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Monday, January 16, 2012

We need to learn how to learn

Most economists agree that for America to restore our economy we need to invest in and grow our human capital. Human capital is the average working person, it is the middle class, this is you and me, for we are America’s human capital. Investing in human capital is the way we deal with the economic concept of creative destruction. We have seen plenty of economic destruction and many of us are wondering when we will see the creative part. Investing in human capital is education that allows the displaced worker to move into a new career. Politicians are not part of America’s human capital; politicians are not subject to creative destruction. With these ideas I want to look at how we are investing in the human capital that is represented by our children, this is tomorrow’s human capital.
Children are naturally inquisitive, the world is mysterious and new, wonderful and frightening, children are constantly asking why things happen, for preschool children every day is a learning day. Then we place them in formal schooling, for the next 12 years the inquisitivity and wonder, the quest for understanding the world is slowly beaten down. This was my experience in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched the same process repeat with my children and now I am watching my grandchildren go through the latest form of indoctrination. It is up to the adults in a family to keep the fires of inquisitiveness burning.
Why isn’t our public primary and secondary educational system engaging the minds of the young? Remembering my own lower education, the purpose seemed to be about learning to act correct, not about learning to wonder and think, it was not about learning. In Texas we don’t even offer effective vocational training at the high school level. The text books I read from Texas science classes are a joke. High school students don’t go to class in an intellectually challenging environment, they go to lock down in a prison setting.
Then off to college and a rude awakening, students are required to ask why and then figure out the answer. They are expected to question the professor, even question the received truths of the greatest minds in history. The bar gets raised each semester, by graduate school the intellectual beatings come without mercy. The differences between the secondary system and college are stark, many freshmen lack the study habits and the open mind required, they think college is a life experience, not education. The result is a high failure rate for freshmen. Those students that survive or adapt to this shock will develop marketable skills and the ability to continue learning as technology and job requirements change over their working career. In college students learn how to learn, public schooling before college does not teach this to their students.
We have some of the world’s poorest public primary and secondary schools while we have most of the greatest tier one colleges. Our politicians blame the teachers and the unions, I blame the politicians. The standards, the curriculum, and the text books, indeed everything is determined by a political process. The basic problem with our public schools is politicians. Politicians take the easiest route to reelection. Our political leadership is not misguided; they are opportunist, blaming anyone except themselves, preaching personal responsibility for everyone but themselves.
Since we rank low compared to other industrial democracies we have many systems that we could examine and improve on, we could even look at our own college system. We are certainly spending enough money on education while receiving little for the effort. This is because the basic objective of our educational system is flawed. We need to teach our children how to learn.

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