Thursday, June 01, 2006

Thoughts While Cleaning the Refrigerator

It badly needed it—there was hardly any Tupperware left in the cupboard. My husband, especially, doesn't like to waste any food, so like many, we package up our leftovers and store them until they are unidentifiable, at which point it no longer seems so wasteful to throw it out.

And since one needs a certain amount of distraction when dealing with mysterious former food products, it's usually a pretty good time to think. Mostly, I was thinking more about Everything Bad Is Good for You, which I mentioned last time.

In Part 2 of the book, Johnson offers evidence for his contention (that modern popular culture is making us smarter) by looking at IQ scores since their beginnings. It turns out that if you look beyond the periodic norming of test scores, IQ scores have generally increased over the years. The effect is especially pronounced with the more abstract, nonverbal types of test items, which are relatively independent of school curricula and social class. (He plays it straight, too—instead of announcing that he's proved his point, he merely suggests that what he's found calls for further research.)

But if you take what he's described as the ways people learn these days, how video games and the Internet have created individuals who are adept at learning by exploring their environments, and you take what we learn as homeschoolers about learning, it's easy to decide that conventional education could well be making itself obsolete.

I've certainly found that I'm far less patient than I once was with classroom-based learning. I don't want to wait around for the instructor to catch up with my interests, I don't want to use a syllabus someone else has created. I want to learn what I want to learn, and I want to learn things my way. Partly, of course, this is a matter of age—at 53, I know a great deal more about what I know and what I don't than I did 30 or 40 years ago.

But I find it difficult to believe that the lecture-recall models of learning so prevalent in schools can survive in the face of the kinds of learning we can do on our own these days. Kids who design and maintain their own blogs or websites aren't going to sit still for lectures on HTML and CSS, and kids who've explored social theory in Sim City or Civilization may well find high school civics lessons a bit simplistic.

It'll be interesting to see how things shake out over the next few decades. What would a society in which most people are learning all the time, in the ways which work best for them, look like? What could we do with all that outmoded school infrastructure?

I should clean the fridge more often.


zenmomma said...

Love your insights. I agree that once you start learning outside of formal settings, it's hard to go back. Mainly because it seems like going backwards!
I've recently been surprised by how many people asked my daughter if she was going to take a babysitting course after she had her first babysitting job. She's been helping me watch kids for months me and also went out and got her own materials for babysitting tips, tricks and safety measures. No way did she want to wait for a scheduled course to come around.

Karen M. Gibson said...

I'm so glad I discovered your blog, Mary. We seem to be interested in many of the same things.

My middle child heads off to college this August. I'm hoping his classes prove to be more interesting to him than the ones he took at our local community college. He is greatly looking forward to going, but I am worried a bit about how he is going to settle in. The college he will be attending stressed that they have small classes and more hands-on learning. We go next weekend for orientation and registraton. I guess time will tell!