The GREAT FAILURE OF EDUCATION

Part I of this article (revised) was presented at the National Honor Society Banquet in Bemidji, Minnesota, on March 18, 1970 and subsequently published in THE JOURNAL OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS, Vol. II, No 1.

Part II, A STEP TOWARD SOLUTION, is a revised excerpt from my book CRITICAL ANALYSIS: LANGUAGE AND ITS FUNCTIONS (Available at Sebastian Publishing Co., P.0. Box 137, Port Jefferson, NY 11777).  See: Pasqual Sebastian Schievella Research Collection, Department of Philosophy, Stony Brook University.

ANYONE WHO CANNOT DISTINGUISH HYPOSTATIZING (ABSTRACT) LANGUAGE FROM CONCRETE LANGUAGE (THAT DOES NOT HYPOSTATIZE) AND EQUATES THE TWO EPISTEMICALLY IS NOT TRULY EDUCATED.

Education is that 
which has remained
if one has forgotten
everything else
 he learned in school.

Albert Einstein

   Many times America has been warned about its failure to teach our citizenry how to think beyond the mundane requirements of everyday living.
      These warnings have been ignored.
      Education at its very least ought to mean clarity of thought, the development of critical and analytical acuity, and the nurturing of man's instinctive curiosity.
      The latter, our institutions and their methods have quite proficiently destroyed.
Rarely is analytical thinking acquired to any significant degree by rote learning or by parroted phraseology.  And this, in essence, is the message teachers should learn long before they let loose their students upon the world, or, more to the point, before the world is let loose upon them.
In education, the student should be the teacher's respectful antagonist, lest the latter slip into hard formulas of "truth" untested by the sharpness of curious, vigorous, and incisive minds.
      Today's institutions are not, nor will they be for years and perhaps decades hence, ready or equipped for the classroom to become the arena of a battle of wits between the learner and the "learned."
      Instead, the "learned" propounds and the learner accepts.
      At the semester's end, truth and knowledge too often become education's casualties because some of the most inane ideas are unquestioningly accepted.
      Yesterday's "truth" remains today's "truth" because "education" is, too often, the passing of a body of either false or irrelevant beliefs of the past from one generation of teachers to another.
The unexamined idea must remain suspect.  No idea is properly examined in today's classrooms unless the concepts of the teacher and the textbook are permitted to be contested openly and freely.
      Two truly held conflicting opinions must "wage war" discursively, respectfully, and without rancor--not once, but whenever minds disagree.
If we plan to enter the arena of conflicting ideas we have an obligation to prepare for it.
      There is no more arduous preparation than that of learning to think clearly, critically, and analytically.
      Such training is made all the more difficult because we must in the process learn, also, not to destroy the spirit of humanity, love and concern for one's fellow man, the perspective of humility, a sense of beauty, and the ability to see things in parts as well as in whole.
      Becoming a critical thinker carries with it the responsibility not to become pedants or snobs, otherwise the benefits of learning will be lost.
Traditionally, the method of developing a thinking acuity has been to relegate it to the category marked "by-product."
      To some small degree critical thinking does emerge, osmotically, as a by-product.
      It can be shown, however, that one does not become an in depth thinker merely by being highly trained in one of the usual academic disciplines and superficially trained in some of the others.
      Too many people, "educated" and uneducated alike, spend years training to play baseball or to manipulate mathematical symbols or chemicals in a test tube, but naively believe that thinking (the most difficult of all mental activities) requires no UNIQUE preparation at all.
If one wishes to become a thinker, he must take special training and education just as he must to become a physicist, a baseball player, or a pianist.
To acquire the ability to think clearly, critically, and analytically, three non-synonymous terms,  it can be accomplished only through the study of thinking under the guidance of those qualified to teach those mental activities.
      The relevant tool for accomplishing that is the recognition of hidden contradictions, the exposure of innumerable subtle assumptions, the art of reasoning, the discussion of some of our most abstract concepts for their multiplicities of meanings, the diverse levels of the symbols of language to which meaning is attributed, and particularly the distinction between falsifiable and unfalsifiable language.
      Every academic discipline is founded on such assumptions and concepts that too many experts themselves have not been taught to recognize.
The roots of our problems in education lie in our naive conceptions about the terms, 'language,' 'truth,' and 'knowledge.'
      There can be little analytic thinking developed so long as our "educators" do not examine those terms.
      Our students should be taught that they name complex and dynamic concepts that originate from a diversity of minds.
      Man conceived them, coined them, and uses them.
      How he uses them depends on who he is, what he is, and where he is.
      For these reasons it is urgent that educators desist from using the terms, 'language,' 'truth,' and 'knowledge,' as if their meanings are clear and simple.
