If you're serious about making better schools, consider this...


I read an article by a professor about rhetoric, communication, grammar, and such. It hit me that a person, to understand anything the professor is talking about, would need a substantial foundation. That's what K-12 used to provide.

My epiphany was that the bottom is dropping out from under the younger students. They are kept busy learning nothing. Increasingly, the new information they hear each day is going to echo for a few seconds in their brains, then be gone forever.

--which led to the following thoughts:

I am more convinced that the primary problem, just after illiteracy and innumeracy, is a pervasive lack of basic knowledge. Children don't have anything to build on. They don't have the facts they need to understand what's being taught. I don't think the schools have any idea how bad the situation is, or they don't want to let the public know. You see, an average person after 10-15 years of going to the movies and watching television will pick up a lot of this essential knowledge. I'm talking now about the kids in elementary school just starting out. These kids know very little because very little is taught. Memorization is scorned. Coherence is neglected. Making connections between one fact and another is not emphasized.

So let me dramatize the deficiency that happens dozens of times each day.. The teacher says, "The Amazon River is 4000 miles long.” An adult can make some sense of it. But the second-grader does not know what the Amazon is, does not have any associations with the name except the mail-order place. The young person does not know what a river is, not in any real sense. This kid does not know what 4000 miles is, not in any real sense. They have not been taught any geography, not any relative sizes. The teacher is speaking into a vacuum.

So the practical matter is that even if the school is trying to do a good job, they probably have no idea how low they have to go. Everything must be presented in the most elemental way, with plenty of context, so the students can get 100% of what is taught. Not enough people are bothering with this now.

(I'm already working on an article about this matter; I have the sense it might be possible to create a small book that would teach children everything they need to know. The secret is to start at the very beginning, whatever the subject is. If the foundation is in place, the children can gallop along thereafter. But our schools don't teach reading and arithmetic, not sufficiently. And then they try to teach facts and knowledge to children who might be thought of as suffering from amnesia. I don't know if my project will go anywhere so I urge everyone to experiment. Create your own Start Here projects. Ask the question, how would you teach X to children who have been in a coma for 10 years, and now they're ready to be educated.) How would you do it????

I'll bet you will be amazed to find that there are a lot of details you have been ignoring. Kids should know this stuff, you were probably thinking, so you didn't have to bother. But if you start to bother with that simple stuff, you will find a whole class come to life because now the kids will get everything. 

Of course, you'll realize that you shouldn't waste time on social engineering, social emotive learning, and all the other things that don't contain any facts. Facts are the whole point. Facts and the interconnections between facts.


good metaphor: Brain cells with billions of connections. It's a sort of loam.



To give a young student the full meaning of "The Amazon River is 4000 miles long," you would show video as you define river, mentioning the long connection with bridges, boundaries, and transportation; then another five minutes on the great rivers of the world and how unexpectedly wide and long they are, for example 4000+ miles Is longer than from San Francisco to Chicago to Washington DC. Show this on a map of the US. At this point the students are ready to hear additional information about the Amazon....... And finally the children would be ready to hear the punchline: the Amazon is the only river that does not have a bridge. I remember when I was first told that. I was amazed. Imagine a river so big and so unpredictable and sprawling that it would be folly to build a bridge over it.

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