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Mikhail Gromov on Education

"Look at the number of people like Abel who were born two hundred years ago. Now there are no more Abels. On the other hand, the number of educated people has grown tremendously. It means that they have not been educated properly because where are those people like Abel? It means that they have been destroyed. The education destroys these potential geniuses—we do not have them! This means that education does not serve this particular function. The crucial point is that you have to treat everybody in a different way. That is not happening today. We don’t have more great people now than we had one hundred, two hundred, or five hundred
years ago, starting from the Renaissance, in spite of a much larger population. This is probably due to education....

...The question of education is not obvious. There are some experiments on animals that indicate that the way you teach an animal is not the way you think it happens. The learning mechanism of the brain is very different from how we think it works: like in physics, there are hidden mechanisms. We superimpose our view from everyday experience, which may be completely distorted. Because of that, we can distort the potentially exceptional abilities of some children. There are two opposite goals education is supposed to achieve: firstly, to teach people to conform to the society they live in; on the other hand, to give them freedom to develop in the best possible way. These are opposite purposes, and they are always in collision with each other. This creates the result that some people get suppressed in the process of adapting them to society. You cannot avoid this kind of collision of goals, but we have to find a balance between the two, and that
is not easy, on all levels of education.

There are very interesting experiments performed with chimpanzee and bonobo apes and under which conditions they learn, or even how you teach a parrot to talk. How do you do that? The major factor is that it should not see the teacher. You put a mirror between you and the parrot and then you speak behind the mirror. The parrot then sees a bird—it talks to a bird. But if it sees you, it will learn very badly. That is not an obvious thing. The very presence of a teacher, an authority, moves students in a particular direction and not at all the direction the teacher wants them to move. With all this accumulated evidence, you cannot make any simple decision. If you say “do this and this,” you are wrong for sure. Solutions are not obvious; they can only come after analyzing deeply what is actually known and by studying the possibilities. I think the answers will be unexpected. What children can learn and what they cannot learn, we don’t know because we don’t know how to conduct experiments to be ethical and instructive at the same time. It is a very nontrivial issue, which has not been studied much."


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