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Educating Obedience

See also: Rote Learning

Traditionally taught science and mathematics teach little except obedience.

Sanjoy Mahajan

The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Shut up and calculate!

D. Mermin

“I would hate physics if I would have learned it in school.”

R. Maimon

If you're ever wondering why our society is the way it is, just remember that as children we're all taught to obey dogma, not challenge it.

Tim Urban

Beginning physics graduate students must devote an entire year or two of their lives to homework. Indeed, the first part of physics graduate school is well described as a boot camp based on homework. One characteristic of any boot camp is that the subject matter the instructors present in their day-to-day work is not really the main thing they are teaching. Teaching the subject matter is certainly one goal, but it is not the main one. In military boot camp, for example, drill instructors make recruits spend large amounts of time learning to dress to regulation, march in precise formation, chant ditties, disassemble and reassemble rifles, carry heavy backpacks, and so on, yet the main goal of all this is something much more profound: to create soldiers who will follow orders, even to their deaths. Similarly, the most apparent goal of graduate physics courses is to indoctrinate the students into the dominant paradigms, or theoretical frameworks, of physics. But the primary goal is to train physicists who will maintain tremendous discipline on assigned problems. […] The typical course features three 50-minute lectures per week. A pattern is usually quickly established in which the professor repeatedly fills the blackboard with equations, copying from handwritten notes, while the students try to copy each boardiul into their own notes before it is erased to make room for the next. Professors usually tell their classes to feel free to ask questions, but their rushed answers quickly convey a different message—that questions impede their race to present their voluminous notes in the allotted time. Hence, after the first two or three lectures, students ask few questions, and those are usually minor points of clarification: “Shouldn’t that be a minus sign?” or “Is that a theta squared in the numerator?” […] The system protects itself by producing people with 'know-how' rather than people with 'know-why'. The system is set up to produce servants, not critics. from Disciplined Minds by Jeff Schmidt

I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my twenty-five years of teaching - that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic - it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to different cell where he must memorize that man and monkeys derive from a common ancestor. […] Schools are intended to produce through the application of formulae, formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled. To a very great extent, schools succeed in doing this. But our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self-reliant, confident, and individualistic - because the community life which protects the dependent and the weak is dead. The products of schooling are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves. […] It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry. […] What can be done? First we need a ferocious national debate that doesn't quit, day after day, year after year. We need to scream and argue about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other. If we can fix it, fine; if we cannot, then the success of homeschooling shows a different road to take that has great promise. Pouring the money we now pour into family education might kill two birds with one stone, repairing families as it repairs children. Genuine reform is possible but it shouldn't cost anything. We need to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling and decide what it is we want all children to learn and why. For 140 years this nation has tried to impose objectives downward from the lofty command center made up of “experts”, a central elite of social engineers. It hasn't worked. It won't work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise that once made this nation a noble experiment. The Russian attempt to create Plato's republic in Eastern Europe has exploded before [our] eyes, our own attempt to impose the same sort of central orthodoxy using the schools as an instrument is also coming apart at the seams, albeit more slowly and painfully. It doesn't work because its fundamental premises are mechanical, anti-human, and hostile to family life. Lives can be controlled by machine education but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology - drugs, violence, self-destruction, indifference, and the symptoms I see in the children I teach. […] We have to invent school experiences that give a lot of that time back, we need to trust children from a very early age with independent study, perhaps arranged in school but which takes place away from the institutional setting. We need to invent curriculum where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance. […] Experts in education have never been right, their “solutions” are expensive, self-serving, and always involve further centralization. Enough. Time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family. I've said my piece. Thank you.

“If you decide you don’t have to get A’s, you can learn an enormous amount in college.” The quote is from “I. I. Rabi, the grand old man of physics in the United States after Oppenheimer’s death from My Life as a Quant by E. Derman

Further Reading

causes/obey.txt · Last modified: 2017/11/06 11:30 (external edit)