered and mastered in the 45 minutes a day we spent on it.

By the end of grade twelve, I had developed such a contempt for the marking systems involved (not a SINGLE thing I did in the entire last TERM of school would effect my marks in any way shape or form) that I put zero effort into anything, and actually slipped into a depression because of it. I still passed everything with flying colours, and got the highest marks in my grade on at least one (probably more) of my final exams. So by the end of grade twelve, the schooling system I had been brought up in had taught me two things - arrogance and contempt.

Arrogance and contempt. Those two words defined my university experience. I saw the lecturers as arrogant (funny how your own character flaws show up most easily in other people). I had a contempt for the system that I was going through. I simply COULDN'T BE BOTHERED studying, and eventually even doing assignments. What was the point when I could put in minimal effort and be in exactly the same person who had barely scraped into my uni course and who had partied their way throug uni? There was no drive, no desire, and no reason to do well. The promise of money and a job were the only things that even remotely kept me interested in finishing my degree.

Fortunately I've shed much (but not all) of that now. (In another soon-to-follow post I will describe how I am a completely different person today than I was six months ago.) I now have something to prove. I have to prove to myself I am capable. That I can kick arse like I did for the last twelve years. Heh, it's arrogance that got me into this mess, and it'll be arrogance that takes me out of it :P.

One of the things that I have taken from this whole mess is the fact that there is nowhere near enough room for intelligent people to grow in our current education system. I've proven that several times now. I've taken two D grade students in maths up to B grade. And that is a HUGE jump (from failing first term year 11/last term year 10 to nearly getting an A overall in year 12). Yes, I tutor. So I've had experience on both sides of the arguement. And in my opinion there is no arguement. What schools are lacking is an effective carrot/whip approach to learning. The rewards for doing well are not great enough, and the penalties for not doing well are not severe enough. A great part of that is culture. But the system has a big part to play also.

One of the biggest problems I run into with students is not their lack of ability, but their lack of confidence, and belief in themself. Tutoring results can be seen almost instantly when you know what you are doing. You need to place energy into the student. You need to go right back to fundamentals, and retrain them on earlier grade stuff if need be. You need to give them success in any form to get their confidence up. Schools have an underlying assumption about their students that a student in grade 10 has mastered grade 9 material. That is blatantly wrong. The only students that do that are 90%+ students, who only get things wrong when they make a syntax error with something (either in reading the question or in their answering - or, as was the case in one of my exams, missing an entire question simply by overlooking it). The whole idea of a year level is a terrible idea. I COULD have handled the university work that I am doing now when I was in grade 10. And I would have had the energy and care to do well. Now... I don't have the same drive.

I simply wasn't pushed hard enough at school for me to do well at university. When have been at school for 12 years and have never needed to study, then when you are given a workload at university which requires you to study, then you have to adjust or fail. I took choice B. After being told for 12 years that you need to do your homework when you really don't, then your brain finds it hard to accept it when you do actually need to do homework.

I've covered a lot of points, and it may seem a little disjointed, but this is the core of what I'm saying: advanced students are being sabotaged by a system that is set up to hold them back, and thus bore them out of education, and "behind" students aren't given enough incentive, and enough training to get them to the level of ability that they can acheive.

Anyway, I have to go and tutor a year 9 student now, so toodooloo .
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Ozymandous
Ozymandous

June 3rd, 2003, 11:22 am #7

Hi,

Overall, I think that it lacked "mass". Lots of autobiographical material, most of it interesting if somewhat tangential. A fairly general bit of some of the drawbacks of the educational system, but light on the specifics. And almost totally lacking on any proposals for a cure. I'd say, overall, you need to temper your L. Ron Hubbard with a fair bit of Ernest Hemingway (and perhaps limit your vocabulary to that of Churchill -- never say "intestines" when "guts" will do)

Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts.

Yep. Sometimes because the complexity of your arguments causes me to miss a turn and I need to retrace the route to find the right road. Sometimes, however, because "the game's not worth the candle". Your estimation and mine of the amount of work reasonable for the excavation of your meaning in the pit of your words does not always match. And I've never found you too terse

Now, to the topic at hand. There are many problem with the educational system. I've thought of this topic some. That my mother-in-law and her husband are both retired teachers has something to do with it. That I've taught all or part of twenty four years also contributed to my interest. So, starting from what I see as the basic problem:

There is no such thing as "teaching" there is only "learning". The most a teacher can do is present the material in a way that it is more easily assimilated, and make the material sufficiently interesting to motivate people to learn it. The best teacher in the world can teach nothing to those who do not wish to learn. Those that do wish to learn will do so without teachers. They'll find other sources, or figure things out for themselves. It will not be as easy as a good teacher can make it, but those that want to will learn.

So, a core problem with the educational system is that we expect teachers to "teach" instead of expecting students to learn. As if knowledge were some kind of fluid that could be poured by a sufficiently capable teacher into the brains of the student with no effort on his part. Indeed, it goes much further than that. Education is not respected by the majority of the people in the USA. It is actually held in thinly veiled contempt. This is a fundamental social issue. It shows itself in the terms used for educated people. It propagates itself by the stereotypes that are used in the media for educated people. Even most of those who give lip service to "education" are really thinking "training". They look at education as something to open the door to a good job. They consider the degree sort of a white collar union card.

Now, I firmly believe that unless and until we turn that attitude around, until we develop a society (like pre-WW II Germany, like many of the Asian nations) which respects, actually venerates, education, any other measures we take will have scant success. As to how to accomplish this objective, I have no idea. Propaganda might work. Example might work (assuming we could find an educated leader to be a role model).

As I said, if we can't turn the attitude around then I think the battle is lost. If we can, what's left is details.

Detail one, the school year. Our present school year is based upon the needs of an agricultural society and designed around a lack of air conditioning. Neither of those two considerations apply any more. The faults of the school year is that it is both too long and too short. It is too long a period for someone who almost but not quite understand a subject to repeat. It is too short a period in that school should take up more than half (180 days) the year. A much better school year would be one based on four thirteen week periods (in a fit of originality, let's call them "quarters"). Each quarter consists of eleven weeks of school and a two week break. At the option and discretion of the parents, a child could take one quarter in four off (although such a practice should be discouraged).

Now, during the eleven weeks of school, no "distractions" should be allowed. No holidays (they can be shifted to the nearest two week break), no "in service" days, no half days. On the other hand, the two week break is a total break. No "special tests", no reading lists.

A side benefit is the cure for the Summer blues. Most teachers will tell you that the last month before Summer and the first after are wasted. That last month, the kids are too busy thinking of Summer to let anything else into their consciousness. The first, they are too wild to learn anything but the discipline they forgot.

So, after the national mind is changed, the next change is the calender. The second detail is the school day. The breakup of the school day into "classes" does not come about for most students till junior high or even high school. Which means that a person struggling and failing in, say, math cannot just repeat math, but must either be "promoted" (and thus saddled with what will probably become a lifelong problem with math or be "failed" having to repeat not just math but all the subjects that did not cause a problem the first time (and thus probably becoming bored leading to school being a "turn off").

The combination of a quarter system and a class system would permit the presentation of material at a pace sufficiently fast to maintain the interest of the brightest students. The norm would be for a student to retake a significant (say a third or so) fraction of the courses over. It would be expected that the teacher would give additional attention to those taking a class for the second (or third, or . . .) time. The "quantum" of progress would be small enough to permit a minimum of loss through either frustration or boredom. Each student would be able to progress at his own pace while avoiding the unrealistic teacher to student ratio required for a truly "continuous" education.

The next issue, as I see it, is the question of what "mastery" of a subject means. Outside of school, there is no "passing grade". I think moving this into the school would be a great idea. So, for instance, a paper isn't submitted, graded, and forgotten. Instead, it is critiqued, rewritten, re-evaluated, and the process continues until the paper is acceptable (perfection, of course, being impossible). I would extend this to the school as a whole. No grades, just "completed" meaning that the student has mastered the material in sufficient depth and detail that he can use it as a foundation for further learning. And not the "100%" nonsense that you were spouting, Sirian. That is meaningless. Sure, you can memorize a text to 100%. You can even apply it in some cases to 100%. But everyone in every field is capable of more or less understanding. If Joyce is 98% and the average forum poster (not here) is 10%, then what is a reasonable mastery of English?

Finally, the curriculum itself needs to be closely examined in terms of what is reasonably learned when (languages being easy in the early grades, memorization not). And it needs to be reexamined in terms of what an "education" really means. Too much stress is being placed on facts and regurgitation, not enough on thought processes and the skills of learning. Somehow, that too must be changed.

Now, in order to do this, a better system needs to be in place. One in which the teachers are the supreme authority in all things involving education. To do this, first require that anyone teaching teachers have at least 10 years of experience in the K-12 classroom. No more of these theoretical idiots with PhDs who wouldn't know a child if it bit them. Next, institute a tenure process for teachers. Have the granting of tenure be by peer review, not from the administration. And have a big enough time requirement (five years or more) for tenure that the fast faders will wash out. Then, let the school system be run by the teachers. Require that a school administrator be a tenured teacher. Indeed, require that an administrator devote some time (maybe one course a quarter) to teaching. Require that the district administration be conducted by a board of school administrators, etc. Let those that best understand the system run the system.

Simple. But it all takes the support of the society. And just not the financial support, although that is important. So, just get the majority of the ignorant, uneducated, American public to support, indeed to worship, something they don't even understand and the problem will be solved.

--Pete
Good ideas here but I have a few questions. I assume the answers lie in more "society" changes but thought I'd ask.

Now, I firmly believe that unless and until we turn that attitude around, until we develop a society (like pre-WW II Germany, like many of the Asian nations) which respects, actually venerates, education, any other measures we take will have scant success. As to how to accomplish this objective, I have no idea. Propaganda might work. Example might work (assuming we could find an educated leader to be a role model).

When you say education do you mean the practical knowledge of an issue or simply "time taught teaching it"? The reason I ask is I have seen quite a few "experts" who don't know applied anything and all they have is theory. What do we do with all these so-called "experts" who don't really know how to do something hands on, but have simply learned concepts all their lives? My dad was a mechanic for 30 years. He couldn't design a car, but he could ID just about anything that was wrong with one just from listening to the sounds and the 'feel' of the car as it went down the road. Having 'teachers' who don't have practical knowledge means we continue to venerate those who don't have the real knowledge learned through experience, and this is one of my biggest worries every time I hear a proposal by a 'teacher' on how to reform the system.

The combination of a quarter system and a class system would permit the presentation of material at a pace sufficiently fast to maintain the interest of the brightest students. The norm would be for a student to retake a significant (say a third or so) fraction of the courses over. It would be expected that the teacher would give additional attention to those taking a class for the second (or third, or . . .) time.

Where does seperating those who learn at different levels fit into this? In a perfect world every student would learn every subject at a reasonable pace, but where does this "additional attention" from the teacher come from in regards to the rest of the class? Does the rest of the class sit idly by while the teacher tries to explain a topic to someone for the 20th time? From your post I'd think we could have students say be in the 10th class in 'math' but be in the 4th class in 'english', but I just want to clarify. Does this porposal accept that students may learn some things better so offer the ability to not teach in segregated 'grades' but by aptitude instead? Would there be provisions for the exceptionally bright/dull students? Not judging anyone but facts, are facts, there are some who learn quicker and some who do not.

Just thought I'd throw these questions out to help clarify some things. This is one of the better ideas I have heard about the education system, especially the year long learning, it's much overdue.
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Joined: November 16th, 2001, 10:19 am

June 3rd, 2003, 1:58 pm #8

As part of the thread about current world politics I started lower on this page, Jester and Ozy and Pete and some others got onto a tangent about education. That has sparked a strong response from me. I started to post this in reply to one of Jester's posts, then later decided it deserves its own thread. So here you go.


Class size is currently hailed as the main issue. While it's not unimportant, it's nowhere near the root cause of the system's failures.

Do you know how much money is spent per child in the schools within the District of Columbia? The amount is very high, yet the school results remain abysmal. The class sizes are very small. The student to teacher ratio is down to something far below anything I ever got, yet the results remain poor.

Class size is pretty much an excuse to hire more teachers. That's it.

Our culture is a bunch of blind sheep. We have a populace trained to place faith in "experts" as if they were gods.

* People see ads for drugs on television and actually believe the claims, as if a pill was something magical, instead of a crude instrument that does a dozen things to your body chemistry, only one of which is desirable, and even that comes up short of making everything right again. "Side effects", as if those were minor, are marginalized, dismissed.

* Doctors are hailed as miracle workers. We call their work "treatment" and "cure", yet the actual results are rarely talked about, such as how in the wake of an operation, any operation, that your body never fully recovers its former functionality. Doctors can make a lot of bad things better, and that's truly wondrous, but it stops short of the hype we are constantly forcefed.

* Lawyers are widely hated, but the law is such an entangled mess, you can't do without them. Yet who ends up writing almost all of the new laws? Lawyers turned politicians. And people are trained to listen to both as if their work can make problems go away. Sometimes that does happen, but mostly not. And law enforcement isn't much better. We're also trained to trust the police, but the reality is, the police can't stop most crimes or even catch most criminals. They do help the situation overall, and by a lot, but they can't actually protect you against any threat that can be carried out before police can reach you, and they can't protect you from ongoing threats or determined attackers. In those situations, you are on your own.

* Psychologists. We're trained to believe in what they tell us, too, and to pay out huge money to get their insights. Are they REALLY that much more sophisticated than ancient mystics?

* Advertisers. Most people have heard the quote from P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute." We all understand that there are marketing gimmicks designed to part us from our money, to influence us to buy things we otherwise wouldn't. Yet do people stop and question this whole marketing paradigm? Not often, it seems. We are trained to be consumers, to absorb goods, to crave material possessions to fuel our consumer economy.


Everybody who has ever tuned in to a weather forecast knows that human beings do not yet know enough to be able to make even simple weather predictions reliably. How many times has your local meterologist gotten it wrong? And how many times have you made plans based on his forecasts, relying on his science and skills and predictions to plan your own activity, only to get stuck in the wrong kind of weather for what you planned?

Most people seem to grasp that meterology is still a developing science -- that we ARE gaining ground and improving the predictions, but still come up far short of understanding enough to reduce the error rate to insignificance.

Most people I know are skeptical of weather forecasts. Everyone makes jokes about it, but they still tune in because the meteorlogists do have a record that is better than random guessing. They do have some insights into the variables that make up the weather.

So why isn't this same comprehension of imperfect performance applied culture-wide to all fields of human endeavor? Why aren't we, culturally, as skeptical of doctors as we are of meteorologists? Do you personally think the doctor is any better at treating human injury and disease than the weatherman is at forecasting rain or sunshine? Or is that simply too uncomfortable to ponder, the risking of your life in someone else's hands who may not actually be able to cure your ills? Would you gamble your life on the weatherman's predictions??? You do something similar when you visit doctors. (Ever REALLY thought about what it means that they measure the results of major surgeries via a statistic of how many folks end up dead within five years after the procedure?) Do you really buy the line that drugs represent a magic pill to cure all your ails? Do you really think the psychologists have more than a crude understanding of what really makes people tick? Do you really think the police can make you fully safe? Heck, in regard to some threats, can they even make you safer at all? Or does taking your security for granted actually increase your risks in some regards? Do you really think the government can solve all of society's ills by taxing more of your money and throwing it at the problems through a bureaucracy? Do you really think that when a dentist drills a hole in your tooth and fills it with something hard, that the tooth is as good as new? Do you really believe that the leaders at the United Nations have a clue?

Oh wait, went too far with that last one.


Education is just as clumsy and backward as the rest of these professional fields. In some ways, it is even worse. Meteorology is at least a hard science. There are a lot of variables that go into weather patterns, which we don't understand yet. We probably haven't even identified all of the true variables, but we are moving forward. As more data is gathered and analyzed and the scientific method applied to it, better understandings emerge and predictions improve. We are now saving actual lives with improved storm warnings, improved building codes in storm-wracked regions, and improved emergency response mechanisms.

Do you realize that of all the items I've mentioned, that meteorology is the MOST reliable? You might want to chew on that thought for a while.


I have a unique perspective on education.

I went to Baptist private school through first grade. That included a few months of full-day Kindergarten-4, a year of full day Kindergarten-5, and first grade. Most public schools don't have K4 and only offer half a day for K5. When I came out of first grade, I was a year ahead of public school students. All three years in early Christian private school were done in different locations, yet within the same Baptist school. (They had a main campus and some branches, and the main campus moved to a new building between K5 and First Grade for me).

I went to public school for second and third grade, right here in Pennsylvania, as I lived with my mom's parents while she went through college in DC. She got an Associate Degree in accounting. More on that later. I moved back in with my parents for Fourth and Fifth grade, and there, too, the location changed as between years, a new school building was opened.

So in my elementary school education, I had six and a half years of school up through fifth grade, all but one pair of those years involving a different school building and most of them involving new classes. I got a lot of experience at being the New Kid. I also got an up close and personal look at a variety of schools, both private and public, both rural and urban, across two states.

My apathy with sixth grade grew out of control as I was flunking and headed for total goof-off land. My dad pulled me out of school and I stayed out for two school years. When I went back, they had to test me to see where I belonged (expecting to put me back into the sixth grade) and they had to abide by the results they were handed. I tested at eleventh grade, but +I+ made the choice to back that up to tenth grade, after discussing the full pros and cons with the high school guidance counselor. I completed a normal run of high school, finally all in one place, and graduated at age 15, having skipped grades 6-9.

That's unusual in itself, and I was a "bright" student from the get-go. However, I enjoyed especially good schooling in private school, which gave me a solid foundation, and then in fourth grade I ran into something else: the Church of Scientology.


Those of you who have read most of my posts to this forum may remember that I've talked a little bit about this subject before. You may remember that I'm long since disassociated with that group, that I consider my total experience with it a mixed bag with some dark moments and elements, but also some bright spots. One of the brightest spots was (is) their student technology.

The Scientology philosophy is broken into two halves: training and processing. The training involves learning the "technology", studying the texts, the writings of the cult's guru, L. Ron Hubbard. The processing involves having his processes performed upon you by Church counselors. The culture within the church is almost militaristic: specifically, naval. Each church is run largely like a ship, with the totality run like a merchant navy.

Anyway, each church has its own Academy: a small school within the church where church members pay for training courses. There are no teachers. There are, instead, supervisors. The content of the curriculum involves studying Hubbard's philosophy and teachings, and the process abides by his philosophy on education. There are three core elements, called the Barriers to Study. According to Hubbard, these are the three mechanisms that lead to noncomprehension, to the inability to grasp or to retain information studied. His theory holds that overcoming the Barriers to Study will enable any student to achieve 100% comprehension on any subject. Fairly early in the process of training, each student takes on the course involving the education philosophy, complete with taped lectures by Hubbard from the 1960's, in which he goes into detail about how to apply oneself to studying. He used a lot of humor and a lot of analogy. (Parenthetically, you could see a lot of his style reflected in my own writing style, even now, as I developed an appreciation for his thoroughness, humor, comparisons and depth. Much of my ability to think critically was developed and honed while studying his philosophy, so I couldn't have avoided being impacted by his ways if I had tried. There is no doubt that if nothing else, the man was hugely prolific).

The study tech was damned impressive. That's the clever nature of the Scientology recruiting method. You are first given entry-level courses or processes, which are very affordably priced. There is a hard sell aspect to the notion of "judge for yourself." There is a religious fervor, even, to how zealously hands-off the church staff are taught to behave in regard to potential converts, to those interested in learning more about the philosophy and what it has to offer. All the entry-level materials are constructed out of bits Hubbard culled from a variety of sources, chiefly eastern religions and philosophy. Almost none of that was original content from him, but he did have a flair for assembling it. Folks enticed by the various means to get people in the door (by tweaking their curioisity) are sold these entry level training courses or processes, which almost invariably impress the hell out of everyday folks, since they actually produce the results advertised. No unreliable weather forecasts here. No lawyer doublespeak. No faulty doctor's diagnoses nor treatments that don't work out as advertised. No auto-repair estimates that grow and grow as mechanics magically find more things wrong with your car. No fuzzy approximations or half-assed results. The soft sell given new recruits belies the true nature of the organization, but there you have it. You get filled up with all the most reliable stuff the philosophy has to offer, right up front, enough of it that, at least compared to other religions or to the general culture, you get shocked out of that comfort zone where the experts never quite really seem to know what they are talking about. And that's the one thing they do reinforce to you: contrasting what they have to offer with society at large. You get a constant message that Scientology has Found Some Real Answers, and you get to try a bunch of them on for size and make up your own mind. Very few people walk out the door at that point, and those who do are left alone. There's no actual brainwashing. There's just a very nasty trap.

