↑ comment by Viliam ·
2022-12-07T15:37:23.426Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
There were textbooks, but they never made us read them.
Well, what you describe is much worse than I imagined... and I still have a problem imagining that this is a typical American school experience. No offense, but I would need more people to confirm this, before I update on American education in general.
I have often heard that American schools are "teaching to the test". Would you agree with that statement? If yes, how does that square with... not even reading the textbooks, and adding negative numbers in seventh grade? Were the seventh grade tests about adding negative numbers?
On the other hand, I have also heard that as a consequence of "No Child Left Behind", teachers are focusing on the students that perform worst. So, maybe the least performing student in your seventh grade had a problem with adding negative numbers? That would kinda explain.
Or do the both things combined together mean that American teachers are "teaching the worst performing student to the test"? Sad, but possible, given the incentives. ("No Child Left Behind" was replaced in 2015 by a new law, hopefully better.)
If the answer is that you never needed it for work, yet are much happier for the sheer beauty of the knowledge
I admit that if I never attended school, and spent maybe 1/3 of the extra free time reading books (sounds likely, I have read tons of books as a child), I probably would have grabbed a few chemistry books, too, just out of curiosity. So maybe the benefit of the school was smaller than I imagine.
I still give the school credit for curating the information: filtering out knowledge from bullshit, and ordering the knowledge from simple to more complex. In the alternative reality where I learned chemistry from library books, who knows, maybe a book written by a convincing homeopath would get to my hands first, and I would waste lots of time studying bullshit.
The benefits of chemistry for my life would be: (1) It increases the general protection against bullshit. Like, when I heard about homeopathy, I remembered what I learned at school, and I noticed that this is not how atoms and molecules actually work. Water is a liquid, the molecules are randomly bouncing around all the time, million times per second, so they are not going to "remember" the shape of a larger molecule that floated around them a few days ago. (2) My wife is a biochemist; the fact that I have some general background in chemistry and biology makes it easier for me to understand her work. Similarly, people spent a lot of time debating covid recently, having some general background in chemistry and biology made the vaccines less mysterious. Both of these things have happened at random, but I was generally prepared.
My relation to knowledge... uhm, let me put it this way: It is the fucking 21st century, people are flying in space, engineering genes, the satellites allow you to make a phone call to the other side of the planet, insane amounts of knowledge are freely available online, we are on the verge of developing an artificial intelligence... so the idea that someone doesn't know that the planet is round or that the matter is made of atoms, just feels horribly wrong, like a form of child abuse, like living in 21st century using a medieval brain.
Of course, the question is where to draw the line. If someone cannot solve a quadratic equation, that's not a big deal, assuming that they know something else. But they definitely should have seen the graph of an exponential equation, because that's just everywhere around us (economy, covid). Everyone should know about atoms and molecules (not the names of all of them, just the general idea of tiny balls bouncing around), the speed of light, planets orbiting stars, the difference between fire and nuclear reaction. That living organisms are composed of cells, what is photosynthesis, what is DNA, that all living things descend from a common ancestor. Etc. Not knowing these things, it's like being locked in a dark basement, while everyone else participates in the 21st century civilization.
The school is the institution that was supposed to provide this. And maybe it should be abolished and replaced with a series of books, or a website... I just don't know how to make everyone actually read those books. Because the fact is that most people do not read books. (This is what the rationalist community does not represent.) I know many people who told me that they haven't read a book since finishing school. I am afraid that without the general background from school, these people would be ripe for all kinds of bullshit and conspiracy theories (that is, even more than they are now). Consider the impact on democracy, if people had even less of an idea about how things actually work (plus active misinformation from bad actors such as Russia today).
...oops, this became a long rant, and I guess I sound like a zealot.
the concept sounds like a non-dystopian prison sentence
(If such thing exists, I would expect to find it somewhere in Scandinavia. Joking aside, American prisons seem to be especially dystopian.)
Elementary school is mass babysitting. Where would most of the kids go otherwise, if both parents have a job? Then again, perhaps government should provide optional free babysitting for the masses. In perfect case, free babysitting where the kids can either play all day long, or can choose to go to a quiet room and read a book or use a computer.
this is enough of a touchy subject for me due to how horrific my schooling was that my previous comment held more than a little anger.
I get it. I hated a few subjects in school, and I was bullied shortly. So I can imagine that some people maybe got 10x of the same. Would make me quite angry, too. Also, my experience was probably above average, living in the capital city, attending selective schools. I am happy that homeschooling exists as an alternative for the unlucky ones.
The thing about communist Czechoslovakia was that communism is a blank-slate ideology, which - if you think about the logical consequences - makes teaching one of the most important jobs, in theory. Also, in communism smart people did not have many opportunities to use their talents, so many of them chose education; it provided them relative autonomy, contact with other smart people, and if they taught mathematics or natural sciences they were relatively free from the influences of ideology. This caused the relatively higher quality of education. (There was still a lot of emphasis on memorization and obedience.) When communism was over, maybe 1/4 of teachers at my high school quit and started their own companies, most of them profitable. Good for them, but the quality of education plummeted. Sadly, resources are limited, and in a free society, education competes with everything else and often loses. Then again, we do not have toilet paper shortages anymore...
I was enthusiastic about online education; things like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, etc. Turns out, the greatest weakness of online education is lack of self-discipline. The universities that tried asynchronous online education found out that most students did not even click on the lessons during the semester, and when they finally started learning two days before the exam, it was too late. Which is the reason why now many online courses switched to synchronous education. (Even if it's just you and the computer, you must do the specified lesson on a specified day. A complete nonsense if you are not a student. But a necessity for the universities that use this.)
Many of my friends are teachers, and I am procrastinating at writing a blog about the ongoing Czech reform of math education (called "Hejný method", here is a video that is not the best explanation, but has English subtitles. Examples of problems: Snakes, Cobwebs, Sum Triangles, Exhibitions). If I hopefully write that blog in 2023, it will be reposted on LW.
However, Valentine says [LW · GW] that something similar was already tried in USA long ago, and failed horribly.