Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Epiphany comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (July 2012) - Less Wrong

20 Post author: ciphergoth 18 July 2012 05:24PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (844)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: Epiphany 21 February 2013 03:18:26AM *  0 points [-]

That said, in my own case, competent teachers (such as Lockhart appears to be) did indeed make a difference.

I can't fathom that you'd say that if you had read Gatto's speech.

I am very interested in the reaction you have to the speech (It's called The Seven Lesson School Teacher, and it's in the beginning of chapter 1).

Would you indulge me?

Also:

Failing to teach reasoning skills in school is a crime against humanity.

Comment author: Bugmaster 21 February 2013 05:21:11AM 4 points [-]

I should also point out that, while Gatto makes some good points, his overall thesis is hopelessly lost in all the hyperbole, melodrama, and outright conspiracy theorizing. He does his own ideas a disservice by presenting them the way he does. For example, I highly doubt that mental illnesses, television broadcasts, and restaurants would all magically disappear (as Gatto claims on pg. 8) if only we could teach our children some critical thinking skills.

Comment author: Epiphany 22 February 2013 03:56:19AM *  0 points [-]

Connection between education and sanity

Check out Ed DeBono's CORT thinking system. His research (I haven't thoroughly reviewed it, just reciting from memory) shows that by increasing people's lateral thinking / creativity, it decreases things like their suicide rate. If you have been taught to see more options, you're less likely to choose to behave desperately and destructively. If you're able to reason things out, you're less likely to feel stuck and need help. If you're able to analyze, you're less likely to believe something batty. Would mental illness completely disappear? I don't think so. Sometimes conditions are mostly due to genes or health issues. But there are connections, definitely, between one's ability to think and one's sanity.

If you don't agree with this, then do you also criticize Eliezer's method of raising the sanity waterline by encouraging people to refine their rationality?

Connection between education and indulging in passive entertainment

As for television, I think he's got a point. When I was 17, I realized that I was spending most of my free time watching someone else's life. I wasn't spending my time making my own life. If the school system makes you dependent like he says (and I believe it does) then you'll be a heck of a lot less likely to take initiative and do something. If your self-confidence depends on other expert's approval, it becomes hard to take a risk and go do your own project. If your creativity and analytical abilities are reduced, so too will be your ability to imagine projects for yourself to do and guide yourself while doing them. If your love for learning and working is destroyed, why would you want to do self-directed projects in the first place? And if you aren't doing your own projects your own way, that sucks a lot of the life and pleasure out of them. Fortunately, for me, a significant amount of my creativity, analytical abilities, and a significant amount of my passion for learning and working survived school. That gave me the perspective I needed to make the choice between living an idle life of passive entertainment, and making my own life. Making my own life is more engaging than passive entertainment because it's tailored to my interests exactly, more fulfilling than accomplishing nothing could ever be, more exciting than fantasy can be because it is real, and more beneficial and rewarding in both emotional and practical ways than entertainment can be due to the fact that learning and working opens up new social and career opportunities.

If the choice you are making is between "watch TV" and "not watch TV" you're probably going to watch it.

But if you have a busy mind full of ideas and thoughts and passions, that's not the choice you're perceiving. You've got the choice between "watch character's lives" and "make my own life awesome and watch that". If you felt strongly that you could make your own life awesome, is there anything that could convince you to watch TV instead?

Gatto doesn't do a good job of giving you perspective so you can understand his point of view here. He didn't explain how incredible it can feel to have a mind that is on, how engaging it can be to learn something you're interested in, how satisfying it is to do your own d* project your own d* way and see it actually work! He doesn't do a good job of helping you imagine how much more motivation you would experience if your creativity and analytical abilities were jacked up way beyond what they are. If your life was packed full of thoughts and ideas and self-confidence, could you spend half your free time in front of a show? If you had the kind of motivation it causes to feel like you're in the process of building an amazing life, would you be able to still your mind and focus on sitcoms?

I wouldn't. I can't. It is as if I am possessed by this supernova sized drive to DO THINGS.

