What is a good education

To begin, it is useful to briefly summarise my upbringing as this further explains my interest in education.

I believe I learnt more in 14 months of travelling through Europe in a van when I was ten years old, than in any other year at school. (I was most impressed by the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, and the old ruined castles.) I was a rebellious but generally kind student. I failed first Year University Physics, largely due to non-attendance of lectures. I have a Bachelor of Education (majored in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics). I taught Science for 4 years. Both my parents were teachers/lecturers. Probably the most important reason for taking education seriously though comes from my love of philosophy, which clearly realises that Education is the most important factor in the evolution of both the individual and society.

I think there are some good things happening with the new Outcomes based curriculum that is currently being implemented in the West Australian state schools – I was involved with this at Nyindamurra Family School. What this means is that rather than prescribing a curriculum based upon certain content that must be studied, instead we prescribe the outcomes that we want. (e.g. A child can add up numbers in their head, or appreciate the importance of Nature and the interconnected ecology of life.) Now the way to teach these skills is open. You could go down the beach and count seashells by the seashore if you wanted.

And this is how I bring up my children – every day I use daily things around us to educate them to all sorts of different knowledge. For example, we recently built a giant swing - and children can learn a lot by building and playing on swings (pendulums and pendulum clocks are interesting phenomena, a very great philosopher Christiaan Huygens first studied pendulums at the time of Newton and Leibniz in the late 1600s.). They have to be creative – how do you get a rope over a branch ten meters off the ground? – how do you build a tower using materials in the bush around you, such that you have a platform to jump onto your swing from (using gravity to push you!)?

I should add that an outcomes based system also has numerous problems, as it is difficult to ensure a uniform quality of education. The real solution is to consider both the curriculum used, and the outcomes you hope to achieve - combined with intelligent use of the internet so that the best curriculum that show empirically that they work (produce desired outcomes) can be shared / adapted by teachers from all over the world (we do not need to keep re-inventing the wheel).

I certainly do not believe in just sitting in a classroom – which is unnatural, unhealthy, and should be limited. It is obvious we did not evolve to learn by sitting in classrooms, in segregated age groups - but to be active, out and about doing things, talking, watching and learning from other people and other objects around us. (This is what I would call an evolutionary approach to teaching / philosophy of education - and getting kids more active at school would also greatly help to combat the obesity epidemic of the western world.)

I particularly agree with Einstein, that education (and teaching students philosophy from a young age) has two central functions relating to the individual and their society.

i) To educate the individual as a free individual – To understand and use critical thinking skills for determining the Truth for themselves.

ii) To educate the individual as a part of Society – Virtually all our knowledge, our clothes, our food is produced by others in our society, thus we owe Society and have a responsibility to contribute back to Society (that everyone must give as well as take.) This is ultimately why I began to study Physics and Philosophy, and why I have now read most of the great philosophers, because I believe that Nature is being destroyed on this planet, and that the truth is that this is very foolish and dangerous to humanity. That we evolved from Nature, thus we depend upon Nature for survival. This is not just the obvious concern of global warming and climate change, but the very food we eat, the air we breath, the water we need, all these things are produced by Nature and are being forever changed. Of concern is the obvious fact that there are limits to our evolution as to how far we can change our environment before it starts to adversely affect us (we are well past that point now I think.)

I also strongly agree with Einstein that education should be fun rather than forced – that force and punishment play no part in a good education. Thus I detest the attitude of punishing children for not doing their homework!

I think a lot of education problems could be solved by giving everyone 100 great books to read and discuss with their children - from philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, de Montaigne, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Tolstoy, Einstein … etc. There are many great minds through human history, and I largely agree with Nietzsche that education is often corrupted by educators – that we should seek the source of great knowledge, not the corrupted interpretations of it from lesser minds. (Read the original works!)

I further agree with Friedrich Nietzsche that:

There is nothing more necessary than truth, and in comparison with it everything else has only secondary value.
This absolute will to truth: what is it? Is it the will to not allow ourselves to be deceived? Is it the will not to deceive?
One does not want to be deceived, under the supposition that it is injurious, dangerous, or fatal to be deceived. (Nietzsche, 1890)

The fundamental principle of education is to understand the truth for oneself. The fundamental principle of philosophy is to realise that all truth comes from reality. Thus educational philosophy must be founded on the truth of what exists. Recent discoveries of the properties of Space and the Wave Structure of Matter shows that we can understand reality in a simple and sensible way.

Geoff Haselhurst

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