The Mathematics Of Education

On why education can only be a variable

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.
Albert Einstein

The final exams are approaching for many students and the tension is rising. A friend of mine describes it as jail time and always talks about the end of her year as salvation from ‘pure torture’. My cousin probably gained 10 kgs in a month out of stress, he is always holding a book but not really reading, when I would ask him anything he would seem very unstable, very lost and quite terrified.

It amazes me how we succeeded at making such a dreadful thing out of such a wonderful gift — knowledge, learning, the pleasure of growth. None of that is felt by the students, pretty sure none of it is felt by the teachers either, who find themselves constantly repeating themselves from that first day at work until retirement.

While we really do not lack innovation in any secondary field — the main one, the only important one, seems to be suffering greatly for decades. Everyone is complaining but no-one knows quite how to bring radical change.

Where did the current education system come from?

I was on a trip to Sans Souci Palace in Potsdam — Germany , when I had first learned about the origins of education as a system. The emperor Frederick The Great was an especially refined mind. Friends with Voltaire, fluent at French, musician and huge art lover, Frederick was ahead of his time. He had set up a very successful military at the time, one that is “obedient” and perfectly “systemized”. He later applied these rules of Military to the education sector. Prussia was the first to introduce tax funded and mandatory primary education.

On the American continent, Mr Horace Mann, in 1837, had been named the father of american education upon the release of his works in congress.

He had been fascinated by the Prussian system and how neat it was, it did not take long before he visited Prussia himself and duplicated that same system into the US. The rest of the world eventually joined the hype and applied the very same system, especially that colonized countries could not have much of a choice. Colonies around Africa and Asia had a very different approach to education, but the power of the winners at war made it impossible for them to stick to their own methodology.

So now we know where this comes from: where else other than the military in the 18th century would you find such blind obedience applied in education? well, the answer is: you would find it today, in 2016, in most (if not all) countries around the world. Yes, that is shocking isn’t it?

We have 5000 types of pasta, endless TV channels, more social media than bread and yet only one education system since the freaking 18th century.

Let me ask a question: WHY?

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” Alexander Pope

Let us stop at the most striking feature of this initial education system: Obedience. There is a particular side of each country that likes this word: it is called authority. Political authority. They like it that way, just read ‘The Prince’ By Machiavelli to find out more about the Royals love of obedience. And it often comes at the cost of dumb citizens.

Intellectual poverty is the biggest key factor of political stability around the world: you see, the less you know, the more you will accept what’s been chosen for you. So why not keep it that way? That is how you turn a perfectly independent human being into an absolute brainless follower.

Well damn! what can we do then?

This is where I would like to approach education through mathematics.

In Mathematics you have various types of equations. Each can be reflected on a graphic: we have what is linear, it always represents a linear equation, and we have what is a curve, all kinds of curves, it represents what is variable and not static. Education the way we know it today has been preserved to represent a linear form: the one copied from the 18th century. We ensure to keep it that way by training professors to repeat themselves for 40 years. And we force a generation of 40 years to listen to something that stopped being relevant the day Internet happened.

Now you will tell me we do need static education, linear one, to educate doctors, engineers and so on. But we do not, we are meant to believe so. Such disciplines can be taught with more fluidity and most of all should allow students to learn more of what they love. Here is what I mean: think of education as a box of chocolates, you do not know what you will get until you try. How can you commit to a chocolate you have not tasted? how can we force children to pursue strictly this or that for the rest of their lives before they even had the chance to get their hands dirty and spend a reasonable amount of time finding out what it is?

TRIAL AND ERROR that is the variable needed in our education system so we can move from linear to variable. Variable in terms of what is presented in the box of chocolates and the possibility to try more than one at the same time. The second variable, the biggest and most obvious: The Market. This applies especially to those studying business. You can not study business. You DO business, you try business. While a part of important theories can remain linear, we have to have teachers willing to update themselves on regular basis like a software update — to stay relevant to the market.

It seems education is the only business that does not listen to its desperate customers: static is killing innovation. Static is so 18th century. Let us adapt, like water, to the actual needs of people.

Want to know more on how I imagine it to be in a variable educational model? Next blog will tell :)

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