Suppressing Curiosity: How GPAs, Forced Memorization, and Mandatory Exams May Undermine Open Inquiry | Dylan Selterman on Heterodox Out Loud with Zach Rausch

Key Takeaways

  • The more curious people are, the more they respect different viewpoints
    • However, in the contemporary academic context, curiosity takes a back seat to root memorization and high-stakes testing
  • Most modern university systems operate in a top-down hierarchical model
    • The teacher is an ideological power figure that forces information into students’ minds via mandatory reading, assignments, and exams
  • Today students have very little control over the information that goes into their minds 
    • They don’t share the same rights as faculty, staff, and administration (lack of democratic values)
  • What would an alternative educational model look like?
    • Student-driven learning is an alternative educational model that emphasizes freedom of academic inquiry and social equality between students and faculty 
    • “There is no such thing as singular truth in such a school because truth and knowledge are fluid constructs.”Dylan Selterman
  • When failures have extreme consequences for students’ future (getting the job that you want, losing your scholarship), there is no room for humanness
  • Reform does not mean getting rid of grades, exams, it’s not a top-down reform of the entire structure
  • You don’t need to force people to learn things, in the same way, you don’t need to force them to eat, drink, or sleep
    • Cultivating our natural urge to learn via curiosity and open-mindedness should be the central premise of education

Recommended Readings

Intro

  • Heterodox Academy (HxA) is a nonpartisan collaborative of 5,000+ academics working to improve education in universities by increasing open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement
    • Heterodox Out Loud is an ongoing series of selected pieces from heterodox: the blog in audio form with exclusive interviews
    • In this episode of Heterodox Out Loud, Dylan Selterman (@SelterMosby) and Zach Rausch (@HdxAcademy) reveal the flaws in our current education system and explore the possibility for a more student-led academic future that emphasizes curiosity and free expression
  • Dylan Selterman (@SelterMosby) is a psychologist, generalist, and skeptical academic
  • Dylan is a supporter of democratic schooling and wide-ranging educational reform
  • Host: Zach Rausch (@HdxAcademy)

Curiosity Is One Key to Heterodoxy. Forced Memorization Is Not

  • Read Dylan’s blog post on Heterodox Academy’s website
  • Why is intellectual curiosity relevant for heterodoxy?
    • The more curious people are, the more they respect different viewpoints
    • “Curiosity predicts bipartisan attitude convergence about environmental threats (e.g. climate change).”Dylan Selterman
  • However, in the contemporary academic context, curiosity takes a back seat to root memorization and high-stakes testing
    • Most modern university systems operate in a top-down hierarchical model; the teacher is an ideological power figure that forces information into students’ minds via mandatory reading, assignments, and exams
    • Students have no choice but to obey
  • What would an alternative educational model look like?
    • Student-driven learning is an alternative educational model that emphasizes freedom of academic inquiry and social equality between students and faculty 
    • “There is no such thing as singular truth in such a school because truth and knowledge are fluid constructs.”Dylan Selterman
    • Teachers do not force students to memorize facts or ideas
    • There is no standardizing curriculum and students are encouraged to develop their own educational path via curiosity
  • Sudbury Valley School (founded in 1968)
    • Sudbury became a model for intellectual freedom and curiosity
    • It’s a democratic community, and students are given complete responsibility for their own education  
    • Today, there are many Sudbury-influenced schools like New College of Florida (letter/numbered grades), and Deep Springs College (individual curriculums made by students)
  • Reinforcing Orthodoxy
    • Standardized curriculum sabotages curiosity and free expression
    • “…universities ought to be truly democratic institutions. Students should retain full agency and autonomy in their academic goals, as well as power (through self-governance) to shape the policies and procedures of their community.” – Dylan Selterman

Our Modern-Day Educational System Is Outdated

  • Dylan is a product of the general educational system
    • For him, the school was a source of suffering, but he still believed in its general goodness
    • “One day it will all make sense,” young Dylan said. There will be a moment of clarity and understanding as to why the teachers forced him to memorize the quadratic formula
    • Unfortunately, that day never came, and never will
  • Heterodox Academy (HxA) and alternative schools
    • “Freedom of inquiry and intellectual diversity are the cornerstones of any progressive egalitarian enlightened society.”Dylan Selterman
    • Strangely, ideas like free speech and diversity of thought are more aligned with the right-wing of the American “culture war”, even though they are liberal values
    • All adults in Dylan’s life told him that school was good for his mind and would make him a better thinker
    • Now it seems like the opposite is true: schools promote ideological prejudice, confirmation bias, and close-minded thinking
  • “School ideally is a place where community members can come together to practice self-governance, to create constitutions of knowledge and discourse.”Dylan Selterman paraphrasing Jonathan Rauch
    • Today students have very little control over the information that goes into their minds 
    • They don’t share the same rights as faculty, staff, and administration (lack of democratic values)

How Should Institutions Be Structured That Would Fulfill Democratic Values?

  • When failures have extreme consequences for students’ future (getting the job that you want, losing your scholarship), there is no room for humanness
    • These institutions are basically creating an environment that is bad for mental health, kills creativity, constructive disagreement, willingness to make mistakes
    • The same goes for social media; you write something awkwardly and people attack you
  • The ideal for Dylan is something that captures our democratic values
    • Reform does not mean getting rid of grades, exams, it’s not a top-down reform of the entire structure
    • Grades and quizzes are ok, but the real benefit would be for students to have those things to accomplish their learning goals
    • The problem is that students don’t want to do that anymore
    • The average student enrolled in higher education does not want to take exams, go to class or receive grades
    • This is not good for learning, and it makes no sense
  • “What we need to remember is that the desire to learn, and grow and explore is a very instinctual biological process that’s part of a healthy human mind”
    • You don’t need to force people to learn things, in the same way, you don’t need to force them to eat, drink, or sleep
    • Cultivating our natural urge to learn via curiosity and open-mindedness should be the central premise of education

A Call to Arms on Behalf of Education

  • “There is no reason we can’t create an ideal model for learning in every college university.”Dylan Selterman
    • Get active/involved, talk to your campus reps
    • Share your concerns and your values
  • Mental health data suggests that students are suffering; school makes them feel miserable
    • It’s not just because of the times we are in (or because of social networks), school is their top stressors
    • All of these variables (success in learning, democracy, happiness) are closely connected
  • “If your students are miserable, you probably won’t be able to teach them much of anything.”Dylan Selterman
    • Cherish nature’s gift of curiosity, and feed your brain what it loves

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