Sunday, August 07, 2011

Taylor's First Law

I've had a theory for several years now, but I haven't been able to articulate it to my own satisfaction -- until now. I had to hear educators describe what they do, not as "teaching" but as "moving" students, from one reading level to the next, from one grade to the next, from one school to the next. And they do, or at least the teachers do whom I happen to be in a position to overhear, and when one says it the rest know immediately what is meant.

...and it came to me.

You're jealous of what the rest of us would refer to as "real" scientists. You want to think that education is a hard science like, say, physics. You want education to be Newtonian.

Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion (loosely expressed and simplified to an Earthly environment where gravity and friction are assumed and constant) is this: An object at rest tends to remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Force generates motion. Apply enough force to an object and it moves.

Since I'm formulating this theory, I'll call it:
Taylor's First Law of Education
An inert mind tends to remain inert, unless acted upon by an intellectual force. 
You encounter a dozen or two inert minds in your class (I wish that brutal description weren't accurate); You apply intellectual force to these minds, in hopes of generating academic movement. Sometimes it works. *

In lieu of the newtonian "foot-pound" with which to measure physical force, I propose the "thought-grade" with which to measure academic force, or influence. You apply, say, .006 thought-grades (6 milli-thought-grades, or 6 mtg) of intellect to each student each day, and at the end of 180 school days, the student has received one complete thought-grade of influence, and therefore moves one grade upward.

Actually, that's 1.08 thought-grades, maybe 13 extra days, but there's not a teacher alive who wouldn't grant the existence of intellectual friction. Everyone knows, for instance, that the week before Christmas break is a waste of time.
*   It would be a perfect theory if we understood why it only works "sometimes." That's the difference between Physics and Psychology, and why education is not, in fact, a newtonian science.

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