Information Age Education
   Issue Number 51
October, 2010   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/ and the end of this newsletter.

The Information Age Education web site now includes a blog. Access the
blog and comment on blog entries at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html.

Education and Health Care Part 7:
Final Installment–Quality of Life

"Ignorance is when we don't know what to do. Stupidity is when we do know what to do and don't do it. We're all ignorant, only on different topics."
(Will Rogers; American cowboy, humorist, social commentator; 1879–1935.)

This is the last in a sequence of seven IAE Newsletters based on comparing Education and Health Care. The underlying goal is to gain increased insight into ideas that might lead to improvement of our educational systems.

We (the authors of this newsletter) have each authored a number of books. Over the years, we have learned to develop an outline as the first part of beginning a large writing project.

Unfortunately, we agreed to do a series on the Education and Health care topic just shortly before the first newsletter was due. Thus, we have been “winging it”—doing the planning for the whole series as we were writing and then publishing the first articles.

The result in that we produced a living, developing, “organic” collection of somewhat related newsletters, not as carefully integrated as we would have liked. Still, we have found it to be an enlightening writing experience.


Quality of Life

There is substantial research and popular press literature on Quality of Life. It is an important topic to people who are facing serious medical problems and considering medical directives such as Do Not Resuscitate.

However, Quality of Life is much more than just a medical issue. For example, in 2005 an index was developed that included nine quality of life measurements (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-of-life_index): 1) Health–Life expectancy; 2) Family life–Divorce rate; 3) Community life–church attendance or trade-union membership; 4) Material well being–GDP per person; 5) Political stability and security; 6) Climate and geography; 7) Job security; 8) Political freedom; and 9) Gender equality. In the 111 countries surveyed in the 2005 study, the United States ranked 13th.

Interestingly, there is no mention of quantity or quality of formal education in this index. In today’s complex world in which literacy, numeracy, and other knowledge and skills resulting from formal education are commonplace and widely assumed, it seems strange that this topic was omitted.

So, here is some food for thought. As you work with students and work to improve your own education, think about how the results improve the quality of life that you and your students have. Help your students gain an increased understanding of how learning and learning to learn contribute to their current and future quality of life. This type of curriculum analysis may lead to curriculum content changes in certain areas. For example, one might argue that student efforts to gain knowledge and skills that help them to pass tests in certain areas contribute little to either their current or their future quality of life.


The Art and Science of Education and Health Care

Education and Health Care can be viewed in terms of being both an art and a science. Each has underlying science that can be improved through research.

Aspirin provides an interesting example in Health Care. Greek physician Hippocrates prescribes the bark and leaves of the willow tree (rich in a substance called salicin) to relieve pain and fever about 2,400 years ago. The “science” underlying this was that “it often works.” Chemists eventually learned how to synthesize aspirin and it became commercially available in about 1900. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that scientists discovered that aspirin inhibits the production of chemicals called prostaglandins that are involved in inflammation. Even today, research continues on the underlying how and why aspirin works. See http://www.wonderdrug.com/pain/asp_history.htm.)

Medicine develops “magical” drugs that can be mass-produced, mass distributed, and readily used when needed. Medical research builds on its past success and failure, as well as the development of more powerful aids to research and implementation. In essence, medicine lends itself to a type of research and development-based improvement model.

Education is both an art and a science.  We recognize the importance of high quality teaching and we struggle to identify individual characteristics that separate a high quality teacher from those who are less successful. To a large extent, good teaching is an art and we do not know how to mass-produce good teachers.

Recent research in cognitive neuroscience is giving us an increased understanding of what is going on as a brain learns, uses its knowledge, forgets, and ages. A child who has learned to communicate in a natural language has displayed a huge level of mental capabilities. Work in artificial intelligence has given us considerably increased appreciation for the complexity and capabilities of the human brain.

Education has had the development of reading and writing, the mass production of books, the work of Skinner and others on behaviorism, the development of a variety of other learning theories, and current applications of cognitive neuroscience to teaching and learning.

However, there is a fundamental difference between education and health care. In essence, most of us were born with a fairly decent level of health, and we go on from there. While we are born with some innate physical and mental capabilities, there is tremendous capacity for physical and mental growth. The mental growth requires a nurturing environment of informal and formal education and education-related experiences.  For each child, “curing” ignorance starts from scratch. Every newborn child represents a new challenge to our overall educational system.


Wars

Over the years, the United States has been involved in a number of different wars. Currently our military forces are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have an ongoing worldwide war against terrorism. Annual expenses for these wars are a great many billions of dollars.

Does it ever occur to you to wonder why the war metaphor is used so often in non-military situations such as Education and Health Care? Who is the enemy? What does it mean to be engaged in a war against cancer? Do we face possible defeat? Can the enemy be forced into unconditional surrender and later become our allies?

Here is a different type of example. Consider the steadily growing success of our various entertainment industries. One can view computer games as a powerful enemy of traditional education and its goals. Should we be mounting a war on all forms of entertainment? Instead should we single out just certain forms of entertainment and mount wars against them? Nonsense!

Think about the various education wars we are engaged in. Education has wars such as war against illiteracy, the math education wars (http://iae-pedia.org/Math_Education_Wars) and ongoing conflict on ways to effectively teach reading.

Your authors think it is strange to use the war metaphor in talking about education. In these education wars, who is the enemy? Is it possible to eradicate illiteracy? Of course not. Every child is born illiterate. What we can do is provide high quality help to each child as he or she works to become literate.

Instead of using a military metaphor, think about the various education problems and issues in terms of quality of life for individuals, for all human life, and for all life on our planet. Through ongoing, lifelong education, progress can be made in all three areas.


The Future


Our current and steadily increasing knowledge about various aspects of health care provide ample evidence that there is great potential for improvement in this area. A fundamental issue is—what level of health care can we afford? The United States is already spending more than 1/6th of its gross domestic product on health care. Clearly cost-effectiveness is a major issue.

We are beginning to see some potential for significant improvements in education. This series of articles used examples from two areas:
  1. Highly interactive intelligent computer-assisted learning (HIICAL) that can help students to learn faster and better, and that can support anywhere, anytime, and somewhat individualized education.
  2. Computer brains getting more capable.
Earlier articles in this series raised the idea of students and patients learning to become more responsible for their own education and health care. This type of idea faces competition from our entertainment industry that seems to strive to produce couch potatoes and people who “live” for relatively mindless entertainment. In recent years, the entertainment industry—backed by huge investments in product development and advertising—seems to be winning.


Final Remarks

This series of newsletters began with the idea that it might be both enlightening and fun to do some apples and oranges comparisons between Education and Health Care. For your authors, this has proven to be the case.

There are many important topics that we have not addressed. One is litigation. Both education and health care have been significantly affected through our legal system.

Research has tied low birth weight to a decrease in IQ and to a number of health problems later in life. We have touched only lightly on current and future drugs that affect learning. We have not explored direct connectivity to a human brain for both input and output. We have not explored brain implants.

We have only touched lightly on issues of what a person should learn to do unaided by computers, and what they should learn to do aided by computers. In terms of entertainment and informal education, individuals make their own choices in this area. In terms of formal education, our school system faces an uphill and continuing struggle to make well-reasoned decisions as to what constitutes a good education in today’s and tomorrow’s Information Age.

We hope that we have sharpened your mind as you continue to encounter apples and oranges types of discussions and arguments.


About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki with address http://IAE-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the free newsletter you are now reading.

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