On Methods of Thinking and Education

Thinking is something that we all do all the time. But everyone I talk to exhibits no concern and no care for their own personal thinking processes. Forget the obvious issues such as jumping to conclusions, implicit assumptions, illogical association, invalid cause and effect, fallacious reasoning, and other more formal thought misfires which are ubiquitous. I am also referring to the most basic functional processes which we take for granted, and the dramatic cumulative effect such small effects have if you apply them across an entire society.

For example, remembering something. Has it occurred to anyone how prodigiously inefficient the process of recall is? First of all, there is no guarantee of success, and that is a separate issue that needs to be addressed. Also, in order to reliably recount information at a later date with any degree of accuracy, memorization requires a huge amount of time and energy to accomplish a task that should not actually be very difficult. From what I’ve read on the subject of memory, the best tricks we have were created by the ancient Greeks. Are you telling me that our mode of thought has not advanced at all in three thousand years? That we have spent so much effort and energy inventing new gizmos, that not a single erg of creative juice has been directed towards improving our ability to invent new gizmos?

This produces a host of insane problems. Firstly, the education system. It does not take twelve years to master the disciplines covered in American high schools. Unless you’re retarded, it does not take five years to learn how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply, and divide. The years where you are most able to continuously absorb new information are instead devoted to inane repetition, and mindless mental drilling into the heads of students who are quite capable of understanding in one or two iterations. Complaints about students being unruly and wild are justified. But they are unruly and wild because they are bored out of their minds!

For example, most universities follow the quarter system. That is to say colleges cover the same material in one quarter that a high school covers in one year. So seniors in high school are instantly sunk up to their necks in a system that proceeds four times as quickly as the one they are used to, and that material is of a much more complex nature than the “fundamental” material they had been working with for years. But college students are notable for their passion in the subjects they study, and they apply a special youthful energy to their jobs as well. They are hardly overwhelmed.

I would be forced to agree with Benjamin Franklin, who originally posited the idea that all the necessary education in the fundamentals necessary to be a functioning member of society can be covered in three years. Not twelve. Three. Benjamin Franklin’s idea outlined a “civic education” for those three years, and the technical education would extend indefinitely past that. I change that to make it strongly resemble the current system, only much faster. And I make a slight modification to add a prequel year of kindergarten/preschool education to provide additional background in reading, writing, and other tools necessary for the other three years such as study skills, mnemonic devices, and a general “how to use your brain” course. So starting school at age 3 or 4, and finishing at approximately 7 or 8. After this, schooling becomes optional provided that the education requirements do not change. They would, but that’s a separate issue. After completing this high school equivalent education, programs in the area allowing for an additional four years of schooling at the same rate as before- an undergraduate level education- could be taken. Upon completing that at about age 12, students could theoretically be ready to head off to college. The difference is, they would have completed a four year college education already.

Does that sound crazy?

Why not begin college when the brain is at its maximum learning capacity? The learning capabilities of the brain begin to decline at around age 20. Homo sapiens’ extended juvenile period is explicitly evolved to enable us to learn at greater speeds for longer. Other large mammalian species are fully mature in most senses within one year, and lose their enhanced malleability of mind.

Those who ask “are students mature enough to leave the house at a younger age?” are sorely misleading themselves. Youth are only “less mature” because of societal pressures to keep them that way, by expectation. Youth among, say, the Bushmen are fully mature at age 13 or so, and given the responsibilities of a man or woman in taking care of the tribe. In modern culture, psychological neoteny is considered the norm. A century ago, children were allowed and even expected to roam around half the countryside. Now, most children are forbidden from leaving the house or the immediate environs- a leash averaging 30 feet. There are disturbing parallels to a parent warning their child not to play with their chemistry set and the label on the side of microwave dinners “CAUTION: package may become hot when heated.” Psychological neoteny is perpetuated on many fronts; the schools, the parents, the workplace, the commercial sector, and the government. Increasing dependence, increasing need for assistance, supersimplification, and increasing periods of education all go hand in hand. Memory difficulty leads to extended, inefficient schooling, which leads to psychological neoteny as students as old as eighteen are treated like children.

The root cause is a single fundamental issue: the difficulty with remembering due to absurdly inefficient memorization processes. If methods, even ones as primitive and cumbersome as the ancient Grecian loci method, were taught in before entering mainstream education, the time required to learn would decrease enormously. Even without it, school should be able to be shortened by a factor of four. With it, or perhaps with the invention of newer, superior methods, it could be shortened still further. If you doubt this is possible, you sorely underestimate the power of the human mind. Look into memory techniques: you will be amazed.

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