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Draft 2:Education and the "Harry Potter Letter"[edit | edit source]
Some people start to learn for themselves and once started they never stop. With each discovery their excitement with the world grows. Can we get more people to do this? Can we catch those who have started and take them further faster?
The start is simple. Get things in front of kids, when they show interest reel them in. Not all children will get excited about everything, but make sure they see the bits that you can get excited about. Do not be afraid to challenge.
I am a mathematician. Not an area that would fit in many top 10 lists of "things children like". In fact, even when presenting the subject we run in fear. The received wisdom is that every equation looses half your audience. This is idiotic, especially when dealing with children. The world is full of hard things for them. Making things clear is important, but making things easy? In mathematics I have put advanced concepts in front of primary school children and they have engaged excitedly. I told them explicitly that they would not understand everything. That it was OK to be a little confused and then we could just get on with it.
Challenge goes hand in hand with trying to solve problems. The abstract mathematics suddenly reveals its power when you want to solve something. If you want to teach quadratic equations, what about getting students to aim catapults? Even better get them to design the catapult first, so you can involve trigonometry. It will not excite all, but you will catch some children not excited by solving abstract problems (though do not underestimate the power of abstract problems!).
This is mathematics, but every school has teachers who have deeper knowledge of something. They have access to even more in the local community. Even better the internet is still spreading incredibly fast to the people of the world. The greatest achievements of human genius are mixed in there for the curious and excited to find. This gives the tool to take people further. We can find the children everywhere who, presented with the internet, dive in and start to consume. Then we send out the "Harry Potter Letters" connecting them to a postdoc, not to teach, but to offer advice and guidance. Just imagine how many great thinkers could be found!
This is a great global scheme, but what can we do locally? Let it happen, this has already begun. You can join in put exciting things in front of people and see if they bite. Find interesting projects you can help with. More importantly find ways to make it easier. Encourage openness. Open source and free software show the way, giving people access to the hidden workings of software to learn from and subvert. Open access manufacturing and Fab Labs let people use the tools to realise their projects. Open research and linking to the resources you use let everyone see the arguments and evidence for an idea. Finally in schools realise that teachers are important and give them freedom with responsibility for their actions.
List of resources:
(todo) add a list of resources, activities and so on illustrating the amazing things happening already.
Draft 1[edit | edit source]
The simplest form of education is training, you turn up, acquire a skill and leave. This is easy to structure, and more importantly to test. Yet training gets quickly out of date and cannot cope with rare events. We therefore require our education to do more. Not just teaching skills, but how to learn them, how to deal with the unknown, how to find new solutions. In short it should activate people to learn for themselves. There are now two essential skills: creativity and discipline. You need to have the idea, and then you need to work to make it happen. The problem is if your system worships creativity it can be hard to give discipline, if you worship discipline you can squash creativity.
None of this is radical, I would think that most educationalists of the past 50 years would agree. Despite this however our education systems do not succeed in finding the balance. Exams and skills rule and the system pushes only discipline, often despite the best efforts of the teachers involved. Despite a long period of understanding, therefore, the solution still alludes us. We cannot predict how even the best ideas from the top might take effect in an actual school. In some cases they can even cause harm. At this point someone often says to just let teachers get on with it. I am not convinced by this. It gives freedom to bad teachers, and we have to admit there are plenty of them. Good teachers would get a break, but in most cases they are already "just getting on with it", sometimes fighting the system if they have to. So what can be done?
Think about education. What matters? When it comes down to it, it is the teacher in the classroom, the parent in the home. It is the child sitting at the internet, vast swathes of the knowledge of humanity just in front of them. This is where we can make things better. Here we do not have to persuade the whole system, here we do not have to worry about how the system will mangle the message. Of course how to help here is also an issue, it needs to take account of the style and skills of the people involved.
So the future is simple, talk to each other more. We have the tools to make it possible. If you are a teacher try new things and write about them. What worked? What didn't work?. Its already happening, there are some great blogs out there (some of the good maths ones are below). If writing things up is not your style, just take a look at what is out there. Try the suggestions and report back. Work out how you might improve. Build your own network and sources to give inspiration. Pick the battles where you can fight or subvert the system, Parents can do the same. Take advice from teachers, and find your own sources, make sure your children get exposed to lots of different ideas and activities. Finally children...no advice needed here. They have been doing this for years now, finding new ideas, learning to use computers, learning how to build things. Just imagine how much more could happen if we helped them?