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Where Education Went Wrong
ONE FROM THE AGES
Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher Marcus Aurelius on simplifying and honing your focus:
“At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand…doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice - giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share. You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life…”
School teaches us so many things, but are we ever introduced to the “few things” that Marcus is talking about? Presence, focus, and habit formation to name only a few.
ONE FROM TODAY
Author and habit expert James Clear on how measurements can detract from our goals:
“This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about getting ten thousand steps than we do about being healthy. We teach for standardized tests instead of emphasizing learning, curiosity, and critical thinking. In short, we optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior.
This is sometimes referred to as Goodhart’s Law. Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, ‘When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.’ Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. Each number is simply one piece of feedback in the overall system. In our data-driven world, we tend to overvalue numbers and undervalue anything ephemeral, soft, and difficult to quantify. We mistakenly think the factors we can measure are the only factors that exist. But just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing. And just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it’s not important at all.”
Source: Atomic Habits by James Clear
ONE FROM US
The education system was designed during the Industrial Revolution to make good factory workers - an economic need, not a human one. As schooling grew standardized, we began to measure the efficacy of the system with test scores, pass rates, and college admittance rates. We then began to make subtle compromises to pander toward these newly defined metrics. Even the very first time this happened, it undermined the whole system. We now have an education system that has seen the trend of pandering to specific metrics compound for nearly 150 years. We have a system that, even if it upheld its original standards, would be obsolete for the modern economy, to say nothing of the mental, emotional, and physical health of the individuals within it. The adults within this system are not bad people, they are simply blind to everything but their own metrics. Even as we have pushed test scores and pass rates ever higher, the high school graduates of today are far less prepared and well-rounded than those of 100 years ago (and wildly behind at least 50 other countries). We also see the worst mental and physical health crisis in recorded history. The education system is not responsible for this - there are too many other cultural factors. But they are best positioned to resist it and they have done little to stop the trend. A more cynical (but far more accurate) telling is that the education system is inculcating values and behavior trends that lead directly to anxiety and depression.
The solution lies in what metrics we choose and the methods we use to meet them.
A focus on the what - the information, the test scores, and the pass rates - says little of how you go about accomplishing it. We can deem valid any method to improve a given metric even when it contradicts our original values. We're focused too heavily on adding weight to the barbell and setting a new PR when we need to remain hyper-focused on our form. The actions you take, the decisions that you make, and the methods that you standardize communicate what your true values are. If you've allowed values to simply emerge downstream from your actions, you have little control over their virtuosity. These emergent values often run contrary to the values to which you pay lip service. A teacher, school, or district may claim to value independence and the principle that actions have consequences, but then allow a student to make-up missing assignments after a parent’s impassioned plea to allow it. Independence and responsibility go out the window. The true values: high grades, graduation, college acceptance, and maintaining a high pass rate for the school, district, and that particular teacher. Values aren't something that you speak at the beginning of the term or mount on a poster at the front of the classroom. Values are a set of personal and intuitional guidelines that you stick to precisely when it would be easier to take the path of least resistance. That's why we define values in the first place.