      If a student is not aware of their complexities, he will be doomed forever to an illusion of understanding bordered by blinders of ignorance.
      He will be ripe for the controlling influences of tyrannical or greedy minds which do understand how to manipulate language to their own advantage.
      Certainly education is considerably more than an understanding of the terms, 'language,' 'truth,' and 'knowledge.'
      But whatever more it is, it is of little lasting social value so long as we are chained to naive interpretations, of these terms.
An examination of language, truth, and knowledge constitutes the essence of the process of self-renewal primarily because we learn that evidence is open-ended.
      But language is an enemy of truth and knowledge while at the same time it is their friend.
      Without the sophisticated system of symbols we call "language," we would be a lower species of animal still.
      To the degree that one does not understand the complexities of language, to that degree he is less human.
      Our misuse and abuse of language attest to the dismal failure of education in this regard.
An example of language at work having little to do with truth and knowledge is that used by the salesman.
      Too often he knows little about the product he sells.
      His words function primarily to induce prospective customers to sign on the dotted line.
      Politicians, in particular, abuse language to induce a vote of confidence in their favor or to hide an action from the public.
      If we do not make an in-depth study of the many functions of language, we will rarely recognize when it relates to truth and knowledge and when it merely appears (even sometimes to the trained mind) to do so.
      We use words like "justice," "democracy," "courage," not to mention theistic terminology, but the meanings we attribute to them are as multiple as the numbers of people using them.
As to truth, there are two basic ways to acquire it.
      The first, by stumbling upon it, often without awareness, in free discussion with unprepared minds; and the second, by taking the long hard road of special training which brings the revelation that truth is rarely a matter of easily recognized facts superficially parroted.
      For example, most students, by their senior year and even after four years of college, have been taught to believe that "1 + 1 = 2" must be true.
      For multiple reasons they have not learned that 1 + 1 may equal 2 but need not.
      It certainly must be true by coherence when premises compel the conclusion that 1 + 1 = 2. It certainly need not when applied in the real world of objects as in the case of adding one quart of water to one quart of alcohol ending with fewer than two quarts of liquid.
      To have learned that 1 + 1 need not equal 2 may be considered by some to be a trivial bit of knowledge.
      It is not, however, when it functions as a whetstone for sharpening the mind.
When such illusions of knowledge are compounded by the innumerable so-called facts of knowledge that constitute from 12 to 16 years of "education," it is considerably easier to recognize our failure to produce analytical thinkers.
      Truth is not what it appears to be to the "man in the street," nor is knowledge.
      Clarity of thought cannot be developed by using language that is true in one context while ignoring its falsity in another.
      Analytical clarity of thought in language, truth, and knowledge is achieved only to the degree to which subtle distinctions, sometimes "trivial," sometimes capable of catastrophic consequences, are exposed to the mind.
      Only then does awareness of such subtle distinctions bring new significance previously unrecognized.
The great failure of our schooling institutions is that our students are denied this kind of sharpening of the mind.
      We neglect to teach the basic facts and concepts necessary to instill the ability and willingness to think critically and analytically.
      But we spend billions of dollars to train our students in subjects that we consider vital to the survival of our nation.
      We spend equal sums on the arts, sports arenas, and gymnasiums for the aggrandizement and prestige of our schools and as a place of entertainment for our children's parents.
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not opposed to reasonable expenditures for such training.
      It, too, aids the development of minds and enhances the quality of life.
      But such studies alone will not give us the incisive thinking needed to solve our social and environmental ills.
      Non-academic pursuits have been the main beneficiaries of our priorities.
      Educators and parents have assumed that simple declarations of our immediate tangible needs and desires are synonymous with truth and knowledge.
      Students are greatly influenced by what their parents, teachers--all authority figures value as important.
      Of course, we must respect authority.
      But respect is not synonymous with blind acceptance.
      It is easy to follow their dictates when they are in accord with our desires.
      Out of the assumed truths of propaganda about immediate and selfish needs, we arrive at the wrong priorities.
A few of our schools introduce philosophy to their curricula with the hope of bringing about a much needed change in the direction and emphasis of education.
      Their aim is to establish clear, critical, and analytical thinking as basic requirements of pre-college education.
      Our students do not retain much of their rote learning when they leave the classrooms to embark upon life; but if their education were designed to open their minds to many avenues of thought, to consideration of opposing views, to an examination of pet prejudices and preconceptions that trigger their emotions, they could not shuck such an acquired attitude as easily as they forget textbook facts.
