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No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down (theguardian.com)
471 points by passenger on July 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 242 comments

Sudbury Valley Schools are the gold standard as far as I can tell from my research. (I spent a number of years as an education/students rights activist; built and ran the country's most famous education blog back in 2009; and have otherwise been doing advocacy work for a couple decades)

They are fully democratic and focus on producing empowered self directed citizens who understand how to share limited resources and cooperate.

The kids have as much power as any adult or teacher, which I really love -- they say you can't make someone partially equal -- either you share power with them or you don't. No grades or grade levels, students decided what to focus on. Great mini documentary on the website to watch as well.


This is really cool. It reminds me of what happened to me when I turned 15 and my family was first able to afford a computer and an internet connection. I basically started teaching myself all kinds of stuff (e.g., physics, mathematics, philosophy, etc.). Self-directed learning can take you really far, but it isn't right for everyone: mostly individuals who can truly direct themselves and have the kinds of interests that are condusive to broad understanding and knowledge.

The problem I had with the educational system in my time (about 20 years ago) is computer knowledge wasn't taken seriously, so I missed out on having some guidance to push me towards my ultimate interest - electronics, computers, programming, things in tech. Of course, I still like knowing about a lot of other things, but school really doesn't grab your interests. Ideally, it should be setup so students can capitalize on areas of interest.

On second thought, if computer and tech knowledge had been made available to me early on, I probably wouldn't have had the life course in the educational system that I did. Depressing to think about.

Best of luck and I hope it is legitimately successful for the students.

> Self-directed learning can take you really far, but it isn't right for everyone: mostly individuals who can truly direct themselves and have the kinds of interests that are condusive to broad understanding and knowledge.

I agree with the sentiment here, but I wonder if it wouldn't be more accurate to say it would be for everyone, except that some people have already had their natural driven curiosity ground out of them by sour experiences at school or poor home life prior to getting the change to try this.

>some people have already had their natural driven curiosity ground out of them by sour experiences at school or poor home life prior to getting the change to try this.

Somehow I find that extraordinarily unlikely, but I suppose it is possible. From my experience and what I've seen in other people, it's never that the curiosity in them gets pounded out of them, rather it is that they're not ideally granted the opportunities to capitalize on their curiosities.

Woah, bunch of what you said hit very close to home. Was kind of waiting for you to tell me you were 33 years old, moved to Sydney from the Netherlands and ... well that you were me.

Point I was wanting to make: there's a lot of us that didn't really get that "prod" in the right direction, or even had the opportunity to study in such a focused manner.

And I sure as hell wish I had that opportunity back in the day.

> Self-directed learning can take you really far, but it isn't right for everyone

I'd like to have this hypothesis tested. The popular school system is a formula for destroying children's interests (by turning learning into mandated work), corrupting intrinsic motivation (by rewarding obedience) and replacing learning (as in discovering and understanding) with memorizing facts, procedures and rules.

It's a bit unfair to blame someone who's been force fed against their will, at times when they weren't hungry, food they didn't like, in a humiliating manner ... It's unfair to blame such a person for lack of appetite.

> Self-directed learning can take you really far, but it isn't right for everyone

I'd like to have this hypothesis tested. The popular school system is a formula for destroying children's interests (by turning learning into mandated work), corrupting intrinsic motivation (by rewarding obedience) and replacing learning (as in discovering and understanding) with memorizing facts, procedures and rules.

It's a bit unfair to blame someone who's been force fed against their will, at times when they weren't hungry, food they didn't like, in a humiliating manner ... It's unfair to blame such a person for lack of appetite.

Thanks for the link, thanks for your efforts. I'll definitely read up on sudval.org.

"They are fully democratic and focus on producing empowered self directed citizens..."


I've run democratic teams. The empowerment is real. I can't explain it; it feels like magic. Those experiences have transmuted me into a full throated advocate for democracy.

Democracy, in its multitude of forms, is very much a technology. Just like arabic numerals, management, offset type, etc.

"No grades or grade levels..."

I'm hoping your sudval.org link says something about achievement models for education, as an alternative to testing regimes and grades.

