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A very good friend of mine, Patrick, showed me, on purpose, Prince Ea’s viral video. He knows only too well what annoys me, and certainly hoped I’d write something about it! Once again his plans worked!

Prince Ea’s text is in blue, my comments in black. Please forgive any solecism, or worse, that I have made here, as I am not really fluent in English, or even in Globish!

Albert Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will lead its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Okay, let’s start with a metaphorical authority argument! Who am I indeed to say Einstein had sometimes stupid thoughts? Then, let’s flatter the audience, using antique rhetorical tricks in a way to appear as a friendly guy! Nobody in the room will deny that he is smart, somehow. I could not help pointing out these two classical tropes: in a funny way, Prince Ea is a reactionary, being a perfect follower of Quintilen’s! Why always use the same tropes that guys in toga theorized twenty centuries ago? Be smart! Be creative! Innovate!

Yet, I appreciated the historical reference, since rhetoric science was born in Attic courts.

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Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today on trial we have modern day schooling. Glad you could come. Not only does he make fish climb trees, but also makes them climb down, and do a 10 mile run. Tell me school, are you proud of the things you’ve done? Turning millions of people into robots, do you find that fun? Do you realize how many kids relate to that fish, swimming upstream in class, never finding their gifts, thinking they are stupid, believing they are useless?Well, the time has come, no more excuses, I call school to the stand and accuse them of killing creativity, individuality, and being intellectually abusive. It’s an ancient institution that has outlived its usage. So, your honour, this concludes my opening statement, and if I may present the evidence of my case, I will prove it.

Let’s now try to be clear: what are we talking about, when we compare pupils to climbing fish? I suppose every school in the world has as its first goal to teach youngsters their mother tongue, right? You could obviously denounce this purpose as a criminal standardization of children’s minds, and some people have. But, if you can reasonably say that there are different ways of learning and several teaching methods, you have to concede that no one sensible would accept a school where nobody learns how to speak or how to read.

We can consider the issue under every possible light, but there will always be a time when every kid has to follow the same path. In short, fish, crows and cats do have to perform the same task, if only for a time. Cats will be better at climbing, so what? They will later be poor swimmers!

One child will learn how to read very easily. Another one will struggle for poor results, even with different teaching methods. Nobody says you have to teach every kid how to read the same way. But you do have to teach, for a while, the same thing to all of them! So what? Would you like us not to teach children how to write in order not to be intellectually abusive?

 

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Exhibit A. Here’s a modern day phone, recognize it? Here’s a phone from 150 years ago. Big difference, right? Stay with me. Here’s a car from today. And here’s a car from 150 years ago. Big difference, right? Well, get this. Here’s a classroom of today. And here’s a class we used 150 years ago [gasps from the audience]. Now, ain’t that a shame. In literally more than a century, nothing has changed.

Yes! And neither have flowers, the sky, Pythagoras’ theorem or human condition! You see, there is no logical link between the premises of your argument and its conclusion. Would we inevitably have to change water’s molecular structure because we produce better cars today? Change the way we love because of smartphones?

Technological advances are fabulous, don’t misunderstand me, but they do not challenge everything.

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Yet, you claim to prepare students for the future ? But whatever if it’s like that I must ask: do you prepare students for the future or the past ?

Here! Here is the core disagreement between us! You cannot ignore (and you’re going to prove it two lines down) that mankind builds its future on its past. There are no such things as uprooted civilizations: the past is a precious legacy just as much as it is a beacon enlightening our judgments. Furthermore, I will add that, volens nolens, all of us are trapped in the bias of our own times, which is the true captivity of the mind, the real chains that obstruct our creativity and our genius. For several millennia, the only way we found to free young minds was precisely to take them out of their own time! As we could not travel in the future, we chose our past.

Moreover, I have always wondered what made historical past seem so ugly to you. Is our present so shiny? Only stupid people still think we can bath twice in the same river…

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I did a background check on you, and let the records show that you were made to train people to work in factories, which explains why you put students in straight rows, nice and neat, let them raise your hand if you want to speak, give them a short break to eat and for eight hours a day tell them what to think. Oh, and make them compete to get an A, a letter which determines product quality. It’s grade A of meat.

You see? The past is useful to think properly! I could say here that the schools of Ancient Rome, which were reserved to a small patrician elite, already had the same organization, even for small girls and boys. I hope you will not argue that it was to prepare Scipio or Pompeus Magnus for repetitive factory work!

Oh, talking about grade A meat, what about the European notation that provides a grade out of twenty? Is it also used for cows?

I get it, back then times were different. We all have a past. I myself am no Gandhi. But today, we don’t need to make robot zombies. The world has progressed, and now we need people who think creatively, innovatively, critically, independently, with the ability to connect.

Somehow, you do not seem to realize that you are promoting modern capitalist interests and ideas that you have denounced before! “And now we need people who think creatively, innovatively, critically, independently, with the ability to connect”: the OECD and the economic oligarchy as a whole would warmly applaud your speech! Think! Am I defending people when my views meet the desires of big companies? Look, they no longer need blue collar qualities nor engineering or technical knowledge, since they now rule over deindustrialized countries. They will no longer offer steady jobs, as they once existed. For most of us, there will only be unstable and underpaid jobs in the service industry where only adaptability, independence and basic social skills are needed.