      Attitudes of open-mindedness are not memories, and once acquired, unlike memories they are quite well "set in concrete."
      They constitute a viable way of dealing intelligently and objectively with the exigencies of life.
      One such attitude is that of the questioning mind, with which all of us seem to have been born but which some time early in the schooling process most of us have lost.
Freedom of inquiry, which is nurtured by questioning minds, and which entails the right to inquire, is one of our fundamental precepts of democracy.
      But our schooling establishments (with some rare exceptions) though obliged to "teach" democracy, do, in most instances, destroy the capacity for this fundamental precept.
      It can be shown statistically that in American schooling institutions the number of students asking questions and the number of questions they ask are inversely proportional to the number of years the students spend in classrooms.
      This is not to say that when a student asks questions that he thereby has a questioning mind, if by that phrase we mean to designate an attitude of open-mindedness.
      Too often students who ask questions do so with closed minds.
      Their questions are couched in preconceptions and assumptions which they themselves might deny could be questioned primarily because of their unawareness of the complexities inherent in language, truth, and knowledge.
Our teachers and schools are unwitting accomplices to the de-emphasizing of analytical thinking.
      The demands of business (big and small) have infiltrated, to the core, our conforming schooling institutions.
      They have evolved into diploma and degree mills, grinding out what amounts to union cards (for specialized categories of students) stamped "physicist," "chemist," "mathematician," "teacher," and so on.
      They do, of course, prepare us for national survival against military attack.
      But "national survival" loosely interpreted, too often constitutes a threat to the survival, the environmental wealth, the well-being, the sovereignty and the autonomy of other nations, the end result of which can be the end of survival for all.
      Whatever the significance of preparation for survival, however, we have been (in the process) blinded to the equally dreaded enemies to which categorical training leads--democracy's worst enemies: conformity and mediocrity.
      Our schools have become the training camps and supply depots for the soldiers of industry, the kitchen, the sports arena, and the local garage.
A frightening prospect is the clear evidence that many of the skills taught are already becoming obsolete.
      This is the case despite the present hullabaloo about upgrading our children's schooling.
      What of our children's minds?
      Will computers make analytical thinkers of them?  Not likely!
      Their minds may become even more inefficient because of a reliance upon technology.
      The mind has the capacity to change only to the degree to which it has been prepared to distinguish whether there is evidence -- or not -- relating to abstract and controversial concepts.
      Such preparation has been sadly neglected.
      These minds become liabilities rather than assets.
Ultimately, it is attitude that influences the course of events.
      Yet, it is the development of attitude that we neglect most.
      It follows then that so long as our schools and our "educators" ignore the significance of study into the nature of language, truth, and knowledge, we cannot expect our students to develop attitudes of open-mindedness.
      Certainly we cannot when they are made to believe that they are already acquiring truth and knowledge and final answers.
      When they so believe, they feel no need for any mental exercise except memory with which to sponge up established "truths."
If our teachers do not teach that language, truth, and knowledge are complex concepts, how, then, will our students ever learn that textbook data, teachers' dicta, encyclopedic facts, and scientific, social, and educational pronouncements are only provisional truth and knowledge playing an immediate and practical role in a present situation awaiting the corrective evidence that continued study, inquiry, and diversity of new ideas inevitably bring?
A questioning and curious mind cannot be developed by feeding old ideas into the mental hopper and by ridiculing new ones (however irrelevant).
      But new ideas are often undesirable and frightening because they disturb the unenlightened, the authoritative ego, the comfort, the security, and the false sense of stability generated by old "tried and true ideas."
           To paraphrase Einstein, Reflect on how you have treated great men and their ideas, and how you now follow their teachings.
      Only if teachers cease to act as authorities on final truths and instead become authorities on what are the prevalent and conflicting opinions of the day is it possible to create an atmosphere of open-mindedness.
I strongly urge all students to seek out such teachers and to subject themselves predominantly to their inspiring influences.
      In the atmosphere of their classrooms, new attitudes are encouraged and instilled.
      The students' original curiosity can be nursed and nurtured back to natural propensities.
      Apathy will die.  And, stagnating conformity will dissolve.  If once the student experiences the view from the mountain-top, no longer will he be content with the limits of the valley.

