Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Right and True and the Way We Educate Our Kids

I'm reading Strawson's Introduction to Logical Theory and in a footnote in the first chapter, he draws a distinction between a student giving a correct answer and giving a true answer. The point brought to mind a conversation I was a part of over the weekend. It was a party and a student who was a part of my first experience teaching critical thinking to Montessori middle school students was reporting the details of her first year in a normal high school. She said that her English teacher would make fun of her former educational institution calling it "that hippie school." Apparently neither he nor any of her classmates could understand how any learning took place in a school that did not give quizzes, exams, or grades. "Why does anyone do any work?" they all asked quite honestly. She gave as best she could the answer of a fifteen year old about acculturation and learning to learn. But it is truly unbelievable how the reward and punishment regime used to make sure that no one gets away with anything undermines and destroys the will to learn. What became clear is that for them, education was not about finding the true answers to questions, but all about finding the right answers to question. Grades are not markers of progress in an independent learning process, but have become the raison d'etre for the process. We work for a meaningless grade, imbuing it with ultimate meaning so that we can do it again at a "good" college, so that we can get a meaningless job to earn a paycheck that allows us the meaningless material symbols that we imbue with ultimate meaning. We don't need "No Child Left Behind," we need therapy.