Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

What makes a person intelligent? Intellect? Knowledge? Education? Cognition? While there are a plethora of tributaries to this particular river, I'm speaking only of the constitution of intelligence. For instance, we all go to school (well most of us, and some of us for a very long time), but not all of us, at the end of the day, can be described as being particularly intelligent. It is the variation in degree of intelligence that I wonder about. I know some remarkably intelligent people and I also know some real dunces. I wonder about this discrepancy, why are there really smart folk, and not-so-smart folk? Specialization in education is the mark of the day, but I think it is not all that it is cracked up to be. I hold two degrees (bachelors and masters) in my particular field, and I believe I am at least more intelligent than the average bear in this area, but I do not count myself as an intelligent being because of my knowledge of this specific discipline. Doctors are, on the whole intelligent folk, but I would not consider their intelligence due solely to their knowledge in the field of medicine. It is through the study of those subjects we learn as children that we gain intelligence, subjects such as, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. And it is through the lack of adequate emphasis on these subjects in the earliest developm,ental years of children's lives, that, I believe harbors the reason for the division we see in intelligence levels of particular people. For instance, children of illiterate parentage, tend to grow up apathetic towards reading and writing.
I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be unable to read. Furthermore, I cannot imagine what it would feel like to not want to read. I have been a lifelong reader and I can see my son being the same way, even now at the tender age of three. The last part of his everyday is book-reading. Of course we are reading to him (with an occasional romp into sounding out words himself) and the practice is routine. I have no doubt that this will continue into his later childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood, as it did mine and my wife's. What is the point, that our family puts a high value on reading? Not just that, but also that I say the desire to read, along with the ability, is one very important path to intelligence. It is not enough to teach kids how to read, we should, as parents, mentors, teachers, or any persons of authority, be instilling the love of reading to our kids. Learning itself comes from Reading. Without our reading about information already known to others, humanity would be relegated to reinventing the wheel day-in and day-out,never progressing beyond the days of cavemen.
But there are other, interrelated, paths to intelligence. I just finished writing a response to a christian apologetic friend of mine, in which I spoke of thought leading humanity to answers. This is the next path to intelligence. The ability to think, critically and to such a deep degree, is probably the most human attribute we have, and the best exercise for the development of this trait we laymen have to avail ourselves of, is the practice of writing. Why do you think, the most learned people in whatever field(s) have to publish to maintain their cutting edge knowledge and reputation? Why do candidates for the PhD, in practically any field, have to write a dissertation in order to receive their degrees? It is because writing simply requires so much more thought than other practices. A good book is a well thought-out book. Good books require structure, flow and nuance. Authors have to think of these things before they produce any physical work. Editors have to think as they read, if they are to offer any suggestions for improvement. What is the point? Children need to be taught how to and encouraged to write about everything. For example, My 13 year old neice is an avid reader and writer, she recently won a writing competition (with a $100 prize to boot). She is an intelligent person, and it is because she spends time thinking in order to write. Not everyone will be an author for a living, but all humanity can become more intelligent if we take the time to develop a love of writing. Just look at the Blogosphere, and for that matter me. Humans (thinking ones) cannot avoid the realm of authorship. We all want to do it, but again as parents, teachers, mentors, etc., we need to foster the budding writer in our children, by modeling it and encouraging it. Which brings us to the last area of education, Arithmetic.
What would our world be like if we had no understanding of mathmatical principles? We would still be living in the forest for one thing. Without math, we don't build houses. We would also still be foragers, without math, there would be no agriculture. W e live as we do because. as a species, we have learned math. The Cosmos, the Corporeal, the Psyche all have their roots in the precepts of Math.
Children should be learning math in school, as they are, they should also be learning to love to read and how to write.
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Those are the three foundations of what our education should be. Math is being taught, but I worry that reading and writing are not, especially at the younger age levels. The specialization offered at the high school level, loses track of the real goal, that of making informed, intelligent human beings, in lue of "preparing" students for going to college, where they will specialize in something. College is a place to develop a life's philosophy, primarily. Specialization, outside of the professions of Science, Medicine and Law (with some others thrown in, that I can't think of right now), is what we learn "on the job". I became adept at fixing my car by doing it, not by learning how to do it. Musicians become proficient at their chosen instruments by practicing them, not by studying them in a classroom. High schools should rethink what subjects of study they present their students with. The Math subjects (Trigonometry, geometry, Calculus, etc...) yes! The Literature and Writing classes, by all means. The Football training class, not-so-much. The Band or Choir class,while they might be nice to do as pasttimes, kids can and should pursue those on their own, outside of school, and mind you I am a musician. I think kids should be allowed to pursue whatever they'd like, educationally speaking, I just don't think all of the variety of subjects in school is really going to lead them to be smarter in the long run. They only provide a distraction to the real tenets of human intelligence. I may be wrong, however, who knows?

1 comment:

GardenScrapper said...

"It is through the study of those subjects we learn as children that we gain intelligence, subjects such as, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic."

All three help us to learn to think critically - for ourselves. Reading spurs the thoughts ("do I believe what I just read?" "do I want to know more about this?" etc.). Writing gets us to look at the subject about which we are writing and organize our thoughts on it, which makes us think critically about those thoughts. Arithmetic helps the analytical portions of our brains, which then creates neurons delegated to think/act/respond critically (so to speak), which then is used elsewhere in a person's life.

"The ability to think, critically and to such a deep degree, is probably the most human attribute we have"

The ability to think critically is established in the frontal lobes, which neuroscience refers to as the human part of the brain.

great blog!!