A Step Toward Solution

Students respond to argumentation which touches upon comforting concepts, prejudices, desires, and firm convictions.
      A student tends to argue about his beliefs which appear to be under attack.
      Few students, unless they have a propensity for a subject, listen to facts with which they do not disagree and which may mean no more to them than being able to pass a test.
      It must be realized, then, that a primary purpose of teaching is to whet the student's curiosity and challenge comfortable prejudices.
If the development of analytical acuity is to be accomplished, then the presentations must be susceptible to argument, disagreement, and examination.
      At this stage of learning to be critically analytical, it is immaterial whether what is taught is true or not, even if it is true.
      Statements of "fact," dogmatic statements, however true or false they may appear to be, must be construed as stylistic; they are a learning device, and not final conclusions to any philosophic problems.
      The main purpose is not merely to give answers and theories, but to show the student how he must begin to pursue acquiring an analytical acuity.
It does not matter whether the student agrees or disagrees with any of the content.
      What does matter is whether the content has taught him to disagree intelligently, rationally, objectively, and without rancor and base his disagreement upon evidence as opposed to unsupported convictions.
      Even more important, it is to be hoped that the techniques will form attitudes which will be conducive to a continual personal growth and self-renewal, i.e., teaching the student to teach himself
      The interested student will begin to experience a sense of inquiry and an ability to ask perceptive and penetrating questions of himself as well as of others.
Repetition is unavoidable for one reason and desirable for another: unavoidable because the student asks the same questions in different contexts, and because the problems and concepts presented are so interwoven that to understand usually requires that we repeat and connect concepts previously studied.
      Repetition is desirable because these concepts so often run counter to what experience seems to show us.
      Only through repetition in argumentation in various contexts is there recall and learning penetration.
      An analytical acuity must become an integral part of the student's personality, or it will have little bearing on his education.
Democracy is predicated upon free and inquiring minds.
History is filled with the admonitions of great thinkers of the past and present exhorting us to
       concentrate on a few ideas, like the abuses of  language, truth, and knowledge,
       be wary of offering merely rote learning,
       concentrate on developing not only knowledge but wisdom also,
       concentrate on enlightenment instead of blind faith,
       develop tolerance to opposing ideas,
       encourage learning rather than "force feeding,"
       examine doubt through the techniques of inquiry,
       exercise empathy and understanding as opposed to ridicule,
       recognize that acquiring an excellent education, as opposed to mere training, though it should be enjoyable, requires initiative, patience, persistence, diligence, curiosity, and the will to learn.

IT IS THE WISE MAN WHO KNOWS THE LIMITS OF HIS KNOWLEDGE AND THE SCOPE OF HIS IGNORANCE.

