Sunday, March 19, 2006

Feeling Flat

I am reading a fascinating book right now: The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman. My parents gave it to me for Christmas (and, yes, Mom, you can borrow it when I am done). The book discusses the major changes that have taken place in the world because of the incredible advances in communication technology. The author is trying to send a wake up call: America and Europe simply are not at the forefront of the global economy anymore, the author argues, and are in danger of being left behind by countries such as China and India. According to the author, as a country, we need to increase spending on science. As parents, we need to encourage our children to learn more about science. The book is both a fascinating read and a frightening one.

Last night, however, I encountered a paragraph that actually cheered me up:

When I asked Bill Gates about the supposed American education
advantage -- an education that stresses creativity, not rote
learning--he was utterly dismissive. In his view, those who
think that the more rote learning systems of China and Japan
can't turn out innovators who can compete with Americans are
sadly mistaken. Said Gates, "I have never met the guy who
doesn't know how to multiply who created software .... Who
has the most creative video games in the world? Japan! I
never met these 'rote people' ... Some of my best software
developers are Japanese. You need to understand things in
order to invent beyond them." (pp. 264-65)

I know it's not exactly the most gracefully worded paragraph in the book. But the last sentence really caught my attention. I am sure that neither Bill Gates nor William Friedman meant to compare the educational systems in China and Japan to classical education. They clearly did not have Latin or English Grammar in mind when praising the East's emphasis on teaching the basics of science and math to their children. Nevertheless, classical education is what I thought of when I read this paragraph.

My vision of classical education is that it is more than Latin and grammar. For me, it is a return to teaching the basics first.

Early on in The Well-Trained Mind, the book that first got me excited about classical education, the authors' emphasize teaching young children the basics before working on creativity:

Young children are described as sponges because they soak
up knowledge. But there's another side to the metaphor.
Squeeze a dry sponge, and nothing comes out. First the sponge
has to be filled. ... Your job, during the elementary years, is
to supply the knowledge and skills that will allow your child
to overflow with creativity as his mind matures. (pp. 21-22).

I love that quote. That made so much sense to me when I first read it. And that is what came to mind for me when I read Bill Gates' statement in the Friedman book: "You need to understand things in order to invent beyond them."

On the plus side, the book is a little less frightening reading for me now. I like to think that we are making sure the kids will learn the basics, so they will be capable of being active participants in the future "flattening" of the world. I don't think we will have any trouble persuading A. to pursue a career in science or engineering. But how do we convince C. that she should go into science, when she still thinks she wants to be a rock star?

1 comment:

mom said...

How's the rock star doing with the guitar?