New tools for scholarship, new modes of communication, new forms of organization, same old humanity.
Visions of Education
September 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm #1091
One of the themes in H.G. Wells’ writings from the 1930’s published collectively under the title World Brain is the inadequacy of the education system. What are some of his chief complaints about the system, and how many of those complaints remain, in your view, relevant today? (Feel free to use personal experience to illustrate your points, but remember that you’re writing in a publicly visible space, so avoid references to specific teachers you’ve had or courses you’ve taken.)September 19, 2017 at 9:34 pm #1093
For me, one of the most startlingly relevant issues was brought up in “The Informative Content of Education.” Wells specifically details his concerns over the ability of educational institutions to impart crucial knowledge to learners, outside of specific needs like teaching to read and write, musical training, physical education, etc. He asks, “As educators we are going to ask what is the subject-matter of a general education? What do we want known? And how do we want it known? What is the essential framework of knowledge that should be established in the normal citizen of our modern community?”
These questions continue to be core concerns for education worldwide, and very specifically, for a liberal arts institution like SUNY Geneseo – right as we speak. How do we evolve to balance the increasing need for students to have professional development and/or technical training with the goal of producing the kind of informed, well-rounded, and participating citizen Wells discusses in this reading? Wells speaks of the dangers of economic illiteracy, nationalism, and the ease with which the population is swayed to one idea or the other without having the tools to properly evaluate the world around them. It’s hard to argue that much headway has been made in this direction since the 1930s, even with what educational shifts we have made.
Wells’ ideas haven’t gone completely unrealized; I feel like universities and high schools have evolved over the past few decades to expand their canons and reduce ethnocentric focuses. Yet the world of today is likely shifting even faster than that of the 1930s, and his concerns about the inability of education to keep up with modern needs still ring very true.September 20, 2017 at 7:43 am #1094
Wells’ main problems with education are that it is not widespread enough, it is segmented, it is too influenced by political action/ideas, and it has not evolved at the same pace as the rest of society.
The first two points speak to how Wells views education as limited, which heavily concerns him. Wells wants a universal, synthesized education, the backbone of which would be his World Encyclopedia. I think the rise of the Internet has improved at least potential universality, since this technology can connect almost anyone to tons and tons of information. The Internet’s global aspect also improves the synthesis of information, since many subjects can interact to put forth a project (for instance, a digital humanities project).
Wells also criticized the idea of inherent politicization in education. Wells argues that the experts in fields do not necessarily have to be politically active. I would argue that this aspect, a link between education and political action, is still strong, at least in traditional education (universities, etc.).
Wells’ other main critique of the education system is that it has not kept up with the rest of modern society. I would argue that this gap not only still exists, but usually exists. While globalization and the rise of the Internet have furthered some sort of universality, a gap between the knowledge of experts and the knowledge of an average person definitely persists. Wells, I think, acknowledges that this is often the case. Due to this gap, it is difficult for knowledge from experts—which has specific jargon, lenses, and methods—to be immediately understandable by a general population. While I believe that this gap has closed somewhat since Wells’ time, I do not think it has completely gone away. On a practical level, as well, it can be an immense process to change what is taught in schools.
September 20, 2017 at 2:45 pm #1099
- This reply was modified 11 months ago by Allison Maier.
The issue that stuck out most to me in Well’s World Brain was his critique on the subject matter that is taught to children in elementary school, under the section, “The Informative Content of Education.” Here, Wells states that the problem stems from elementary schools, which “does not properly inform,” due to the fact that it focuses on topics that are too primary, such as mathematics, art, and language. Wells sees this type of education as inferior, because it does not “properly” present to students an apt depiction of the world that they live in, so that they may be better prepared to adapt to it.
Here, Wells raises interesting questions on how the very basis of primary education functions. Should they be sheltered from the realities of the world, or learn about the issues around them immediately? Will they be better prepared to face these issues after being older and more educated, or will the earlier exposure make them better suited? These are points that I find particularly relevant today, as media exposure has made the avoidance of these issues nearly impossible, even at a young age. In addition to this, education is a very concrete construct, in that it can be very difficult to institute change. This is why the fundamentals of mathematics, art, and language have remained as they have been, in the manner they’re taught, for so long. To change this into a curriculum that allows for politics at such a young age, as Wells suggests, would be an arduous process with unknown results, and because of this, impractical.September 20, 2017 at 2:46 pm #1100
Some of the biggest complaints Wells has about the inadequacy of the education system is that it is not universal and that it is too politically entangled. Wells goes on to say that because of these two reasons, as well as others, that “in the race between catastrophe and education, catastrophe is winning.” This is true when in reference to the two examples above, for when politics and non-universal education practices are in play, the bubble that is catastrophe is waiting to burst in time.
Some of his complaints remain relevant to me still, specifically the two I listed above. When the level of education someone receives is determined by the amount of government funding, geographical location, or income received by a county, then the quality of the education will not be the same around the United States. This is a bad thing because not being allotted the same level of education is detrimental to the success of that student’s life. If they are given poor education, it becomes much harder to be successful later in life. Another complaint Wells makes that resonates with me is the political entanglement the education system has. Bureaucracy cannot teach somebody, only the free will of the teacher can, and the best way to teach the fairest is to remove the political ladder from the modern-day education system.September 20, 2017 at 2:51 pm #1101
Wells’ chief complaints about the education system revolve around people’s lack of understanding of politics, and their “crazy combative patriotism” which is at odds with our sense of humanity and is not at all beneficial to the world. Wells’ proposed lesson plan for teaching children only the most important knowledge during their limited time at school seems to revolve around promoting a sense of unity and accuracy. Wells wants to get rid of studying the bible and the un-necessary violence of our world history; Wells would rather focus on building an accurate and well-rounded picture of the current world, growing from general world-knowledge to specialized scientific/societal information later on in adolescence. Wells also wants to modernize teachers through further learning in adult life, keeping them up to date and continuing their learning through new experiences or jobs. Finally, Wells concludes by stating that the arts are excluded from his model of education because children should be experiencing them on their own time, and they can only truly enjoy their own lives if they have the informational background he outlines.
I think that a lot of Wells’ complaints are still valid and applicable today. I definitely believe that the strong sense of patriotism we have in America is at odds with efficient progression as a nation. Combative patriotism means fighting to maintain one’s worldview so that one can continue believing that their nation is great, regardless of its actual status. This is an illogical and detrimental perspective, and so it makes more sense to build children up with an objective appreciation of the world such that we can learn from other nations and prevent the establishment of blind and “combative” patriotism.
I also think that teaching objectively and factually is an issue we face today. Misinformation and “fake news” is extremely prevalent, with people staying in their own information bubbles through news outlet loyalty and closed social media communities. Teaching children accurately and keeping adults informed objectively is the dream, but that is harder than ever given the massive amounts of information and misinformation in our bubbles, and the fragmented trust in news coverage and news journalism.
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