The measure of a truly educated person surely is his awareness of the probabilistic character of truth and knowledge.
      He is wise whose application of knowledge is tempered by an analytical acuity mellowed by prudence and concern for exercise on the side of right.
      Thinking analytically involves being aware of the vagueness of ambiguously defined concepts like justice, knowledge, truth, language, democracy, and the like.
      It means the development of a rational, as opposed to a cynically skeptical attitude permeated with a recognition of practical application and exercise.
      If we are to be better than the lower animals, our highest achievement must be the development of those mental faculties which free us from the tyranny and the stranglehold of other minds.
      This does not mean we must know everything.
      It does mean that we must develop a positive attitude toward acquiring knowledge.
      We will be answerable to no one but ourselves in the pursuit of understanding.
      We will acquire the ability to follow where intelligence and reason lead, and will recognize irrationality and demagoguery, so often adroitly and subtly concealed.
Different people, however intelligent or rational they may be, perceive the world, interpret it, and make statements about it according to their experiences and, too often, subjective viewpoints.
      Is it not obvious that there are, according to available evidence, no final answers?
      Though "final" answers are a source of comfort for some, for those who have not been so conditioned, comfort lies in an awareness of their own wisdom, dignity, intelligence, individuality, and ability to adapt to a changing environment, whether it be intellectual or physical.
      For this reason, one must be willing to prepare his mind and attitudes in order to deal with sincere (or insincere) conflicting differences of opinion, truths, concepts, and knowledge, particularly when even the authorities disagree.
      Even among most educated people, difference of opinion among those in whom it would be least expected is further verification of the need to pursue the study of how to ask the proper questions.
      More essential, however, is the need to develop an inquiring attitude.
The fact that evidence supporting any claim is never absolute; i.e., evidence is always open-ended, makes an understanding of the if...then principle essential to the development of such an attitude.
      Every statement uttered is "if...then," or, if a different term is preferred, "contextual."
      It is the duty and responsibility of every teacher to teach his students the "if...then" nature of all claims to knowledge if the students are to develop open minds.
      Some have a deep aversion to giving young people an awareness of the probabilistic nature of truth and knowledge.
It is often said that young minds need "solid truths" to hold on to.
      This may be a true statement.  But an equally true statement is that our society has conditioned them to need those "solid truths."
      No intelligently reasoning person will deny that our children are predominantly what we make them.
      This is accomplished through the concepts we hold dear, whether they be prejudicial, bigoted, moral, religious, political, cultural, or educational.
      The last is our major concern.
Our society becomes more complex; our era of computers and automation calls for a new type of mind--a critically analytical mind.
      If we are not careful in our educational approach, we will continue to develop uninquiring, passive minds too willing to accept the stereotypes, values, and prejudices which evolve from the unreasoning elements of society.
When we speak of teaching students to reason, we must not forget that it is possible to draw false conclusions by reasoning well from false premises.
      Therefore, it is equally important to give them a thorough analytical ability to examine their assumptions so that they may discover a ground of facts upon which to build sound reasoning.
In analytical thinking, one attempts to analyze abstract terms to determine to what extent they are useful.
      Their meanings are too often of little value in communicating clearly.
      They are, so to speak, maps without specific details.
      Simply put, the method of accomplishing this is through the method of teaching the student to ask the question, "What do you mean?"
      Though the question appears to be a simple one, the method of teaching students when to ask it is complex, painstaking, and technical.
The purpose of education ought to be to teach students to be capable of thinking clearly, critically, and analytically in dealing with every facet of life.
      Contrary to what is commonly accepted, critical analysis cannot be taught adequately by treating it as a peripheral product of science, mathematics, English, etc.
      Critical analysis, even if used to some degree in various curricula, is a vast subject in itself and should be taught as a separate subject, as are science, mathematics, and English.
      It is important to condition our students to ask, "What do you mean?" when circumstances warrant it.
      The predominant purpose then, is not only to teach how and when to ask the question, "What do you mean?" but to know what it means to ask it.
A pre-requisite to analytical thinking is an understanding of the complex concepts, language, truth, and knowledge.
      Recognizing that complexity is a prerequisite to developing the attitude required to develop an analytical acuity.
      To study them is to open the doors to wisdom, understanding, and tolerance, but most of all, to an awareness of our intellectual deficiencies.
