Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lind on Progressive School Reform (more or less)


The Norwegians impressed all of us with a lesson they had learned inadvertently. At the beginning of their reform of the curriculum, they said, things got screwed up unintentionally more than once, as is inevitable with major change. The cadets had to unscrew it themselves. Doing so proved to be such a powerful learning experience that now the faculty creates deliberate screw-ups. We could hear John Boyd cackling his approval and delight; the faculty as well as the students had learned how to learn.

I shared with the Norwegians an idea I had come up with during a visit to the U.S. Naval Academy, where the education is as rigid as it is fluid in Norway. How about paintball at sea? Like all naval schools, the Norwegian Academy has small sailboats in which cadets learn basic seamanship. If a paintball gun were mounted on each broadside so the elevation could be changed but not the aim, the sailboat would become an 18th century warship. Naval paintball battles would require the cadets to rediscover and employ 18th century naval tactics, for both single ships and fleets. At least in Great Britain's Royal Navy, those tactics were highly fluid by century's end; maneuver warfare was actually developed at sea before it was born on land. The Norwegians loved the idea and said they would do it; at Annapolis, the midshipmen I suggested it to also loved it but said it would never happen, because they aren't supposed to have fun.

The Norwegians told us they faced a different challenge in extending their Boyd-based curriculum revisions into the academy's second and third years, where much of the instruction is in regular academic subjects such as ,mathematics and English. In teaching English, I suggested, there is one easy solution: have the cadets learn English by reading and writing about naval fiction that teaches maneuver warfare thinking, such as C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series and C. Northcote Parkinson's excellent naval novels, both set in the age of sail. Could mathematics also be taught with reference to naval tactics, without becoming Jominian? It is a question someone more skilled in math than myself might want to consider.

No comments: