Sunday, August 16, 2009

why jp ain't smart

If there is wisdom in the hands, and the use of the hands builds intellect, why isn't Joe the Plumber smart? That is a question that could be nagging my regular readers. Of course Joe the plumber might be very smart about plumbing, how to fit pipes together, and unstop a toilet or sink... tasks that many more educated people would never even want to get good at. And yet, while being smart in one area, to make the assumption that intelligence can be broadly applied doesn't necessarily pan out in real life. In many areas of normal expertise, Joe the Plumber could be dumb as a post.

There are lots of reasons for academic success, or the lack of it, and not all have very much to do with the capabilities of the child.

For instance, while schools are busy pushing reading in kindergarten, it has been proven that most boys and many girls are not ready to learn reading until they are seven. In stark contrast, in Finland, the country that leads the whole world in 8th grade reading and math, schools don't begin to teach reading until age 8. And by some miracle (not really) kids rapidly catch up because they are reading ready. But here, where we think we are better at everything, we put the kid in school, push him or her to learn things for which he or she is not ready, and the parent and kid are both notified with teacher concerns for his or her stupidity. Teachers in small classes might give Joe some extra help, and possibly notice some things about Joe that would counter the suspicion of his lack of intelligence and reinforce Joe's sense of confidence, but sadly, small classes like those are rare in public education. Even with the most dedicated teachers, some Joes fall through cracks. So, Joe's noticed something that will stick with him his whole life. School is stupid. Even at a tender age, he can see plenty of evidence of dumb-ass things. And by extension, all things academic are stupid as well. In later life Joe sees ample evidence... he is called to work by people who put stupid things in their sinks and toilets, having little sense of the workings of fundamental down-the-drain reality.

And of course Joe is not really stupid. He has merely closed himself off from his innate limitless human curiosity and abandoned the means through which he could become better educated and informed. And of course stupidity is a two way street. I recently visited with a retired philosophy professor from Virginia. He told me of the clueless, out of touch, and essentially irrational professors in his former department (not naming names)... and that he felt his summer employment in agriculture and construction provided a foundation for his philosophical explorations, seemingly unavailable to his peers.

Of course, all this is related to the observations of early educators, particularly followers of Pestalozzi who had noted that education should move from the concrete to the abstract and from the known to the unknown. You can have lots of concrete knowledge about pipes and dripping faucets, but at some point, entry to the abstract realm through which we share knowledge with others is required for real wisdom to grow. Equally damaging is when children are pushed into abstraction before being firmly engaged in concrete reality. They may have a false sense of knowing nearly everything that will go unchallenged, as in the days leading up to near complete financial collapse.

Our entire culture, society and economy suffer when children's hands are left disengaged in their educations. So, let's get a grip. First thing is to get hold of the notion that our hands do shape intelligence as well as human culture, and acknowledge that to leave any child's hands untrained in skill and sensitivity is to do damage to all.

As always, I invite my reader's comments and discussion.

2 comments:

smijer said...

Equally damaging is when children are pushed into abstraction before being firmly engaged in concrete reality. They may have a false sense of knowing nearly everything that will go unchallenged, as in the days leading up to near complete financial collapse.

All I have to say about that is ouch... My life to a 'T'. This is a great post... you really have a grasp on some important things.

Doug Stowe said...

The great thing is that there are many opportunities for remedial work at any age. Garden, sew, cook, make, nurse, care, play music, hike, and of course, my favorite, woodworking. And it's best and the most fun when you can get kids involved.