Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning to think

"Do not write it as a formula. Write it as a way to teach officers to think, to think in new ways about war. War is ever changing and men are ever fallible. Rigid rules simply won't work. Teach men to think." - Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
John Boyd was a proponent of Schwerpunkt, or the commanders intent. He believed that the most effective way to get something done, was for the leadership to give implicit commands that allowed people below him to do whatever it took to accomplish an objective. He did not believe explicit commands that told someone exactly what to do were effective – they were too slow and could be completely undermined by a changing battlefield. He said that to be able to make quick, effective decisions, a person must develop his fingerspitzengefuhl, or his "fingertip feel". This is the feeling that you get when you have a good understanding of your situation, and can fly by your gut, because you have a greater understanding of what is going on than your opponents. You can think and act much faster than someone who is still collecting information and disecting it.

But the prerequisite for this is that you must not be caught up in the moment. You have to be taught to be flexible, to forget so many things that we have learned that confine us to one way of thinking. You need to recognize that the way you or people around you do things might be wrong, and try other ways to make things fit better. A lack of change and trying new things will only lead you down a road to nowhere. We have to question everything, and try and apply the meta-issues of what we learn to our lives.

Without a doubt, this is the biggest issue with education today. This became more obvious during this past week, with everyone studying for finals by memorizing minute details in gen-ed classes like Classical Mythology. Instead of spending any time talking and learning about the issues that each individual myth covers, we review pointless minutiae that everyone will forget immediately after the final. Instead of discussing why the myths that we studied have been preserved for so long, the class focuses only on furiously studying who it was that beat Atalanta in a race.

Or in my logic class, we learn and study the fallacies, and then learn formal/inductive logic, and yet we did not learn ONCE how to apply those strategies towards daily life. The book gives an example and states why something is wrong, but no one actually learns why it makes an argument wrong in day-to-day use. Instead of being told to create arguments for/against something, and then using what we learned to strengthen or weaken our arguments, we are just told to memorize information. This is completely ineffective. Studies have consistently shown that without application exercises, information will not be retained. To continually hold classes that rely on just memorizing and regurgitating information is to accept that you are not willing to actually teach the students how to apply what they are learning.

Bruce Flemming wrote that:
"Nowadays we teach literature as if we were giving a tour of a grocery store to Martians who've just touched down on Earth. We professional storekeepers explain the vegetable section, the dairy section, the meat section, note similarities and differences among our wares, variations of texture and color, the fact that there's no milk where the applesauce is, and perhaps the fact (which we bemoan) that there are no papayas. We're teaching the store, not what's in it."

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