Did you know that 98% of children aged five are geniuses? This finding was concluded by a study conducted by George Land, which also found that this number dropped to a whopping 30% when a group of 10-year olds were tested.
It gets worse.
Only 12% of 15-year olds are considered geniuses, and out of tested adults, only 2% are geniuses. So what went wrong?
Let’s roughly consider what happened between the age of five and adulthood. We grow up, we experience new things, we meet more people and most importantly, we went to school. Now, blaming school for the decadence in human intellect is of course a grossly simplified hypothesis, given that so many other variables also come into play. But, have we ever considered why the school system has been made so synonymous to education in the first place? We know education is important, but why is school so important?
“Man’s tragedy is that he was once a child”. – Nietzsche
Plasticity and the Child
The human brain is apparently elastic and can be very flexible. Neuroscientists describe the brain’s capability to biologically adapt to changes and new knowledge as Plasticity. Plasticity allows human to learn new things, new characters and also adjust to prevailing situations wherever necessary. Thus, any normal and healthy individual should theoretically be able to be well, clever, as long as they are allowed access to these new knowledge or experience. The question is, with the imposition of school on humans, did we do justice to plasticity or did we rather inhibit any progress to human’s intellectual development thereby limiting human’s true potential?
Children are super humans. They live in the moment and take everything they see in front of them without worrying for future consequences or having to abide to a pre-determined framework with specified goals and objectives. They are endowed with brains that are ready and eager to learn like a brand new absorbent sponge. Whether we dip it in fresh spring water, or contaminated murky water, the sponge will absorb well.
Self-learning in human is innate. A child’s first three years is where growth is steepest. The child grows from an immobile crying baby to a person, with an understanding of a 3-year old, capable of communicating in one or two languages, draw on the wall, decipher simple problems, formulate questions upon questions and possess the drive to do things on their own. What happened to the rate of the human growth in later years up to adulthood? Why are only 2% of adults, geniuses?
School as an Indoctrination ground
Tracing the origin of school, one would find shocking revelations. Modern, public, free and compulsory schooling was first introduced by the King of Prussia (olden day Germany) in 1760. He introduced school to shape the public mind into being docile and obedient to his rule. Shortly after, this concept mushroomed throughout the globe to be adopted by the French, as far west as the Americans, and eventually by the whole world. Napoleon Bonaparte also embraced this concept 50 years later. In his very own words, “I want to create an educational body that will steer the way the French people think!.
This is interesting. Even at the core of its early foundation, indoctrination and brainwashing became the main objective of the formation of the school. Apart from the basic reading, writing and simple arithmetic skills, school was to ensure the despot rulers stay in power. The schools introduced in Prussia, with time tables, certain sets of syllabus and division of classes by age, are the same schools that the modern world now sees.
The early intention of the formation of school is thus a betrayal to word education itself. Its main goals were to deplete the human mind, imprison them and train them to be homogenous, effective, and cheap factory workers to assist the Industrial Revolution. It was designed to mold people into becoming submissive servants; and up to today it still does so, albeit in arguably subtler ways. Schools today see children being told to memorize answers and solutions to problems, and subscribe to the idea of success that is defined by winning over others, paper qualifications and dollars and cents.
Tabula rasa: Nature Versus Nurture
Tabula rasa means blank slate in Latin. It is the epistemological theory that individuals are born with an “empty” brain and all their knowledge comes from experience, perception and learning. In essence, proponents of tabula rasa favour nurture over nature, as coined by polymath Francis Galton. It is in contrast to opposing theories which hold that human intellect can be genetic, like that proposed by Charles Jung. On top of the nature vs nature view, one should not discount that, divine intervention is also a major part of learning and intellectual attainment via the concept of hidayah and in the context of reception to education.
Tabula rasa was first briefly introduced by Aristotle, and later reemerged during the time of Ibnu Sina. The latter argued that the active human intellect is developed from material intellect. This is concurred by the system of education, which is attained knowledge through experience and human reasoning. The theory of Tabula Rasa was then further experimented by St Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Rousseau and Sigmund Freud.
Ibnu Tufail illustrated the concept through his novel, which fictitiously narrated a child’s development through experience alone, in complete isolation from the rest of the world on a deserted island. Another illustration of the concept in popular culture is the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, who survived 227 days after a shipwreck, stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, without having learnt the theory of survival from school. He had survived purely by experience, knowledge attainment and human reasoning.
From an education perspective, Tabula Rasa proposes that children build personalities, establish behaviors and become intelligent, as a result of nurturing. In essence, it is implying that intelligence and desirable personalities are neither fated nor incidental. They are born from the right nurturing system, complemented with an environment that allows for learning by experience, room for inquisition, and self-reasoning.
Teaching versus Learning
Education bodies worldwide have continued to remain committed to early twentieth century educational philosophy. They have not been able to significantly challenge this tradition. Words that suitably describe this current philosophy include “conveying”, “imparting” and “telling” of information and facts, instead of “discovering”, “encouraging”, “provoking” and “nurturing”. It has always been about teaching pedagogy and not about learning.
Learning involves failure and making mistakes, things that the education systems these days no longer seem to tolerate. Similarly, there is a litany of words used to describe teaching such as “pedagogy” and “andragogy”, but synonyms for learning exist not in the same abundance. We have always been trying to produce skilled teachers, but what about skilled learners?
Brazillian critical educationist Paulo Freire suggested a solution; a two-way relationship has to be introduced to learning from both teacher and student. He promoted the teacher-student concept, where the teacher is a teacher that learns, and the student is a learner that teaches. Teaching versus learning is best concluded by Albert Einsten when he said, “I never teach my pupils, I only provide conditions in which they learn.”
Rethinking Education for Plasticity
Foucoult, Kant and Freire viewed that education should not act as information transferring to the masses. If this were the case, children would then be considered as educated or intelligent through how much information they could absorb. The products would be children that are good at answering quizzes, not adult citizens with problem-solving skills, innovation and human compassion.
Here’s the conundrum: can we arrive to the conclusion that our existing modern schools can largely be considered obsolete and outdated? Its main shortfall is the focus on teaching, rather than learning, freedom of choice and the inculcating love and human linkages within a body of individual and collective development process.
The call to rethink education is now vital to ensure that plasticity of the brain is fully capitalized and translated into greater outcomes from the school-going child. Children must no longer be taught based on resulting education materials, rather be made involved in the process of reaching those conclusions and attaining those materials.
Educators and governing authorities responsible for the schooling system must call for a shift of focus for the school. Now is the time to move towards equipping children with tools of freedom through critical thinking, self-induced intellect, self-reliance, cooperation and compassion for others. A major enabler for this goal is having the school measurement and incentives systems slowly revamped; from chasing after cold, hard academic targets, to softer, nurturing and encouraging KPIs.
This is to allow children to discover their own answers, instead of imposing answers onto them. Education should be fun and exciting. Imagine schools that encourage children to be curious, out there discovering, reading outside of textbook requirements, asking difficult questions, creating new things and most importantly, as Malik Bennabi termed it, schools that start to “humanize humans” again. The result of such education, or shall we say, nurturing system, onto society and humankind will be game changing for sure.
“Studying doesn’t consist of devouring ideas but of creating and re-creating them.”—Paulo Freire