Education without Scriptlets

Since the content of most school courses is rarely looked at from a scriptlet-related point of view, their definition is usually quite scriptlet independent. What are most courses driven by?

First, courses almost always involve grades. This often means tests with quantifiable measures, which more often means measures of vocabulary (often called "concepts") rather than measures of actual achievements. Sometimes tests will test scriptlets. (This frequently happens in mathematics, for example.) But most of the time tests are oriented towards getting students to reiterate the teacher's point of view, which is not a scriptlet (except in a kind of perverted view of the term).

Second, courses tend to try to make students into mini-scholars of the field in question. Teachers are afraid their students will have been in an English literature course and not have read Dickens, in a philosophy course and not know Plato, or in an economics course and not know Malthus. Thus, most courses have a serious bent towards the history of a particular field. This comes at the expense of time spent on scriptlets (how to actually do anything is ignored), and, more important, tends to shift the focus towards scholarship, which means courses will have a heavy emphasis on facts. (The "literacy lists of the field" are big here.) So, knowing what a particular scholar said and being able to reconcile his view with particular conditions or with the views of an opposing scholar become the meat of such courses and of the tests that provide the grades for such courses.

The emphasis becomes one of reading about a subject (and being able to argue in a scholarly way about that subject) rather than doing that subject. Thus philosophy courses don't ask the students to "do philosophy" but to read about those who have done philosophy. In the case of philosophy this may not seem so bad. There have been great philosophers, but the world does not change all that much in the really important issues, and an argument could be made that all the important things having been said already. Even so, the scriptlets of philosophy (which I take to be original, reasoned thought and argument) are only peripherally taught if they are taught at all.

But matters become much worse when the courses under discussion are in fields where the great thoughts have clearly not all been thought and where much remains to be learned. Two fields that come to mind are economics and psychology. Students interested in these areas are asked to read the great works but not to do much of anything expect spit back what they have read. The argument is that they should be learning to "do economics" or to "do psychology," but it is not at all clear what this might mean. The fact that this is not clear is part of the problem.

Of course, one can be cynical about such fields and say they contain no scriptlets to be taught. But people engaged in such work do employ a number of scriptlets, although they are often associated with other subject areas, such as statistics. The problem is twofold. First, just because practitioners can do good work in their field is no reason to suppose they understand how they do what they do well enough to be able to teach the scriptlets they have. Second, even if they did know how to teach those scriptlets, it would still be reasonable to ask if a particular scriptlet is worth learning for the student who only wants to take one or two courses in psychology or economics. After all, wouldn't they be better off with a survey of work in the field without attempting to teach them a scriptlet that takes a very long time to learn and which they may never use?

This, then, is the essence of the argument. In education in general, there is a choice between a survey of past works in a field, or learning how to be a practitioner in that field. My argument is simple: Survey courses tend to teach to the test, emphasize the point of view of the instructor, leave students years later with very little memory of what they had learned in order to pass the test, and are generally a waste of time.

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