Some people are fond of saying there is no such thing as an uneducated person.
      This is so if you define your terms loosely enough.
      Because of this vague use of the term, it is important to understand the difference between education and training; for, even though there is training involved in the study of critical analysis, it is at a minimum compared with the amount of training involved in most other subject matter.
      It is no simple task to make a clear line of demarcation.
      Nevertheless, we must differentiate when we are educating and when we are not.
      Education deals with the examination of ideas and in particular with abstract ideas.
      Training deals with dexterity of manipulation, whether it be of the fingers, of symbols such as spelling, mathematics, the names of the organs of the body, or of the facts and instruments necessary to acquire an education.
      It is not by any means our contention that the training of a human being can be separated from his education, or vice versa.
      But we can at least discover when we are predominantly training as compared to educating.
      It goes without saying that "developing the whole person" is diminished to the degree that development of the mind is neglected.
It must be clear that even though we touch upon an investigation of the metaphysics of mathematics, of science, etc., we do not claim to teach those or any subject other than Critical Analysis.
      We do claim, however, that a study of language, truth, and knowledge, and all their concomitant terms such as inference, meaning, assumption, faith, belief, and the like will bring a better understanding to the educational elements of all other academic subjects.
Though we spend much time on the discussion of subject matter that seems to the uninitiated to be nonsensical and trivial, (such as whether or not the pencil is yellow or whether I like ham and eggs better than anything) the emergence of critical acuity which is needed to recognize WHY they are nonsense statements and the recognition of the meanings and logical consequences of words are not trivial.
      Some philosopher once said, "Confusion is the first sign of progress."
      However, the confusion results from a feeling that the answers and concepts one has accepted all his life suddenly are seen to be not "necessarily" true.
      When one learns that answers are relative to particular contexts, the confusion evolves into insight.
      Thereby the first step to wisdom has been taken.
      What one especially ought to be wary of is assuming that his answers, his concepts, his beliefs, are the right ones and that all others that contradict his are wrong.
We all agree that we must educate each student to his fullest capacity.
      What is equally important is that we must help to determine what that capacity will be.
      Modern science has already shown that the capacity for learning can be altered.
      Analytical thinking shows that it is constantly being altered.
      The more one understands, the greater becomes his capacity to understand; that is to say, the capacity for understanding is directly proportional to what is already understood.
      Every "normal" child has the capacity to think abstractly.
       This is clearly demonstrated every time a child says, "I want two pieces of candy," or when he composes his first letter to Santa Claus, or when he imagines his broom stick is a horse.
      If we make certain that a child can understand algebra (as opposed to merely remembering and manipulating the symbols), we have helped to increase his capacity for more-complex mathematical systems.
      By the same token, even if we do not teach him the diversity of meanings we attribute to symbols, i.e., for every conceivable word in the English language, when we teach (not merely tell) him that every symbol is given different meanings relative to different people and/or different concepts, contexts, or usage, we have increased his capacity to be more analytical.
      We can do this through a proper choice of the most ambiguous words in our language (like language, truth, and knowledge) while at the same time challenging him to find a word to which is given only one meaning.
The supreme goal of education ought to be the fulfillment of our intellectual, rational, and reflective faculties honed on attitudes of empathy, tolerance, and concern for our fellow man.
It is recognized by any intelligently rational person that the solution to human problems is dependent upon the clarity of thought brought to bear upon them.
      Even a cursory look at our history gives ample evidence that few solutions for our problems have been sufficient to our needs.
We have not found final and absolute answers to the eternal questions we are prone to ask.
      There is no reason to assume, on present evidence, that we will ever be able to do so.
      Nevertheless, it is the constant hope of man that solutions will be found.
      And there are many among us with ready answers.  The great thinkers of history have shown there is, according to available evidence, no absolute truth or knowledge.
      The answers offered to us are never final.  As in science, one of the most noble characteristics of philosophy is that it never ceases to re-examine old concepts.
      We strive to revise our answers based on the application of analytical principles, even if the end result is only a refinement of old ideas.
      This is our protection against the demagogues who would impose their unexamined and unverifiable claims upon unenlightened people.
      So long as their abuse of language and appeal to blind acceptance goes unchallenged by analytical acuity, the threat to free inquiry will always be present. 

