The Education Wars Part VIII
I doubt there's a better piece on the internet today. Or many days. Thank you. This is incredible.
Step one for raising healthy kids: throw out your TV. But everyone here knows that. Step two: either homeschool or find a SMALL school aligned with your values. Small is important because of the Dunbar number issue Mathew brings up in the linked post. I had sensed that intuitively but thanks for articulating it! Step three: live and model the fact that we are in this world but not of this world. Doesn't have to be religious but I suspect that most/all based parents model a values system that is explicitly "outside the labyrinth." Healthy kids WILL be outsiders in this society, because the society is sick. So I think it's best to get them used to being outsiders from a young age.
Such a great article, Mathew. Thank you for being you!
You're a good writer too. I particularly liked "postcards from History" and "the pathological hacking of the tribe" and the Minotard imagery.
I've learned to think about genius in terms of community. Through weird turns of fate, my wife wound up living a large chunk of her life in coal-mining communities (she worked as an organizer for the UMWA) and we now live in a former gypsum-mining community that has somehow kept its character. Mining is a cyclical industry, and all miners know long periods of layoffs. So they all learn to be extremely thrifty and self-reliant, but communally self-reliant rather than individually self-reliant.
Miners are like Mexican mechanics -- they can build anything, they can fix anything, they can come up with a way to create anything, and always without money. In my community, we have a community center where there is a monthly party of some type -- potluck night, bluegrass night where everyone brings whatever they can pick or thump, etc. If you don't bring an instrument you get handed a salvaged washboard. It's a quonset hut with heating, cooling, a stage, and an indoor and outdoor kitchen, and they built it for free, with entirely found or donated materials. It's been going strong for 80 years now.
We have a community park full of fruit trees and elms watered entirely from our wild spring. We have to channel the water from the spring (with little trenches, rocks, etc.) to water all those trees and the grass. There are no sprinklers. But here we are in the middle of the desert and we have no water bill for our huge shady park.
So some people keep the park watered. Others organize the bluegrass night or talent shows in the quonset hut. Others keep the ancient fridge and stoves in the community center running. Others have lead the political battle to keep this canyon safe from development. Other people are alert to the needs of neighbors. We have a multi-generation family of schizophrenics in the community who go back to before the mine was started. They owned all the water rights until the father died and the county forced them to sell the rights to the county. Then they became poor and now they live on disability, hallucinating all over the place.
But they thrive here. The sons earn extra money under the table doing yard work and repair jobs for everyone. The oldest son, now in his 50s, makes rock art in the park and in the desert surrounding the community. It's elegaic and beautiful. His dogs keep watch over him every day as he's out sculpting. Sometimes the hallucinations get scary and he starts yelling in the street. Then we have to talk him down.
The youngest grandson just finished his junior year in high school and he's being recruited by some of the best colleges in the country, probably because he started in our dinky two-room primary school and has served on the park water crew and in our volunteer fire department. He's a responsible and valued member of our community who loves his hallucinating family and helps to make sure Social Services doesn't bust them up. A college professor in the community helps when there are tricky forms to fill out.
We have two widows in their 90s who are able to stay in their homes because this community would never let them go without a ride to the doctor or without paint on their window trim.
I think the kind of genius you're talking about is a function of community. You know you're needed and you step forward. If you get stuck, someone else jumps in. You both get more brilliant every time. I see it around me everyday and none of these people seem to have any idea how special they are.
You make so much sense with this essay. As a kid age four I taught myself to read using my older sister's school work, which pissed off the kindergarten teacher the first day I started school. I began to write music, poetry and plays, sculpt, paint, draw, dance (in secret because of the fundamentalist sect to which our family belonged) and design science experiments and buildings. I excelled at piano and taught myself to play guitar. I absolutely LOVED math, because I could see the logic of the problem and feel it like a thump on my chest when I got it right. And I had real dreams and goals of a future career that combined science, medicine and law. And maybe politics. But I was also a kid who needed external praise and feedback because I didn't think I was any good, really. Humility and self-effacement were rewarded in my family. I hungered to feel that my success was important to the admired and respected adults in my life, but I didn't have that, being a girl expected to grow up to marry a missionary and raise Christian children and not waste money for college just to get the Mrs degree. So, got many perfect math scores right up until the latter half of grade twelve. I missed three weeks of classes due to pneumonia and when I returned to class in the late winter I found the new material devastatingly confusing. I just could not catch up. But no one cared that I was suddenly struggling with math - certainly not my teacher. I failed math in grade 12 while acing other subjects. I never completed a university degree or achieved any kind of career. But my kids are great and so is my garden.
I've always felt that the "Jack of all trades, master of one" was actually not specific enough.
Master learning, learn how to learn, and you'll always be able to accomplish the task at hand efficiently, even if your learning curve is vertical.
You’re an extraordinary person Mathew. And it’s a great pleasure reading your thoughts here and also seeing the illustrations you chose.
Silos had killed science and medicine in major ways. Nobody talks about the tyranny of specialization. Glad you chose this topic and very interested in re-reading it now that I’ve read it once.
Love this! I homeschool my kids in Northern Virginia and the pressure to be some sort of superstar is intense. I have always told my kids that the world is full of people you never hear of that are necessary for the world to run smoothly... Moms, dads, ditch diggers, etc. And THANK YOU for the quote. My dad is brilliant, but not degree-d and he would always put himself down when we called him a jack of all trades. He'd say, yeah, but master of none. I can't wait to give him the REST of the quote!!
