[plt-scheme] Re: HTDP - evidently not for everyone.

From: Thomas Holubar (scheme at phirho.com)
Date: Thu Feb 11 06:21:10 EST 2010


Well, it seems the discussion got to a point where I just cannot resist 
anymore writing a few thoughts of mine.

What is actually the aim of this discussion?
a) Are we looking for a good way to excuse students' lack of learning 
b) Are we looking for a good way to excuse teachers' lack of success 
c) Are we looking for a good way to excuse society for not wanting to 
invest more in education?

I'm sure that to some degree all of those apply. And I'm just as sure 
that we will never ever get to an agreement when trying to quantify them.

Why is this so?
Because the problem/question at hand is much much more profound then it 
seems at first sight.

Let's go step by step:
We have a study that claims to be able to predict students' learning 
success in a given environment. Goal: separating students into three 
- forget about them - wasted effort
- don't bother - will succeed anyway
- invest - might/should pay off

I have several objections against such systems:
- It is always possible to get the expected result in a controlled 
environment/study. The hard part is to assess successfully what you do 
not control.
- The goal of the study is not educational/pedagogical, but merely economic.
- There are numerous studies showing the contrary (as there are numerous 
studies in complete agreement with this one).

Let's get to some more detail:
Economic vs. educational:
The question "Is it worth the effort?" clearly shows that it is a merely 
economic viewpoint. Why? In every learning situation there is so much 
more involved then just the mere passed/failed at the end of the semester.
Still: the economic aspect is a very valid one. But it's just one - and 
not the only one!!.

Study methodology:
I must admit that I didn't read this particular study. I read many with 
similar or identical claims in the past, though. But instead of going 
into detail here a look back at history might shed some light on the 
reasons behind my objections.
Public schools have been *the* success story in the societies where they 
exist. They're not perfect and whatever you want - but just compare 
societies with a long tradition of public schooling with those who do 
not have them and the difference becomes apparent.
And in many countries the literacy rate is around 99%. So apparently 
it's possible to teach reading/writing to almost everyone. Something 
that nowadays seems auto-evident, 200 years ago it did not.

Other studies:
While I do not have the references at hand (it's over 10 years now that 
I haven't worked in education) I still can give you a taste of what I 
read in the past (and I could probably come up with some references if 
it were of common interest):
- students' success depends heavily (some say principally) on the 
attitude of the teacher towards the student
[Actually: the younger the student the more important the teacher's 
- ethnic group A is inherently more intelligent then ethnic group B
[A study in a controlled environment - see above what I think of these 

every teacher faces different situations, with different resources 
(time, money, equipment, ...) available. And teachers are all different, 
So, I'm confident saying:
just as one can learn to speak, read and write, make music or paint can 
one learn to program as well.
[Note: not all who play an instrument will be Paganinis - neither will 
all artists be Rubens. After all: we all can write but none of us comes 
even close to Cervantes or Shakespeare.] So, while not every single 
student will reach the heights of Turing he should be able to do decently.

The problem is that sometimes the environment is more of an obstacle 
than help.
And I also believe (although I'm less confident saying this) that the 
potential can be buried below tons of garbage (it is much easier to 
learn most skills early in your life). And I'm not so sure if it can be 
digged out afterwards easily.
All the more important is decent education from the beginning.
But this again is just as much a political & economic topic as it is an 
educational one.

And sorry for the long post - but I used to be passionate about this 


Posted on the users mailing list.