Ignorance in Shul

Occasionally, especially rare these days as the traditional media is in recession, a chance group of articles meshes to provoke new direction of thought. The end of this week gave rise to such.

The starting piece on all this was a New Yawk Times piece [Link] on Freeman Dyson, which demonstrates, among other things, what education should be all about. All right, perhaps technical education – a sop to Capella – but isn’t that combination of creativity, independence, and integrity what education should be about but basically and definitely isn’t these days? I shan’t deny that in my estimation, valuing proper disrespect for false authority, that Dyson is a kultur hero or role model, not least because the modern establishment would quake in horror at that statement along many modes.

I also have to acknowledge being prodded by several excellent blots this week by Alexa Harrington [Link] who always has an uncanny grasp of separating pony from poo. In particular I found her blot on the issue of teacher recompense nudgeful and richtik. That was cemented by Melissa Lafsky’s article (if you get paid to be a journalist it isn’t a blog!) [Link] on our social degeneration and, in particular, our whacked educational system. I’m not at all sure I agree with her implied social engineering approach, an experiment that we have to repeat every decade or so to relearn its lemon-like nature – sweet smelling but the fruit is inedible. Nonetheless, the matter stands that the current shul system in this Yankee republic is broken and getting worse, as demonstrated by the recent triumph of the forces of darkness in Texas. [Link]

To contribute my unasked and probably unwanted 0.02$ Yankee currency, I want to look at what one has to learn when one seeks to learn physics, or any other nerdish discipline, and, I suspect, a lot of disciplines that aren’t technically nerdish, but being a nerd I am not very qualified to comment on such.[1] I have blogged on this taxonomy previously, [Link] and reproduce some of that here.

  • Thoughts – the ideas associated with the discipline;
  • Terms – the words used to express those ideas and their application;
  • Tools – the means by which the discipline is practiced; and
  • Techniques – how the other three T’s are combined to practice the discipline.

These are the ‘Four Ts’ and the point I want to make here is that to be able to teach these, you have to know something about them.

So if we look at this, and teachers who have sterling credentials of education – as educators – but pitiful education in the technical disciplines. Please note that I am not talking here about the people who teach children the basics of how to learn and the basics of human knowledge, the three Rs as it be except that such are outmoded today. That latter is another matter.

The fact remains that those who teach nerdish stuffs in high shuls and even in junior high shuls in our ‘certified educational system’ are woefully undereducated in those disciplines. I can recall as a Freshman and Sophomore taking maths and sciences classes of basic and introductory material alongside Juniors and Seniors majoring in the education version of maths and sciences. Yep, the sad fact then and apparently now, is that the folks who teach nerdish disciplines in high shul have about half (or less) or an undergraduate major in what they are teaching.

It may be argued that this is sufficient since what these ‘teachers’ were exposed to is less than what they are expected to teach in high shul. Balderdash! That would be accurate if those teaching understood what they were teaching.

If we go to the ‘Four Ts’ the only one of the four that half of an undergraduate major (or less) will provide those ‘teachers’ is (some of) terms. By limiting themselves to the introductory, often survey and service, courses [2] these education majors assure that all they will see is definitions and simplified problems. Neither of these contribute manifestly to the other three Ts.

In particular, the wanting of the certified education educated teacher is that they are unable, in these nerdish disciplines, to have obtained the first T. Simply put, they are incapable of thinking in that discipline and as such are incapable of teaching it. The best they can do is push out rote presentation of the terms and simplified tools and techniques that they learned, most at the level of high shul algebra.  And that is failure on the part of the teacher and on the part of for the students.

Err not, being a teacher is not easy, but our present system sets our society and its young members up for failure. The current system of highly educating future teachers in education matters and woefully inadequately in the discipline they will teach, at least in high shul, is inverted and suicidal. If we are to reform education and its apparat then part of that reform has to be to hold the teachers of nerdish disciplines primarily accountable for knowing and understanding and living, at least mentally, their disicpline. That means something of the order of a real actual major in that discipline and a second minor in education stuffs.

Or we can resign ourselves to being no better than a third world nation in another generation. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.
[1] Yes, Quadgop, I realize that hasn’t prevented me, or 0.9944 of my species from commenting such innumerable times in past and hence, we expect similarly in future.

[2] A service course is one that is taught as both an introductory course for discipline majors and minors and as a curriculum requirement for roundness in other disciplines. As such it is weak in the former and strong in the latter.


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