Friday, July 13, 2007

"The Mass Education of Our Public School System Is a Vast Experiment"

One of the best quotes on education I've ever read was posted today on "The Buck Stops Here." It's a quote from Marvin Minsky, an amazing man, currently a professor at MIT, author, consultant to major movies including 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a leader in the fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. Stuart Buck's post is made up almost entirely of two quotes from Minsky, and these are significant enough that I'm going to reproduce the post in full here.

Well, it's not specifically about homeschooling, but it might as well be. The quote is from Marvin Minsky, one of the preeminent scholars in the artificial intelligence field:

The evidence is that many of our foremost achievers developed under conditions that are not much like those of present-day mass education.
Robert Lawler just showed me a paper by Harold McCurdy on the child pattern of genius. McCurdy reviews the early education of many eminent people from the last couple of centuries and concludes (1) that most of them had an enormous amount of attention paid to them by one or both parents and (2) that generally they were relatively isolated from other children. This is very different from what most people today consider an ideal school. It seems to me that much of what we call education is really socialization. Consider what we do to our kids. Is it really a good idea to send your 6-year-old into a room full of 6-year-olds, and then, the next year, to put your 7-year-old in with 7-year-olds, and so on? A simple recursive argument suggests this exposes them to a real danger of all growing up with the minds of 6-year-olds. And, so far as I can see, that's exactly what happens.

Our present culture may be largely shaped by this strange idea of isolating children's thought from adult thought. Perhaps the way our culture educates its children better explains why most of us come out as
dumb as they do, than it explains how some of us come out as smart as they do.

Here's a page that purports to quote from that McCurdy paper:

"In summary, the present survey of biographical information on a
sample of twenty men of genius suggests that the typical developmental
pattern includes as important aspects: (1) a high degree of attention
focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in the
intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation
from other children, especially outside the family; and (3) a rich
efflorescence of fantasy as a reaction to the preceding conditions. It
might be remarked that the mass education of our public school system
is, in its way, a vast experiment on the effect of reducing all three
factors to a minimum: accordingly, it should tend to suppress the
occurrence of genius." (McCurdy, May 1960. p. 38.)


Dana said...

Ha! I just read that last night and considered posting on it. Thanks for sharing it again!

Marcy Muser said...


I thought that quote was just too good to let it go. :)