Saturday, February 16, 2013
The Gumby Syllogism
So many education proposals seem to rest on this logic: “It would be great if everyone knew x. Therefore we must make everyone learn x.” If kids were Gumby figurines, whom we could just twist into whatever poses we wanted them to assume, this syllogism might make perfect sense. But kids actually have minds of their own, and individual personalities and predispositions, and emotions, and desires, including the desire for control over their own lives. In other words, they are human beings, and can’t be counted on—any more than adults could be counted on—to go willingly along with someone else’s plan to “improve” them.
When I wrote, about E.D. Hirsch, that “it’s as if he’s completely excluded psychology from learning theory,” that’s what I was getting at. (Not to mention the other age-old obstacles to implementing grand schemes, such as human error, inefficiency, corruption, and susceptibility to snake-oil salesmen.)
When people start wishing away the fact that kids have minds of their own, or seeing it as an obstacle to education, something has gone very wrong.