2020 Homework

I have to thank Andrew Norton for reading the instructions to 2020 participants carefully. Buried in them was a bit of homework that was very easy to miss. Now that I have a better idea of what the “Productivity Stream” is doing, here are the answers I sent through to the 2020 people today.

1. “If you could do one thing in your stream area, what would it be? What is it that you think would make the most difference?”

There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding. This, however, can conflict with how future knowledge is created; something that requires maintaining the ability and incentives for current knowledge to be disclosed and used in an unfettered manner. To provide an appropriate balance, my idea is that grants should require open dissemination but with an option to ‘opt out’ of such requirements by refunding monies should conflicting commercialisation properties present themselves. Giving scientists and commercial funders a menu of public support options and requirements will improve the mix and efficiency of scientific knowledge dissemination.

2. What is one issue over which you’ve changed your mind in the past 10 years?

A decade ago I believed that it was important to teach a child to read and have them read (and write) as early as possible. I no longer believe that is the case. There is very little value that can be gained from reading prior to the age of 7. For most children, their thought processes are not sufficiently developed. Moreover, efforts in teaching children to read and write prior to this age do not stack up against the alternative of allowing them to learn other things (e.g., numeracy and creativity) during the ages of 4 to 6. Reading and writing can then be taught later (something that would take months rather than years). We need to rethink our early childhood curriculum as well as experience.

Now, by way of explanation, the first idea comes directly out of research I have been doing on the public support for science. The second idea, which will not come as a surprise to those who might read Parentonomics in a few months time, may seem more out of left field. It actually is not and has been the subject of considerable debate and discussion for many years by educational psychologists (see here and here for accessible examples). For me, of course, it was a view formed through experience as a parent.

21 thoughts on “2020 Homework”

  1. Couldn’t disagree with you more on reading and writing. If I hadn’t been taught reading and writing well before I was of school age, I would never as done as well in school as I did or have some of my thirst for knowledge that I have today.

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  2. Josh, on point 2, which is interesting, have you contextualised your views on this subject against medical studies of the development of a child’s brain–particularly as these studies relate to the importance of learning languages and their impact on both neuronal density and the intensity of the inter-neuronal connections in various parts of the brain? I know nothing about this, but I would guess that a child’s neural wiring is undergoing some pretty critical development prior to the age of 7. (I believe that the latest evidence suggests parts of our brain keep on growing until our early 30s–phew!) My sister has two girls under the age of 8 who attend a French school (she is married to a Frenchie). They both speak the language fluently, although she mentioned to me the other day that their English writing/spelling was pretty poor! I had thought that learning languages at a very young age was particularly important for reasons related to the brain’s growth path and/or chemistry? Perhaps this is junk and it is just a flawed convention, as you suggest. I would like to understand whether there are more fundamental evolutionary explanations as to why we teach children to read and write at an early age. Anyway, I am sure that you have put some thought towards these matters.

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  3. Chris, speaking and learning is different from reading. I never suggested that we didn’t teach kids anything; just not reading and writing.

    All of the Scandinavian countries do this and let’s face it, they are hardly slouches in the academic department.

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  4. Joshua, the evidence you cite doesn’t seem much more compelling than your own anecdotal experience. Is this really the best that the field has to offer? Haven’t people looked at the effect of changes in school starting ages on children’s performance in the early years? It seems too important an issue to be left to small-N studies (whether it’s small N of children or countries).

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  5. Andrew, true and as you are aware, randomised trails are non-existent in this space let alone what we would regard as a proper statistical analysis.

    You are right, the issue is too important not to have clear information on. We are making massive educational investments based on little actual evidence relative to alternatives.

    I have searched for research that is more conclusive but have come up short. If anyone has seen anything comprehensive (one way or the other), I’d appreciate a pointer.

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  6. Becoming a Teacher for me was the best thing in life. My life long dream.
    Although physically teaching has always been kind of scary to me.
    I’ve learned to build my confidence in how to teach through books by Laura Rob.
    Currently I am reading, Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach as I have already read her previous book called Differentiating Reading Instruction.
    What I love are the reading strategy lessons. Each one is clear, with follow up suggestions and think alouds that I can adapt.

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  7. There is very little value that can be gained from reading prior to the age of 7. For most children, their thought processes are not sufficiently developed. Moreover, efforts in teaching children to read and write prior to this age do not stack up against the alternative of allowing them to learn other things (e.g., numeracy and creativity) during the ages of 4 to 6.

    Is there something mutually exclusive here?
    Because reading is an integral part of our society doesn’t it enhance the appreciation of numeracy and creativity?
    At any level, even the most childish or child-like, what is the point of counting if the child can’t describe what you’re counting?
    What is the point of creation if the child can’t describe what they are trying to communicate? – or understand what they have communicated to others?

    My father taught me to read when I was not yet 4. He was always reading, and I constantly pestered him with questions. His defensive action was to show me how to read and point me to the dictionary.
    If I wanted to draw an elephant, I could express why it looked more like a dog. Isn’t that the goal of education?
    I’m not going to get onto some sort of rant here. I just want to say that education needs to examine its incremental and long term goals on subjects like this.

    Paul

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  8. I really don’t understand the conclusions suggested by this passage:

    There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding.

