antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

kvp is a lousy way to teach 

Recently on one of the podcasts I listen to, I heard an offhanded comment made about how history is taught not in patterns but as facts. For example, “On the 18th of April in ’75, hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year”.

Rarely are the “whys” explained – understandably so at early ages, but not understandably as maturation happens.

“Teaching” in so many subjects has become memorization of what really amount to key-value pairs. Like, Columbus: 1492. Norman invasion: 1066. Etc.

Certainly, facts are important. And some things truly are best learned in a rote memorization form – for example, the multiplication table through 12, 15, or 25. But what about states and their capitals? Sure, they’re “pairs” – but are they more?

This is awesome if you’re a trivia nut. But if you’re not, or you truly want to learn the material – not merely pass a test or regurgitate facts – then you need to understand more than just the “facts”.

Outside history classes, it’s especially prevalent in math – very little (if any) time is taken to explain why the quadratic formula works (or even what it is), instead algebra students are expected to just learn and use it.

My late aunt, who did a lot of tutoring in her life, summed-up the problem with algebra (and other math subjects past elementary school) thusly: before algebra, we give a problem like “3 plus box is 9; what goes in the box?” but in algebra, we swap the box for a t or x or g, and we freak out. She would teach the facts, but [almost] never without the whys.

The whys are illustrated and analyzed very well in some books – like Why Nations Fail (review). But, sadly, they’re not given in more places.

We definitely need more good teachers who want their students to understand not merely enough to pass the class (or the test), but to cultivate the curiosity we’re all born with to become lifelong learners.

First step: stop “teaching” as key-value pairs.

mastery by robert greene

In Mastery, Robert Greene continues in the style of his excellent work, The 48 Laws of Power (which I previously reviewed and have been posting excerpts from).

Sadly, it is not quite to the level of The 48 Laws – though it still a good book. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve already been practicing most of what he preaches, starting with finding your niche. Oh, and following an apprenticeship path. And staying creative; and widening your horizons.

This is also, more or less, the path modeled by one of my previous employers, the Shodor Education Foundation through their Apprentice, Intern, and “Post-Bac” Staff programs (they have higher than “Post-Bac” staff, too – but that’s more in the “Master” level than getting to it).

I was hoping for something … well, maybe not “new” – but insightful-and-not-common-elsewhere. Perhaps I’m merely well-read already, but Mr Greene comes to roughly the same conclusion as Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers – 10,000 hours of concerted effort in learning, practicing, and presenting a given topic/field will tend to push you into the “Master” realm (review).

Through a series of case studies and repeated biographical highlights through the last ~300 years, the point is shown that while there are a few workable paths to Mastery – they’re all traversable by anyone who cares to take the time and effort to do so.

Timothy Ferriss’ series of “4 Hour” books (4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Workweek, & 4-Hour Chef) all showcase these exact traits, as well. While presented as “shortcuts for the rest of us”, if read without skimming, instead show that it is only through intense focus and hard work that you can arrive at the “4-Hour” destination.

Is Mastery a worthwhile read? Probably for most people.

Is it worth owning? Doubtful.

Grab a copy from your library (like I did) and read it. Reread it. Blog about it. Tweet it. Skim it. Then return it.