John Gatto’s Dumping Us Down illustrates the negative aspects compulsory state-controlled schooling. Gatto spent 30 years as a schoolteacher and certainly knew everything there is to know about school. He is certainly a credible source and his account should serve as motivation and reason for change and evolution. He talks about how the educational system teaches the students seven negative lessons calling himself the seven-lesson schoolteacher. After going through a fine explanation of every one of the seven lessons, Gatto asserts that the system produces confused, cruel, passive, violent, and materialistic kids. Continue reading →
Consciousness is usually defined as the awareness of the self and the surrounding world. Traditionally, consciousness is theorized to be an immaterial entity, a production of the mind rather than the brain. Consequently, most people believe that there is no physiological mechanism for the production of consciousness; it is just present with every human being and is intertwined with his thoughts and feelings. Locke and Hegel both discuss consciousness in the readings we did for this class, and both philosophers do not think that the brain produces consciousness. Locke asserts that consciousness is necessary for the thought process but it is not itself produced by thought.
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As I was reading John Dewey’s Experience and Education, I kept on reflecting on our very first class at the beginning of the semester. If I remember correctly, we were all asked a very simple question: what is education? There is no point in finding the perfect model for education if its very purpose is unknown. Dewey rejects the idea that education is merely the young’s’ preparation for their future lives. To me, education is instilling in the young the urge to learn, change, and innovate.
The two conventional education models (traditional and progressive education) have failed to live up to that purpose. Dewey does an amazing job at pointing out the fallacies present in both models. In the traditional model, adults’ standards and methods are imposed on the students that do not correspond to their capacities. As a result, the concepts and ideas taught are abstract with little to no application on a student’s life. On the other hand, the progressive model offers little organization and unguided freedom. This can create a lot of “miseducative” experiences.
Due to the inherent fallacies present in both models, students must find the perfect balance between organized learning and practical experience. Because students have different capabilities and interests, the quest for the perfect balance should be a personal one. For me, I have found the perfect balance here at Emory. I run chemical reactions in lab after learning them in my organic chemistry class; I have connected the knowledge I gained in physics class with my neuroscience seminar to write a research paper on how physics is changing the field of neuroscience. I have also used my physics knowledge to better understand some problems we discussed in philosophy class. School is no longer about memorizing abstract non-applicable concepts; I am applying the knowledge in different ways and forming interdisciplinary connections. This has certainly developed my new zest for learning and knowledge.
The conventional school is a dictatorship. Students enter their classrooms, sit in their assigned seats, obey the teacher, memorize a bunch of facts, and take exams testing their knowledge of those facts. This model of schooling has been used for centuries now. This model produces children who are capable of following and obeying rules; however, the children do not develop sufficient creativity and problem-solving skills to make the world a better place. True democracy can only exist when the people are active, collaborative, confident, and creative citizens. The conventional model does not offer that; however, Escuela Nueva may provide a better schooling model.
The Escuela Nueva (New School) model, first adopted in rural Colombia, employs a different approach to education. Students actively shape their own curriculum, work on their own projects, gain hands-on experience, and participate in class-wide discussions. In Escuela Nueva, students are no longer passive learners. They become active learners applying the concepts they learn in the real world. In his NY Times article Make School a Democracy, David Kirp argues that the Escuela Nueva model of schooling can help foster democracy in a country. This is because kids are taught to become active and participating students. These attributes are necessary for the success of democracy. Studies have shown that students who go through the Escuela Nueva model are more likely to be active members of their communities.
In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that experience is extremely important in the education process. Escuela Nueva takes that into account. Students do not just learn abstract concepts; they apply them in their everyday lives. Students learn to write short stories, grow and garden plants, run their own experiments to explore their early scientific enquiries. This way school appears to be more relevant rather than a tedious and forced process. The conventional model for schooling is ancient; it is time for a drastic reform that adopts the Escuela Nueva style.
