C-67. Child scientists

In this amazingly –some would say splendidly – technological world, much abetted by scientific discovery, schools are being looked to for the talent to sustain and further this development. Can more students be drawn to, and then into, science, math, engineering and technology (STEM)?

Could there be a worse recruitment prospect?

We begin in our first months of life enthralled by consequences – i.e., with knowing (IX). The hand, mouth and anything else of the body that moves, including the eyes, will have been continually at work since those first months, with avid attention to consequences. Initial cries, responded to for the most part, begin a lifetime of such exploration – and sometimes exploitation. (Partial reinforcement is enough to sustain that move until other, perhaps more pointed [VII], moves are tried and/or adopted and tried.)

Later, and more or less formally, development and research (D&R) – rather than the scientific establishment’s research and development (R&D: App. VI) – will have been our behavioral strategy for employing consequentiality (and to produce solutions rather than to test answers). Later still their interdependence and complementarity may become more evident (XI).

To be sure, we will have been acquiring moves (aka learning), such as word and language tells, as we go; but knowing will have been our core behavioral path. “Learning from experience” says as much, though confoundingly and confusingly (XI: L=K) so.

Parents, aware of a responsibility, will endeavor to instruct, to provide learning. They may or may not pay attention to monitoring and/or providing consequences for the moves children make. Schools will take on some responsibility, but primarily that of instruction for the purpose of learning. The L/K imbalance (XI) will rise drastically, with children more limited in their moves and move consequences (e.g., deportment in school). Knowledge development will occur largely out of school. (And media will have substituted the consequences of others’ moves as an attractive “knowing” resource.)

So now we are supposed to recruit talent for science, engineering et al from young people who may well be identified as in one or more of these conditions:

Interested in a more productive K environment – where more of the actions and consequences are;
  • Concerned to solve problems, by trial and error if no better D&R method is available, because that is where their developed capability is and their needed consequences most demanding;
  • Unschooled in composing (II, X) for producing solutions in D&R and/or questions for R&D – i.e., untutored in curiosity as need and methods;
  • Bored stiff by the cafeteria of L subjects and oppressed by the instructional procedures;
  • Unable to visualize the relevance of familiar D&R to formal R&D, and a viable, attractive vocational path forward from where they are;
  • Unable to see that math is not the only procedural tool (App. VII) of K value – and to see that where math is appropriate it might be furnished by artificial intelligence (or another team mate);
  • Unsupported (II);
  • Lacking help (App. I; II).
But yes, there could be an even worse prospect. There might not be any role models to emulate, to encourage them into apprenticeship – a somewhat better balance of knowing and learning. And circumstances, such as poverty, might prevent them from finding their own way into a vocation or profession of exploration.

There could be a better prospect. What if elementary education and even parental care were better imbued with K, to redress the K/L imbalance: more “know while trying to do” and less “learn by doing;” more seeing how things work (minding, moving and their consequences) and less “the name for this is”? What if there was a better transition from preschool K/L > 1 to the school’s L/K > 1 – and then back again to at least a balance of K and L?

We typically find the subjects of physics, chemistry, biology and geology introduced and taught at the high school or college level. What do we find at the elementary level as transition to and preparation for those subjects? What of the basic capabilities (communication, cognition, composition and community) that CEM (App. XI, App. XII) says is the way forward, the platform for further exploration? Are the elementary grades’ reading, writing, and arithmetic (and faint familiarization to communities past and present) coming close to children’s needed human functionality as perpetual explorers? Not at all. (A re-composed “social sciences” [C-68] might be a more productive recruitment path … if its materiality [App. XI] were understood to be consonant with that of the physical and biological domains.)

There is a huge chasm here in the exploratory-then-vocational path, from solving problems to solving puzzles, from minding in consequence of the Nature of Things to minding the (more limited, partial) order of things. Establishment science would like to attract the young to bridge that gap. But why not fill the gap? (A gap of science’s making? A gap that is starting to be filled by Materials Science, bringing engineering, technology and science closer together – and closer to art’s composing and to humanism’s problems [App. XV].)

Tis a pity. Children had made such a good start. The notion that we are born with a blank slate* is a “learning” take (i.e., read) on humans – humans as entities, not as behavioral entities (III). More to the point, we are born taking steps in accord with the Nature of Things — then weaned**, coerced, seduced, led (etc.) off that “knowing” course. (Little wonder then that some children and other children sometimes, rebel in school. It’s not just authority they bridle at.)

* What’s actually blank is the area, due to partial order, between the Nature of Things and the order of things. That the person is incompletely instructed refracts that condition. The brain is more empty than blank, awaiting the development and consequences of behavior’s both knowing and learning.

** The concepts of “socialization” and “acculturation” pertain here. The child is expected to ADAPT to and/or ADOPT the (or an) order of things: circumstances like time of day, day of week, family schedules, parental authority (ADAPT); practices (e.g., solutions) appropriate to problems: “the way we do things” (ADOPT) — a normative order of things. The emphasis on ADAPT and ADOPT further extends into life by way of technological innovations. Tool-using procedures (App. VII), such as language and now with the computer, come into play. Composing (ADEPT), the prospective engine for new solutions (see D&R), is left far behind in the child’s development, pretty much buried in a “choose/build >1,” consumer culture. (Henry Ford tried to strike a balance there – so there would be buyers for his product. But now excessive credit and neglect of ADEPT development has tipped the balance to choose/build >1. See in this regard C-51: “Decline and fall”.)

(c) 2012 R.F. Carter