My son is an Eagle Scout. He wasn't a very good K-12 student, but he rocked the Scouts. That achievement is largely self-directed, but also structured with concrete outcomes. With plenty of mentoring both up and down. I wonder why learning can't be more like that?

> I wonder why learning can't be more like that?

As John Taylor Gatto explains, it is because our education system was designed back in the 19th century to produce factory workers who would follow orders and do the same boring thing all day long.

http://johntaylorgatto.com/ -- his books are all worth reading, especially his Underground History of American Education.

> Those experiences have transmuted me into a full throated advocate for democracy.

And if a majority of wolves vote for a sheep dinner?

The key point of democracy isn't voting, it's participation.

If you have participation, where all are heard, and real work is made for a consensus - voting doesn't have to have centre stage. Voting makes sense for simple decisions, where little discussion is needed. It's a pretty poor way to foster participation (You voted, you lost, you can't complain).

That said, sometimes the sheep needs to be eaten. If that is taken literally, that a group votes to eat one of its members - the situation should be rather extreme - like people stranded without food. One might agree to draw straws. But it would be much better to avoid such situations in the first place...

The key point of democracy isn't voting, it's participation.

Your right to vote is the mechanism by which your right to participate is ensured.

If you have participation, where all are heard, and real work is made for a consensus, voting doesn't have to have centre stage

And yet in practice, the only reason for a political party to hear all (including its opposition) and to seek consensus is to seek the number of votes need to pass a rule. Therefore, in practice, voting does take the center stage.

>> The key point of democracy isn't voting, it's participation.

> Your right to vote is the mechanism by which your right to participate is ensured.

It's a shallow form of participation. Being educated, informed, and being part of the decision process - drafting bills, finding alternatives - forming political parties, being part of committees , being available for election, all the work that is done before a vote his held is arguably more important. And if most people aren't involved in that part, you don't IMNHO have what can reasonably be called a real democracy.

It's of course much easier to just present "the people" with the choice of a red or green bike shed, rather than discuss alternative economies that might make the nuclear plant less relevant.

And how does the average voter get involved in "drafting bills" I suspect that there are very few of us on HN who have ever done something like that.

I manged to get several thousand people a better pension by using the democratic process but I suspect as a dual wonk/nerd I am in a minority.

I did half consider going to work in the HOC if one of my colleagues had got the speaker ship.

And how does the average voter get involved in "drafting bills" I suspect that there are very few of us on HN who have ever done something like that.

In representative democracies [1], they usually don't get involved at all. You delegate your rights to someone else (eg members of parliament), who then act on your behalf, so to speak.

The alternative of direct democracy [2] is much rarer.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representative_democracy

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy

> And how does the average voter get involved in "drafting bills"

This is exactly my point - real democracy means engaging in the political decision process on all levels, and taking/feeling a sense of ownership of/to it.

I agree but moist systems are not setup to facilitate this, and nor do people want to do the hard yards.

>> Your right to vote is the mechanism by which your right to participate is ensured.

> It's a shallow form of participation.

It's not a form of participation at all.

>Being educated, informed, and being part of the decision process - drafting bills, finding alternatives - forming political parties, being part of committees , being available for election, all the work that is done before a vote his held is arguably more important.

You are arguing about how the right to vote is exercised. With the right to vote as a given, I would agree with you on all of the above.

However, none of the above is relevant without the right to vote (and other rights), hence why I'm arguing that the right is more important.

Your right to vote is the mechanism by which your right to participate is ensured.

That's just one mechanism. Your right to participate is also ensured by freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the ability to get your name on the voting ballot.

Indeed! I wasn't my intention to reduce it just that one freedom, I merely wanted to address that specific comment.

Another very prominent example would be freedom of press.

Everyone's grumpy about our (USA) elections, which use a terrible voting system (winner takes all), and then cynically conclude that all democracy is bad news. Because people are stupid. And can't be trusted to do the right thing. Because reasons.

How do you currently choose new hires? Decide to ship (go/no go)? Probably something like Roman Evaluation.

How do you triage defects or choose features? Probably something like Approval Voting.

There's also the possibility to vote on values, but bet on beliefs.

Ie vote on your priorities and what you want to get done. Then use a prediction market (possibly on a very informal level, if it's a small group), to decide on a policy to reach those goals.