Once you come to agree that all the introductory level stuff is highly effective, complete with your own actual results of having tried it out, then you start to get the pitch about the upper level stuff, about climbing the Bridge, as they call it. Yet to begin that climb up out of the entry level stuff, you have to pass through the indoctrination materials. This is where they get you. You are lured with a grand promise that the Tech is like the stuff you've already learned and been processed through, only better. Much, much better. The higher you go, the church line holds, the better it gets. The same degree of reliability and effectiveness holds all the way up through all of the church's teachings, and you are shown any number of true believers at all the various positions on the Bridge, who all tell the same story: Yep, It Works. They even still pay lip service to the notion of judging for yourself, but in truth, they indoctrinate that out of you. The notion of questioning what you are taught remains ever present, but only as a specter, a comfortable illusion. If you actually do run across anything that makes you doubt, you get hit with a logical fallacy of distraction. That's very easy for them to do, since there are so many church policies, and if you run afoul of the least of them, you can be sent off to Ethics Processing, where you get put through the ringer examining your own flaws until you repent are "freed" from these "reactions". That, too, is very cleverly managed, because they don't actually force you to the conclusion. They leave you with only one conclusion to draw and wait for you to come to it on your own. That's actually a rare abuse of the Ethics side of the church, too. Most of the Ethics Processing actually is legitimately tailored to addressing corrections. People get sent there for lying, cheating, stealing, missing their church appointments or commitments, saying or doing anything that hurts other people, etc etc. The thing is, between this process of rooting out your sins, so to speak, and leading you to choose not to repeat them (because there is strong emphasis on doing the right thing), combined with the indoctrination about never, ever, EVER altering or changing the church procedures and rituals and processes, you enter into a never-never land where there is no cultural tolerance for debate or dissent. It's not suppressed, per se. It just doesn't exist. By the time you run across the kinds of things that should be questioned and poked and prodded, it's too late for you. You already have developed the faith, backed by all the entry level stuff that DOES work as advertised, reinforced by all the other true believers around you, and contained within the strict discipline of the culture where if you wander out of the conformity they can tie you up in knots and hold your faith hostage against you (since you do believe that the church holds your eventual salvation) until you step back into line.

And all of that is made possible by just how good the entry-level stuff is, how effectively it works. The study tech may be the best of that, too.

The Scientology Academies don't just brag. They walk the walk. You have to achieve 100% comprehension of materials before you pass any training course. The courses are all designed by Hubbard, a check list of activities which include both materials to study and practical demonstrations of your grasp on the material. At every step of the way, you are rigorously examined by the academy supervisors. Each item that you complete must be verified by a supervisor. The actual supervisors enlist the aid of other students ahead of you, higher than you on the Bridge, to help them out. ALL students who have completed the study course itself, and the particular course you are studying, are qualified to examine you. There is a specific procedure to the supervision. You are tested against all three of the Barriers to Study and asked questions about the material at random, at the sole discretion of the examiner, until they are satisfied. IF YOU MISS ANYTHING, get any item wrong at any point, you flunk the exam and start over. That usually does not mean a complete retread, but occasionally it does. Only when you have 100% command of the material do you pass. The examiner will sign your course book signifying that you've completed that item, and you move on to the next one. A typical course includes hundreds of such items. Some of the most advanced courses have thousands of items. And this is not a "study for the test" system. This is a system about comprehension. If you fail at any point on any point, you can be "sent back down", complete with a bunch of Ethics Processing to figure out whether or not you were doing something in bad faith. That may sound despotic, but in fact it wasn't, because that was all but unheard of. I could still pass the exams today, some twenty years later. The study tech worked.


From the perspective of someone held to a 100% standard over a span of years, and able to meet that standard, and looking around seeing EVERY OTHER STUDENT in the academy also able to meet that standard, the performance of our education system is barbaric. Our expectations are way too low, the study methods poorly constructed, the testing system doing more harm than good the way it's assembled, and the notion of resolving this mess by throwing more money at it is positively criminal. Criminal, I say.

There is one down side to the Scientology study approach: speed. I spent six months just studying and passing the study tech course itself. Most adults could pass it in one month, but I was nine years old when I took it. I had a deeper hole to climb out of. I had to reach 100% comprehension on what amounted to an entry level college course, at nine years old and in the fourth grade. Nobody made any fun of my pace. In fact, they were all very encouraging -- maybe even impressed. But that's a topic for another day.

Speed is compromised when 100% comprehension is held to be the standard. But if you apply the same methods that lead to 100% comprehension while chugging along at a faster pace and not stopping to go back for what is missed and misunderstood, you still come out way ahead of the game.

Endless homework and repetition? Waste of time. That's like trying to conduct brain surgery with a sledge hammer. Cramming for tests? Waste of time. Even if you pass the test, you won't remember the material a month later. Then what good was it? Nothing more than aiming for that sheepskin you can put on the wall, to give you that competitive edge on your resume through an equally barbaric job application process, where your actually ability to do the job isn't in the top five most important considerations. That's not to say that a sheepskin is worthless. You CAN get a great education at university. The problem is, you can also pass the tests without real comprehension, in too many cases. That won't hurt a given student, though, if they apply themselves. Many don't, but some do, and lacking any competitive system that performs better, what's the alternative anyway?

Just like when you get sick, what choice do you have but to go see a doctor? If they can improve your odds at all, even a little bit, that's worth it, right? Same with a lawyer. Same with the weatherman. Yeah, maybe he botches a lot of forecasts, but that's all you've got available. The best option is one that comes up short of the ideal, but beats doing nothing.

Our schools could do so much better.


So what are these three Barriers to Study?

1) Lack of mass.
2) Too steep of a gradient.
3) Misunderstood words.

Lack of mass? Mass is the real item, the physicality. If you are studying car engines, you can study the theory all day long. Unless your brain gets some of the mass to go with it, you won't comprehend. The cliche says a picture is worth a thousand words. The mass is worth a million, a billion. Words alone can't teach you. You have to get your hands on the mass of what you are studying. Photos may do it, in some cases. Illustrations, diagrams. The genuine article is best, though. If you are studying car engines, your comprehension will be highest if you have a car engine to handle in accord with the theory about engines. If you are learning to build an engine, you've got to go through the steps of taking an actual engine apart and putting it back together. Then you'll remember what you learned. It will stick in your brain, because the brain is biologically tailored to deal with mass and images of mass, not language. Language is just a form of communication of ideas. Words and phrases trigger concepts already backed by earlier learning. The more mass you get, the better it sticks.

Some concepts are built upon a foundation of other concepts. If you try to learn higher concepts without having learned the foundation, your understanding will crumble. Likewise, you also need enough time to absorb the mass and the theory. If you try to study too quickly, you just won't retain the information. Some reptition may be in order, to slow down and go over material in more depth. Each person on each subject has a different comprehension speed, affected by things like interest level, urgency of need, motivation, etc. Sometimes when you have trouble comprehending, you are simply trying to climb too steeply, to ascend too steep of a gradient, too high of a "learning curve". In this case, the only way to comprehend is to slow down or else back up to more basic concepts that you've missed.

Finally, our brains go blank when crossing a word that is not known. Our brains associate the wrong mass with a word that is not understood. In either case, a misunderstood word marks a tripwire to comprehension, a stumbling block. When whole sections of text fail to "stick" in your brain because a hole caused by one of these undefined words swallowed it up, you will spend time reading only to find it went in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Misunderstood words can be even worse. You don't just have a hole in your mind, but a cross-circuited image that will produce an even larger hole because your brain will blank out when it realizes that the pieces don't fit. Worst of all, if there is no logical inconsistency, then the ideas will stick, but you'll have faulty ideas in your head. You will learn the wrong thing and get tripped up when you try to put this idea into practice.


The Scientology study approach is to first check for misunderstood and undefined words. Your vocabulary will swell in a hurry as you take Scientology courses, because you are NOT moving on past any given item until you can pass an exam in which you accuately define every word used in the material! That's right, you not only have to learn all the material, you have to learn the dictionary, too, at least to the extent of defining every last word. You've got to learn them all. The typical exam involves supervisors hunting through the text for all the biggest or most unusual words, any special jargon, but there will sometimes also ask you to define even simple words.

If you can pass the vocabulary check, you move on to the comprehension exam. You are required not just to answer questions, but actually to demonstrate the concepts. You have to show the supervisor the mass. You'll do this with a "demo kit", a collection of odds and ends bits of stuff: buttons, paper clips, small objects of whatever variety. These items are used as symbols for things: objects, people, components, whatever the material involves. As you answer the questions about the material, you have to demo the ideas, show the relationships and interactions.

If you can define all the words, answer every question put to you, and demonstrate every concept you are challenged to display, you will pass the exam. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of thousands of these exams, called "check outs". Someone who has already passed that course will "check you out" on the material, and you don't move on until you have it 100%.

For the most important concepts, after completing a major section of a course, there will be practical items: drills, lab work, exercises, whatever. This is the equivalent of the part where you take the car engine apart and put it back together, or assemble a working engine from parts, or even go out and order all the parts yourself and build your own engine, or even make the parts yourself -- or the equivalent of these things -- all depending on the gradient of the course you are taking. The final test always involves proving that you can apply what you have learned. In some cases, clay models are used for demonstration. There was a procedure for modeling a concept with clay, which I won't go into. These were some of the hardest course items to complete. You do not get to explain anything. The clay has to speak for you. If you can model the whole concept in clay by these rigorous standards, you would pass.

If at any point you proved unable to demonstrate a given concept, the examiner would start hunting for undefined or misunderstood words in the material. Invariably, one would be found, cleared up, and you'd start over from that point.

By the time you had taken all the entry level courses, your vocabulary would be beefed up and you'd tend to move along more quickly. Just having a strong vocabulary in itself would greatly aid comprehension in general, even when you weren't specifically studying a given topic.

I know that I turned into a walking sponge. Was I a bright kid? Yes. Super genius who could skip all the material from grades 6 to 9 and not miss a beat? No. I got a full secondary education's worth of vocabulary studying six hours, one day a week, on again off again in the Scientology academy, for a year and a half, at age nine to ten. I got seven years worth of English education in the equivalent of a few months of part time study. At age 12, I tested at the 90th percentile for the eleventh grade on the evaluation test I took to get back into public school and I still wonder what they were smoking with that analysis, because I really DID have four years' worth of gap in my education on topics like history, civics, grammar, even math. It seems just being bright and paying attention to life as it passed me by qualified me as better off than nine out of ten students who had gone through grades 6-10, when I hadn't. That's just crazy. The standards on that test were pathetically low. Or rather, the standards the students were being held to were pathetically low if 9 out of 10 of them couldn't do better than me on that test when I hadn't even taken the courses!

Fortunately, I went to a good high school. I did not apply myself to "getting good grades" but I did mostly apply myself to learning the material. Counting the straight A's I qualified for from the ninth grade I didn't actually go through, my four year GPA was over 3.6, and a bit less than that just for the three years I actually took -- good, but not stellar. My test scores were much better than that, of course. My lack of enthusiasm for completing all the homework, and my large number of absenses (in which I did miss out on some of the material) dragged down my average.