Here is the link to the article.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason illustrates the inevitable limitations of our ability to discover “reality”. Kant asserts that what we perceive to be “real” is not absolutely “real”. The brain receives stimuli from the “real” world; it organizes, processes, and shapes the stimuli in a certain fashion before feeding it back to the person. As a result, the person only perceives the already processed and shaped information. To Kant, the brain is constantly changing “reality”. His assertion is further explained as he introduces two vital terms, “phenomena” and “noumena”. Our knowledge of phenomenal objects is merely the processed information that our brain comes up with. On the other hand, noumenal objects are the “real” objects that are not processed by the mind. Because noumennal objects are not processed by the mind, it is impossible to learn about them. Consequently, our knowledge and reason is only restricted to the phenomenal universe.
The implications of Kant’s assertion are revolutionary. According to Kant, the characteristics of the universe (such as space and time), which we thought are built into nature, could be mere illusions of the mind. Most people believe that space and time are external truths of the universe, and using reason one can decipher their nature. However, if they are noumenal objects it is impossible to gain knowledge on their nature. Kant argues that we are able to learn about space and time because they are phenomenal objects, productions of our own mind. Kant’s argument is similar to a concept recently developed by American scientist Robert Lanza. This concept is biocentrism, which essentially asserts that our universe did not create life but rather life created the universe. Lanza even utilizes Kant’s arguments about space and time to illustrate his idea. It is a counter-intuitive idea but still remains a potential solution to the mystery of the universe.
In an age in which freedom of expression is revered as an undeniable right, Socrates’ suggestions about education in The Republic seem to violate the basic principles of liberty and freedom. “Then we must first of all, it seems, supervise the storytellers. We’ll select their stories whenever they are fine or beautiful and reject them when they aren’t,”(377c) suggests Socrates. A modern-day person will most certainly brand this as unwarranted censorship. However, I believe that modern-day educators can learn something important from Socrates.
Childhood is a critical period in a person’s development. Values, principles, and habits developed in this period persist throughout a person’s lifetime. According to Socrates, “it’s at that time that it is most malleable and takes on any pattern one wishes to impress on it.”(377b) A child’s moral sense is not fully developed; he or she sometimes cannot distinguish the good from the bad. Consequently, it is completely logical and reasonable to expose children to the good and justice, and deny them access to the bad and evil. With the advent of the Internet, children can easily access billions of webpages, images, and videos. A child can easily pick up any bad habit or principle off the Internet; the opportunities are endless. As a result, carefully censoring the Internet for children is a necessity.
To rid the world of evil, you don’t work with adults who have already developed their values and principles, but with children who are developing theirs. The world would be a much better place if every single child was raised in an environment that promotes justice and goodness.
If true, “Meno’s paradox” is a frightening proposition. The paradox suggests that human inquiry is impossible: humans are incapable of finding truths. The paradox stems form a simple question, “how can you put before your mind a thing that you have no knowledge of, in order to try to find out about it?”(Page 100, 80e) Inquiring about something, as in trying to find a universal truth about it, requires imagination and thinking. However, if somebody is inquiring about a thing that he does not know then it is impossible for him to imagine and think about it. On the other hand, if the person knows about the subject of inquiry then the process of inquiry is futile.
After thorough inspection, “Meno’s paradox” seemed perfectly logical and valid. How then are humans able to make new discoveries every single day if the process of inquiry is either unnecessary or impossible? Socrates explains this through a bizarre idea. He asserts that discoveries of new knowledge are actually recollections of knowledge already possessed by the soul. To Socrates, humans are all born with the solutions to all of nature’s mysteries. To unleash these solutions, a person must undergo the process of “remembering”. Deep down, we all know how to compose music, write computer code, solve mathematical equations, and come up with scientific theories. Just like the slave that “remembers” what a diagonal is, we must go through the long and tedious process of “remembering” that involves hard work and making mistakes. The paradox should not be viewed as a sad limitation of human power but as motivation that everybody can “solve” the mysteries of the universe.