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The virtues of slow, long-term learning The virtues of slow, long-term learning
by Joseph Gatt
2020-11-07 10:59:54
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The current education system in most countries is about playing the system.

Let's discuss my middle school and high school friend and call him X. X could not stay single. He had this dating cycle with girls where he would date a girl and do the following:

He would sit next to the girl in class. Then he would take the bus with the girl. Then he would stay at the girl's home until the sun sets. Then he would go home and talk to the girl on the phone until the girl hung up. Then he'd go to bed. Then he'd give the girl a wake up call.

bookw01_400The first girl X dated had her mother complaining that she wasn't focused on her studies, and they eventually broke up because he wouldn't let her do her homework. The second girl he dated broke up with him as she told him she had to focus on getting to college. The third girl broke up with him and was more blunt, as she accused him of being “glued to my shoes.” The fourth girl played along and they dated for many, many years, before she realized that he did not trust her one bit, and she ran away.

To the point. X always had excellent grades in middle school and high school despite his habit of spending 12+ hours a day with his girlfriends.

What was his secret? He played the system.

He did two things. He took careful notes in class, and listened as carefully as he could.

And then he used the “one hour rule” for homework and tests. That is, one hour before going to bed, he would do his homework, or if there was a test, he would study for one hour.

But that's exactly the problem with the current education system. It's not as much about learning as it is about blindly doing tasks, and then moving on.

Things worked for X. because the education system works as follows: imagine you have basketball rules. There are a few dozen rules in basketball. You can't play basketball if you don't know all the rules. You can't play basketball if you know half the rules.

And yet, in the school system, they teach you one rule at a time, and spend so much time teaching you that rule and making you memorize that rule. And then, you get tested on the rule. And then you forget about the rule and learn another rule. And when you play physics or math, you have no idea what the rules are!  

That's how they teach you math. One theorem at a time. That's how they teach you English. One grammar rule at a time. And that's how they teach you history. One date or event at a time. And that's how they teach you physics. One law at a time.

My assumption about the education system is as follows:

No lawyer knows every single law in the books, every single case in the books, every single trial and verdict in the books.

No doctor knows every pathology in the books and every symptom in the books and every cure in the books.

But the more they know, the better.

That is you have lawyers who studied one case at a time, aced the tests, and then forgets about the cases.

Then you have doctors who studied one illness at a time, studied it for the test, and then forgot about the illness.

But then you have lawyers trying to catch up with what goes on in the legal circles, and you have doctors who try to know as much as they can about medical science.

The current education system is telling students: I don't care how much you know, I just want you to memorize that one rule, ace the test, and then I don't care if you remember that rule even exists.

Myth: a lot of teachers tell me that if they give the students a general overview of the subject, the students are going to be confused and are going to give up.

My two cents on this myth is that, first of all, everyone seems to understand basketball rules after watching a few games or playing a few games. Second of all, if you don't understand basketball rules this time, you'll get them next time, or maybe the game after that.

Second important point: one of my favorite personal life lessons is that if you fail the test this time, you'll get it next time.

Two personal examples: in the 7th and 8th grade, I failed every single Arabic test I took. I failed again in 10th grade, and again in 12th grade. But that was not the end. I picked up a few books, learned at my own pace, and my Arabic is just fine.

And by the way my classmates who got stellar grades when we took that test... they don't really speak Arabic.

Korean. I took my first class in October 2005. I dropped out in December. My Korean was a disaster.

I took my second class in September 2006. I was so sure I would fail the class that I audited it instead of taking it, and I dropped out anyway.

Third class was in March 2007. My teacher quit in May 2007 and there was no replacement.

Finally, in January 2008, my Korean started picking up. It was good, but far from perfect in December 2009.

I again failed several tests between September 2011 and 2014.

But then everyone knows what my Korean skills really are.

Two lessons here. If you fail the test the first time, doesn't mean you'll get a perfect grasp of the subject next time, or the time after that.

Second lesson: sometimes tests are really meant to fail those who do grasp the subject, because the end goal is for students to graduate without grasping the subject, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps because the principal ordered that anyone who speaks better Korean than his son should fail, or for complicated business and scholarship and grants and other financial reasons.

Conclusion question: my son did not study for his test and failed. Should he be grounded?

Answer: if he partied all week and that's why he failed, yes he should. If he played video games all week and then failed, he should be grounded and his game station should be confiscated.

But if he struggled with the textbook a bit, or put in some kind of effort, in the case, no he should not be grounded. If he did not get the lesson now, and if he keeps struggling with the textbook he'll get it at some point in life.

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