Restaurants and education

I honestly don't know anything about whether these are connected. My best guess is that Gatto loves to cook, but had found not being taught how to cook to be a rather large obstacle in the way of enjoying it.

Comment author: Bugmaster 22 February 2013 06:35:21AM 4 points [-]

I mostly agree with the things you say, but these are not the things that Gatto says. Your position is a great deal milder than his.

In a single sentence, he claims that if only we could set up our schools the way he wants them to be set up, then social services would utterly disappear, the number of "psychic invalids" would drop to zero, "commercial entertainment of all sorts" would "vanish", and restaurants would be "drastically down-sized".

This is going beyound hyperbole; this borders on drastic ignorance.

For example, not all mental illnesses are caused by a lack of gumption. Many, such as clinical depression and schizophrenia, are genetic in nature, and will strike their victims regardless of how awesomely rational they are. Others, such as PTSD, are caused by psychological trauma and would fell even the mighty Gatto, should he be unfortunate enough to experience it.

While it's true that most of the "commercial entertainment of all sorts" is junk, some of it is art; we know this because a lot of it has survived since ancient times, despite the proclamations of people who thought just like Gatto (only referring to oil paintings, phonograph records, and plain old-fashioned writing instead of electronic media). As an English teacher, it seems like Gatto should know this.

And what's his beef with restaurants, anyway ? That's just... weird.

If you had the kind of motivation it causes to feel like you're in the process of building an amazing life, would you be able to still your mind and focus on sitcoms?

Do you feel the same way about fiction books, out of curiosity ?

If you don't agree with this, then do you also criticize Eliezer's method of raising the sanity waterline by encouraging people to refine their rationality?

If Eliezer claimed that raising the sanity waterline is the one magic bullet that would usher us into a new Golden Age, as we reclaim the faded glory of our ancestors, then yes, I would disagree with him too. But, AFAIK, he doesn't claim this -- unlike Gatto.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 February 2013 08:25:25AM *  6 points [-]

For example, not all mental illnesses are caused by a lack of gumption. Many, such as clinical depression and schizophrenia, are genetic in nature, and will strike their victims regardless of how awesomely rational they are.

I'm afraid this account has swung to the opposite extreme---to the extent that it is quite possibly further from the truth and more misleading than Gatto's obvious hyperbole.

Schizophrenia is one of the most genetically determined of the well known mental health problems but even it is heavily dependent on life experiences. In particular, long term exposure to stressful environments or social adversity dramatically increases the risk that someone at risk for developing the condition will in fact do so.

As for clinical depression, the implication that due to being 'genetic in nature' means that the environment in which an individual spends decades of growth and development in is somehow not important is utterly absurd. Genetics is again relevant in determining how vulnerable the individual is but the social environment is again critical for determining whether problems will arise.

Comment author: Bugmaster 22 February 2013 07:53:05PM 1 point [-]

That's a good point, I did not mean to imply that these mental illnesses are completely unaffected by environmental factors. In addition, in case of some illnesses such as depression, there are in fact many different causes that can lead to similar symptoms, so the true picture is a lot more complex (and is still not entirely well understood).

However, this is very different from saying something like "schizophrenia is completely environmental", or even "if only people had some basic critical thinking skills, they'd never become depressed", which is how I interpreted Gatto's claims.

For example even with a relatively low heritability rate, millions of people would still contract schizophrenia every year worldwide -- especially since many of the adverse life experiences that can trigger it are unavoidable. No amount of critical thinking will reduce the number of victims to zero. And that's just one specific disease among many, and we're not even getting into more severe cases such as Down's Syndrome. If Gatto thinks otherwise, then he's being hopelessly naive.

Comment author: Epiphany 22 February 2013 06:47:58PM 1 point [-]

I agree that saying "all these problems will disappear" is not the same as saying that "these problems will reduce". I felt the need to explain why the problems would reduce because I wasn't sure you saw the connections.

Others, such as PTSD, are caused by psychological trauma and would fell even the mighty Gatto, should he be unfortunate enough to experience it.

I have to wonder if having a really well-developed intellect might offer some amount of protection against this. Whether Gatto's intellect is sufficiently well-developed for this is another topic.

