Sunday, June 7, 2015

Innovations in education...

Innovations in education...  These sorts of articles always leave me with a funny feeling, as they generally leave out the education method that's worked so well for me: self-education.  It's not that I think there's no place for pedagogy – there clearly is.  The vast majority of people I know both got their education in some sort of institutional setting, and expect that's where their education (and their kids') will come from.  But I think there's a place for autodidacts as well.

Institutional education (i.e., schools) weren't completely useless for me, but they weren't far off.  I was bored out of my skull in just about every classroom; the few exceptions provide the few good memories of my school experience that I have.  Part of the problem was the slow pace, but the bigger problem was the shallow treatment of just about every subject.  I was constantly wondering Why?  Why?  Why? in nearly every subject, and I wasn't getting answers from either the teachers (to whom I was an annoying pest) or the texts (which even then I could tell were glossing over huge areas of interesting knowledge). 

On the other hand, the schools provided me with something I did need: access to textbooks (there was no Internet back then, so books were the only source of recorded knowledge), through the school libraries.  Those books I absorbed on my own, almost entirely.  Every once in a while I'd have a question I couldn't figure out, and a librarian (most often) or a teacher (occasionally) would answer it.  All too often, though, what I got was an admonition to stick to material more suited to my age.  For example, in high school I got very interested in understanding how semiconductors (the basis of transistors) worked – and when I asked my physics teacher about it, he advised me to wait until I was in college to investigate that.  So I learned about semiconductors from a book checked out from the school library, instead – and what I wanted to understand was easily accessible by an interested high school student with a limited mathematics background.

Once I left high school, I continued my exploration of science and engineering on my own.  I had my own motivations, even if I didn't understand them, and I didn't need a teacher to be able to learn the things I wanted to.  That has been a lifelong habit of mine, continuing even now in my dotage.

This is the source of that funny feeling I mentioned at the start of this post.  I've never quite been able to figure out why so many people seem to depend on institutional education.  I'm convinced at this point, after having met quite a few others with the same point of view, that the answer has little to do with native intelligence (that mainly seems to affect the speed with which one learns) and much more to do with the motivation and will of the individual.  There's something else as well, something to do with that expectation of institutional education.  I've heard a great many people make the assumption that if they wanted to learn X, then they'd have to go to school (take a course, etc.) to do so.  Relatively few people assume that they can learn X on their own.  I have no idea why that's the case, because these days – especially with the information resources available for free on the Internet – there's very little in the way of obstacles impeding anyone from learning just about anything.

I have the sense that self-education is on the rise, though.  It's definitely more respectable in the engineering world these days :)  I think the Internet is making it more common, as well.  I hope so...

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