Peter Cochrane makes some very interesting points in a blog post about possible paradoxes that are keeping kids from achieving in school. He makes a point I have never heard before, which he couches in terms of the persistence required in pursuing the complexity in playing video games as compared to the 1, 2, 3 sorts of steps it takes to score well on standard tests students are drilled for in today’s education. As I read what is quoted below from Cochrane, it seemed to me that his observation applies to the richer experience of following your curiosity through a knowledge-filled website compared to just learning a few steps to prove you have understood a page or two in a textbook, which characteristically requires nor offers many if any links to related knowledge or context .
You can check my theory by seeing if you can resist making more than 10 clicks into this section of the CERN site about their Large Hadron Collider. Naw, you don’t need to know what the Super Proton Synchrotron is. [Hint: CERN calls it "The first lord of the rings."] But when our kids get a chance to do more of this sort of complex curiosity satisfying as routine in their schooling, it seems likely they will develop more competence as well as master more knowledge and ideas.
You may be thinking: And why would kids persist in clicking around in a website to learn more if there is no incentive like a good text score or winning video game? Well, to engage knowledge is exciting. Ask any six-year-old whose response to every answer is “why?”. What happens in school in our times seems to be not exciting. Interacting with online knowledge like the CERN site is a way to bring some intellectual juice and fun into learning.
In my dealings with youngsters I find them as bright as ever but often without any predisposition for a life of discovery, creativity and problem solving. Why?
There are many factors of course, but here, I think, is a major one: in the old education system it was not unusual for problems to require five, 10, 15, 20, or more steps to get to the solution.
Successive watering down of the curriculum for political purposes has produced tick-box formats with a solution in one, two or three steps. Should a problem involve five steps, the reaction is that it is too difficult or too much like hard work.
Now here is the paradox. Those same minds play computer games where tenacity is essential and the steps to achieve success might number 30 or more. But the players trained themselves, were unfettered, and free to develop their own strategy.
In contrast, the education system put them into a straitjacket and told them what and how to do everything.
Now here is another paradox. In the computer world the players expect tough competition and failure. To succeed they assume that they will have to work hard and persist, which appears not to be the case in education.