And what's his beef with restaurants, anyway ? That's just... weird.

I don't know. I love not cooking.

Do you feel the same way about fiction books, out of curiosity ?

Actually, yes. When I am fully motivated, I can spend all my evenings doing altruistic work for years, reading absolutely no fiction and watching absolutely no TV shows. That level of motivation is where I'm happiest, so I prefer to live that way.

I do occasionally watch movies during those periods, perhaps once a month, because rest is important (and because movies take less time to watch than a book takes to read, but are higher quality than television, assuming you choose them well).

Comment author: Bugmaster 22 February 2013 07:39:37PM 2 points [-]

I felt the need to explain why the problems would reduce because I wasn't sure you saw the connections.

I see the connections, but I do not believe that some of the problems Gatto wants to fix -- f.ex. the existence of television and restaurants -- are even problems at all. Sure, TV has a lot of terrible content, and some restaurants have terrible food, but that's not the same thing as saying that the very concept of these services is hopelessly broken.

I have to wonder if having a really well-developed intellect might offer some amount of protection against this

It probably would, but not to any great extent. I'm not a psychiatrist or a neurobiologist though, so I could be widely off the mark. In general, however, I think that Gatto is falling prey to the Dunning–Kruger effect when he talks about mental illness, economics, and many other things for that matter.

For example, the biggest tool in his school-fixing toolbox is the free market; he believes that if only schools could compete against each other with little to no government regulation, their quality would soar. In practice, such scenarios tend to work out... poorly.

When I am fully motivated, I can spend all my evenings doing altruistic work for years, reading absolutely no fiction and watching absolutely no TV shows.

That's fair, and your preferences are consistent. However, many other people see a great deal of value in fiction; some even choose to use it as a vehicle for transmitting their ideas (f.ex. HPMOR). I do admit that, in terms of raw productivity, I cannot justify spending one's time on reading fiction; if a person wanted to live a maximally efficient life, he would probably avoid any kind of entertainment altogether, fiction literature included. That said, many people find the act of reading fiction literature immensely useful (scientists and engineers included), and the same is true for other forms of entertainment such as music. I am fairly convinced that any person who says "entertainment is a waste of time" is committing a fallacy of false generalization.

Comment author: Epiphany 23 February 2013 05:41:53AM 0 points [-]

I do not believe that some of the problems Gatto wants to fix -- f.ex. the existence of television and restaurants -- are even problems at all.

The existence of television technology isn't, in my opinion, a problem. Nor is the fact that some shows are low quality. Even if all of them were low quality, I wouldn't necessarily see that as a problem - it would still be a way of relaxing. The problem I see with television is that the average person spends 4 hours a day watching it. (Can't remember where I got that study, sorry.) My problem with that is not that they aren't exercising (they'd still have an hour a day which is plenty of exercise, if they want it) or that they aren't being productive (you can only be so productive before you run out of mental stamina anyway, and the 40 hour work week was designed to use the entirety of the average person's stamina) but that they aren't living.

It could be argued that people need to spend hours every day imagining a fantasy. I was told by an elderly person once that before television, people would sit on a hill and daydream. I've also read that imagining doing a task correctly is more effective at making you better at it than practice. If that's true, daydreaming might be a necessity for maximum effectiveness and television might provide some kind of similar benefit. So it's possible that putting one's brain into fantasy mode for a few hours of day really is that beneficial.

Spending four hours a day in fantasy mode is not possible for me (I'm too motivated to DO something) and I don't seem to need anywhere near that much daydreaming. I would find it very hard to deal with if I had spent that much of my free time in fantasy. I imagine that if asked whether they would have preferred to watch x number of shows, or spent all of that free time on getting out there and living, most people would probably choose the latter - and that's sad.

he believes that if only schools could compete against each other with little to no government regulation, their quality would soar. In practice, such scenarios tend to work out... poorly.

I think that people would also have to have read the seven lessons speech for the problems he sees to be solved. Maybe eventually things would evolve to the point where schools would not behave this way anymore without them reading it, because it's probably not the most effective way of teaching, but I don't see that change happening quickly without people pressuring schools to make those specific changes.

