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2 + 2 = fascinating.

September 16, 2011

If you want a glimpse into how a non-traditional school in Russia approaches the world of education, then read the upcoming New York Times’ Sunday Magazine article, “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling” (registration required).

In the article, writer Clifford J. Levy talks about taking his children from New York schools and dropping them into a private Russian school in which no English was spoken. Needless to say, his three children were not terribly happy with their new environment at the beginning. There were the inevitable tears, bitter feelings and struggles; but as Levy points out, this is what any immigrant child experiences in a U.S. classroom most every single day.

The story of adjusting to a new learning environment is not a new one. Levy avoids most of those cliches by showing us how this private Russian school works. It operates on educator Georgy Shchedrovitsky’s view that there are three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you had to use all three, according to the school.

The school’s founder, Vasiliy Georgievich Bogin, who admitted the three Levy children after an informal interview with each, also uses videotapes in each of the classrooms. It’s not a Big Brother technique meant to spy on anyone. It’s a means of having the teachers see how effective they are and to watch the progress of the students.

One of Bogin’s more interesting phrases is, “Anyone who thinks that 2 + 2 = 4 is an idiot.” And he shows what he means by illustrating it, first, by adding two cats and two sausages (which leaves you with two cats, right?). Or when you add two drops of water to two drops of water, you get one drop of water.

Here’s another variation on that that one of Levy’s daughters brought to him, In his words:

At dinnertime, the kids taunted me with riddles. “Ten crows are sitting on a fence,” Arden announced. “A cat pounces and eats one crow. How many are left?” “Umm, nine,” I said, fearing a trap. “No, none!” she gleefully responded. “Do you really think that after one crow is eaten, the others are going to stick around?”

I wish I had had that kind of thinking encouraged when I was in elementary school. I went to school in the waning years of the idealistic notion that American schools were the best in the world and that American students couldn’t be bettered. We were more like the first crow that got eaten, because nothing supposedly could harm us.

Well, the Washington Post reported today that SAT reading scores had dropped to their lowest point in four decades. Why? Because our kids don’t want to read and they certainly don’t seem inclined to want to think about what they’ve read.

Math scores were slightly better, but that’s because to the idiots who force kids to take standardized tests, 2 + 2 only = 4.

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4 Comments
  1. Excellent! Speaking as someone who has a daughter who is supremely brilliant in a very avante-garde thinking style, who draws connections nobody else would make, whose supposedly “learning challenged” brain uses secret back doors and breathtaking leaps to arrive at its conclusions …. this girl fails horribly on standardizes tests and has seen her opportunities limited so badly as a result. Try getting her to believe that it is the colleges and employers who will be losing out the most by not accepting her based on their narrow measures.

    • I wish you the best in helping her to see that the problem isn’t with her and that the loss of not working with her is others’ to bear. We all need to stop saying, “Think outside the box,” and actually think, act, see, experience and share outside the box. We will all benefit from that.

  2. Thank you for these terrific posts, Mr. Griffin! I especially like the idea of not only thinking, but also acting, etc., outside the box!

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