[Beowulf] about clusters in high schools

Andrew Piskorski atp at piskorski.com
Mon Jan 30 17:32:38 PST 2006

On Mon, Jan 30, 2006 at 02:31:26PM -0800, Jim Lux wrote:

> No, the article was more along the lines that schools spend precious class 
> hours doing what is essentially user training for a single application, 
> rather than generic skills.  The thrust was (this IS Phi Beta Kappa, after 
> all) that society would be better served by spending tax dollars to give 
> students a good liberal arts education, and let the employers pay for 
> training people to use a particular software package.  I'll try and find 

There is truth to that, but it is a dangerously biased
oversimplifiction, and I know where that bias comes from - because I
used to share it.  It is simply the college-educated elite's implicit,
naive assumption that, "I am personally representative of the
population as a whole, everybody is BASICALLY just like me, only the
particulars are a bit different."

The basic meme that, "Public high schools should provide a top notch
liberal arts education, not train for specific skills" is probably
true - but only for at most 50% or so of the population.  Every town
is not Lake Wobegone, all the children are not above average.

There needs to be a balance available between "education" and
"training", because all one or all the other is guaranteed to be
unsuitable for a large number of students.  (And this is readily
understandable by most local school boards.)

In the USA, the college bound are about 25% of their age cohort.
(Which is a MUCH larger percentage than it was 75+ years ago.)  They
form a close approximation to the top 25% of that population when
sorted by IQ.  These are the folks that unquestionably need mostly
education - learning principles, learning how to learn - and only a
modest amount of training in specific skills.  The folks in the bottom
25% of that distribution need a substantially different mix of
education vs. skill training if they are also to prosper and reach
their full potential.

Any school system which forces ALL students into a one size fits all
curriculum, whether it's straight college-prep liberal arts or
anything else, is merely guaranteeing BIG problems for a LARGE
percentage of its students.

Also, there are plenty of life activities for which EVERYONE benefits
from plain old rote training.  Phonetic reading, multiplication
tables, various athletic skills, driving a car, certain safety
procedures in the metal shop, and brushing your teeth every day all
come to mind.  E.g.:

There exist intelligent people who don't read very well because back
in grade school, they were clever enough to learn most of the words by
eye as if they were Chinese pictograms, and no one ever properly
trained them to sound out the syllables.  They've been faking it ever
since, and the tragedy is that most don't even know it.

I myself was a poor speller until (years later) I stumbled across a
workable spelling technique on my own, simply because no one ever
taught me how to spell.  (There are TECHNIQUES to spelling, yet no one
taught them to me.)

I've met very smart people who are scarily inconsistent when driving a
car, because they over analyze the problem rather than simply
responding by properly trained reflex:

"Oh, I didn't turn on my turn signal that time because I looked in the
rear-view mirror and I didn't see anyone else behind me." - wrong
wrong wrong.  A properly trained driver ALWAYS uses his turn signal
without thinking about it, because that's the correct default
behavior, and there is absolutely no advantage or sense in doing it
any other way.

"I LIKE my side view mirror adjusted this way, I don't CARE that it
doesn't cover my blind spot, I don't CARE that I'm doing it
differently than the way every driving instructor in the country
teaches, I'm smarter than they are anyway."  Etc.

Andrew Piskorski <atp at piskorski.com>

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