Brilliant. Love it! Yesterday I jammed from work. My head wasn’t in it. Instead, I rode a ~600km motorcycle ride loop around some of BC’s most spectacular scenery (Duffy Lake Road loop). A fantastic way to clear ones’ head. No psychoanalyst required. In the madness of the last two years I’ve become very isolated. Excluded from playing music. Shut out from work. Seeing family. Air travel (the downside with living so close to such glorious views as we have in BC, Canada, is that we have Turdoo calling our shots….). I needed the tonic of a long ride. In thinking about the future, it’s easy to feel negative. But then again, you pose a great question - “When It All Breaks Down, Who's Going to Rebuild It?”.
We’re gonna be in a so much stronger position than we realize. Let’s get over our grieving for the world that was. It’s gone. Waiting for it to come back is futile. Let’s move on and get rebuilding.
I’m glad I’m on the team with so many folks like this.
Thanks Mathew - that was inspirational.
First reaction article title channeling sci-fi Heinlein "Specialization is for Insects. A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program "
Also you'd probably v much enjoy Postman 1995 "End of Education", has some v memorable passages https://scott.london/reviews/postman2.html
MC: "having worked my way through college doing actuarial work"
Q: My step-son is 17, motivated and would like to embark on that career track, what edu trajectory would you recommend for someone outside your geo-vicinity?
Lastly, IMHO US elite higher ed (Ivies, Caltech, MIT etc) for sizeable minority of students is simply a vehicle laundering privilege of birth wealth / connections into education.
So do you and you wife ever ponder the probabilistic biochemical origins of life? I'm just there the last couple of days. Hexagons, quantum electrostatic excitement and energy release, diurnal bombardment from the Sun for billions of years pushing atoms and molecules into and out of structures, crystal lattices, Platonic solids, protozoa.
I'm many gaps away to the origin, replication RNA patterns etc. But like your opening paragraph I'm just at the tip of the tip of the tip and fascinated. I could spend all day in a nice library. Except I want to contribute, share, and create something with some people! One of the loveliest intros I've ever read.
Also currently curious to the quantum entanglement in photosynthesis and all green plants achieving almost 100% photon to sugar energy efficiency.
The missing ingredient is actually philosophy.
"The ghosts of scholasticism -- of a pursuit of knowledge divorced from its social end -- hover about the microscopes and test-tubes of the scientific world; ... The blunt truth is that unless a scientist is also a philosopher, with some capacity to see things *sub specie totius* [a complete perspective on the whole], -- unless he can come out of his hole into the open, -- he is not fit to direct his own research. ... without philosophy as its eye piece, science is but the traditional child who has taken apart the traditional watch, with none but the traditional results." -- Will Durant
Oh, do keep teasing this one out!
1.) is this intentionally written in an intellectually tiered way? As in, the Einsteins will get a meaning out of it different than the rest of us plebs? My idiot sauvant nature (and I hope no one take offense to that) usually wants to zoom out after taking in information and reframe it from as many different angles as my limited mind is capable of producing.
2.) Calvin and Hobbes is genius. I named one of my sons Calvin and oh boy, does he take after his name sake. Trouble maker philosopher with crazy imagination. Not to pigeonhole him or anything. He didn't attend school. We do autonomous learning.
3.) the Satoshi Nakimoto joke made me LOL
4.) the Montessori schools in Chicago are a total joke. Two of my friends are teachers in such schools. They are so woke they're missing a periphery. Their schools cost more than I can bring in a year on an artist salery. They're super proud to educate budding artists (who, I would venture to guess) wouldn be able to afford to send their kids to those schools.
5.) my Bulgarian education and a clerical error were responsible for me to skip some grades and graduate high school here by the time I was 15. School was so boring for years and years. Where were the teachers they make movies about? I don't think I met a single teacher in my life that inspired me.
6.) education is a fundamental issue. But it often misses the point because it is misframed. Thank you for expanding the conversation!
The system does indeed need to change. But will it? My guess is that it will instead "all break down", either soon or in a few centuries, geniuses notwithstanding. Better that it be soon.
Very nice article - thank you.
Hmm... Minotard here. But I'm slowly pulling away. As of last month I'm semi-retired (part-time as needed status at my company) but keeping my hand in the game for the occasional "easy money" that I can't make doing anything else, at least on an hourly basis. It's still soul sucking but it leaves me more time for other things. Still deciding what those other things should be...
A few years back I attempted to get a job in a completely different field that I thought would be more fulfilling even though it paid less. But it's hard to convince folks that your skills will allow you to learn fast so it never worked out.
Where are all the genii, Mathew? Worshipping Mammon, methinks.
Personally, in my (slightly longer than your) life, I have met two genius mathematicians and one genius physicist/aastrobiolologist.The mathematicians left academia to create interesting products for investment banks and the astrobiologist is designing missile defence systems, last I spoke to her...
Perhaps these guys could have made real advances in their fields, had they stuck with not being rich. As you say, their call, not mine, but I still wonder what could have been, had the call of the money not been there.
Myself, I'm a generalist. Which is another way of saying there are *soooo* many interesting things in the world, it's impossible to focus on any one of them enough to become a specialist, let alone to make more than just a decent living.