Gripes With Traditional Pedagogy

Preface: This write-up was shelved for years and has been nothing but semi-private thoughts and rants amongst friends. However, recent events lead to the whole thing being penned and published. So be it.

I’m fairly confident everyone of us had struggled grasping a subject or two when they were part of the so-called educational system. They probably blamed themselves for not being able to. Of course you’ll blame yourself. After all, look at all those classmates who are doing just fine. They are passing the class with flying colors and you aren’t! But perhaps we have the frustration backwards. A person spending days of their lives in hen coops definitely wants to learn, but probably not engaged due to the detached form of the entire setup. Through the years, I have lost much, if any, regard to the educational system, how it functions, its priorities, and many other things. It’s misguided, and definitely lost. The system can’t see the forest for the trees.

To start, I have the opinion that emphasis on letter-grade scale is harmful. In fact, the entire scoring practice is harmful. Quizzes and homeworks are being misused as instruments of punishment. They shouldn’t. Homeworks, quizzes, and exams are tools to find gaps of knowledge that should be addressed or re-addressed. They are insights into the minds of the students. Students aren’t deliberately answering wrong for laughs and giggles. It is certainly not suitable to punish students with low grades, impacting all their years to come, due to having a knowledge gap that went missed until this homework question bubbled up. The same applies for quizzes and exams, but those go up the hierarchy of epistemic building. Homework questions search for gaps within a single topic. Quizzes search for the gaps when two or more topics are tackled together at once. An exam goes further and tackles somewhere between one-third, one-half, or all of the course at once, making links across the epistemological network. If the goal of the course is to cover this network of knowledge, and a student still has a hole in there, then there must be a reason why the hole exists. They didn’t intentionally decide to leave that hole there because they like how it looks. There must be a fundamental misunderstanding or lack of coherent organization of information in their minds that led to it. That student is now in the unknown-unknown state, and they are best led by someone who already possesses the knowledge to help them through, by finding the appropriate analogy or metaphor, by finding different angles to shed light on the subject, and pull different straps to tie in the knots in their brains.

This brings me to the second issue with the so-called “educational system”: passing students making grades D or anything higher to the next level. It means the system is absolutely fine with advancing someone with gaps in their knowledge into the next level, allowing them to employ insufficient knowledge onto the World. This definitely lowers their potential of using the knowledge for proper application or recognizing where some field of knowledge is applicable. Moreover, advancing at students who have shown evidence of incomplete knowledge is the system intentionally setting them up for hardships and failure. Given that knowledge and understanding of knowledge builds on each other, then what kind of understanding does the educational institution expect by advancing someone who hasn’t mastered sufficient knowledge? My hypothesis is they don’t care.

Which, again, brings me to the next issue with the “educational” systems. I believe schools, universities, and (not all) textbooks do not instill knowledge. This is definitely evident in the loads of students finishing their “educational” journey and the mandated textbooks, yet they know nothing when quizzed on “Why” and “How” questions. I am not alone in this, and it isn’t an opinion only held by naive students. Here’s Richard Feynman on a similar rant:

One of the prominent current critics of the educational system is Sir Ken Robinson. You can check out the various speeches of his on the subject.

This is not meant to absolve myself from passing through a course without interning knowledge. I have been on both sides. Due to the way the system is structured, we are often faced with an ultimatum of whether to pass with a good grade or to spend more time trying to gain deep understanding at the expense of either the grade received for the course or the grades of other courses for which we couldn’t allocate much enough understanding-gaining sessions. There are two causes to this: The system does not care and instilling knowledge isn’t a priority, and the focus on scores and letter grades distracts both students and professors from focusing on instilling the knowledge. Of course the consequences of this can be seen everyday. I have seen more than I can count failures to apply discrete mathematics, mis-application of statistics, and, most important of all, misunderstanding of science and how it works. Worst of all, all those failures to recognize and apply knowledge, that should’ve been instilled at school, correctly, people’s lives are turned harder than they ever should be, and puppies die.

You might take this as rants of a disgruntled student. What if they are?! I won’t deny it. Yet that does not mean they are less than legitimate. There is a reason why CrashCourse, Khan Academy, BetterExplained, 3Blue1Brown, and many others are popular. Learners have found refuge in them. It is quite disheartening when YouTubers and bloggers are better at instilling knowledge than educational institutions.