Talking and Cooperating in the Classroom

The invention of classrooms with lines of desks and passive, obedient students is obscure in history but it created a practice of education with an antisocial curriculum . In an ideal learning environment, students are talkative, interactive and free to move about. Humans do best when they form alliances with collaborators who can help each other cooperating and tool making. Students should be fully engaged in these activities everyday.

While schools inflate the value of their product education- they send most graduates into the community with a piece of paper, rather than real accomplishments that can be seen, touched, valued and used by the community. Politicians will often repeat slogans that suggest education is the key to the future. Some researchers try to measure value by correlating years at school with subsequent employment and income. Occasionally, inspired schools will engage students in community work, construction, invention, athletic and artistic creativity. New and better education engages students in real world projects, in cooperative and constructive enterprises and socially responsible commerce.

Some educators believe that children learn mostly by reading books but talking and copying skillful actions are more important. Students copy the speech and behaviors that are available in their environment. They prefer the speech and behavior of mentors and peers and seek role models in their culture world. Although teachers may discourage plagiarism and praise originality, copying is the key process that students must use to pass exams after reading books. In their study, students copy phrases from books and teachers' notes and try to remember these phrases so that they can write them down or recognize them on a multiple choice exam. A substantial and experiential meaning of textbook descriptions is usually lacking so that the student has little option but to copy and repeat descriptions with little or no understanding of what it actually means. Many emerge from schools lacking practical skills and believing that words and simple descriptions are real and adequate representations of what is really going on out there.

The copying of phrases and descriptions may have little ultimate value, but another kind of copying is critically important, the copying of procedures. If a teacher demonstrates how to throw a football properly and all the students copy his movements and repeat that procedure often, they will become good football passers and can retain this skill for the rest of their life. Not all of these students will become highly paid quarterbacks but one might continue to enjoy touch football on the White House lawn after he is elected President. If I want to learn how to dance the salsa, I could read a book. Instead, I could enlist the help of an attractive female dance instructor and learn by doing with greater efficiency and enjoyment. My salsa lessons might also lead to other mimetic activities that would increase the breadth and scope of my education.

Some of the smartest people cluster in small enclaves such as universities and high tech companies. If you sampled students at Harvard, you would hope to find that most are knowledgeable and somewhat rational people. Even at Harvard diverse points of view prevail; a new idea, a different approach, or a non-conforming personality will have a hard time and many innovators leave prestigious institutions or are ejected before they fully manifest their creativity.

In fact, institutions, by their very nature, herd people into more conservative and stable lifestyles and select traits that are socially compatible, rather than innovative or brilliant. Administrators in Universities are among the most conservative people in town and they decide who gets the money. Institutions would not be institutions if they were not run by conservatives and to some degree inhibit innovation and change. Creative people have always struggled with, were opposed by and left institutions to get on with their work and there is no relief in sight.