                            Until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                           
 the sources and methods
                                                used to instill our beliefs, 

                            Until our teachers are required to emphasize
                              
 the difference between verifiable
                                        and unverifiable language, 

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                              
that no symbol has an inherent meaning,
                                        that words do not HAVE meanings
                                      until we give them the meanings that,
                                     generally, we were told to give to them, 

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                 
that all meaning is in a physical brain
                                            
not in symbols, not in words,
                                             not in black marks on  paper,
                                         
or sounds from people's mouths,

                             until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                        
that knowledge is experience
                                          but experience is not knowledge,
                                                nor is it physical reality,

                             until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                          
that truth and knowledge
                                                     are only probable
                            and dependent on language and available evidence,   

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                          
that though much is possible,
                                                                it is
                                  not the case that ANYTHING  is possible,

                             until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                       
that every declarative sentence
                                           is preceded by an unspoken IF,

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                
that every claim to truth and knowledge
                                                 is preceded or ended
                                    with an unspoken (sometimes spoken)
                             ACCORDING TO AVAILABLE EVIDENCE,  

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                               
that recognizing the “level” of language
                                                         being used
                                          is crucial to understanding
                                 the meanings we attribute to language,

                            until our teachers are required to emphasize
                                          
that education should never
                                                            be equated
                  with schooling, proselytizing, indoctrination, and rote earning

                              until our teachers are required to emphasize 
                                      
the extent of our abusing language,
                                              and will spend considerable time
                                                     explaining how we do,

    we shall, despite all the progress of mankind, be subjected to more of the horrific man-made problems, we are so efficient at creating, and to the centuries-old unverifiable theistic epistemic nonsense that has diluted our thinking processes from the dawn of man, and will continue to do so far into the unforeseeable future.

 

**********************

Added September 22, 2006

As I have indicated above, our schools are more institutions of schooling as opposed to educating.  The present crisis in our school has been evolving for many decades.

It is my belief that the major causes have been the influence and impact of the military-industrial-capitalistic-lobbying complex demanding fulfillment of their needs in contrast to the philosophy that education is supposed to be primarily a development of the mind's capability to think critically, critically, and analytically, and secondarily in addition to training required to acquire and sustain a worthy quality of life's comforts.

Of course, this would require that all our teachers on all levels of "education" be, themselves, educated to 1) teach our students how to think clearly, critically, and analytically, 2) to be able to teach our students to recognize excessive abuse of language, 3) to teach our students to distinguish between verifiable and unfalsifiable language, 4) to teach our students when to question assumptions and when not to, and finally 5) to teach our students when language is being used to control their thinking and behavior instead of enlightening them.

In November of 1971, as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religion, at Jersey City State College, I had occasion to address the issue of judging teacher personality and teaching techniques as related to their impact on student learning and the grading process.                    

Much of what follows bears directly on the issues I've delineated above under the title, The Great Failure of Education; I present it, however, not as a position statement but, rather, as a source of ideas for consideration.

What must be emphasized most heavily is that all these remarks are in relation to that heterogeneous group of students with which almost all general studies courses are filled -- students coming from the most diverse social, economic, religious, and "educational" backgrounds, bearing in mind that the emphasis relates to students in or entering the college environment but particularly students who constitute the small percentage of above-average capacities (A or B high school students) and the considerably larger percentage of average (C) capacities.

This, coupled with the evidence that we are not a nation of geniuses speaks for itself.

More than this , if an educational institution is to be recognized as one of which it will be said, with the esteem accorded to such universities as Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, etc., "he came from ([Name your favorite]," or if esteemed scholars are anxious to associate themselves with it , it must be understood that its degrees are not given for indolence, laxity, and disinterest, but are earned with labor, love of knowledge, and diligence. 

If a grading system of letter grades is adhered to, it would seem in a heterogeneous undergraduate  (especially introductory) class it can be declared, objectively, that if 50% of the class receives A's at least one of three possibilities obtain:  1) the teacher is an easy marker; 2) the teacher's academic and testing standards are too low; and 3) the teacher has abandoned his standards for measuring the work of one student against that of another.

There is abundant evidence that human beings in the pursuit of any given creative or academic discipline fall into at least three categories:  Superior, Satisfactory, and unsatisfactory.

In matters of formal pursuits like mathematics, science, formal logic, etc., this is clearly demonstrable by a testing program.

The probability of a given teacher (in a heterogeneous community) getting all (or even 50%) A students or F students is very small.

That some teachers may be "interesting" enough to motivate their students to do "better" is true, but that they motivate superior work flies in the face of evidence to the contrary.

If A is for superior work, then a teacher's interest-motivation can hardly substitute for the intellectual capacity to produce superior work.

That a teacher may be a master teacher or an interesting teacher does not mean that therefore all his students learn equally well.

The teacher is only one small factor in a variety of factors which determine the  absorption-capacities of the diverse students.

Learning is not a matter merely of motivation.

An interesting teacher may certainly motivate a few ordinarily non-self-disciplined students to manifest a will to work hard -- in some cases actually to work hard or harder.