I scored only a 600 on the English part of my SAT. Part of that was from leaving a bunch of questions blank at the end because I wasted too much time in the reading comprehension section. I was NOT used to playing timed word games with misunderstood words. I actually found the concept insulting. My reading comprehension is 100% on all subjects when I fully apply myself. I'd proven that under far tougher conditions and standards than the SAT. The notion of teaching students to "figure out the context of words by educated guesses using the rest of the sentence" is a fucking travesty. Yeah, that's a skill, and yeah it helps if you're in a hurry, but it's a bad habit to form and a criminal thing to encourage.

If I had practiced the SAT (in my hubris, I didn't bother) and formed a strategy for improving my total score, I would have done better to skip that whole reading comprehension section, complete all the other questions first, then go back for that one. Not only would I have managed my time better, but I wouldn't have clogged my head with all those holes from the deliberately esoteric words thrown in there to trip students up.

My cat could design a better English exam!

As good as my vocabulary was, I realized from that test that I still had a lot of room to grow. My training in recognizing when I had tripped past an undefined word slowed me down, too. I would never allow that on something urgent. I'd stop and crack open my dictionary. No use hurrying if I only get the wrong answer. Defining all the words actually speeds learning anyway, once you are past the early stages of building your vocabulary and study skills.

If I had managed the English part of the test more effectively, I might have scored 650, maybe even approaching 700. Anybody earning 800 on the English part of the SAT gets my respect. They would have to have a massive vocabulary. Massive. That was pretty much all the whole test measures anyway.

I got 750 on my math half. That was a disgrace. Simple algebra and geometry, and I missed how many questions? I'm sure I made mistakes on a few, but there were other questions I remember being so poorly written, they were ambiguous. They could have broken more than one way. I couldn't understand how such an important test could include ambiguous questions. My county math team organizers did a better job writing questions. I had 100% comprehension on all the math concepts involved, and I'd proven that before, too. I may have made arithmetic errors on a few questions, but to lose 50 points worth of questions? I'm positive I chose wrongly on some of the ambiguous questions.

And this was the "all important" college entrance exam? Ambiguous math questions that didn't even cover most of the math I had been studying, because it was dumbed down to a lower common denominator, and an English test measuring the degree to which I can avoid screwing up if I guess at words instead of bothering to crack open a dictionary? What are they smoking?





Those of you here who participate in the Civ3 aspect of Realms Beyond have all seen my Scientology study training in action. If you think about it, you will realize that all those screenshots I include with my reports greatly helps you to "get the mass" so you can follow along with what was happening. If you think about it, you'll understand that my training game way back when dropped all the way back to the beginning, teaching about fundamentals, about the basics of the game that are needed in order to be ABLE to learn about the higher theory that advanced players are always batting around. If you think about it, you will notice that I take pains to define terms I will use. I don't keep redefining them over and over, though, so if you came in late at some point, you may not grasp all the jargon used, and that could be standing in your way of comprehension.

My training game was specifically designed to be effective as a study tool.

I asked everyone to shadow each round. That wasn't for variety. It was so they would get the mass. The mass of playing each round would allow my criticisms to stick, allow players to relate to the concepts in a way that would produce comprehension. It even allowed, up to a point, for players to relate to criticisms leveled against other players.

I deliberately focused on the little things, like which tiles to work first and why, like how and why to manage which tiles a city worked or how to evaluate your short term needs, to identify what would best speed your growth vs what would best aid your security, and how to evaluate which priority was more urgent. I started with a very low gradient and kept it rather low, a friendly learning curve.

I did focus on terms, on concepts, on words. Even so, this was still the weakest area and almost certainly responsible for those who still had some troubles with the ideas. I could bring ALL the students along to 100% comprehension if we could meet face to face and go through the full process of defining all the words and demonstrating all the concepts.

Griselda says that the training game I ran helped her to figure out how to play. Others have praised my reports. In all cases, I have understood how to write to improve the odds of readers comprehending. I don't use inflated words to try to sound grandiose. I try to paint vivid pictures using humor, analogy, and insight, and to supply the mass with screen shots.


Smaller class sizes is NOT going to magically repair the holes in a child's comprehension. Better paid teachers won't do it. New books won't do it. New school buildings won't do it. New bureacracy won't do it. More standardized testing won't do it. Less standardized testing won't do it. School vouchers won't do it. No amount of money poured down the drain of the broken teaching methods and pathetic standards we have now is going to make anything better. The Barriers to Study have to be torn down, one child, one subject at a time. We need an education revolution, throw the whole broken system out and start over, rethink our approach to learning.

Our schools are getting worse and worse because we are moving farther and farther away from the wisdom of the past. The old Master-Apprentice relationship solved all three problems. The student got the mass and then some. They got so much mass with hand's on training that they would eventually become a full master in the craft themselves. They got a manageable gradient with an education in their craft pieced together over many years. And they got taught all the words and terms of the craft as they went, learning what each tool and raw material and process was called and what their functions were.

The old apprenticeship system was not efficient in terms of broad education or mass availability, but it was damned well effective in preserving all the tidbits of advanced technology (advanced as related to the given time period), teaching students all they needed to know to perform their chosen trade.

Schools didn't used to be separated by grade. We had a lot of one-room schools, with younger students tossed in with older ones and absorbing some of what the older ones were being taught. There was no radio, no television, no movies. People had less leisure time and lived in a much harsher world, much more sink or swim, where the students themselves were more motivated, had picked up a better appreciation for study by way of what it could do for them. Most children were worked by their families, and whatever education there was was always hands-on. We didn't even have photography until the 19th century.

Our schools used to emphasize shop work. Students learned how to do carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics, and more. Students got held back if they didn't learn and retain enough of the information. There was also less information to learn: less theory, less complex theory, lesser degree of removal of student from practical application of theory. Folks learned more total information because of "Jack of All Trades" syndrome: covering a lower gradient on a wider number of topics, with better comprehension and retention across all of them. As education has moved more and more toward specialization, we have shifted away from practical application toward pure theory. We have adopted some fatally flawed education theories and embraced them system wide. We have grown more and more inclusive of the populace, where less prepared students with less responsible parents -- students who used to get completely left out of the education system and were relegated to lives of hard labor -- have been added to the mix, without the needed reforms to bring them along the same as better prepared students coming from parents who have taught them more, spent more time on them, and given them a more solid foundation prior to entering school.

Both the actual performance of the brighter students and the average performance of the total student body are on the decline. As standards drop, the best and brightest are bogged down by a misguided effort to try to keep everyone of the same age group on the same learning gradient, combined with the continued lowering of standards to be more inclusive of the worst performers. Some genuinely cannot handle even a modest pace without a lot more attention and a better designed educational approach, while others get bored out of their minds. Boredom is lethal. It almost swallowed me whole in sixth grade. If I had been forced to slog along like that without enough challenge, I would have grown increasingly restless and rebellious. I was already on the verge of open rebellion at that point, totally disenchanted with a system that didn't give a shit about me as an individual, but merely wanted to force me through its meat grinder.

Our system is so badly broken it is shameful, but like all other institutions, reform is difficult because there is a large body of folks invested in the status quo, with their egos on the line, their way of making a living on the line, their expertise and experience would be challenged, and so on and so forth. It would take a lot of work to reform and improve the system, but a few simple changes could dramatically improve the overall performance, and an effective top-to-bottom overhaul could end our education woes, making as dramatic of a leap forward in results as we did with the printing press to increase availability of books and the effort to institutionalize literacy among the whole populace. There is that much improvement available just with what is currently known but not being used, and it could be fully implemented in less than a decade.

The current educational debate stinks. When I listen to the various arguments, the options that we are fighting over, to me it sounds barbaric, like midieval astronomers arguing over competing theories that explain why the world is flat. None of these folks have it right, and no amount of funding of their theories and approaches is going to improve the state of the system.

The core problem as I see it is expectations and standards. We the people do not, on the whole, realize what a massive pile of BS we are being sold here. The system is not going to go forward without first going backward to purge itself of flawed educational mechanisms. A lot of dead weight needs to be cut loose. A whole new approach is needed, one that is better tailored to results, which prioritizes individuals and meets the needs of individuals, grouping students by performance, not age, and enabling them all to make the most of their opportunities by focusing on tearing down the barriers to study, improving comprehension and retention across the board. We've got to get over misguided notions of soothing people's egos by trying to treat everyone the same. That is the worst injustice of all. It mistreats the few who need an even slower pace, and it badly abuses those who need to be cut loose to move faster. This isn't even so much about ability as it is about the home environment. Better nurtured students will be ahead because they are getting education at home and through all aspects of their life, while others are neglected. Ability does vary, but preparation and support vary much more widely. Parents are the indispensible element, and the system needs to better accomodate for that, both for the parents who slack off and fail to prepare their children and for the parents who are so effective that their children can not only handle more challenge but NEED it.

Reforming curriculum pacing is dangerous because the potential abuse of faster-paced students viewing themselves as "better than" slower paced students would be a problem, but who are we kidding? That problem is there anyway. Even within our current grade system, children are grouped into smaller packs working at different paces, especially with reading. Test scores vary, achievements vary. Comparisons are inevitable.

More social education is also needed: more values. We've also gone backward at breakneck speed in purging most moral values and judgements from our schools. That was perhaps a necessary step in order to also purge bigotry and all forms of hatred, but now we've got to purge the purge. There are ways to agree on values that would be religiously neutral. Building character is important. Many teachers find creative ways to instill discipline on students and lead by example, but the system too often works against them. We DO have a lot of good teachers -- in fact, that's the one aspect of our educational system that is holding it all together in spite of institutionalized failure -- but there are a lot of bad administrators who get in their way, saddling them with rules and limits and demands that force them to conform to a system that is designed to be broken. The whole system lumbers along and is being slowly hacked to death by special interests and squeaky wheels who force changes in the wrong direction on the basis of faulty concepts, faulty demands, and misguided ideals. The same tired old myths are batted around, the same failed ideas forwarded over and over. Are the ideas ever blamed? No. Are the core theories challenged? No. Some insignificant cause is always blamed: not enough money, classes too large, books too old... On and on and ON AND ON AND ON the bullshit goes, until it swallows up all hope of genuine reform.

The only ones who get heard in the debate are the "experts" who have gone through the system. You need a degree in education to be heard on the topic of educational reform. That would make sense if the current educational theory were the best technology available, but it's not. So what we have here is a system that is designed to preserve itself. The top priority is not results, but protecting vested interests.

In that regard, the teacher's unions, school boards, education departments and all the other mechanisms designed to protect the interests of the people in the system now all stand in the way of real solutions. Will we overcome that? Not through the current proposals. No way, no how, no matter how much money we throw at it. The only way real reform can go forward is through an effective assement of why the current mechanisms produce poor results and how to address the root causes of the failures.