However, I'm surprised that you say "In practice, such scenarios tend to work out... poorly." Do you mean that the free market doesn't do much to improve quality, or do you just mean that when people want specific changes and expect the free market to implement them, the free market doesn't tend to implement those specific changes?

I'm also very interested in where you got the information to support the idea, either way.

a vehicle for transmitting their ideas

After reading Ayn Rand's the Fountainhead, my feeling was that even though much of the writing was brilliant and enjoyable, I could have gotten the key ideas much faster if she had only published a few lines from one of the last chapters. I'm having the same reaction to the sequences and HPMOR. I enjoy them and recognize the brilliance in the writing abilities, but I find myself doing things like reading lists of biases over and over in order to improve my familiarity and eventually memorize them. I still want to finish the sequences because they're so important to this culture, but what I have prioritized appears to be getting the most important information in as quickly as possible. So, although entertainment is a way of transmitting ideas, I question how efficient it is, and whether it provides enough other learning benefits to outweigh the cost of wrapping all those ideas in so much text. I could walk all the way to Florida, but flying would be faster. People realize this so if they want to take vacations, they fly. Why, then, do they use entertainment to learn instead of seeking out the most efficient method?

It makes sense from the writer's point of view. I have said before that I was very glad that Eliezer decided to popularize rationality as much as possible, as I had been thinking that somebody needed to do that for a very long time. His writing is interesting and his style is brilliant and his method has worked to attract almost twelve million hits to his site. I think that's great. But the fact that people probably would not have flocked to the site if he had posted an efficient dissemination of cognitive biases and whatnot is curious. Maybe the way I learn is different.

I am fairly convinced that any person who says "entertainment is a waste of time" is committing a fallacy of false generalization.

I think it depends on whether you use "waste of time" to mean "absolutely no benefit whatsoever" or "nowhere near the most efficient way of getting the benefit".

The statement "entertainment is an inefficient way to get ideas compared with other methods" seems true to me.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 February 2013 06:36:23AM *  3 points [-]

I enjoy them and recognize the brilliance in the writing abilities, but I find myself doing things like reading lists of biases over and over in order to improve my familiarity and eventually memorize them. I still want to finish the sequences because they're so important to this culture, but what I have prioritized appears to be getting the most important information in as quickly as possible.

I wonder if the author would agree that that is the most important information. I suspect he would not. (So naturally if you learning goals are different to the teaching goals of the author then their material will not be optimized for your intentions.)

Comment author: Epiphany 23 February 2013 09:07:01AM -1 points [-]

It seems to me that the problem is what intention one has when one begins learning and whether one can deal with accepting the fact that they're biased, not how they go about learning them. Though, maybe Eliezer has put various protections in that get people questioning their intention and sells them on learning with the right intention. I would agree that if it did not occur to a person to use their knowledge of biases to look for their own mistakes, learning them could be really bad, but I do not think that learning a list of biases will all by itself turn me into an argument-wielding brain-dead zombie.

If it makes you feel any better to know this, I've been seeking a checklist of errors against which I can test my ideas.

Comment author: Kawoomba 23 February 2013 06:13:08AM 0 points [-]

The problem I see with television is that the average person spends 4 hours a day watching it. (...) Spending four hours a day in fantasy mode is not possible for me (I'm too motivated to DO something) and I don't seem to need anywhere near that much daydreaming.

What's wrong with live and let live (for their notion of 'living'). You can value "DO"ing something (apparently not counting daydreaming) over other activities for yourself, that's your prerogative, but why do you get to say who is and isn't "living"?

Comment author: Epiphany 23 February 2013 08:57:07AM *  2 points [-]

That was addressed here:

I imagine that if asked whether they would have preferred to watch x number of shows, or spent all of that free time on getting out there and living, most people would probably choose the latter - and that's sad.

It's not that I want to tell them whether they're "really living", it's that I think they don't think spending so much of their free time on TV is "really living".

Now, if you want to disagree with me on whether they think they are "really living", that might be really interesting. I acknowledge that mind projection fallacy might be causing me to think they want what I want.

