Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Regarding Education - Success by Proxy

This brief essay is a response to this story about Harvard Universities average grade being an A-.

I've been lead to believe that ivy league schools are expensive so one may say they have been there, thus showing they have some prior amount of wealth and status (that usually comes with wealth unless you are very, very new money). People are lead to believe that these schools offer higher education and churn out brighter minds because of a campuses educational infrastructure and history. This is not to say that ivy league schools do not have greater amounts of bright minds, that may be true. But it would be more accurate to give credit to other factors than the academic infrastructure of the western education system.

Factors like having a rich networking pool, better campus resources & general safety & support from school faculty give agency to a broader spectrum of students. A simpler explanation for the success of students from ivy league schools is that the students enter already in a state of success by proxy.

In Harvard's case we have a homogenized education system; education requirements are reduced or altered so everyone is lead to believe they are a bright mind which removes the essence from education. This is different than some European & Asian models (still far from perfect) which creates a system where education is mostly the same, for all, but not at the cost of reducing the curriculum. Instead it's at the cost of overworking students.

Fixing the problem will be difficult, but there's a reason to fix it:
Better education is important not just for some meaning of benevolence but it's also economically beneficial (Jeffery Sachs has a chapter dedicated to this in "The Price of Civilization") . Fixing it will require looking at fundamental methods of teaching. We cannot just put more money into a broken education system and hope that it will produce better students the way ivy league schools sometimes can, & this is only a small margin due to having better infrastructure. There are fundamental issues with education and there are arguements still to consider, such as the Hegelian thoughts on workers education versus one of the plutocracy.A major way to help this problem in education would be to remove competetive grading. This is done in most private schools and some European countries, all that rank higher in education than the United States.

Another way to fix the problem of grade fixing and education catering to those that want success by proxy at the cost of those that want an education everywhere else would be to teach chemistry instead of recipe. This is an example from Bertrand Russell that offers a choice; would you rather teach a cook the chemistry of cooking, why things turn black when you cook them, how to tell when food is done by listening to a sizzle, the changes in properties of chemicals while cooking, or.... would you rather give them a recipe and teach them how to do. That. Recipe.

Homogenized education systems like Harvard's are like resort get away destination vacation packages. You could fly in any direction you pick, land in an island of mystery, wonder, history and life, only to be carted straight through to a Starbucks, past the shoe shiner and straight to the swim up bar where watered down, pre-mixed tequila's await and we're only two hours away from a show by a Tony Bennett cover artist. The same experience, every week, for as long possible as long as it's profitable.