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Epiphany comments on How about testing our ideas? - Less Wrong

31 Post author: Konkvistador 14 September 2012 10:28AM

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Comment author: shminux 17 September 2012 09:39:00PM *  -2 points [-]

I suspect that free public education is on average about the same everywhere. Guessing teacher's password and rote memorization are the easiest ways to teach, and an average teacher is not very good at what she does, so this method shows up by default. The idea that the US education is built on the "Prussian school system [which] was explicitly designed to create soldiers" and that's why it is so bad seems like a conspiracy theory.

I would like to know if there are examples to the contrary (i.e. countries where an average high-school graduate is adept at independent learning and critical thinking).

Comment author: Epiphany 23 September 2012 04:41:19AM *  8 points [-]

John Taylor Gatto won the New York State teacher of the year award in 1991 (New York state's education website). His ambition to be a great teacher led him to the realization that the system itself is broken and he was so disgusted with it that he resigned. The claims that John Taylor Gatto makes are much worse than that they're defaulting to the teacher's password. You have no idea. Consider this: You obviously value rational thought. Learning about things like logical fallacies and biases is a no-brainer to you, right? Why are so many people learning them here, at LessWrong, for the first time? From what I know of American public schools, most of them don't teach these. What could cause our school systems to teach us square dancing and rote memorization of thousands of spellings of words for the sake of polish, but leave out basic pieces required for rational thought? Ask yourself this:

If you were making the curriculum, and you knew the kids would be turned lose into the world complete with the right to vote at 18 would you find any excuse good enough to let them out with no familiarity of logical fallacies, biases, etc.?

If your answer to this is "no" you already know that something is wrong.

I have a radar for conspiracy theories too, but what he explains in The Seven Lesson School Teacher (in the first chapter of his book "Dumbing us Down") got past my conspiracy theory radar and made it to "oh crap". If you want to fast forward past the pretty obvious stuff, start at #3 in that link, and if you want to begin with "oh crap" start with #4.

I have no idea if his claim that the American school system was based on the Prussian school system in order to create obedient soldiers is correct, or whether seeing the effects of schooling as intentional is just a matter of seeing agency where there is none due to bias. However, the problems he describes are worth consideration. That, I'm sure of.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 September 2012 08:33:10AM 6 points [-]

John Taylor Gatto won the New York State teacher of the year award in 1991 (New York state's education website). His ambition to be a great teacher led him to the realization that the system itself is broken and he was so disgusted with it that he resigned. The claims that John Taylor Gatto makes are much worse than that they're defaulting to the teacher's password.

This was the only one of the education theorists that I studied while getting my teachning qualification that was remotely inspiring.

Comment author: Epiphany 23 September 2012 09:05:16AM *  9 points [-]

Man, Gatto spurred off so much thought for me. That was in my early 20's so it's not all readily coming to mind right now, but wow. I feel like... he explained so much. I'm not sure why you say he's inspiring. So much of life that didn't make any sense began to make sense after that. But that was one of the worst existential crises I've ever experienced. To realize that your whole life you had been stifled by the thing you thought was teaching you: abominable. There are horrors worse than death. That is one of them.

When I was 17, I decided to tear my whole reality apart because I noticed that it contained too many flaws. This was excruciating and terrifying. When I was 18, I had the undignified experience of realizing I could not allow myself to vote because I wasn't taught to think critically and was still learning to. When I was in my early 20's, I discovered logical fallacies and went "SOMEBODY WROTE THIS ALL DOWN!!?!!?? Why didn't I know about this!?" I was a mess of a young woman - it took years of effort to put together a decently competent mind after all that.

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

Comment author: endoself 23 September 2012 06:44:29PM 4 points [-]

John Taylor Gatto won the New York State teacher of the year award in 1991 (New York state's education website). His ambition to be a great teacher led him to the realization that the system itself is broken and he was so disgusted with it that he resigned.

This pattern matches to the standard failure mode where exceptional individuals assume that others are more like them and therefore more competent than they actually are. This causes them to conclude that institutions are more flawed than they actually are.

Comment author: Nornagest 23 September 2012 07:58:45PM *  3 points [-]

I have no idea if his Prussian school system claim is right, or whether the idea that this was all intentional is just a matter of seeing agency where there is none due to bias.

It's at least partly right, but strikes me as weak evidence. Horace Mann and several of his contemporaries admired the Prussian system and introduced reforms to American schooling based on it -- but he probably wasn't trying to foster exactly the same features that later commentators have objected to. There have also been several major changes to American public schooling since then, many of them divergent with the development of the Prussian (and, later, German) school system.

It's plausible to me that the American school system functionally prioritizes inculcating obedience to authority, whether it was designed that way or fell into that arrangement through a process of evolution. But that's a claim that's got to stand or fall on an analysis of the system as it currently exists, not of its remote origins.