Comment author: taelor 23 February 2013 11:18:15AM 2 points [-]

I suspect that many people who enjoy television, if asked, would claim that socializing with freinds or other things are somehow better or more pure, but only because TV is a low status medium, and so saying that watching TV isn't "real living" has become somewhat of a cached thought within our culture; I'd suspect you'd have a much harder time finding people who will claim that spending time enjoying art or reading classic literature or other higher status fictional media doesn't count as "real living".

Comment author: Nornagest 23 February 2013 09:40:05AM *  1 point [-]

It's not that I want to tell them whether they're "really living", it's that I think they don't think spending so much of their free time on TV is "really living".

I think I might actually expect people to endorse different activities in this context at different levels of abstraction.

That is, if you asked J. Random TV Consumer to rank (say) TV and socialization, or study, or some other venue for self-improvement, I wouldn't be too surprised if they consistently picked the latter. But if you broke down these categories into specific tasks, I'd expect individual shows to rate more highly -- in some cases much more highly -- than implied by the category rating.

I'm not sure what this implies about true preferences.

Comment author: olibain 25 March 2013 03:46:48AM 0 points [-]

Whoo! my post got the most recursion. Do I get a reward? If I get a few more layers it will be more siding than post.

Comment author: Bugmaster 23 February 2013 08:59:48AM 0 points [-]

However, I'm surprised that you say "In practice, such scenarios tend to work out... poorly." Do you mean that the free market doesn't do much to improve quality...

That is one big reason behind my statement, yes. Currently, it looks like many, if not most, people -- in the Southern states, at least -- want their schools to engage in cultural indoctrination as opposed to any kind of rationality training. The voucher programs, which were designed specifically to introduce some free market into the education system, are being used to teach things like Creationism and historical revisionism. Which is not to say that public education in states like Louisiana and Texas is any better, seeing as they are implementing the same kinds of curricula by popular vote.

In fact, most private schools are religious in nature. According to this advocacy site (hardly an unbiased source, I know), around 50% are Catholic. On the plus side, student performance tends to be somewhat better (though not drastically so) in private schools, according to CAPE as well as other sources. However, private schools are also quite a bit more expensive than public schools, with tuition levels somewhere around $10K (and often higher). This means that the students who attend them have much wealthier parents, and this fact alone can account for their higher performance.

This leads me to my second point: I believe that Gatto is mistaken when he yearns for earlier, simpler times, where education was unencumbered by any regulation whatsoever, and students were free to learn (or to avoid learning) whatever they wanted. We do not live in such times anymore. Instead, we live in a world that is saturated by technology. Literacy, along with basic numeracy, are no longer marks of high status, but an absolute requirement for daily life. Most well-paying jobs, creative pursuits, as well as even basic social interactions all rely on some form of information technology. Basic education is not a luxury, but an essential service.

Are public schools adequately providing this essential service ? No. However, we simply cannot afford to live in a world where access to it is gated by wealth -- which is what would happen if schools were completely privatized. As far as I know, most if not all efforts to privatize essential services have added in disaster; this includes police, fire departments, and even prisons (in California, at least). Basic health care is a particularly glaring example.

So, in summary, existing private schools are emphasizing for indoctrination rather than critical thinking; and even if they were not, we cannot afford to restrict access to basic education based on personal wealth.

Comment author: Bugmaster 23 February 2013 08:05:10AM 0 points [-]

The problem I see with television is that the average person spends 4 hours a day watching it. ... My problem with that is not that they aren't exercising ... or that they aren't being productive ... but that they aren't living.

What does "living" mean, exactly ? I understand that you find your personal creative projects highly enjoyable, and that's great. But you aren't merely saying, "I enjoy X", you're saying, "enjoying Y instead of X is objectively wrong" (if I understand you correctly).

Why, then, do they use entertainment to learn instead of seeking out the most efficient method?

I address this point below, but I'd like to also point out that some people people's goals are different from yours. They consume entertainment because it is enjoyable, or because it facilitates social contact (which they in turn find enjoyable), not because they believe it will make them more efficient (though see below).