Although I have an understanding of how to study anything effectively, I don't always observe proper discipline. I've cracked open my dictionary in the course of reading this forum only a couple of dozen times over the years. I should probably have done so two or three times as often as I did. I do a lot of reading and sometimes blow past words and don't care. That's not good. I know it means I'll blank out, that I won't recall what I read, or at least a goodly chunk of it, but sometimes when reading for pleasure I get lazy and don't want to do the work. Nobody will be testing me anyway, so what does it matter?. Sometimes I take better care of myself, sometimes not. Some books are so wordy in terms of vocabulary, though, that I can't even get through them at all without a dictionary.

The worst such example I ever encountered was the fantasy author, Stephen R. Donaldson. Reading his two Thomas Covenant trilogies was tortuous. I was literally cracking open the dictionary two and three times per page. Abominable. The gradient was actually too steep for me! My head got filled with so many new definitions, the lack of mass was eating at my comprehension. I actually cracked out a demo kit -- the only time I've done that since leaving Scientology in 1986. And that still wasn't enough! Not enough mass, too many new definitions, too much to try to absorb at one time. I did get through the books, and I could probably pass a general test on them even today, but I had had to go back and look up some of the same words over and over as the definitions weren't sticking. Donaldson threw the language around for its own sake, as if he were trying to impress us with his vocabulary instead of prioritizing the effective telling of his story.

I learned an important lesson from that: there's a difficult tradeoff that writers must make between choosing the most accurate words and embracing a wider audience. The more words you use, especially uncommon words, the more you shrink your audience, the less that people will understand what you have written, the less they will comprehend, the less they will enjoy it. Yet you also need to use rich enough language to make the words sing, to fully communicate what you are trying to portray. As a writer, I have had to learn to measure this tradeoff, to try to reign in my vocabulary, to choose simpler words when I can but not let myself be held slave to the lowest common denominator. There is a peak to the bell curve, at which the use of rich language to paint a better picture crosses with the undefined word barrier, which clouds or even destroys that picture. My duty as a writer is to tailor the best total result to my intended audience, to aim for the best picture I can paint without overshooting the audience's ability to follow along. That's a frustrating dilemma that would cease to be a primary issue if only all readers were educated to have the tools, if they so desired, to be able to understand anything I might write.

I get teased a lot about the length of my forum posts, but most of that is coming from folks who just can't stay tuned in. They lack the attention span, and I understand why. As soon as they trip over words they don't know or don't properly understand, they blank out. A couple of those and they're toast. Disparaging the writer acts as a defense mechanism to make them feel better. They lose the comprehension and lose the will to continue reading. They lose interest, and they have been taught to blame that on the writer rather than taking responsibility for it themselves. Only the brighter and better educated can follow my posts all the way through and grasp it all, even when I make conscious effort to limit my word usage to common vocabulary. Even then, we all trip up sometimes. Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts. I've gotten lost in posts and had to back up, track down the word or words I tripped over and open the dictionary. I'm more motivated to do that either when I'm especially interested in the material, or else locked in a heated debate and NOT wanting to lose the argument.

People don't actually know what to DO when they find themselves not comprehending something! I can't imagine being powerless like that. I've been infused from childhood to have total faith in my ability to learn anything to which I apply myself. That's a kind of intelligence that is not genetic. Anybody can learn how to learn. Anybody can learn how to think. We may not all learn and think at the same pace, or with the same acuity on a given topic, but we can all get there if we use an effective approach.

That's not taught to our children, though, is it? Over and over, the system grades them, stamps them, files them, numbers them, reinforcing the idea that their ability to learn is out of their control, that they have been born with a certain "intelligence" and can never exceed it. Poppycock! The system is specifically geared to rip the creativity right out of them, strip them of individuality, and crank out good little consumers and factory workers, mindless drones beaten down into conformity. Blah. It's barbaric, I tell you.

I could probably make some kind of difference if I went on a crusade to reform education, but I'm already on another crusade I consider even more urgent. I might be able to contribute support for effective reforms, but at this point I have no intention of leading the charge. Maybe at some point I'll change that, but not today. Or rather, this post represents the limit of what I'm currently willing to do: write about it. Who knows? Maybe one of you will pick up the gauntlet. At least you have the exposure to some of these possibilities, some new food for thought that may do some good for somebody, at some point.


- Sirian
*I get teased a lot about the length of my forum posts, but most of that is coming from folks who just can't stay tuned in. They lack the attention span, and I understand why. As soon as they trip over words they don't know or don't properly understand, they blank out. A couple of those and they're toast.*

That couldn't be further from the truth, at least for me. What makes me skip entire sections of your long-winded posts is not lack of comprehension of words, but lack of mass within your words. Sorry Sirian, but sometimes you say with 100 words what I can say in 10. You spew on and on about that fine line between painting a story with the right words, and making it so more than just a walking dictionary can comprehend it, and you are 100% right about that. But, you fail critically to remember the other golden rule: Keep It Simple Stupid. It's not about what words you use, but how you use them. You can use, in all your posts, only the most BASIC of language so that NO ONE would get tripped up by lack of comprehension of words, and you'd STILL get teased. And do you know why? Because it has very little, if anything to do with the words themselves. It's the author.

You are a writer, and that is clearly evident in your posts. What is also clearly evident is that little black mark you mentioned: lack of discipline. When you write a reply, you don't just reply to the topic at hand. You introduce three or four other topics to try and tie into them. You do this (at least, my guess why you do this; if I'm wrong, I apologize, but it would make sense if it is the reason) to fuel that mass. To give a broader understanding of the topic. We are taught this very principle as students of English. To compare and contrast in order to paint the overall picture. To give multiple points / examples on the topic, and tie them all together. You do this, but you take it WAY too far. You bring in things that have little to no bearing on the subject at hand, and even when they DO have bearing, they are so unimportant and uninteresting that they might as well be skipped.

In a word, your posts contain too much "fluff". That's the bottom line. How you write is your choice, and I'm not about to criticize (particularly because my own posts are written, more or less, in the form of how I think and/or speak, and are far less refined than how I write; yes, I am a writer too, although not nearly in the sense you are, nor will I ever be; writing is my hobby, not my life ), but you are way off base (at least to this reader) on your assumptions about why people tease you for your posts. Look at your posts. Then look at Pete's. Try to see the difference. You both are incredibly bright, sophisticated, etc. But, where you write a book, Pete writes sentence. And where your meaning, your goal, gets lost in all the haze, Pete's is just that: nothing but the reply. No fluff, no garbage, no pretty little additions. Just the topic, nothing more and nothing less.

Don't paint the world when you're trying to portray a leaf.

Edit:
laughs Note to self - READ Pete's reply before posting your own. Ah, I'll be chuckling over this one for a few. 'Least I get a break from the daily grind of Spring Cleaning. God, what a hellish time THAT is. Autumn can't possibly come soon enough.

Roland The Gunslinger
The Dark Tower Mod
http://www.diablosc.com/hosted_files/dark_tower/
Last edited by Roland *The Gunslinger* on June 3rd, 2003, 2:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Griselda
Griselda

June 3rd, 2003, 2:12 pm #9

As part of the thread about current world politics I started lower on this page, Jester and Ozy and Pete and some others got onto a tangent about education. That has sparked a strong response from me. I started to post this in reply to one of Jester's posts, then later decided it deserves its own thread. So here you go.


Class size is currently hailed as the main issue. While it's not unimportant, it's nowhere near the root cause of the system's failures.

Do you know how much money is spent per child in the schools within the District of Columbia? The amount is very high, yet the school results remain abysmal. The class sizes are very small. The student to teacher ratio is down to something far below anything I ever got, yet the results remain poor.

Class size is pretty much an excuse to hire more teachers. That's it.

Our culture is a bunch of blind sheep. We have a populace trained to place faith in "experts" as if they were gods.

* People see ads for drugs on television and actually believe the claims, as if a pill was something magical, instead of a crude instrument that does a dozen things to your body chemistry, only one of which is desirable, and even that comes up short of making everything right again. "Side effects", as if those were minor, are marginalized, dismissed.

* Doctors are hailed as miracle workers. We call their work "treatment" and "cure", yet the actual results are rarely talked about, such as how in the wake of an operation, any operation, that your body never fully recovers its former functionality. Doctors can make a lot of bad things better, and that's truly wondrous, but it stops short of the hype we are constantly forcefed.

* Lawyers are widely hated, but the law is such an entangled mess, you can't do without them. Yet who ends up writing almost all of the new laws? Lawyers turned politicians. And people are trained to listen to both as if their work can make problems go away. Sometimes that does happen, but mostly not. And law enforcement isn't much better. We're also trained to trust the police, but the reality is, the police can't stop most crimes or even catch most criminals. They do help the situation overall, and by a lot, but they can't actually protect you against any threat that can be carried out before police can reach you, and they can't protect you from ongoing threats or determined attackers. In those situations, you are on your own.

* Psychologists. We're trained to believe in what they tell us, too, and to pay out huge money to get their insights. Are they REALLY that much more sophisticated than ancient mystics?

* Advertisers. Most people have heard the quote from P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute." We all understand that there are marketing gimmicks designed to part us from our money, to influence us to buy things we otherwise wouldn't. Yet do people stop and question this whole marketing paradigm? Not often, it seems. We are trained to be consumers, to absorb goods, to crave material possessions to fuel our consumer economy.


Everybody who has ever tuned in to a weather forecast knows that human beings do not yet know enough to be able to make even simple weather predictions reliably. How many times has your local meterologist gotten it wrong? And how many times have you made plans based on his forecasts, relying on his science and skills and predictions to plan your own activity, only to get stuck in the wrong kind of weather for what you planned?

Most people seem to grasp that meterology is still a developing science -- that we ARE gaining ground and improving the predictions, but still come up far short of understanding enough to reduce the error rate to insignificance.

Most people I know are skeptical of weather forecasts. Everyone makes jokes about it, but they still tune in because the meteorlogists do have a record that is better than random guessing. They do have some insights into the variables that make up the weather.

So why isn't this same comprehension of imperfect performance applied culture-wide to all fields of human endeavor? Why aren't we, culturally, as skeptical of doctors as we are of meteorologists? Do you personally think the doctor is any better at treating human injury and disease than the weatherman is at forecasting rain or sunshine? Or is that simply too uncomfortable to ponder, the risking of your life in someone else's hands who may not actually be able to cure your ills? Would you gamble your life on the weatherman's predictions??? You do something similar when you visit doctors. (Ever REALLY thought about what it means that they measure the results of major surgeries via a statistic of how many folks end up dead within five years after the procedure?) Do you really buy the line that drugs represent a magic pill to cure all your ails? Do you really think the psychologists have more than a crude understanding of what really makes people tick? Do you really think the police can make you fully safe? Heck, in regard to some threats, can they even make you safer at all? Or does taking your security for granted actually increase your risks in some regards? Do you really think the government can solve all of society's ills by taxing more of your money and throwing it at the problems through a bureaucracy? Do you really think that when a dentist drills a hole in your tooth and fills it with something hard, that the tooth is as good as new? Do you really believe that the leaders at the United Nations have a clue?