Comment author: Morendil 23 September 2012 10:20:36AM 2 points [-]

What could cause our school systems to teach us square dancing and rote memorization of thousands of spellings of words for the sake of polish, but leave out basic pieces required for rational thought?

My thesis is that to a good first approximation the purpose of schools, like that of the TSA, is to instill and ensure compliance in the populace, not to educate. I should probably go and read this Gatto, he's come up before in discussions like this one.

Comment author: Epiphany 23 September 2012 07:26:37PM 4 points [-]

I really question whether a "world full of leaders" would necessarily fail. These discussions about the original purpose of schooling seem to come down to that question. Is it that the leaders at the time didn't want to give up leadership to have a strong populace, or is it that they had no clue how to organize a strong populace in a way that makes them as effective as stifling them does?

I mean, it's pretty counter-intuitive that stifling a populace will make it more effective, even if it gives you the ability to organize them better.

And it's really questionable that a populace full of leaders wouldn't figure out how to organize itself.

On the one hand, we could argue that the information overload of a species that is rapidly gaining knowledge will worsen if their minds aren't standardized somehow. We could also ask "Are there different ways to standardize, some stifling, some not?" and "Would standardizing them by stifling them cause more or less information overload compared with standardizing them around a theme of rational thought?"

The standardizing by stifling option reduces the number of new ideas being created, but prevents bad ideas from being culled, which allows them to build up.

The standardizing by rationality option doesn't necessarily mean you need to stifle creativity (and I think creativity is necessary for rational thought - lest every decision you make be subject to the flaws inherent in an option set too small, like with false dichotomy) but it would cause people to cull a large number of ideas that they waste time on right now AND it would give them a way to agree on things. Right now, we have a bunch of people who believe in opinion. They say "Everyone has their opinion. Let's respect each other's opinion." as if they cannot be proven true or false, more or less effective. I think the problem is they don't know enough about how to test ideas.

Assuming that a populace made of soldiers makes a country safer may be incorrect, too. Why did people in Nazi Germany adopt the morals of the Nazis or fail to oppose them effectively? According to Dabrowski's theory, there are 5 levels of of moral development, and the one that 75% of the population is at (level two) is characterized by it's adoption of authority's morals - they do not think for themselves about morality or realize their own hypocrisy or question their authority's morality (that happens at level 3). They just follow it blindly.

I've heard people argue that we need schools like these to keep people organized and to have soldiers... but if the "organized" thinkers are going to result in a proliferation of useless ideas and the "soldiers" are liable to kill their own citizens as well as actual enemies, then we may be both more disorganized and less secure than if we were to choose some other school system.

Perhaps this is the key to the problem you pose - if the desired outcomes are organization and national security (as opposed to, say, wielding tyrannical power), then perhaps posing a better educational solution to the problems of organization and national security is the key that would change this.

I am very, very heartened to see that someone (Eliezer) has finally made progress in gathering people around a theme of refining rationality. That needed to happen. I've been thinking that needed to happen for years now - because the general population needs thinking skills, because gifted people are socially fractured, a million reasons.

I wonder if the people here have what it takes to invent an education system that is better at security and organization.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 September 2012 08:00:14PM *  4 points [-]

Another big thing that's missing from school is the idea of applying one's thinking to a significant decision, and then acting on it.

I call this problem "spending crucial developmental years in simulation land".

Comment author: Epiphany 23 September 2012 06:03:02PM *  2 points [-]

You seem to be reading these comments out of context. Cliff notes: That is John Taylor Gatto's claim - that the American school system is based on the Prussian school system which was designed to create soldiers and the Prussian belief was that this required them to do things that stunted intellectual growth. Shminux said JTG seemed like a conspiracy theorist and my comment was in response to that.

You should definitely read JTG. At least read "The Seven Lesson School Teacher" (linked in my previous comment) if nothing else.

Comment author: Morendil 23 September 2012 06:24:35PM 1 point [-]

out of context

True: I had only read a small part of the thread at that time. My intent was to point out that there are plenty of others here on LW who have considered questions like the one above, and who have (in my case independently) come to conclusions that align with those you attribute to JTG. (That's not hugely surprising, given Eliezer's educational background.)

I wasn't aware of the Prussian connection specifically, Wikipedia seems to confirm that the Prussian system has inspired other countries (including mine). (Not that I trust WP overmuch, but other sources concur.)

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2012 07:57:44PM 0 points [-]

If your answer to this is "no" you already know that something is wrong.

The thing that's wrong is that nobody knows about rationality, and of those who do, most don't care.

Not everyone knows about heuristics and biases. A b'crat who did wouldn't care enough to put his career on the line.

Comment author: MugaSofer 21 February 2013 02:37:59PM -1 points [-]

I have no idea if his claim that the American school system was based on the Prussian school system is right, or whether seeing the effects of schooling as intentional is just a matter of seeing agency where there is none due to bias. However, the problems he describes are worth consideration. That, I'm sure of.

Would have upvoted just for this.