So, although entertainment is a way of transmitting ideas, I question how efficient it is, and whether it provides enough other learning benefits to outweigh the cost of wrapping all those ideas in so much text.

Many people -- yourself not among them, admittedly -- find that they are able to internalize new ideas much more thoroughly if these ideas are tied into a narrative. Similarly, other people find it easier to communicate their ideas in the form of narratives; this is why Eliezer writes things like Three Worlds Collide and HPMOR instead of simply writing out the equations. This is also why he employs several tropes from fiction even in his non-fiction writing.

I'm not saying that this is the "right" way to learn, or anything; I am merely describing the situation that, as I believe, exists.

The statement "entertainment is an inefficient way to get ideas compared with other methods" seems true to me.

I am just not convinced that this statement applies to anything like a majority of "person+idea" combinations.

Comment author: Epiphany 23 February 2013 09:20:52AM *  1 point [-]

What does "living" mean, exactly ?

"Living" the way I used it means "living to the fullest" or, a little more specifically "feeling really engaged in life" or "feeling fulfilled".

I understand that you find your personal creative projects highly enjoyable, and that's great. But you aren't merely saying, "I enjoy X", you're saying, "enjoying Y instead of X is objectively wrong" (if I understand you correctly).

I used "living" to refer to a subjective state. There's nothing objective about it, and IMO, there's nothing objectively right or wrong about having a subjective state that is (even in your own opinion) not as good as the ideal.

I feel like your real challenge here is more similar to Kawoomba's concern. Am I right?

They consume entertainment because it is enjoyable,

Do you find it more enjoyable to passively watch entertainment than to do your own projects? Do you think most people do? If so, might that be because the fun was taken out of learning, or people's creativity was reduced to the point where doing your own project is too challenging, or people's self-confidence was made too dependent on others such that they don't feel comfortable pursuing that fulfilling sense of having done something on their own?

or because it facilitates social contact (which they in turn find enjoyable), not because they believe it will make them more efficient (though see below).

I puzzle at how you classify watching something together as "social contact". To me, being in the same room is not a social life. Watching the same entertainment is not quality time. The social contact I yearn for involves emotional intimacy - contact with the actual person inside, not just a sense of being in the same room watching the same thing. I don't understand how that can be called social contact.

Many people -- yourself not among them, admittedly -- find that they are able to internalize new ideas much more thoroughly if these ideas are tied into a narrative.

I've been thinking about this and I think what might be happening is that I make my own narratives.

Similarly, other people find it easier to communicate their ideas in the form of narratives

This, I can believe about Eliezer. There are places where he could have been more incisive but is instead gets wordy to compensate. That's an interesting point.

I am just not convinced that this statement applies to anything like a majority of "person+idea" combinations.

Okay, so to clarify, your position is that entertainment is a more efficient way to learn?

Comment author: Bugmaster 24 February 2013 09:59:38PM 2 points [-]

"Living" the way I used it means "living to the fullest" or, a little more specifically "feeling really engaged in life" or "feeling fulfilled".

I understand that you do not feel fulfilled when watching TV, but other people might. I would agree with your reply on Kawoomba's sub-thread:

Now, if you want to disagree with me on whether they think they are "really living", that might be really interesting. I acknowledge that mind projection fallacy might be causing me to think they want what I want.

For better or for worse, passive entertainment such as movies, books, TV shows, music, etc., is a large part of our popular culture. You say:

I puzzle at how you classify watching something together as "social contact". To me, being in the same room is not a social life.

Strictly speaking this is true, but people usually discuss the things they watch (or read, or listen to, etc.), with their friends or, with the advent of the Internet, even with random strangers. The shared narratives thus facilitate the "emotional intimacy" you speak about. Furthermore, some specific works of passive entertainment, as well as generalized common tropes, make up a huge chunk of the cultural context without which it would be difficult to communicate with anyone in our culture on an emotional level (as opposed to, say, presenting mathematical proofs or engineering schematics to each other).

For example, if you take a close look at various posts on this very site, you will find references to the genres of science fiction and fantasy, as well as media such as movies or anime, which the posters simply take for granted (sometimes too much so, IMO; f.ex., not everyone knows what "tsuyoku naritai" means right off the bat). A person who did not share this common social context would find it difficult to communicate with anyone here.

