Friday, October 25, 2013

The "Gap" Myth

The gap myth is the idea that a complete, thorough education has no gaps.... that is, the child knows everything they need to know, everything they "should" know, to continue on and succeed in life. There is some kind of idea that children given a quality education will have attained a certain level of learning-  he is standing on a platform of knowledge that he has reached through his education. The result of a high-quality education, the foundation of the platform is a solid stack of concrete blocks, supporting the mystical achievement. 

As the example would hold, a low-quality education is full of gaps, thus, many of the required blocks are missing from that platform called '5th grade", "12 grade", "bachelor's degree", or whatever platform that particular person has reached. When released into the 'real world', the foundation of the platform will crumble, revealing to the world the 'gaps' in his education. This is an example of the gap myth. 

While in theory this may sound good, it is in fact nothing more then a myth. This idea that out there somewhere, the 'professionals' (in some high-ranking government agency, of course). have a closely guarded secret list, with all of those needed blocks on it, is a myth. Although our government is trying harder and harder to create a "national standardized" program for schools, the gap is still just as much a myth as ever. 


Answer # 1: Why is the gap theory a myth? The biggest reason that the theory is a myth, is that it is simply impossible to know everything that needs to be known. The whole vast knowledge of the world cannot be taught to any one person. Although when it's put that way, it seems pretty silly, that is basically what the 'gap' theory is all about. "But what if he has gaps in his education?" He does, he will, and we all do. That is the simple truth. 

Answer #2: The second, almost-as-good answer to the gap question, is the diversity of people (and tasks) in the world. How can you say your child will have no gaps in his education, if you do not know what he will need to know? That mystical, all-encompassing list of a successful education does not exist, nor will it ever. What I need to know is different from what you need. Street sense is no more or less valuable then calculus, and that is no more valuable then Greek history or the ability to shear a sheep.

Can you name, without looking it up, 10 indigenous evergreen trees of the United States, and give me their family groups, scientific names, and locations?  Can you tell me offhand which medicine should be given as a painkiller to a 10 month old child that weighs 25 lbs and has a broken leg? Do you know how to draft the blueprints for a 3-story, 4 acre warehouse designed for climate-controlled food storage? Most likely, you don't need to know how to do these things. But someone does.  

It is impossible to know what your child will need to know to succeed in life. Not only because you don't know what life will bring him, but also because we live in a vastly changing world. The fact is, the tools and technology your child may be using in 20 years probably hasn't even been invented yet! So the child is destined to have gaps, because life will constantly be bringing him new things to learn. 

Answer #3: Is there not learning after school? As we saw above, no one is 'ready for the real world' upon attaining some magical, mystical platform of education. So that raises the question, when is one ready? After high-school? After college? Or maybe, is the idea of the 'real world' the true fallacy. 

In fact, children are living in the real world upon the moment of their birth. All of life is the real world. What one needs in order to 'live in the real world' is, as well, a myth. If you are not a hermit, if you don't keep your children locked up in your basement, if you go to soccer practice, grocery shopping, and church, that IS the real world, and they are already in it. They are not any more or less PEOPLE then the adults around them, therefor they are already in the real world. They learn as they go, and they will continue to do so. 

So what is the real answer? 

I think there are two different things people are talking about when the bring of the gap fear. They are very different, and in their own way, very valid concerns. But neither is truly expressed realistically using the gap question. 

What do they NEED to know?


Are they ready for the next grade? 

Those are two very different questions. And when they are put that way, it is easy to come to much better, carefully-thought through, realistic answers. Like everything in life, we are much closer to a solution when we know what the question is. 

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