    This is the one thing that would make a difference in the education of children before school age? Or is this the thing that would make a difference in Mr Gans’ space?
    The obvious conclusion is this is the one thing that would make a difference to a researcher looking for government funding for projects. Why are there fetters on this money? Because the funding has been so often abused in the past.
    More and more, government has become commercialized itself. Government funding, and other scholarships, was once given based on a trust in the academic(s) to produce something useful and productive to society. Governments found themselves criticized for spending billions for useless “research”.

    But what does this have to do with children below the age of 7?
    Is this a plea to fund randomized studies? It’s very well obscured.
    Is it that hard to construct an ROI for something that could increase long term capacity, increase the effectiveness of the schools, and perhaps save money in the immediate term?

    I’m sure Mr Gans, nor anyone reading this blog, needs a lesson in structuring an ROI proposal.
    My first thought is it would be very similar to describing software training to a corporation.

    Paul

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  9. Ooops .. make that “I’m sure Mr Gans, nor anyone reading this blog, doesn’t need a lesson in structuring an ROI proposal.”

    We had a chlorine spill this morning. I will plead diminished capacity.

    Paul

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  10. Just reject the comment.
    Or make that “I’m sure Mr Gans, nor anyone reading this blog, needs no lesson in structuring an ROI proposal.”
    LOL What an ultra-marOOOooon!

    Paul

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  11. < will return to 8th grade English class

    I can’t make it work. Just reject all of them. LOL

    “I’m sure Mr Gans needs no lesson in constructing a corporate ROI proposal.” –bahh!

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  12. I really don’t understand the conclusions suggested by this passage:

    There has been a trend towards encouraging, and even mandating, commercialisation of scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for receiving government funding.

    This is the one thing that would make a difference in the education of children before school age? Or is this the thing that would make a difference in Mr Gans’ space?
    The obvious conclusion is this is the one thing that would make a difference to a researcher looking for government funding for projects. Why are there fetters on this money? Because the funding has been so often abused in the past.
    More and more, government has become commercialized itself. Government funding, and other scholarships, was once given based on a trust in the academic(s) to produce something useful and productive to society. Governments found themselves criticized for spending billions for useless “research”.

    But what does this have to do with children below the age of 7?
    Is this a plea to fund randomized studies? It’s very well obscured.
    Is it that hard to construct an ROI for something that could increase long term capacity, increase the effectiveness of the schools, and perhaps save money in the immediate term?

    I’m not sure anyone reading this blog needs a lesson in structuring an ROI proposal.
    My first thought is it would be very similar to describing software training to a corporation.
    What I have in mind was an article by Jay Cross I ran into a couple days ago reviewing one of my old blogs.

    Paul

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  13. Hi Joshua,

    If the person (the child) has the interest, then give them the chance. Let the child illustrate their capacity to learn and their motivation.

    Your question implies a generalized conclusion.
    The only generalization I would make is to not make a rule that the child should not be prevented from exercising their interest and capacity.
    To say that a child doesn’t have the intellectual maturity to learn to read at age 4 is too broad a statement. There are a few who certainly do. I was one of them.

    No one told me I couldn’t, or shouldn’t. All I knew was I wanted to – largely because of my father’s example.
    There are any number of generalizations that should be avoided here.
    Should there be a rule that states: Every parent should teach their children to read at age 4 – is equally ridiculous.

    The parent may not be suited by their own habits or education. The child may have no motivation, even by parental example.

    Am I an example of why a child should be taught to read before age 4?
    – Again, that is reaching too far for a generalization that becomes a rule or guideline. I hope I’m not giving that impression.
    That short story is a statement of pride in my father.
    I realize that his learning style – and mine – are rare. Possibly as rare as those who are not ready to learn to read at age 7, or older.
    My point is not to say there is a long tail on each end of the statistical Bell curve.
    How long? — Maybe that’s worth exploring.
    How flat is the curve?

    I didn’t mean to personalize my argument to that extent.

    Paul

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  14. This statement has been too broadly interpreted:

    For most children, their thought processes are not sufficiently developed.

    My thought processes, although I had no idea at the time, were sufficiently developed.
    I enjoyed stories about the wilderness in North America; about huge grizzly bears that dominated the land contesting with trains, for example.
    Yes, I understood that it was a euphemism for preserving the wilderness and the power of modernization, even at age 5.
    That was a story in a book given me by my first grade teacher. I started school a few months before age 5.
    I still remember the story, and the illustrations in the book.

    That story related to my upbringing. My father was an engineer who loved the wilderness. He took his small son with him, even if it meant strapping me on like part of the baggage.

    Other question arise here: Is it possible to make learning relate to a child’s experience?
    If so, will that mean a child can learn more easily?
    In crowded classrooms, is there a way -possibly using technology- to make lessons resonate with the child’s experience?

    The questions could go on and on, following a thousand trails, to come to conclusions that can be used as rules or principles.

    Paul

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  15. No I was not a self learner. I was taught however a parent teaches a child. I can’t say I remember being taught. I made the usual childhood mistakes b’s and d’s but I could read and write long before they tried to teach me in my first year of school.

    My parents did read a lot to me though so I may have picked some stuff up but to this day I wonder why I do a lot better than them in reading and writing when they’re the ones that taught me.

    My 7 year old niece hates learning to read, she’s only barely starting to make progress now. She’s behind her class on practically everything but like her father she has a very good memory.

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  16. I don’t think anyone has really discovered the best way to teach a child. Whether learning reading and writing before the Age of 7 is beneficial or not, I don’t think anyone can know for sure. The mind of a child is a mystery, because it’s a well known fact children can learn multiple languages faster and with more ease than adults. But why?

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