Well over one hundred and thirty million babies are born each year, but only fifty-five million people die. In the face of that many new children, we need to find better ways to educate the young to cope with the complex world they will inherit.
The answer is not to just throw money at our schools. There are far too many school systems with above average per-student spending that are outperformed by schools with significantly less per-student spending. While money is certainly necessary to educate children, we can’t just write a check and walk away, as we seem to so often do.
The basic building blocks of education have long been the 3 Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. While our education system is far from perfect, it is making strides in improving literacy, computing, and STEM skills. However, I’m not convinced that the three Rs will be enough to survive in the world of the future.
The most important thing that we do not teach today is empathy.
Empathy—in the compassionate sense—will always be a tool for building social capital and easing tensions and relations, and empathy—in the sense of understanding another’s thoughts and motivations—will always be necessary to negotiate effectively. Teaching children empathy will make them better citizens, better people, and—I suspect—better lawyers, scientists, and laborers.
But how does one go about teaching empathy?
Let’s start with new, or better yet old, ways that could possibly be applied to educating the large number of babies that are raining down on the whole world and need to coexist peacefully as well to play with their electronic toys?
When we think about it, we have to remember that long before the 3 Rs became the cornerstones of education, learning began on mothers’ breasts. From there, they watched a cow or goat being milked and soon were able to try it themselves.
Education 2 or 3 thousand years ago was not bogged down with the 3Rs—which simply did not exist—and it was based almost entirely on copying, watching and experiencing.
Now, we see whacky examples like a six year old boy being suspended from school for paying too much attention to and kissing a girl classmate. What do you suppose those kids and their friends and parents learn from such nonsense?
We really need to rethink our teaching methods from scratch to fit the needs of the modern world.
Those of us fortunate enough to have attended certain schools had an effective encounter with systematic use of the Socratic case method. We were not taught facts or many strict rules, but how to question; not taught only how to think, but how to investigate.
Such methods do not just permit making mistakes, but encourages them.
An old wisdom is “Good judgment is based on experience, because experience is based on bad judgment.” Perhaps we learn more from the sting of a mistake than when we got it right.
I’m not a child psychologist or education specialist, but I’ve watched three younger generations of my family grow, and believe that the Socratic Method could somehow be applied to teaching empathy and how to get along in life to the children of the future.
Exactly how, I’m not sure, but I hope that idea might provide some food for thought and hopefully action.