But a lifetime or pre-college conditioning leading predominantly to indolence, bad study habits, misconception of what is education, poor reading habits, insufficient vocabulary, bad attitudes regarding the value of knowledge, of rarely being required to learn the rigors of clear, critical, and analytical thinking as opposed to the sponging up of soon-to-be-outdated rote facts -- these and much more can hardly be corrected in one quick semester by an interesting teacher.

If a teacher consistently gives high grades to papers of different degrees of competence, there is good reason to question his standards or his competence.

When he stands out alone as having grades consistently higher than the rest of his colleagues across the nation, there should be objective proof that he is a master teacher, far superior to the majority of teachers.

If, however, the argument is advanced that there are no standards against which to measure the competence of a student or a teacher and that therefore the grading practices of the teacher may not be questioned, then we may as well instruct all teachers to give the grades of A and B simply for enrollment in a course, and let it go at that.

If high grades in heterogeneous grouping are going to be validated as resulting from interesting teaching, then the formula has been discovered whereby every teacher may be rated as a master teacher.

What is more likely, however, is that an excessive proportion of high grades will be considered evidence of low standards or incompetence especially where the student community can be shown to have high school records of a predominantly average nature.

The college population is generally made up of students (including returning drop-outs) who in high school constituted no more that 10% superior, 20% above average, and 40 to 50% average.

There is no reason to believe that when students come to college with their bad study habits of high school days, they suddenly become predominantly above-average to superior scholars especially in institutions noted more for lecturing than teaching. 

Those of us who have taught on the secondary school level know that most students leaving for college are anything but scholars and, in this day and age, feel a greater responsibility to their jobs than to their studies.  

Their reading, spelling, writing, and thinking are notably deficient.

From what other grounds would such public and political concerns about a crisis in our schools be so explicitly and continually expressed?

There is no doubt that the population of the college student community is more "selected" than that of the high school student community.

This, it might be argued, negates the validity of the curve of normal distribution since it applies only to random data-groupings.  

As a consequence it can be argued, falsely, that the curve of normal distribution used in pre-college institutions is increasingly less applicable on various college levels.  

Assuming the applicability of the curve on the pre-college level, all that can validly be argued is that the poorer grade distributions D and F should be greatly diminished on the college level.  

This may be so, but does it not assume a perfect adaptation to the more rigorous scholarly demands and expectations of self-discipline and self-motivation, which the more difficult subject matter of college demands and expects what are now considered to be "select" interested and self-disciplined young adults?

Furthermore, it overlooks the shock of a new form of life -- freedom from parental guidance.  Such newfound freedom is itself a deterrent to learning.

As to the question of academic freedom, grading hardly falls under that category. 

We already have a grading system imposed upon us, hopefully we shall have it changed to one more acceptable to us. 

Meanwhile, any teacher who grades "loosely," and is a clear maverick, compared to his colleagues across the nation, is susceptible to a "court of ethical behavior," especially when poor students are led to the mistaken idea that they are "smarter" than they are in fact.

If the teacher does not awaken such a student to his deficiencies, either society will as he walks from door to door with degree in hand or society will pay the price for his mediocrity.

To give grades unprofessionally is not academic freedom.  That is a license which few professional educators will agree is any individual's ethical right (even if a professional one).

His peers will judge him, and frown upon him and his school if his grading practices are radically different from the accepted norm; he and his school will have to live with those judgments.

When, for instance, there are more A's, B's, and C's then the word, "average," especially for philosophers, loses its meaning -- or else A's, B's become the average. 

If it is true that the students are predominantly "average," that average syndrome cannot be erased by giving them A's and B's.  "A rose by any other name...," etc. 

It would seem that intelligent exercise of a grading system would continue to demonstrate what 12 years of pre-college education has verified.  

Clearly, some students will improve.  But, relatively, so will the A and B students improve, maintaining the "gap" so that if C is to remain "average" the number of "c" students must predominate over the A's and B's.

This answers the charge that the curve of normal distribution does not apply to the college students because they have been pre-selected; moreover, the distinction between A and B is not a defensible one on the pre-college level because they are both " above average."

As a consequence of my arguments above and on the assumption that some grading system comparable to the curve of normal distribution will always be imposed, I strongly support the grading concept of:  With Honors, (PH); Pass, (P); and No Record of a Grade (NC) at such time as letter grading can be sent to the graveyard.

SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella