Posted by: crudbasher | September 12, 2009

Stormfront Part 1 – What is past is prologue

What is Education? What is Learning? I believe the two are different things. Learning is being able to acquire and apply new information. You can do this anywhere and it is a very natural process. When we are just in infant we learn that if we cry, the adults will do things to make us stop crying. Learning is something that happens all the time and we can’t stop even if we wanted to. But what is Education? Recently I came across a blog posting that summed it up.

“So I then came to define education as learning under the assumption of scarcity, learning under the assumption that the means for acquiring something called knowledge are scarce.” – Ivan Illich

This came from a blog posting from John Connell. I will talk more about the assumption of scarcity in a later posting but for now let’s briefly review how we got to our current Education system.

One of the earliest forms of formalized education came with Greek Philosophers. People like Socrates had a small group of followers whom they taught. They pioneered a form of learning called the Socratic Method. I imagine this was a very effective learning method. There was no formal lesson plan so things progressed at the pace of the learner and topics were covered until they were understood. Most importantly it went all the way to the deepest form of learning which is Teaching.

We learn….
10% of what we read.
20% of what we hear.
30% of what we see.
50% of what we both see and hear.
70% of what is discussed with others
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach

William Glasser (1998
The obvious limitation of the small group method is it very few people can access it.

Another early form of education was the Apprenticeship system. This was where a student went to learn from a master of a craft. Eventually with practice, the student became a master as well. This one to one learning is extremely effective but slow and not very efficient at large numbers of students.

At the dawn of the 20th century came the age of Mass Production. This principle was for assembly lines that would create products quickly and cheaply. In order for these systems to work, workers would be needed to operate the production lines. These workers needed a set of skills that can be summed up in the cliché of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. This made workers interchangeable parts of the process. The modern school system I believe was then designed to furnish these workers. This model of education is called the Industrial Model of Education by Don Tapscott in his fascinating article The Impending Demise of the University.

This model has a strength and a weakness. The strength is you can take almost any child and provide a relatively uniform set of basic skills. The major weakness is you can’t much else than that. There is no funding to desire to provide a personalized level of learning. As a student you were allowed certain elective classes, but in K-12 they were not core classes. Everybody had to take English, etc… This wouldn’t be such a big problem if it wasn’t for a common misconception among people that schools are for learning. They aren’t. Schools are for teaching. Teaching and learning aren’t the same thing. This article at Knowledge@Wharton is very clear on this point.

As Oscar Wilde put it
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught.”

So will this system change and if so how? In part 2 I will look at the impending fall of Higher Education.



  1. I think Dr. Cornell read your post before the Wimba tonight! You are very insightful and interesting to read. Good job.

  2. […] CEO of Sun Microsystems (read the whole article here) As I explained in my previous Stormfront post, I believe the current model of Education (primarily K-12) came into being on a set of […]

  3. […] Part1 – What is Past Is Prologue […]

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