Thursday, July 11, 2019

Morlocks and Eloi

Morlocks from the 1960 film.
Maybe it's all an anti-elitism movement. I dislike snobs, too. I go into towns in my area, sometimes, in which it feels like the population sees itself as better than everyone else. It stinks to be in a restaurant and feel like you just are not posh enough to be there. But we can't create a society of mechanical oafs whose closest thing to a dream is to break rocks for a good living. 

I'm a guy (and I have made this point lots of times on this blog) who has respect for the blue-collar workers who can do stuff I can't. To me, higher education does not make you better; it's just a different path. But I do think everyone, from bricklayer to barrister, ought to be cultured. Being cultured should not be a dividing line, it should be a common thread. 

Because of all this, I'm getting sick of high school-bashing. It feels very much the same as my recent "Dirty Jobs?" post. I'm getting tired of posts that say something along the lines of "stop teaching algebra  and start teaching personal finance." Or, one I saw recently, that said:

ME: How do I do my taxes?
PUBLIC SCHOOL: Shut the ____ up and square dance. 

Haha. Funny.  Here we go again. Of course, in the grand scheme, how important is square dancing? I mean, it's pretty irrelevant, and I'm not sure how many schools still really do it. My son had a PE class in dance, last year, and they did more current dances.

But, how horrible would it be to live in a world in which we only teach our kids the practical? I'm all for home economics and personal finance for a quarter or for a semester, but this replacement of literature or algebra, in meme-logic, is an asinine thing to suggest. Just as with the job thing ("college is stupid and the trades are good") the black-and-white zombies have the loudest voices.

My uncle, a lifelong educator, once shook his head and asked, with great sorrow in his voice, when colleges became trade schools. Whenever it happened, he's right: they did. They started out as places meant to, mostly, teach people how to find God; they evolved into places of "higher earning" in which the ivory-tower-dwellers tried hard to turn base metals into gold and then they became places people attended in order to strengthen their understanding of the world. Now they are a place to go so you can "make good money."

Let's not call for our high schools nix anything that one you can't use in everyday life. Maybe if we concentrate on higher-level thinking skills -- things at the top of Bloom's "Learning Pyramid" -- people will be able to actually figure out how to write a check on their own. Don't you think? It seems to me that the skills that these people want taught are things any intelligent human ought to be able to figure out for himself.

A good reader who has read Shakespeare can certainly read a recipe; therefore he can cook. A good mathematician can certainly figure out how to balance a checkbook on her own. It isn't that hard if your brain is in good shape. If you teach a person how a fishing rod works, in physics, he not only will be able to fish, he will be able to make his own rod and eat the rest of his life.

We need contradict the loud and proud dumb-downers. Let's not become Wells's Morlocks and Eloi. Let's produce a society of plumbers who read Shakespeare and professors who can install garbage disposals. (I did it once.)


  1. It drives me crazy, too, when I hear people argue that most kids will "never use" or "never need" Algebra I. If they ever get a mortgage, take out a student loan, or acquire a credit card, then they're dealing with simple algebra! Algebra can help them demystify—and ideally teach them eventually to avoid—compound interest. How do people think we can teach kids that "life skill" without making them fluent in the underlying math?

    1. One-dimensional thinking, for sure. I always tell my kids in school that they are not likely to be held at gun point and forced to explicate Ezra Pound, but the skills they learn in doing explication will help them to understand people...and what could be more important than that?