Saturday, May 17, 2014

Education: Have we been dumbed down over the years?

A question on Quora:
Has America been "dumbed down" over the years?

An answer I wrote:
Yes; and it's not just the USA. Please look up the works of John
Taylor Gatto, who wrote the books "Dumbing Us Down" and "Weapons of
Mass Instruction" on the same subject. Other persons to look up can be
John Holt, author of books like "How Children Fail" and "Learning all
the time". A recent young author (a high school student) writing about
this and coming in the news is Nikhil Goyal (american).

It goes into much deeper than test or IQ scores. Crucial parts of what
you call a person "not dumb" are the abilities to think creatively,
critically; to synthesize information into something meaningful and
useful; to empathize with others; to "get along" with other people.
And this dumbness afflicts even people who ace the system.

We all know some high achievers during our years in school/college who
despite having the highest scores and achievements, you found
impossible to reason with, or incapable of thinking out of the box, or
seriously lacking in empathy, or you found their understanding of the
world dangerously shallow. You yourself could have been one of these
persons while growing up; and now you might wonder why it all happened
that way. We find many such people ascend to high positions in society
on the back of their achievements; from where they wreak havoc. And we
frequently find more sensible, mature and capable people being
excluded because they don't have the qualifications needed.

To get to the bottom of all this, we have to question the basic
structures of our education system; see them in an integrated way
rather than focussing on how to improve Math, Science, etc.
One nice documentary film that wraps a lot of these together, is "La
Educacion Prohibida" (Spanish, but has English subtitles) or the
Forbidden Education, (youtube link: )

And for solutions, please look up "Democratic schools", "unschooling".
Two institutions that have had great success and have a lot of
documentation, info regarding this are: Sudbury Valley School in US,
and Summerhill in UK.
The alternatives aren't just limited to the West... "Nai Taleem"
education based on the ideas of freedom, self-reliance and self-rule
of Gandhi is being talked about, and practiced, a lot in pockets of
India, though they have very limited coverage and many people
associated with them haven't brought their stories to the www. There
are also many researchers and activists talking, writing about it
around the non-Western world; and there have been conferences, talks
held on these topics. Look up the works of Manish Jain, Claude
Alvares, Munir Fasheh.

Again, these things are out of the dominant mainstream academic
circuits so don't expect any glowing recommendations for these guys
from any established, entrenched institutions where the problem of
dumbing down people is happening. There may be a phd thesis here or
there, but institutionally, these people and initiatives are mostly
treated as heretics.

In higher education, there is an ongoing documentary film project
"Enlivened Learning" that documents alternative universities operating
at grassroots levels around the world that are trying to address these
issues and provide a more holistic coming-of-age to their students.

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