Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Our Factory School System Fails Many Students

I'm reading a biography of Marie Curie and I was struck by the description of two key players - Curie's husband Pierre and New Zealand born scientist Ernest Rutherford.  Both were very slow in learning to read and write, but their minds were already working overtime on science. Consider what would happen to these kids in your local school district.

From Obsessive Genius:  The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith:
"At an early age [Pierre Curie] was unable to read or write but had an ability to visualize mathematical concepts far beyond his years.  His father, unusually enlightened for his time (1860's France), had realized that his son's spirit would be broken in a regular school.  He had decided on home schooling Pierre, aided by his wife an Jacques  Today, one would diagnose Pierre Curie as dyslexic.  His handwriting remained that of a child and his spelling was abominable.  .   .
At fourteen, Pierre developed an attachment to an excellent tutor who taught him mathematics and latin.  By the age of sixteen he had received his science baccalaureate and  . . . taking a degree in physics at the Sorbonne and enrolling at the School of Pharmacy in Paris . . ." (p. 57)
And later he would get a Nobel Prize in physics with his wife Marie.

And then there's a similar account a little later:
". . . [in] 1883, a boy of eleven, Ernest Rutherford, stood on the porch a New Zealand farmhouse while a thunderstorm approached.  His father, awakened by he storm, went downstairs to join his son.  What was he doing?  Ernest replied that he had figured out that by counting the seconds between the lightening flash and the thunderclap and allowing one second for the sound to travel 400 years, he could tell how close they were to the storm's center.  Until then Ernest, one of twele children of a potato farmer, had like Pierre Curie been considered slow.  Home-schooled, at eleven he could read but not write.  At twelve, he was lucky enough to find the first of a series of gifted teachers who inspired him to learn.  When he received his first full scholarship he told his mother, "I'e dug my last potato." [p. 80]

Ernest Rutherford went on to get the Nobel Prize in chemistry, though this bio doesn't mention that he  was slow to reading and writing.  A shame.

Why Is This Important?

Schooling used to be reserved for those who could afford to hire tutors for the kids.  As we moved to mass production schooling, we adopted the rationale of mass production factories.  Except in factories, the raw materials are relatively the same, whereas kids aren't.

But our schools have curricula that assume a kid's ability in all subjects will be at a certain level at a certain age.  If they aren't, the kid is considered a bit dim.  I've posted on the subject before.  Kids who do not have an academic bent, often learn fairly quickly that they are not as good as the others.  Instead of seeing where each kid is and then designing a curriculum for the kid, we design a curriculum for all kids a certain age and force the kid to conform or fail.

In doing so, we waste so many brains.  We cause kids to grow up feeling inferior and marginalized.  I'm sure a lot of home schooling parents and charter school supporters are people whose own school experiences weren't positive.

And this is one of those areas where the people on the left and the right agree there's a problem, but disagree on the solution.

UPDATED 1:30pm:  I probably should have said I'm not necessarily endorsing the book or the NYTimes review of it.  The best thing about the book is that it's short and gives some insight that I wouldn't otherwise have on Curie.  But I also wonder about how Goldsmith chose what to include and what not?  I'm sure it's not an accident that she put in the two references quoted above about kids who learned to read late, but were otherwise geniuses.  But the example of the thunderstorm in Obsessive Genius leaves out a part listed in the Rutherford link.  That he'd gotten a book on science in school that had an experiment about how to figure out the distance away of a cannon.  It's still clever to transfer that experiment to the thunder, but not as original as it might seem.  It's also at odds with the quote about him being kept out of school still when he was eleven.  There's not enough detail in the notes for me to understand how she determined what was the more accurate interpretation of the paper trail on Curie and others.

I'm adding this because there's yet another Feedburner problem.  This seems to be getting all too common. I add this for two reasons. For those who found this post another way, I'm sorry if you were fooled into coming back. And I'm also keeping track of how many times Feedburner takes more than an hour or two to kick in.] UPDATED 6:30pm:  The second try didn't catch Feedburner either. I found some unnecessary html code had gotten into the post (probably from cutting and pasting the quotes). Let's see if getting rid of that helps. But this one is a little trickier because there was a comment which gets lost when I delete the previous version of this post (so it's not up on the blog twice) and so I'm including the comment here at the end of the post.

UnknownWednesday, January 20, 2016 at 2:43:00 PM AKSTRemember when they would teach children to ask questions? Now they drug the kids who ask too many questions.

This time it got picked up within a minute.

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