September 18, 2011

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Educating the Future of Education

Education in 21st Century America (and likely the world, though I can speak only on observing it in Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia and “Papa Doc” era Haiti); is a hodgepodge of theories, methodologies, beliefs and practices that most people cannot define, let alone understand.

Science fiction, the self-styled “last great literature of ideas” (, has tackled religion, technology, personal freedom, the moral rights of genetic engineering and a thousand other topics. But when it comes to education, SF is strangely pedantic in its assumption that education will ALWAYS be teacher-led (which is the system developed by the Roman Catholic Church in medieval times: “The primary conception of the purpose of education was transmission based. The priests taught the people…”. The education monolith of 21st Century American teaching and unionism is violently allergic to anything that smacks of Christianity but has totally embraced the methodology and morality of a system developed and promoted by the Church while at the same moment ignoring the roots of the system it endorses and promotes to the exclusion of all else.)

Read virtually any SF novel that includes the education of children, adolescents and adults and you will find children sitting at desks (either real or virtual) with an adult in total power over the “learners” (because on their say-so, the individual being subjected to “education” must perform to the standards laid out by the “teacher” or they will not be granted freedom to think as they want to) learning some sort of rigidly defined curriculum (which is based entirely on the philosophy of whatever controlling group is in power and not on any sort of objective reality).

No variation. No “shifting paradigm”. Nothing NEW, including new ideas.

While starships fly around their heads, aliens communicate advanced technologies (which they learned within an education system that is EXACTLY like ours (despite Robert L. Forward’s DRAGON’S EGG cheela living on the surface of a collapsed star and the Rosans of Marc Stiegler’s “Petals of Rose” living a lifetime in seven Human days)), our kids apparently, are forever doomed to get their education via a transmission based system instituted by the Roman Catholic Church five hundred years ago.

Sheffield’s JUPITER series has kids being educated – the old-fashioned way. So does Brin’s COLONY HIGH. There’s nothing new in Gerrold’s DINGILLIAD stories, either. All of these feature teens being educated in the 21st, 22nd Centuries and beyond…in ways their 16th Century counterparts would have recognized.

Oh, I forgot BF Skinner’s “teaching machines”, “smart pills”, “amnesiac pills” (MEMINI by Daniel Pearlman), and a-som which makes sleeping unnecessary (Paul Di Filippo’s “Shuteye for the Timebroker”). But none of these introduce paradigm shifts in education.

Even the God Emperor of DUNE is educated with methodologies Plato, Rome, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Thorndike, Skinner, Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey, Montessori, Bruner and Strauch would recognize easily.

Where are the ideas that will shake the foundation of education? Where are the guerilla educators? Where are the startling new ideas? Why do aliens appear to learn exactly the way we do? Are there OTHER ways of learning?

If we are looking to SF to point out some directions to explore, at least at this time, we will be sadly disappointed.

And maybe this will offer a niche for me to fill – if I can figure out how to do it…


References: (History of learning theory)

“The Massachusetts General Court passed a law requiring every town to create and operate a grammar school. Fines were imposed on parents who did not send their children to school and the government took the power to take children away from their parents and apprentice them to others if government officials decided that the parents were "unfit to have the children educated properly".[6] (wiki quote, Compulsory Education) (History of Compulsory Education)

"Owen was quite insistent that the system not "embrace anything less than the whole people." The effect will be to "regenerate America in one generation. It will make but one class out of the many." Frances Wright revealed the aim of the system starkly, calling on the people to overthrow a moneyed aristocracy and priestly hierarchy. "The present is a war of class." Robert Dale Owen (on the purpose of compulsory education, 1847)

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