Here is a Washington Post article of interest to those who care about developing best practices for traditional education and alternative informal learning communities.

Seven misconceptions about how students learn

Here are seven of the biggest myths about learning that, unfortunately, guide the way many schools are organized in this era of standardized test-based public school reform.

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Barry, an excellent article.  Every bit of it true.  I wonder why what is so apparent to educators is often not at all apparent to policy makers? 

It's not clear to me that policy makers have as their primary objective the optimization of the learning process.  Learning is an organic process, often a bit chaotic and unpredictable.  Policy makers seem to prefer a more orderly process, at the expense of the more dynamic process of authentic learning.

A timely set of points. Thanks for the re-post, Barry. Just starting the new school year, and I have to constantly remind myself that "coverage is not teaching". An old Puritan preacher (Richard Baxter), in writing to pastors about preaching put it this way: "you must screw the truth into their minds." Now that's a little tough for us nice folks in this century, but it makes the point that, if truth there is, communicating it is more than just giving it a mention.

In a related vein, I was reading an older book which is a collection of great speakers' works.  I was struck by a speech by Balfour (former PM of the UK) on what's wrong with university education. Briefly put, and I'll locate and give the full quote soon, the problem with university is exams, and cramming information in case it turns up on the paper. Balfour is deeply derisory of such a process of education. At least, he suggests, if a student can survive their undergraduate years, then in postgrad days they can pursue their passions and run deep in their interests.

I think the date of the article was around 1912.

Asian students are reportedly two or three years ahead of their American counterparts.  It will be interesting to learn how their educational systems differ from our increasingly unproductive ones.

I've found my quote. It's lengthy, and in the style of the times. I've restrained myself from emphasising the text.

"I believe that it is largely due, not to the maleficent influence of any Government department or any municipality, but to the inherent ignorance of public opinion, that we have got to overrate, in the preposterous manner in which we do overrate, the value and importance of competition, of examinations, in our Universities. I think the President of King’s College made a brief reference to that evil – and I am quite sure it is an evil which cannot be overrated. I do not mean to say that you can dispense with examinations. I venture on no such dogmatic utterance; but I do think it of importance that we should have present to our minds the inevitable evils which examinations carry in their train, or the system of competitive examinations as it has developed of recent years in our great Universities. The truth is that a book which is read for examination purposes is a book which has been read wrongly. Every student ought to read a book, not to answer the questions of somebody else, but to answer his own questions. The modern plan, under which it would almost seem as if the highest work of our Universities consisted in a perennial contest between the examiner on the one side and the coach on the other, over the the passive body of the examinee, is really a dereliction and a falling away from all that is highest in the idea of study and investigation. I do not know how far these evils can be eliminated from our system so far as the pre-graduate course is concerned…

But at all events, let us rejoice in common that there is one branch of University work, of growing interest and importance, daily receiving recognition from all that is best in the intellectual life of the country – I mean the post-graduate course. There the slavery of examinations is a thing of the past, the intellectual servitude in which the pupil has hitherto been is a thing that he may put on one side; and he is in the happy position of being able to interrogate Nature and to study history with the view of carrying out his own line of investigation and research, instead of being in a perpetual subservience to the idea whether such and such a subject is worth getting up for examination purposes, whether he may not have omitted to read with sufficient attention something which to him is perfectly useless, perfectly barren, perfectly uninteresting, but on which some question may be asked by a too curious examiner.

He is [instead] in the position of having his teacher as his fellow-worker…"


Education Continued Through Life (Speech as Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, before the Federal Conference on Education, May 30, 1907. In International University Society’s Reading Course vol 1, 15-16)

On a biographical note, Balfour was UK Prime Minister 1902-1905, and his Gifford Lectures biography suggests that he profited more from self-direction than external, systematic instruction.

When I encountered this quote earlier this year, I was both delighted - at the content and viewpoint expressed - and dismayed - at the date. 1907!!! Steam age stuff!!

And  why did Balfour even seem of importance to me? Well, I enjoy John Buchan's adventure stories (39 Steps, Prester John...), and as I got deeper into them, I then read Buchan's autobiography (Memory Hold-the-Door) in which he spoke of his friends, and one of those happened to be Mr Balfour. So, when I saw an article by Balfour in this secondhand bookshop gold mine, I read it.

I should have read some Balfour earlier, because I love the Gifford lectures, and he had published two sets in the early series. Now I must draw out Theism and Humanism.

And why say all this? Will Richardson's fault. Students should know how their teachers learn, he says in this article. And that link came from a sub-link in a google+ friend's article. How I learn? By connection and association. Yay for the web on an early Sunday morning! (and an accompanying Earl Grey tea)

I remember the range of materials you posted here long ago on autodidacts, Skip, and indeed as I was reading both Balfour's quote and his Gifford bio, I noted that he had summed up beautifully the autodidact's motivation and passion.

We have questions, and we will pursue the means to find our answers.

And thanks for the Self-Reliance link. I had forgotten the "foolish" in Emerson's quote.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"

Absolutely. No consistency, no science (for example).

Or even:

Absolutely no consistency, no science (or history, mathematics, music, art, history, philosophy, theology, metaphysics, engineering, computer science...)

There was a science fiction story I vaguely recall (The Ruum?) where the world was chaotic, so a predator would move in any direction to catch its prey. Suddenly, order arose, and the random paths lead to destruction. Can't remember the full details - but it was well done (Sturgeon, Aldiss, Simak, that kind of vintage, quality and insight.)

Article and discussion both profound:)


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