Wednesday, March 13, 2013

the statistical straightjacket...

Making a pair of horses.
It is difficult for common folk to understand science anymore unless they also understand statistics, and that straightjacket is doing harm to our confidence for understanding everything else. Statistics make things seem distant, removed and abstract. They lead us to undervalue our own direct expertise and make us dependent on others to explain things to us that we should have had confidence to understand on our own.

At one time science had to do with direct observation of concrete reality, but these days, direct observation is no longer accepted as the foundation for expertise. Things must now be explained through layers of mathematical abstraction that stand between the observer and the subject of exploration or interest.  And so for so many, science and direct engagement in science is held beyond reach and beyond interest.

Statistics and standardized testing are a useful tools but should not displace common sense and direct observation. Again, this has to do with a healthy relationship between the concrete and abstract.

Joe Miller in a comment on yesterday's post describes inviting his son into his workshop, and his son's curiosity regarding Joe's actual use of fractions. Joe points out that the Sloyd principle of moving from the concrete to the abstract was at play as he was actually using fractions and his son doing homework involving fractions could understand that what he was learning was actually preparing him for something real. Fractions are not abstract when they are carefully explained and applied to doing real things. What a valuable lesson that can be! Nearly everything children are to learn in school could be learned more easily if there were direct applications for it.

On a related matter, children's brains and the various functions in their brains mature at different rates and in different order from one child to the next, and yet we put them in schools and run them through drills that either bore them or leave them scratching their heads. This article Research in Brain Function and Learning explains that when it comes to brain development children are all over the place, not all the same, and those schools and teachers who ignore the variations in child development are just plain dumb. Again, this involves the statistical straightjacket, as educators focus on the statistical norm and neglect the needs of each individual child.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, first, second and third grade students (our lower elementary) began making toy wooden horses to pull toy wooden wagons that they'll make next for a pretend journey along the Oregon trail. They will write stories about their families and will load their wagons with scale size bags of flour, sugar, and other foodstuffs cut from wood.The project is intended to make use of the children's own active story telling and imagination to make what they learn more relevant and more deeply connected through experience. And as I stated in yesterday's post, action clarifies thought.

This afternoon, the middle school students began making sloyd knives and turning French style rolling pins on the lathe. It is challenging make the slightly curved form perfectly symmetrical. It takes concentration. It takes practice. It takes a clear sense of what the tool can do. It requires an understanding of the materials, but most surprisingly it requires a sense of one's own body at work. One would think making a smooth form would be so easy.  It's not.

Make, fix and create...

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