Hopefully, this will be the last of the introspection posts for a while. But I committed to writing close to the bone:
Another reason the new book hit me so hard was that the process (my life process for the last several years) has violated my own epistemology. My society has a common belief about where knowledge comes from. There are nuances, of course, and people have varying loyalties to their own thought processes, including their epistemologies, but the general belief seems to be:
We have a large pool of all known things, called Science. There are special people, called scientists, who add to that pool. They study the known Science, and ask themselves questions, and design experiments to answer those questions*. As those questions are answered, the body of science grows, and as it grows, the pool of known things becomes greater.
I know that’s absolutely not how it works. The asterisk marks the place where laymen completely misunderstand the scientific method. * In real science, the scientists hypothesize answers to the questions and design experiments to prove those answers wrong, to test the limits of those answers. Science doesn’t prove, ever, it disproves. It is not a fact finder but a bullshit detector.
And most of the big gains in science have worked exactly the opposite. Almost never does big growth come from building on past knowledge. The big growth comes serendipitously, from noticing something that science can’t yet account for and figuring it out. Darwin noticed that there were no rabbits in perfect rabbit country in South America. Every school kid learns about the accidental discovery of penicillin. Einstein had to think outside the box to work out relativity, and maybe that was made easier because experimental science did it’s job and disproved the widely-accepted idea of aether.
I was raised in a society that takes the mythologized idea of science as its primary epistemology. Unless I am careful, that’s my default. That idea has a powerful but subconscious sub effect. The model is Darwinian. Whether or not you believe in evolution, on some level you believe in Darwinian selection. It is nearly impossible for a thinking person not to believe so obvious a concept.
Short and simple: In any given population, whether a species or a body of beliefs or a design or an advertising campaign, there exists a range of differences. The differences that are more successful propagate faster than the ones that are less successful, and each succeeding generation is more like the successful generation before it.
The model is a perfect example of circular logic: Whatever the next generation looks like determines what the environment was selecting for. This is only a problem if you’re self-centered. If you get miffed because what you value is not what was selected for. An excellent engineering design can be trumped by a superior ad campaign. The economic environment in which ideas compete to survive is ruled by pocketbooks, which in turn are ruled by emotions. An excellent business model that serves many consumers well can be regulated out of existence by government agencies who want to flex power (ours is a mercantilist, not a capitalist, system.)
Circular logic, in this case, doesn’t make it wrong. We directly experience selection in every aspect of our lives.
Because of the Darwinian sub-aspect to our epistemology, we have a subconscious default that our current practices are the best available. Every society and most individuals have had a reflexive view that their ideals of right and wrong are universals, but this is something different. Republics are assumed to be better than aristocracies because they evolved from and therefor must have been superior to, those aristocracies. Our teaching methods evolved from older methods, and therefor must have been superior to those older methods. QED.
Except, not. Because of the circularity of the Darwinian logic, that statement will always be logically valid. But it is begging the question: superior with regards to the challenge of what environment? Artificial selection is always faster than natural selection. I have no idea how many tens of thousands of years for natural selection it took to drift wolves from coyotes. But it took a fraction of that time to create chihuahuas from wolves. Are chihuahuas better than wolves? Not stronger, not smarter, but they are absolutely more successful. By Darwin’s rules, the chihuahua is superior to the wolf. Because man hunted one and bred the other? Man is just as much a part of the environment as climate.
Most instructors, including me, have extensive experience with the public school system and with martial arts training. Another cognitive bias enters here. When you have devoted a significant chunk of time and effort to something, you have to start telling yourself it’s because it’s the best. You see it in martial artists all the time, and in people who have taken a profession they disagree with and debaters who are assigned a side they disagree with but in the course of forming arguments convince themselves of their position.
Is our public education system effective? In terms of access, yes. In no other way that I see. Any service provided by the government will always be a lowest-common-denominator solution. It will be run by bureaucrats for the sake of it’s own bureaucracy. Paperwork will always be more important than people. Compliance with standards will always trump mission. In the school system, private schools who have to compete (for students and money) will consistently produce better achievers than a system that has no competition and whose clients are compelled to attend. Despite the fact that the US spends more money on public education per student than any other country, our public schools are regularly out-performed by private schools, charter schools and even home schoolers who are essentially amateurs at education. Basically, anyone who cares about the students, or simply wants to be better than other teachers, outperforms the lowest common denominator. Big surprise.
Upshot? Our current educational system is a Darwinian survivor, but not by competing for making a smarter or more critical or more self-reliant kid. Exactly the opposite.
And martial arts training. The rote training, kata, forms, all of that, get a lot of flack from martial sports and combatives. When things are predictable, you can script them. When unpredictable, attempting to script is worse than useless. I’ve looked at some martial arts training classes and thought, “This is exactly how I would train my enemy to fight.”
And maybe that’s what happened. If the Japanese had conquered the Americas in WWII and the occupying army ordered you to teach them American catch wrestling… how would you teach an enemy occupying army you hated? Especially working through shitty translators?
Though I can intellectually see the flaws, these are the models I was raised with.
And thus my hesitations on writing a book about teaching. I want to have a bunch of scientific papers to back my my observations that it works better. (One of my first readers is a professional educator, and he showed me the research was out there– Thanks, Quint.) I want it to build off of the traditions of training in my culture. I want it to be a visible evolution. In short, like a little whiny special snowflake, I want to do something really really cool but with absolutely no exposure to any ego risk. And that’s too bad for me.
In lots of ways, this teaching method is a devolution, turning back the clock.
Is teaching about the student? the material? you? your career? If the answer is anything but the student, this book isn’t for you.
Are you willing to let your students be better than you, and become better faster?
Can you handle the fact that this is about chaos, and changing the questions as much as finding the answers? Do you get that that means your students can change the rules on you whenever it suits their needs? And that means they will beat you. If you need things controlled and measurable, you aren’t teaching survival, but obedience.
The smallest, weakest student you have ever had is a natural predator. She may not be able to fight you, but she can kill you. Easily. Do you have the courage to teach those tools and show that mindset to a super-predator?
If someone you loved was going into harms way in the immediate future, how would you give them the best chance possible?