Oh wait, went too far with that last one.


Education is just as clumsy and backward as the rest of these professional fields. In some ways, it is even worse. Meteorology is at least a hard science. There are a lot of variables that go into weather patterns, which we don't understand yet. We probably haven't even identified all of the true variables, but we are moving forward. As more data is gathered and analyzed and the scientific method applied to it, better understandings emerge and predictions improve. We are now saving actual lives with improved storm warnings, improved building codes in storm-wracked regions, and improved emergency response mechanisms.

Do you realize that of all the items I've mentioned, that meteorology is the MOST reliable? You might want to chew on that thought for a while.


I have a unique perspective on education.

I went to Baptist private school through first grade. That included a few months of full-day Kindergarten-4, a year of full day Kindergarten-5, and first grade. Most public schools don't have K4 and only offer half a day for K5. When I came out of first grade, I was a year ahead of public school students. All three years in early Christian private school were done in different locations, yet within the same Baptist school. (They had a main campus and some branches, and the main campus moved to a new building between K5 and First Grade for me).

I went to public school for second and third grade, right here in Pennsylvania, as I lived with my mom's parents while she went through college in DC. She got an Associate Degree in accounting. More on that later. I moved back in with my parents for Fourth and Fifth grade, and there, too, the location changed as between years, a new school building was opened.

So in my elementary school education, I had six and a half years of school up through fifth grade, all but one pair of those years involving a different school building and most of them involving new classes. I got a lot of experience at being the New Kid. I also got an up close and personal look at a variety of schools, both private and public, both rural and urban, across two states.

My apathy with sixth grade grew out of control as I was flunking and headed for total goof-off land. My dad pulled me out of school and I stayed out for two school years. When I went back, they had to test me to see where I belonged (expecting to put me back into the sixth grade) and they had to abide by the results they were handed. I tested at eleventh grade, but +I+ made the choice to back that up to tenth grade, after discussing the full pros and cons with the high school guidance counselor. I completed a normal run of high school, finally all in one place, and graduated at age 15, having skipped grades 6-9.

That's unusual in itself, and I was a "bright" student from the get-go. However, I enjoyed especially good schooling in private school, which gave me a solid foundation, and then in fourth grade I ran into something else: the Church of Scientology.


Those of you who have read most of my posts to this forum may remember that I've talked a little bit about this subject before. You may remember that I'm long since disassociated with that group, that I consider my total experience with it a mixed bag with some dark moments and elements, but also some bright spots. One of the brightest spots was (is) their student technology.

The Scientology philosophy is broken into two halves: training and processing. The training involves learning the "technology", studying the texts, the writings of the cult's guru, L. Ron Hubbard. The processing involves having his processes performed upon you by Church counselors. The culture within the church is almost militaristic: specifically, naval. Each church is run largely like a ship, with the totality run like a merchant navy.

Anyway, each church has its own Academy: a small school within the church where church members pay for training courses. There are no teachers. There are, instead, supervisors. The content of the curriculum involves studying Hubbard's philosophy and teachings, and the process abides by his philosophy on education. There are three core elements, called the Barriers to Study. According to Hubbard, these are the three mechanisms that lead to noncomprehension, to the inability to grasp or to retain information studied. His theory holds that overcoming the Barriers to Study will enable any student to achieve 100% comprehension on any subject. Fairly early in the process of training, each student takes on the course involving the education philosophy, complete with taped lectures by Hubbard from the 1960's, in which he goes into detail about how to apply oneself to studying. He used a lot of humor and a lot of analogy. (Parenthetically, you could see a lot of his style reflected in my own writing style, even now, as I developed an appreciation for his thoroughness, humor, comparisons and depth. Much of my ability to think critically was developed and honed while studying his philosophy, so I couldn't have avoided being impacted by his ways if I had tried. There is no doubt that if nothing else, the man was hugely prolific).

The study tech was damned impressive. That's the clever nature of the Scientology recruiting method. You are first given entry-level courses or processes, which are very affordably priced. There is a hard sell aspect to the notion of "judge for yourself." There is a religious fervor, even, to how zealously hands-off the church staff are taught to behave in regard to potential converts, to those interested in learning more about the philosophy and what it has to offer. All the entry-level materials are constructed out of bits Hubbard culled from a variety of sources, chiefly eastern religions and philosophy. Almost none of that was original content from him, but he did have a flair for assembling it. Folks enticed by the various means to get people in the door (by tweaking their curioisity) are sold these entry level training courses or processes, which almost invariably impress the hell out of everyday folks, since they actually produce the results advertised. No unreliable weather forecasts here. No lawyer doublespeak. No faulty doctor's diagnoses nor treatments that don't work out as advertised. No auto-repair estimates that grow and grow as mechanics magically find more things wrong with your car. No fuzzy approximations or half-assed results. The soft sell given new recruits belies the true nature of the organization, but there you have it. You get filled up with all the most reliable stuff the philosophy has to offer, right up front, enough of it that, at least compared to other religions or to the general culture, you get shocked out of that comfort zone where the experts never quite really seem to know what they are talking about. And that's the one thing they do reinforce to you: contrasting what they have to offer with society at large. You get a constant message that Scientology has Found Some Real Answers, and you get to try a bunch of them on for size and make up your own mind. Very few people walk out the door at that point, and those who do are left alone. There's no actual brainwashing. There's just a very nasty trap.

Once you come to agree that all the introductory level stuff is highly effective, complete with your own actual results of having tried it out, then you start to get the pitch about the upper level stuff, about climbing the Bridge, as they call it. Yet to begin that climb up out of the entry level stuff, you have to pass through the indoctrination materials. This is where they get you. You are lured with a grand promise that the Tech is like the stuff you've already learned and been processed through, only better. Much, much better. The higher you go, the church line holds, the better it gets. The same degree of reliability and effectiveness holds all the way up through all of the church's teachings, and you are shown any number of true believers at all the various positions on the Bridge, who all tell the same story: Yep, It Works. They even still pay lip service to the notion of judging for yourself, but in truth, they indoctrinate that out of you. The notion of questioning what you are taught remains ever present, but only as a specter, a comfortable illusion. If you actually do run across anything that makes you doubt, you get hit with a logical fallacy of distraction. That's very easy for them to do, since there are so many church policies, and if you run afoul of the least of them, you can be sent off to Ethics Processing, where you get put through the ringer examining your own flaws until you repent are "freed" from these "reactions". That, too, is very cleverly managed, because they don't actually force you to the conclusion. They leave you with only one conclusion to draw and wait for you to come to it on your own. That's actually a rare abuse of the Ethics side of the church, too. Most of the Ethics Processing actually is legitimately tailored to addressing corrections. People get sent there for lying, cheating, stealing, missing their church appointments or commitments, saying or doing anything that hurts other people, etc etc. The thing is, between this process of rooting out your sins, so to speak, and leading you to choose not to repeat them (because there is strong emphasis on doing the right thing), combined with the indoctrination about never, ever, EVER altering or changing the church procedures and rituals and processes, you enter into a never-never land where there is no cultural tolerance for debate or dissent. It's not suppressed, per se. It just doesn't exist. By the time you run across the kinds of things that should be questioned and poked and prodded, it's too late for you. You already have developed the faith, backed by all the entry level stuff that DOES work as advertised, reinforced by all the other true believers around you, and contained within the strict discipline of the culture where if you wander out of the conformity they can tie you up in knots and hold your faith hostage against you (since you do believe that the church holds your eventual salvation) until you step back into line.

And all of that is made possible by just how good the entry-level stuff is, how effectively it works. The study tech may be the best of that, too.

The Scientology Academies don't just brag. They walk the walk. You have to achieve 100% comprehension of materials before you pass any training course. The courses are all designed by Hubbard, a check list of activities which include both materials to study and practical demonstrations of your grasp on the material. At every step of the way, you are rigorously examined by the academy supervisors. Each item that you complete must be verified by a supervisor. The actual supervisors enlist the aid of other students ahead of you, higher than you on the Bridge, to help them out. ALL students who have completed the study course itself, and the particular course you are studying, are qualified to examine you. There is a specific procedure to the supervision. You are tested against all three of the Barriers to Study and asked questions about the material at random, at the sole discretion of the examiner, until they are satisfied. IF YOU MISS ANYTHING, get any item wrong at any point, you flunk the exam and start over. That usually does not mean a complete retread, but occasionally it does. Only when you have 100% command of the material do you pass. The examiner will sign your course book signifying that you've completed that item, and you move on to the next one. A typical course includes hundreds of such items. Some of the most advanced courses have thousands of items. And this is not a "study for the test" system. This is a system about comprehension. If you fail at any point on any point, you can be "sent back down", complete with a bunch of Ethics Processing to figure out whether or not you were doing something in bad faith. That may sound despotic, but in fact it wasn't, because that was all but unheard of. I could still pass the exams today, some twenty years later. The study tech worked.


From the perspective of someone held to a 100% standard over a span of years, and able to meet that standard, and looking around seeing EVERY OTHER STUDENT in the academy also able to meet that standard, the performance of our education system is barbaric. Our expectations are way too low, the study methods poorly constructed, the testing system doing more harm than good the way it's assembled, and the notion of resolving this mess by throwing more money at it is positively criminal. Criminal, I say.

There is one down side to the Scientology study approach: speed. I spent six months just studying and passing the study tech course itself. Most adults could pass it in one month, but I was nine years old when I took it. I had a deeper hole to climb out of. I had to reach 100% comprehension on what amounted to an entry level college course, at nine years old and in the fourth grade. Nobody made any fun of my pace. In fact, they were all very encouraging -- maybe even impressed. But that's a topic for another day.

Speed is compromised when 100% comprehension is held to be the standard. But if you apply the same methods that lead to 100% comprehension while chugging along at a faster pace and not stopping to go back for what is missed and misunderstood, you still come out way ahead of the game.

Endless homework and repetition? Waste of time. That's like trying to conduct brain surgery with a sledge hammer. Cramming for tests? Waste of time. Even if you pass the test, you won't remember the material a month later. Then what good was it? Nothing more than aiming for that sheepskin you can put on the wall, to give you that competitive edge on your resume through an equally barbaric job application process, where your actually ability to do the job isn't in the top five most important considerations. That's not to say that a sheepskin is worthless. You CAN get a great education at university. The problem is, you can also pass the tests without real comprehension, in too many cases. That won't hurt a given student, though, if they apply themselves. Many don't, but some do, and lacking any competitive system that performs better, what's the alternative anyway?