Note, though, that once again I am describing a situation that exists, not prescribing a behavior. In terms of raw productivity per unit of time, I cannot justify any kind of entertainment at all. While it is true that entertainment has been with us since the dawn of civilization, so has cancer; just because something is old, doesn't mean that it's good.

Okay, so to clarify, your position is that entertainment is a more efficient way to learn?

No, this phrasing is too strong. I meant what I said before: many people find it easier to internalize new ideas when they are presented as part of a narrative. This doesn not mean that entertainment is a more efficient way to learn all things for all people, or that it is objectively the best technique for learning things, or anything of the sort.

Comment author: Bugmaster 24 February 2013 10:40:53PM 0 points [-]

This article, courtesy of the recent Seq Rerun, seems serendipitous:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/yf/moral_truth_in_fiction/

Comment author: Bugmaster 21 February 2013 05:14:16AM *  4 points [-]

I have, in fact, read the Speech before, quite some time ago. My point is that outstanding teachers can make a big positive difference in the students' lives (at least, that was the case for me), largely by deliberately avoiding some or all of the anti-patterns that Gatto lists in his Speech. We were also taught the basics of critical thinking in an English class (of all places), though this could've been a fluke (or, once again, a teacher's personal initiative).

I should also point out that these anti-patterns are not ubiquitous. I was lucky enough to attend a school in another country for a few of my teenage years (a long, long time ago). During a typical week, we'd learn how to solve equations in Math class, apply these skills to exercises in Statistics, stage an experiment and record the results in Physics, then program in the statistics formulae and run them on our experimental results in Informatics (a.k.a. Computer Science). Ideas tend to make more sense when connections between them are revealed.

I haven't seen anything like this in US-ian education, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out that some school somewhere in the US is employing such an approach.

Edited to add:

Failing to teach reasoning skills in school is a crime against humanity.

I share your frustration, but there's no need to overdramatize.

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 February 2013 11:11:23AM -1 points [-]

Offtopic: Does anyone know where you can find that speech in regular HTML format? I defenitely read it in that format, but I can't find it again.

Ontopic: While I appreciate (and agree with) the point he's making, overall, he uses a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole, at best. It seems pretty clear that specific teachers can make a difference to individuals, even if they can't enact structural change.

Also:

What do you mean by "crime against humanity"?

Comment author: Bugmaster 21 February 2013 08:56:38PM 0 points [-]

I could've sworn that I saw his entire book in HTML format somewhere, a long time ago, but now I can't find it. Perhaps I only imagined it.

From what I recall, in the later chapters he claims that our current educational system was deliberately designed in meticulous detail by a shadowy conspiracy of statists bent on world (or, at the very least, national) domination. Again, my recollection could be widely off the mark, but I do seem to remember staring at my screen and thinking, "Really, Gatto ? Really ?"

Comment author: Nornagest 22 February 2013 05:24:57AM 1 point [-]

I read Dumbing Us Down, which might not be the book you're thinking of -- if memory serves, he's written a few -- but I don't remember him ever quite going with the conspiracy theory angle.

He skirts the edges of it pretty closely, granted. In the context of history of education, his thesis is basically that the American educational system is an offshoot of the Prussian system and that that system was picked because it prioritizes obedience to authority. Even if we take that all at face value, though, it doesn't require a conspiracy -- just a bunch of 19th- and early 20th-century social reformers with a fondness for one of the more authoritarian regimes of the day, openly doing their jobs.

Now, while it's pretty well documented that Horace Mann and some of his intellectual heirs had the Prussian system in mind, I've never seen historical documentation giving exactly those reasons for choosing it. And in any case the systems diverged in the mid-1800s and we'd need to account for subsequent changes before stringing up the present-day American school system on those charges. But at its core it's a pretty plausible hypothesis -- many of the features that after two World Wars make the Prussians look kind of questionable to us were, at the time, being held up as models of national organization, and a lot of that did have to do with regimentation of various kinds.