Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.

Courtesy of Zenpundit, I read John S. Brown’s Learning 2.0: The Big Picture (PDF). Dr. Brown, a computer scientist, has a list of publications a mile long, and one of the pleasures of the blogosphere is having access to what such luminaries are thinking.

Dr. Brown’s note cover a lot of ground, from the distinction between explicit and tacit learning, the importance of learning communities, and the need for continuing education. However, two slides in particular strike me as especially dangerous, and public education would be better in this country if the ideas therein were banished:

First, EQ (Social / Emotional Intelligence) is a junk concept. It explains nothing beyond what you can explain with IQ (working memory capacity) and personality (the OCEAN Big 5 Model). Both personality and working memory capacity are highly heritable, and very hard to change. If we’re serious about achieving educational excellence through maximizing those traits, let’s increase the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and get serious with eugenics.

However, as the political, societal, and economic costs of that approach would be high — and the benefits far away — a more practical approach is called for. We need an educational infrastructure that can handle serious constraints on funding and the quality of teachers.

Spending v. Reading at American Public Schools

We have the outlines of a successful system in No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind sacrificed local control of schools for a system that enables scientific quality control. That is a good trade-off. Local control has given us a network of awful schools that do not do their job. Quantitatively measured standards may give us better outcomes.

What we need next is an expansion fo No Child Left Behind to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). That is, we need to go beyond what NCLB provides, and have the Department of Education begin to focus on what is tested. So when it comes to English, we need more composition and less literature. We need more Mathematics in general. In science, we need better ability to perform tasks that are required in labwork (basic analysis, measurement, falsification), and less on building a “true understanding” of the concepts involved. Geography, history, psychology, and sociology should be focused on a general ‘Social Science’ that applies scientific methods to human questions.

See also: my critique of liberal education.