Welcome to our newest endeavor. Earned Knowledge will be a curriculum for teaching children, but not according to the standard model.
I homeschooled several children, beginning in the 1980s, and have additionally taught adults at several other levels. I’ve had a lot of direct experience getting knowledge into human minds, on top of all my writing, which seeks to accomplish the same thing.
So, this subject has been central to me for a long time. And over the past couple of years I’ve had a sort of rolling epiphany, by which I came to understand something that should have been obvious from the beginning:
The standard model of delivering knowledge to children – the individual-subject, standardized curriculum – is an inherently flawed model.
There are two primary reasons why this is so:
- The standard model addresses children in packs (even though every child is different from every other). In order to do that, the curriculum has to be written as a large set of small facts, each of which is to be remembered and repeated by the child. In other words, the knowledge is atomized into tiny, almost stand-alone pieces.
- The model compartmentalizes knowledge on larger scales as well. Any given subject is divorced from all others, and so the connections between them – the connections that drove discovery in the first place – are seldom seen.
In the end, each child receives pre-processed, pre-packaged and color-coded bits of information. He or she is separated from the real world and judged upon the remembrance of atomized mini-facts.
So, rather than covering subjects, this curriculum covers humanity: Where we began, how we lived, what we cared about, what we discovered, how we used it and how people lived. That is, it rolls history, science, archaeology, engineering and philosophy into one thing: The story of human progress.
What really brought me to this work was another part of my rolling epiphany, in which I understood that knowledge is not something to accumulate, but something to work into one’s self.
I devoted a full issue of our subscription letter to this (Free-Man’s Perspective #117), which begins by explaining that the usual belief in knowledge – the one I was raised in – has manifestly failed, and that we need to upgrade it. Here is the opening of that issue:
Our conventional wisdom regarding knowledge and ignorance… beliefs that have dominated for a century and more… have been exposed as incorrect. For twenty years, almost the whole of human knowledge has been available anywhere, any time, at a negligible cost. And yet almost nothing has changed.
To be clear, I should explain that the theories I’m referring to are the common assumptions that problems are caused by ignorance, and that more knowledge in more brains will fix them… that “smart people” or “educated people” necessarily behave better.
Many of us, perhaps most of us, believed that overcoming ignorance with knowledge was something of a universal solution. And so, after two decades of all information, everywhere, for free, we should have seen changes, and we have not. It’s time to revise our beliefs.
Crucially – and this is what pushed me over the edge into writing this curriculum – I found measurement and proof that knowledge, to be effective, must be worked into us, not merely memorized and repeated. More than that, the measured difference was very large. It came out to at least a 2 sigma statistical improvement. In other words, actual, measured outcomes rose from 50 percent to 98 percent. You can refer to FMP #117 for all the details, or you can get a synopsis in one of our podcasts, entitled The 2 Sigma Opportunity.
It also happened that once I saw this clearly, I began finding it in the observations of others, such as this comment from Stephen Zweig, an important writer and poet of the early 20th century:
Like all the important aspects of life, we never find out these things from other people’s experiences, only our own.
The knowledge that actually helps us is the knowledge we internalize. And internalizing it takes both will and effort.
The really big epiphany for me, however, came as I was writing a screenplay called 40 Days, dealing with the events of Jesus’ life, and particularly the forty days at the end, which are almost entirely absent from our records.
As I was dramatizing the event noted in Mark 16, where, “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven and upbraided them,” what came to me was not something I had planned or even thought about prior. Here is the essential portion:
You wanted me to be great for your reasons! (pointing at them) To serve your imaginations!
(Backing off of volume but broadening the emotional scope of his words.)
But you wouldn’t believe me, which would have carried you far beyond your dreams of power and unearned knowledge.
The last part, “dreams of unearned knowledge,” was, for me, an “Oh my God,” moment. It tied directly back to Genesis 3 and ahead to a passage from Ephesians that has followed me for decades. It also tied into Jesus’ perpetual model of seeds planted and grown.
Together, a concept crystallized in me: That knowledge must be planted and grown; that hurry-up models are false.
Thus was born this curriculum.
We’ll be following a historical line from Anatolia the end of the ice age, through Mesopotamia, Egypt, the ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, Europe and the New World. Other areas and times will be mentioned, but this will be our focus.
We’ll be examining how people survived, what they discovered, how they applied it. We want to understand what drove them, what they understood, how they changed, their purposes and goals, and how they survived. The curriculum becomes fairly heavy on science in the later lessons, simply because of the explosion of scientific discoveries in latter times.
Our plan is to create PDFs for each lesson (and lesson plan) which parents and tutors can print and place in a 3-ring binder for use. Once we’re through with the entire curriculum, we’ll post it for sale on our Books page.
The prerequisites for this material are the following:
- Basic reading (~grade 4).
- Basic math (~grade 4).
- Basic geography (being able to find places on maps and globes).
- Comfort with dating (understanding years BC, years AD, centuries and millennia).
- The ability to interpret charts and graphs.
This course is not intended as a one-time thing: It is meant to be repeated, fully, by each student, every 2-4 years.
This curriculum should be taught slowly. Every student should understand all the material covered. If you’re teaching a number of children at once, this will require giving some children other things to do while bringing others to a full understanding.
This is further intended as an open curriculum. That is, it’s expected that the instructor will take tangents, then return to the curriculum once done with them. Such tangents are often the light and color of education, and are not to be sacrificed to a mere curriculum.
We’ll be posting this piece by piece, and we’re open to whatever constructive criticisms we can get along the way.
I’ll close with two comments from the great historian Will Durant, when he was an old man. The first is from Transition, the second from The Gentle Philosopher:
I felt more keenly than before the need of a philosophy that would do justice to the infinite vitality of nature. In the inexhaustible activity of the atom, in the endless resourcefulness of plants, in the teeming fertility of animals, in the hunger and movement of infants, in the laughter and play of children, in the love and devotion of youth, in the restless ambition of fathers and the lifelong sacrifice of mothers, in the undiscourageable researches of scientists and the sufferings of genius, in the crucifixion of prophets and the martyrdom of saints — in all things I saw the passion of life for growth and greatness, the drama of everlasting creation.
Perhaps the cause of our contemporary pessimism is our tendency to view history as a turbulent stream of conflicts — between individuals in economic life, between groups in politics, between creeds in religion, between states in war. This is the more dramatic side of history; it captures the eye of the historian and the interest of the reader. But if we turn from that Mississippi of strife, hot with hate and dark with blood, to look upon the banks of the stream, we find quieter but more inspiring scenes: women rearing children, men building homes, peasants drawing food from the soil, artisans making the conveniences of life… teachers forming savages into citizens, musicians taming our hearts with harmony and rhythm, scientists patiently accumulating knowledge, philosophers groping for truth, saints suggesting the wisdom of love. History has been too often a picture of the bloody stream. The history of civilization is a record of what happened on the banks.
And so, this curriculum will mainly ignore the rivers of blood and those who organized them. Rather, it will focus on the people who discovered, built, repaired, delivered and grew all the things that actually mattered. And it will do so in a natural progression, as it actually happened.