StudyHall Introduction (part 1)

[2015-07-25 Sat 16:12] Studyhall is a template designed to re-imagine education in 21st century. Today, most education still uses a variation on mass educational that evolved to meet the needs of an industrial age workforce.

The industrial revolution required a large workforce who had basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, be able to sit or stand for long periods of time doing repetitive tasks and follow instructions with little or no question. These same skills were ideal not only for factory workers, but the vast majority of office workers as well. Clerks, typists, draftsmen, calculators and accountants may have required specialized or even advanced training to do their work – but everyone still had to sit for long periods perform a relatively narrow range of tasks and to follow instructions without question.

Skill sets remained relatively unchanged over decades, so education was something that was done once when you were young. After graduation you were hired and trained for a job and that was that. It was common for many people to hold the same job for their whole working life. And even if you didn't, skill sets were little different within industries, so whatever skill you knew, was largely portable to other companies within the industry.

As William Gibson said, "the future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed." No where is this more true than with education and the workplace. So even if there are still many companies that still adhere to work environments that Henry Ford would be quite familiar with, even in the high tech industry, the rate of change that the average person has to contend with daily would make his head spin. Today we are somewhat aware of how fast things are changing, but we don't see it because it is ubiquitous. We are all frogs being slowly boiled to death, it's just the way things are.

However, the institutions that are responsible for preparing people for living and working in a society are not just out of date, they are bordering on becoming dysfunctional.

It is no longer possible to go to school, get a degree, then learn a skill on the job and expect to be doing that job until you retire.

It is now uncommon for people to work for the same company their entire career, or even be able be employable in the same skill for their entire career.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find work in some industries where you can passively sit and do what is told of you without question.

It is starting to become more common in some industries for workers to be independent of any physical office or workplace and might be living and working nearly any place on the planet in a variety of working environments from home offices, to coffee shops, shared-work spaces, or even on the beach. All of which have been made possible by the internet, inexpensive mobile phones with cameras and laptops.

While the number of jobs that can be done this way is still relatively small, this will not be the case for long. For example, telepresence; the ability to control robots remotely, will become so cheap, that in the near future it will possible to do it from almost anywhere. Remote controlling UAVs, that range in size from as small as a dragonfly up to the formidable military drones that are often being flown from half way around the planet from where they are being operated.

As the robotic revolution unfolds, many jobs that required people to work on a factory floor, or construction site will be replaced by robots that are controlled remotely.

Higher education is now so expensive that the pressure from the debt burden that graduates will enter the market with is so prohibitive that few people dare studying anything that will not result in a job that can pay back their mountain of debt. This means that even though the market place desperately needs graduates who are can think and work independently, the cost of education encourages studying narrow specialties that are in demand today, but will be out of date in a few years time.

Trivium

Education in an information economy needs to go back to it's roots to prepare people for life in the rest of this century. In many respects the Medieval Trivium is worth revisiting and adapting as a foundation for our new educational model.

The Trivium was broken into three subjects, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Students typically began the Trivium at the age of eleven or twelve. This is the age in which children are first able to think abstractly. Before this, learning is little more than memorization and learning manual skills. But after the age of eleven, abstract and complex learning becomes possible.

Grammar was originally teaching the mechanics of language. In the case of English, traditional crammer studies are all but worthless, because of the mish-mash muddle of a language that has borrowed so much from so many languages that it has little in the way of a coherent structured grammar any longer.

In Sister Miriam Joseph's classic work, [[The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Crammer and Rhetoric (2002) she describes the Trivium:

Grammar is the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; logic is the art of thinking; and rhetoric is the art of communicating thought from one mind to another; the adaptation of language to circumstance.

Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized. Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known. Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated.

In other words Crammer teaches you how to manipulate, organize and structure symbols, Logic teaches how to think and analyze and Rhetoric teaches how to communicate and persuade.

This gives the student a foundation that can be used to study and anything, in any subject. It prepares the mind to think rationally, and logically and then use that in spoken and written communication with others.

Extending the Brain

Once a person has acquired the cognitive toolbox from studying the Trivium, we need to learn how to learn in the midst of constant and and exponentially increasing churn in almost every aspect of a persons life, family and career. This is a very new thing for humans. Our ability to learn is limited by our own hardware, which was tuned for life on the African savannah.

Technology can be thought of as an arms race in extending human cognition, memory and muscle. Every time that man has run up against the limits of what we can think, or build or do, we've found a way to keep extending our physical brains and bodies to accomplish more.

Mammals have a competitive advantage over other animals because they have a cerebral cortex. Humans have such a massive cerebral cortex that it poses a danger to women in child birth.

The cerebral cortex is a pattern matching machine that is both hierarchical and sequential in nature. In a very real sense the cerebral cor-text is a general purpose computer, which can be rewired over time through experience, and practice. The primordial older core of our brains is not so flexible, and is largely hardwired to deal with the world. This means that animals without a cerebral cor-text needed evolutionary time scales to learn new things and and behaviors. The cerebral cortex can be though of as a general purpose extension of our core brain.

And in turn, this extended part of our brain eventually was able to invent first spoken language. Spoken language made it possible for brains to be able to communicate with each other. This communication turned us into a transactive species. It gave us the ability to extend our brains to other brains in a group, so that different members could become responsible for remembering different things, and specializing in different skills. This forms the foundation for all of human civilization.

The next advancement came with the invention of written language. Written language made it possible to externalize memory and abstract thought outside of the brain in a form of persistent memory which was both portable over time and space, and could be duplicated.

Writing systems made mathematics and logic possible, because it allowed us to overcome the limited amount of things that humans can keep in working memory at any one time.

In the same way, tools, and later machines were extensions of human muscle, allowing us to manipulate the world around us in ways that would be impossible using our flexible but limited bodies.

It's obvious where this is going. Computers and robotics are the next iteration of the arms race to extend the brain. Computers, unlike paper based writing systems, are independent cognitive machines. Robots, unlike tools and later machines, are powered by computers, so robots make it possible to semi-autonomously extend our bodies, while computers are general purpose cognitive machines that directly extend the cerebral cortex.

I call it an arms race, because things change faster because we develop means of exceeding the limitations of minds and bodies. But we never seem content with that and keep increasing our numbers and strain the carrying capacity of our habitat so that it becomes necessary to invent new technology to overcome the problems created by the introduction of the existing technology.

I mention all of this because this is the context that we need to be aware of to develop an educational system that can prepare people to deal with the same amount of change in a month that people in past millennia dealt with in a lifetime.

The key then, is to treat learning as a survival skill. If you stop learning and adapting and acquiring new knowledge and practicing new skills you won't survive. It's that simple.