Just like when you get sick, what choice do you have but to go see a doctor? If they can improve your odds at all, even a little bit, that's worth it, right? Same with a lawyer. Same with the weatherman. Yeah, maybe he botches a lot of forecasts, but that's all you've got available. The best option is one that comes up short of the ideal, but beats doing nothing.

Our schools could do so much better.


So what are these three Barriers to Study?

1) Lack of mass.
2) Too steep of a gradient.
3) Misunderstood words.

Lack of mass? Mass is the real item, the physicality. If you are studying car engines, you can study the theory all day long. Unless your brain gets some of the mass to go with it, you won't comprehend. The cliche says a picture is worth a thousand words. The mass is worth a million, a billion. Words alone can't teach you. You have to get your hands on the mass of what you are studying. Photos may do it, in some cases. Illustrations, diagrams. The genuine article is best, though. If you are studying car engines, your comprehension will be highest if you have a car engine to handle in accord with the theory about engines. If you are learning to build an engine, you've got to go through the steps of taking an actual engine apart and putting it back together. Then you'll remember what you learned. It will stick in your brain, because the brain is biologically tailored to deal with mass and images of mass, not language. Language is just a form of communication of ideas. Words and phrases trigger concepts already backed by earlier learning. The more mass you get, the better it sticks.

Some concepts are built upon a foundation of other concepts. If you try to learn higher concepts without having learned the foundation, your understanding will crumble. Likewise, you also need enough time to absorb the mass and the theory. If you try to study too quickly, you just won't retain the information. Some reptition may be in order, to slow down and go over material in more depth. Each person on each subject has a different comprehension speed, affected by things like interest level, urgency of need, motivation, etc. Sometimes when you have trouble comprehending, you are simply trying to climb too steeply, to ascend too steep of a gradient, too high of a "learning curve". In this case, the only way to comprehend is to slow down or else back up to more basic concepts that you've missed.

Finally, our brains go blank when crossing a word that is not known. Our brains associate the wrong mass with a word that is not understood. In either case, a misunderstood word marks a tripwire to comprehension, a stumbling block. When whole sections of text fail to "stick" in your brain because a hole caused by one of these undefined words swallowed it up, you will spend time reading only to find it went in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Misunderstood words can be even worse. You don't just have a hole in your mind, but a cross-circuited image that will produce an even larger hole because your brain will blank out when it realizes that the pieces don't fit. Worst of all, if there is no logical inconsistency, then the ideas will stick, but you'll have faulty ideas in your head. You will learn the wrong thing and get tripped up when you try to put this idea into practice.


The Scientology study approach is to first check for misunderstood and undefined words. Your vocabulary will swell in a hurry as you take Scientology courses, because you are NOT moving on past any given item until you can pass an exam in which you accuately define every word used in the material! That's right, you not only have to learn all the material, you have to learn the dictionary, too, at least to the extent of defining every last word. You've got to learn them all. The typical exam involves supervisors hunting through the text for all the biggest or most unusual words, any special jargon, but there will sometimes also ask you to define even simple words.

If you can pass the vocabulary check, you move on to the comprehension exam. You are required not just to answer questions, but actually to demonstrate the concepts. You have to show the supervisor the mass. You'll do this with a "demo kit", a collection of odds and ends bits of stuff: buttons, paper clips, small objects of whatever variety. These items are used as symbols for things: objects, people, components, whatever the material involves. As you answer the questions about the material, you have to demo the ideas, show the relationships and interactions.

If you can define all the words, answer every question put to you, and demonstrate every concept you are challenged to display, you will pass the exam. I've been on both the giving and receiving end of thousands of these exams, called "check outs". Someone who has already passed that course will "check you out" on the material, and you don't move on until you have it 100%.

For the most important concepts, after completing a major section of a course, there will be practical items: drills, lab work, exercises, whatever. This is the equivalent of the part where you take the car engine apart and put it back together, or assemble a working engine from parts, or even go out and order all the parts yourself and build your own engine, or even make the parts yourself -- or the equivalent of these things -- all depending on the gradient of the course you are taking. The final test always involves proving that you can apply what you have learned. In some cases, clay models are used for demonstration. There was a procedure for modeling a concept with clay, which I won't go into. These were some of the hardest course items to complete. You do not get to explain anything. The clay has to speak for you. If you can model the whole concept in clay by these rigorous standards, you would pass.

If at any point you proved unable to demonstrate a given concept, the examiner would start hunting for undefined or misunderstood words in the material. Invariably, one would be found, cleared up, and you'd start over from that point.

By the time you had taken all the entry level courses, your vocabulary would be beefed up and you'd tend to move along more quickly. Just having a strong vocabulary in itself would greatly aid comprehension in general, even when you weren't specifically studying a given topic.

I know that I turned into a walking sponge. Was I a bright kid? Yes. Super genius who could skip all the material from grades 6 to 9 and not miss a beat? No. I got a full secondary education's worth of vocabulary studying six hours, one day a week, on again off again in the Scientology academy, for a year and a half, at age nine to ten. I got seven years worth of English education in the equivalent of a few months of part time study. At age 12, I tested at the 90th percentile for the eleventh grade on the evaluation test I took to get back into public school and I still wonder what they were smoking with that analysis, because I really DID have four years' worth of gap in my education on topics like history, civics, grammar, even math. It seems just being bright and paying attention to life as it passed me by qualified me as better off than nine out of ten students who had gone through grades 6-10, when I hadn't. That's just crazy. The standards on that test were pathetically low. Or rather, the standards the students were being held to were pathetically low if 9 out of 10 of them couldn't do better than me on that test when I hadn't even taken the courses!

Fortunately, I went to a good high school. I did not apply myself to "getting good grades" but I did mostly apply myself to learning the material. Counting the straight A's I qualified for from the ninth grade I didn't actually go through, my four year GPA was over 3.6, and a bit less than that just for the three years I actually took -- good, but not stellar. My test scores were much better than that, of course. My lack of enthusiasm for completing all the homework, and my large number of absenses (in which I did miss out on some of the material) dragged down my average.

I scored only a 600 on the English part of my SAT. Part of that was from leaving a bunch of questions blank at the end because I wasted too much time in the reading comprehension section. I was NOT used to playing timed word games with misunderstood words. I actually found the concept insulting. My reading comprehension is 100% on all subjects when I fully apply myself. I'd proven that under far tougher conditions and standards than the SAT. The notion of teaching students to "figure out the context of words by educated guesses using the rest of the sentence" is a fucking travesty. Yeah, that's a skill, and yeah it helps if you're in a hurry, but it's a bad habit to form and a criminal thing to encourage.

If I had practiced the SAT (in my hubris, I didn't bother) and formed a strategy for improving my total score, I would have done better to skip that whole reading comprehension section, complete all the other questions first, then go back for that one. Not only would I have managed my time better, but I wouldn't have clogged my head with all those holes from the deliberately esoteric words thrown in there to trip students up.

My cat could design a better English exam!

As good as my vocabulary was, I realized from that test that I still had a lot of room to grow. My training in recognizing when I had tripped past an undefined word slowed me down, too. I would never allow that on something urgent. I'd stop and crack open my dictionary. No use hurrying if I only get the wrong answer. Defining all the words actually speeds learning anyway, once you are past the early stages of building your vocabulary and study skills.

If I had managed the English part of the test more effectively, I might have scored 650, maybe even approaching 700. Anybody earning 800 on the English part of the SAT gets my respect. They would have to have a massive vocabulary. Massive. That was pretty much all the whole test measures anyway.

I got 750 on my math half. That was a disgrace. Simple algebra and geometry, and I missed how many questions? I'm sure I made mistakes on a few, but there were other questions I remember being so poorly written, they were ambiguous. They could have broken more than one way. I couldn't understand how such an important test could include ambiguous questions. My county math team organizers did a better job writing questions. I had 100% comprehension on all the math concepts involved, and I'd proven that before, too. I may have made arithmetic errors on a few questions, but to lose 50 points worth of questions? I'm positive I chose wrongly on some of the ambiguous questions.

And this was the "all important" college entrance exam? Ambiguous math questions that didn't even cover most of the math I had been studying, because it was dumbed down to a lower common denominator, and an English test measuring the degree to which I can avoid screwing up if I guess at words instead of bothering to crack open a dictionary? What are they smoking?





Those of you here who participate in the Civ3 aspect of Realms Beyond have all seen my Scientology study training in action. If you think about it, you will realize that all those screenshots I include with my reports greatly helps you to "get the mass" so you can follow along with what was happening. If you think about it, you'll understand that my training game way back when dropped all the way back to the beginning, teaching about fundamentals, about the basics of the game that are needed in order to be ABLE to learn about the higher theory that advanced players are always batting around. If you think about it, you will notice that I take pains to define terms I will use. I don't keep redefining them over and over, though, so if you came in late at some point, you may not grasp all the jargon used, and that could be standing in your way of comprehension.

My training game was specifically designed to be effective as a study tool.

I asked everyone to shadow each round. That wasn't for variety. It was so they would get the mass. The mass of playing each round would allow my criticisms to stick, allow players to relate to the concepts in a way that would produce comprehension. It even allowed, up to a point, for players to relate to criticisms leveled against other players.

I deliberately focused on the little things, like which tiles to work first and why, like how and why to manage which tiles a city worked or how to evaluate your short term needs, to identify what would best speed your growth vs what would best aid your security, and how to evaluate which priority was more urgent. I started with a very low gradient and kept it rather low, a friendly learning curve.

I did focus on terms, on concepts, on words. Even so, this was still the weakest area and almost certainly responsible for those who still had some troubles with the ideas. I could bring ALL the students along to 100% comprehension if we could meet face to face and go through the full process of defining all the words and demonstrating all the concepts.

Griselda says that the training game I ran helped her to figure out how to play. Others have praised my reports. In all cases, I have understood how to write to improve the odds of readers comprehending. I don't use inflated words to try to sound grandiose. I try to paint vivid pictures using humor, analogy, and insight, and to supply the mass with screen shots.


Smaller class sizes is NOT going to magically repair the holes in a child's comprehension. Better paid teachers won't do it. New books won't do it. New school buildings won't do it. New bureacracy won't do it. More standardized testing won't do it. Less standardized testing won't do it. School vouchers won't do it. No amount of money poured down the drain of the broken teaching methods and pathetic standards we have now is going to make anything better. The Barriers to Study have to be torn down, one child, one subject at a time. We need an education revolution, throw the whole broken system out and start over, rethink our approach to learning.

Our schools are getting worse and worse because we are moving farther and farther away from the wisdom of the past. The old Master-Apprentice relationship solved all three problems. The student got the mass and then some. They got so much mass with hand's on training that they would eventually become a full master in the craft themselves. They got a manageable gradient with an education in their craft pieced together over many years. And they got taught all the words and terms of the craft as they went, learning what each tool and raw material and process was called and what their functions were.

