Numinations — May, 1999

Education—A Book Review

© 1999, by Gary D. Campbell

Education is a large subject and extremely important. I can only scratch the surface here, so I’ll scratch it in a single spot, and you can work further into it if curiosity compels you to follow up.

Alan Cromer argues in Connected Knowledge that scientists are separated from educators by nothing less than a chasm. Often, neither a common philosophy nor understanding of scientific principles is shared by these two groups of people. If this is true, how can educators succeed in raising the next crop of scientists? For that matter, how can they raise a good crop of citizens?

Connected Knowledge

Science, Philosophy, and Education

© 1997 by Alan Cromer

Evolution is the surest way to progress. Evolution involves copying the most effective and successful templates you have available and making very small modifications to produce the next generation. You do not reinvent the wheel. You do not create the next generation out of whole cloth. And fortunately (for I see no force save fortune to explain this), there always seems to be a great diversity of templates to choose from. This is particularly true in a nation of individuals like America. It is the least true in a nation of Nazis. The diversity of templates (good examples to follow) diminishes to the extent that a nation exerts direct decision making control on its industries or its research and development programs, sets up monopolies, nationalizes the production of goods or services, or encourages collective bargaining. It seems we are a nation of diversity despite all of these things, not because we have held them off. But how true will this be for us in the future? How true is it today as compared to earlier in this century? Basically, a nation loses its diversity just before its demise. Education can be the most effective key to unlocking diversity, or to barring the door when it fails.

Cromer, a physicist by formal education and an educator by actual experience, is perfectly positioned to see both problems and solutions in the field of education.

He notes that he is only a pop philosopher, not a “proper Popper” philosopher. And with wit and insight, he makes a convincing case for ways to get our system back on track.

Naturally, the average person has many concerns that lie completely outside the scope of science. However, scientific knowledge should be the bedrock upon which other knowledge is built. Scientific knowledge is gained by connecting data to models, and experience to understanding. A person’s education is the most important component of a person’s total wealth. A system of education that offers each person the greatest possible stake to start out in life, would be the greatest national resource that we could have. This is no secret. It has been the goal of many for as long as our country has existed. Good intentions, however, are not enough.

Cromer points to two fallacies that have been placed in our way. Education involves concept formation, and one fallacy is that concepts are holistic. They are not. Education is more like building a pyramid, brick by brick, from the bottom up, than it is like painting a picture by sketching an outline, and adding technique and interpretation across the entire canvas at once. The second fallacy is that all concepts are subjective. Those concepts that form the bedrock are not. Others that we choose to erect later may well be, but that should not obscure the fundamental tenet that education’s first concern should be the installation of bedrock. This means teaching certain fundamentals upon which higher learning (and deeper understanding) can be built. Apart from the lunatic fringe, the rest of us can surely agree on a few of these.

Rather than ridiculing The Bell Curve, Cromer points out that human beings do differ in cognitive ability, and no matter how crude measures of it may be, those measures “must be recognized as one of the most important concepts in the social sciences.”

The chasm between scientist and educator is a gap that must be closed. Cromer gives both advice and motivation. He makes a case that our educational system could do much worse than adopt for its first major goal that of having every student pass the GED by the end of ninth grade. To understand how this can possibly follow, you’ll just have to read the book.

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