Nowadays, classicist values and classical models are the only real unconventional and radical battles.

See, every scientist will tell you that no two brains are the same.

Yes, yes! And they will also tell you that they are very similar, and that they have a lot more in common than they have differences!

And every parent with two or more children will confirm that claim. So, please explain why you treat students like cookie cutter frames, or snap back hats, giving them this ‘one size fits all’ crap [‘watch your language’, ‘sorry your honour’]. But if a doctor proscribed the exact same medicine to all of his patients, the results would be tragic, so many people would get sick, yet, when it comes to school this is exactly what happens. This educational malpractice, where one teacher stands in front of 20 kids, each one having different strengths, different needs, different gifts, different dreams, and you teach the same thing the same way? That’s horrific. Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant should not be acquitted, this may be one of the most criminal offences ever to be comitted.

Maybe, you speak here on the basis of differentiated instruction, cognitive emotional pedagogy, etc. As far as I know, there is nothing unusual here: this is, in the whole Western world, the main official recommendation. Nonetheless, I could advise that you take a look at the «follow through» project’s conclusions, but that’s not my point here.

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Are you really telling us that we should give up on a ten-year-old pupil who doesn’t know how to read or write properly, how to use the four mathematical operations or in which continent or country he lives, on account of his having other dreams?

I often hear this about teenagers: you do not want to study English literature? No problem! You’re not stupid! Do what you want! You do not want to learn chemistry? Fine! Feel free to move on! Nobody judges a man for not liking chemistry! You’ll be a great farmer, a great craftsman, a great singer, or whatever you want to be! And most of all, let’s hope you’ll be a great man!

You are not smart because you earned a PhD and you are not stupid because you failed in middle school!

The only question worth asking is: could we agree on a set of academic skills that all kids have to learn? And then agree on how to best teach them?

Also, stop pretending that teachers are monsters because they try to teach literacy to a six-year-old. As if they were torturing him with Fermat’s theorem or Byzantine History! This kid will be free to become whoever he wants later! From my point of view, the more you know, the best you have it, but we don’t need to agree on this.

Lastly, nobody wants to harm children, and every teacher, I hope, wants the best for them!

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And let’s mention the way you treat your employees. [‘objection’, ‘overruled, I want to hear this!’] It’s a shame, I mean teachers have the most important job on the planet, yet they are underpaid. No wonder so many students are short changed. Let’s be honest: teachers should earn just as much as doctors, because a doctor can do heart surgery and save the life of a kid, but a great teacher can reach the heart of that kid and allow him to truly live. So teachers are heroes that often get blamed, but they are not the problem. They work in a system without many options or rights.

Teachers are underpaid, for sure. It also means that teaching no longer attracts the best qualified and best educated people. It seriously jeopardizes our future.

Curriculums are created by policy makers, most of which have never taught a day in their life, just obessed with standardized tests. They think bubbling in a multiple choice question will determine success. That’s outlandish. In face, these tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned, but don’t take my word for it, take Frederick J. Kelly, the man who invented standardized testing, who said, and I quote: “These tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned.”

Yes, American standardized tests are inoperative, especially for the poorest.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if we continue down this road, the results will be lethal. I don’t have much faith in school, but I do have faith in people, and if we can customize healthcare, cars and Facebook pages, then it is our duty to do the same for education, to upgrade and change and do away with school spirit because that is useless, unless we are working to bring the spirit out of each and every student: that should be our task. No more common core. Instead, let’s reach the core of every heart in every class. Sure, math is important, but no more than art or dance. Let’s give every gift an equal chance.

So, a teacher would have to master dance, music, math, English, Spanish, history, mechanics, animal husbandry, biology and painting? Nonsense… unless you advocate that pupils attend different classes as soon as they express the wish to do so. Once again, I ask: what do you do with a young person who does not know how to read?

I know this sounds like a dream, but countries like Finland are doing impressive things. They have shorter school days, teachers make a decent wage, homework is non-existent and they focus on collaboration instead of competition. But here’s the kicker, boys and girls, their educational system outperforms every other country in the world. Other places like Singapore are succeeding rapidly. Schools like Montessori, programs like Khan academy,

Beyond the fact that all international rankings are sorely questionable, particularly PISA ranking, they do not reward the kind of schools you like. According to the last ranking (2016), countries that use the most conventional way of teaching get the best results.

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There is no single solution, but let’s get moving, because while students are 20% of our population, they are 100% of our future. So let’s attend to their dreams, and there’s no telling what we can achieve. This is a world in which I believe, a world where fish are no longer forced to climb trees. I rest my case.

We all do wish them to reach their dreams. They are indeed our future and this is precisely why we have to be responsible. The more educated they are in academic skills, the better our future. Rules do not kill creativity. On the contrary, they enhance it and allow it. All Fine Arts and Literature prove this.

Childhood is a time of life that particularly hates being forced to do anything. Nobody likes it, by the way. However, human condition has to fight against nature’s duress. No one can escape it for very long. Learning to deal with the requirements and constraints of life is sometimes akin to a fish trying to climb a tree.

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