The old apprenticeship system was not efficient in terms of broad education or mass availability, but it was damned well effective in preserving all the tidbits of advanced technology (advanced as related to the given time period), teaching students all they needed to know to perform their chosen trade.

Schools didn't used to be separated by grade. We had a lot of one-room schools, with younger students tossed in with older ones and absorbing some of what the older ones were being taught. There was no radio, no television, no movies. People had less leisure time and lived in a much harsher world, much more sink or swim, where the students themselves were more motivated, had picked up a better appreciation for study by way of what it could do for them. Most children were worked by their families, and whatever education there was was always hands-on. We didn't even have photography until the 19th century.

Our schools used to emphasize shop work. Students learned how to do carpentry, masonry, auto mechanics, and more. Students got held back if they didn't learn and retain enough of the information. There was also less information to learn: less theory, less complex theory, lesser degree of removal of student from practical application of theory. Folks learned more total information because of "Jack of All Trades" syndrome: covering a lower gradient on a wider number of topics, with better comprehension and retention across all of them. As education has moved more and more toward specialization, we have shifted away from practical application toward pure theory. We have adopted some fatally flawed education theories and embraced them system wide. We have grown more and more inclusive of the populace, where less prepared students with less responsible parents -- students who used to get completely left out of the education system and were relegated to lives of hard labor -- have been added to the mix, without the needed reforms to bring them along the same as better prepared students coming from parents who have taught them more, spent more time on them, and given them a more solid foundation prior to entering school.

Both the actual performance of the brighter students and the average performance of the total student body are on the decline. As standards drop, the best and brightest are bogged down by a misguided effort to try to keep everyone of the same age group on the same learning gradient, combined with the continued lowering of standards to be more inclusive of the worst performers. Some genuinely cannot handle even a modest pace without a lot more attention and a better designed educational approach, while others get bored out of their minds. Boredom is lethal. It almost swallowed me whole in sixth grade. If I had been forced to slog along like that without enough challenge, I would have grown increasingly restless and rebellious. I was already on the verge of open rebellion at that point, totally disenchanted with a system that didn't give a shit about me as an individual, but merely wanted to force me through its meat grinder.

Our system is so badly broken it is shameful, but like all other institutions, reform is difficult because there is a large body of folks invested in the status quo, with their egos on the line, their way of making a living on the line, their expertise and experience would be challenged, and so on and so forth. It would take a lot of work to reform and improve the system, but a few simple changes could dramatically improve the overall performance, and an effective top-to-bottom overhaul could end our education woes, making as dramatic of a leap forward in results as we did with the printing press to increase availability of books and the effort to institutionalize literacy among the whole populace. There is that much improvement available just with what is currently known but not being used, and it could be fully implemented in less than a decade.

The current educational debate stinks. When I listen to the various arguments, the options that we are fighting over, to me it sounds barbaric, like midieval astronomers arguing over competing theories that explain why the world is flat. None of these folks have it right, and no amount of funding of their theories and approaches is going to improve the state of the system.

The core problem as I see it is expectations and standards. We the people do not, on the whole, realize what a massive pile of BS we are being sold here. The system is not going to go forward without first going backward to purge itself of flawed educational mechanisms. A lot of dead weight needs to be cut loose. A whole new approach is needed, one that is better tailored to results, which prioritizes individuals and meets the needs of individuals, grouping students by performance, not age, and enabling them all to make the most of their opportunities by focusing on tearing down the barriers to study, improving comprehension and retention across the board. We've got to get over misguided notions of soothing people's egos by trying to treat everyone the same. That is the worst injustice of all. It mistreats the few who need an even slower pace, and it badly abuses those who need to be cut loose to move faster. This isn't even so much about ability as it is about the home environment. Better nurtured students will be ahead because they are getting education at home and through all aspects of their life, while others are neglected. Ability does vary, but preparation and support vary much more widely. Parents are the indispensible element, and the system needs to better accomodate for that, both for the parents who slack off and fail to prepare their children and for the parents who are so effective that their children can not only handle more challenge but NEED it.

Reforming curriculum pacing is dangerous because the potential abuse of faster-paced students viewing themselves as "better than" slower paced students would be a problem, but who are we kidding? That problem is there anyway. Even within our current grade system, children are grouped into smaller packs working at different paces, especially with reading. Test scores vary, achievements vary. Comparisons are inevitable.

More social education is also needed: more values. We've also gone backward at breakneck speed in purging most moral values and judgements from our schools. That was perhaps a necessary step in order to also purge bigotry and all forms of hatred, but now we've got to purge the purge. There are ways to agree on values that would be religiously neutral. Building character is important. Many teachers find creative ways to instill discipline on students and lead by example, but the system too often works against them. We DO have a lot of good teachers -- in fact, that's the one aspect of our educational system that is holding it all together in spite of institutionalized failure -- but there are a lot of bad administrators who get in their way, saddling them with rules and limits and demands that force them to conform to a system that is designed to be broken. The whole system lumbers along and is being slowly hacked to death by special interests and squeaky wheels who force changes in the wrong direction on the basis of faulty concepts, faulty demands, and misguided ideals. The same tired old myths are batted around, the same failed ideas forwarded over and over. Are the ideas ever blamed? No. Are the core theories challenged? No. Some insignificant cause is always blamed: not enough money, classes too large, books too old... On and on and ON AND ON AND ON the bullshit goes, until it swallows up all hope of genuine reform.

The only ones who get heard in the debate are the "experts" who have gone through the system. You need a degree in education to be heard on the topic of educational reform. That would make sense if the current educational theory were the best technology available, but it's not. So what we have here is a system that is designed to preserve itself. The top priority is not results, but protecting vested interests.

In that regard, the teacher's unions, school boards, education departments and all the other mechanisms designed to protect the interests of the people in the system now all stand in the way of real solutions. Will we overcome that? Not through the current proposals. No way, no how, no matter how much money we throw at it. The only way real reform can go forward is through an effective assement of why the current mechanisms produce poor results and how to address the root causes of the failures.


Although I have an understanding of how to study anything effectively, I don't always observe proper discipline. I've cracked open my dictionary in the course of reading this forum only a couple of dozen times over the years. I should probably have done so two or three times as often as I did. I do a lot of reading and sometimes blow past words and don't care. That's not good. I know it means I'll blank out, that I won't recall what I read, or at least a goodly chunk of it, but sometimes when reading for pleasure I get lazy and don't want to do the work. Nobody will be testing me anyway, so what does it matter?. Sometimes I take better care of myself, sometimes not. Some books are so wordy in terms of vocabulary, though, that I can't even get through them at all without a dictionary.

The worst such example I ever encountered was the fantasy author, Stephen R. Donaldson. Reading his two Thomas Covenant trilogies was tortuous. I was literally cracking open the dictionary two and three times per page. Abominable. The gradient was actually too steep for me! My head got filled with so many new definitions, the lack of mass was eating at my comprehension. I actually cracked out a demo kit -- the only time I've done that since leaving Scientology in 1986. And that still wasn't enough! Not enough mass, too many new definitions, too much to try to absorb at one time. I did get through the books, and I could probably pass a general test on them even today, but I had had to go back and look up some of the same words over and over as the definitions weren't sticking. Donaldson threw the language around for its own sake, as if he were trying to impress us with his vocabulary instead of prioritizing the effective telling of his story.

I learned an important lesson from that: there's a difficult tradeoff that writers must make between choosing the most accurate words and embracing a wider audience. The more words you use, especially uncommon words, the more you shrink your audience, the less that people will understand what you have written, the less they will comprehend, the less they will enjoy it. Yet you also need to use rich enough language to make the words sing, to fully communicate what you are trying to portray. As a writer, I have had to learn to measure this tradeoff, to try to reign in my vocabulary, to choose simpler words when I can but not let myself be held slave to the lowest common denominator. There is a peak to the bell curve, at which the use of rich language to paint a better picture crosses with the undefined word barrier, which clouds or even destroys that picture. My duty as a writer is to tailor the best total result to my intended audience, to aim for the best picture I can paint without overshooting the audience's ability to follow along. That's a frustrating dilemma that would cease to be a primary issue if only all readers were educated to have the tools, if they so desired, to be able to understand anything I might write.

I get teased a lot about the length of my forum posts, but most of that is coming from folks who just can't stay tuned in. They lack the attention span, and I understand why. As soon as they trip over words they don't know or don't properly understand, they blank out. A couple of those and they're toast. Disparaging the writer acts as a defense mechanism to make them feel better. They lose the comprehension and lose the will to continue reading. They lose interest, and they have been taught to blame that on the writer rather than taking responsibility for it themselves. Only the brighter and better educated can follow my posts all the way through and grasp it all, even when I make conscious effort to limit my word usage to common vocabulary. Even then, we all trip up sometimes. Pete has admitted getting lost now and then in one of my posts. I've gotten lost in posts and had to back up, track down the word or words I tripped over and open the dictionary. I'm more motivated to do that either when I'm especially interested in the material, or else locked in a heated debate and NOT wanting to lose the argument.

People don't actually know what to DO when they find themselves not comprehending something! I can't imagine being powerless like that. I've been infused from childhood to have total faith in my ability to learn anything to which I apply myself. That's a kind of intelligence that is not genetic. Anybody can learn how to learn. Anybody can learn how to think. We may not all learn and think at the same pace, or with the same acuity on a given topic, but we can all get there if we use an effective approach.

That's not taught to our children, though, is it? Over and over, the system grades them, stamps them, files them, numbers them, reinforcing the idea that their ability to learn is out of their control, that they have been born with a certain "intelligence" and can never exceed it. Poppycock! The system is specifically geared to rip the creativity right out of them, strip them of individuality, and crank out good little consumers and factory workers, mindless drones beaten down into conformity. Blah. It's barbaric, I tell you.

I could probably make some kind of difference if I went on a crusade to reform education, but I'm already on another crusade I consider even more urgent. I might be able to contribute support for effective reforms, but at this point I have no intention of leading the charge. Maybe at some point I'll change that, but not today. Or rather, this post represents the limit of what I'm currently willing to do: write about it. Who knows? Maybe one of you will pick up the gauntlet. At least you have the exposure to some of these possibilities, some new food for thought that may do some good for somebody, at some point.


- Sirian
This is (obviously) a subject that I'd like to discuss. But, the end of the school year isn't the time to talk to a teacher about much of anything!

As a teacher who never actually graduated from high school, I feel like I have some insight here. But, I'm taking a raincheck. I'd like to return to this topic sometime this summer.

-Griselda
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Occhi
Occhi

June 3rd, 2003, 2:25 pm #10

What was the saying...

Never utilize three syllables when you could employ two or use one?

Jester
That one is a keeper.
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