Today was a wierd sort of day. I got lots accomplished but threading through it was a bizarre email conversation that lasted most of the day. I don’t really want to regale you with the conversation. Instead, I thought I might talk about 2 things that the conversation reminded me of. Every once in a while someone says something, often in an offhand sort of way, that is really profound. One of the reasons I think of these things as profound is that once framed as statement of some kind they become obvious. But often the issue they address is never approached.
Now the first of the two was a comment by one of my instructors in a class at college. This instructor walked into 3 hour classes with a single sheet of loose leaf, wrote a list of 5 or 6 words on the board, sat the sheet on the corner of the desk and then proceed to teach for 3 hours on subjects like processor architecture. One day I caught a glimpse of what was on the paper. It was the list of words that he wrote on the board. Once (and only once) in my second year he paused part way through class and apologized that he was going to have to look at his piece of paper. It was this instructor and a somewhat offhand comment that has been central to most of the work I do day in day out. What he said was:
The key to problem solving is identifying the problem.
I would expect that most would see the irrefutable nature of the statement once the statement is made. It’s so simple and yet I find that our society often does not apply this in trying to solve problems. For example there are all sorts of initiatives in places that attempt to deal with pollution and other environmental issues. I’m not dis’ing those ihose initiatives. Why do we have a pollution problem? Because we are a consumption based society. While environmentally friendly products may alleviate the issue, they will never be the solution because they don’t address the problem.
To try to relate this to the usual subject of this blog. In the same way, the education systems that exist today do not attempt to solve learning problems. Insteading of trying to ascertain why a child is not learning they attempt to ascertain why the child is not learning in the environment and by the methods the institution provides. And that might give you an idea of what I think the prospects are of the educational systems finding a solution to the problem.
After I had been out of college a few months I went to a weeklong series of seminars related to the equipment I was supporting. The first seminar is really the only one I remember anything about. And if I were to see the person who conducted it, I would remember where I had seen him instantly. At the time, he was one of the leading experts in optimizing the use of the equipment I supported. He traveled across Canada charging more for a day than I was making in 2 weeks. (He quoted a range of figures based on an inquiry from the audience and he wasn’t permitted to give an exact figure.) And what he said was,
The real world is a special case.
He went on to explain that he could not give us a list of technical facts/rules to follow that was guaranteed to work on our own systems. But, what this really translates into is that having a head full of knowledge is not really of much use to you when you get to a situation where the knowledge would be used unless you are prepared to think. It is through thinking that expertise in some area can be applied in a useful way.
Back to this blog again: What I set out to do as a parent and while I was an instructor was cultivate the ability to think and apply the knowledge that they have at their disposal. Knowledge has never been easier to attain. The ability to use the knowledge available has never seemed to be in such short supply. I guess it comes back to what problem are we trying to solve. I will leave how this relates to my day to your imagination