Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Month With Charlotte Mason, #17

In which we set aside the interview for today (will pick it up on Monday)

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting at the community centre waiting for the Squirrelings to be done a co-op class, and not having one of my own to teach, I started browsing through the bookshelf there. I picked up Super Crunchers, by Ian Ayres, and had time to read through the forward and the first chapter before the kids switched classes.

This book gives new meaning to "[oops] lies and statistics." It's written by a Yale law professor who's also an economist, and the book is about how our culture is, more or less, becoming run by algorithms and formulas. Which are right more often than they're wrong, to the discomfiture of those who have been dethroned by mathematical ways of doing things...but whether that's a good thing or not is another question. Particularly in the area of education, although that isn't a main focus of the book. Isn't that what the DHM, Cindy and others have been saying lately too? That what our culture wants is to measure everything, predict everything, get everything possible down to a quantifiable science rather than depend on less-dependable human instincts? And when you're predicting wine vintages (as in the forward to the book) or whether an anti-car-theft device will reduce crime, that's fine--but when you're predicting people, it's frightening.

Because, to paraphrase Cindy, we now have those tools and we're using them on ourselves instead of for ourselves.

And it makes me think of the whole CM idea "for the children's sake." For whose sake do the schools spend so much money developing programmed reading instruction that says now, today, you will be able to take this step, read these new words, understand this and this concept...but don't ask questions that aren't covered in this step, this lesson. The computer (I'm guessing) may even be able to predict that you may have periods of faster or slower learning, and adjust for that...but in the end, who is this all for? For the student, or for the system? In Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher ends her chapter on Betsy's country school by pointing out that it was only a poky little school with a few children, that no city school superintendent would bother with. My response is, now they should be so lucky.

For whose sake are we becoming only more numbers in huge databases? Have you tried getting any kind of insurance lately? The goal of reducing human error sounds like a good one, until you realize that we're the humans in question...


1 comment:

Sebastian said...

I think that you also have to be honest enough to admit that centralizing things will sometimes (often?) lead to human mistakes being inflicted over a large school, district or state system.

And what is our track record with numbers and statistics in the recent history. Having numbers back to the 1960s that we were not doing well teaching reading (decoding, not to mention developing a love for books), did we do anything to turn this around?