"Winner takes all" is not a voting method, it just means single-winner districts. You can use an excellent winner-take-all method like Score Voting or Approval Voting.

The country I live in uses a proportional voting system - and what happens is that one of the smallest and most narrow special interests party gets to be the the point of equilibrium - as nobody can form government without it.

And then that party proceeds to blackmail everybody all the time.

Thus all the governments need to pander to this particular party and they get to gridlock the government whenever they feel the smallest slight or displeasure.

nobody can form government without it

Of course they can, they just choose not to. What you are saying is that the parties are choosing a blackmailer over a self-declared "enemy". That's a choice, it's not inevitable.

Besides, if the political landscape is diverse enough, a minority coalition can be a boon for everyone: it means that the ruling parties must actually learn to cooperate with the opposition instead of dictating policy for the duration of their term.

You are indeed correct.

However our political landscape is polarized to a degree where minority coalition has no chance of doing anything.

Not that any political problem could solve people acting as idiots.

as the Hardline unionists did in the UK which is why northern irland lags the rest of the UK in civil rights

Then it is not a democracy in any meaningful form, but a tyranny. It is insufficient with pure majority rule to form a democracy - democracy requires participation and at least basic levels of protection of all participants as well.

There are many ways of doing this, with various suitability depending on context, but e.g. one alternative is simply to guarantee the right of withdrawal - if you can always remove yourself from the group if a decision is unacceptable to you, a majority will need to seek compromise if it wishes to avoid shedding members. Other alternatives include requiring super-majorities for particularly important decisions, guaranteeing rule of law and basic human rights.

> a majority of wolves

The problem lies there, not with democracy - whatever system you use, such an assemblage is going to screw the sheep over.

In a democracy, there's at least a sense of shared responsibility, and hence in real life there'd be a dampening of the wolf's id by each one's conscience.

In monarchic or oligarchic systems (and these terms don't have to be restricted to governments), the top person(s) will still probably end up being a wolf in such a condition, only now the other wolves would be "just following orders" and be more efficient in making dinner.

> And if a majority of wolves vote for a sheep dinner?

If that happens, you don't want to live in that society anyway, under whatever system. In other words, this is an extremely pessimistic view of human society.

A well armed sheep contests the outcome...

So vote my way or civil war?

Would you voluntarily submit to being eaten then?

That hardly sounds civilized.

What if the sheep can't arm themselves? What if the wolves are better armed?

Then the sheep is fucked. But at least they have a shot at trying to defend themselves. Note that I'm assuming that it goes without saying that armed defense is a measure of last resort. Obviously one would try diplomacy, etc., first. But my point is that "democracy" isn't any kind of inherently perfect system if you're the minority party. It has pathological edge cases that can't just be hand-waved around.

I think all forms of government and/or social codes are just temporary and perforated stopgaps on the way to the actual solution: a post-scarcity world, where everybody can just get whatever they want and nobody needs to infringe on anybody, baring psychological defects.

Agreed. I just wonder if we'll ever actually be able to achieve a complete post-scarcity world. I'm optimistic, but not completely so.

There's also a question of whether there is such a thing as "basic human nature" at play. As long as we are driven to compete with each other for access to the most desirable mates, etc., it seems there might always be some cause for humans to attempt to stomp on one another in various ways. Even if there was no shortage of material goods, food, water, etc., I suspect we'd still find some kind of basis to compete on, which could still lead to conflict.

> I wonder why learning can't be more like that?

Money. There isn't enough of it. America would rather spend it on other "more important" things.

Funding is not the silver bullet to a better education system that many would like it to be. Misguided reliance on systemstic top-down reform, conflicting interests of education providers and their agents, and the immovable inertia of traditional institutions are far greater enemies to the unrealized potential of new educational paradigms. Among the multiple dimensions of human experience that technology is currently disrupting and reinventing, education should be at the forefront. Instead it is held hostage by the special interests of the current education system, which are reinforced by their entrenchment within the state. Much must change before a new system can be realized.

The problem is not that we aren't buying enough education; it's that we're being sold a counterfeit.

That's simply not true. Per student spending in the US is among the highest in the world.


We just blow it on administration-heavy bureaucracies and demonstrably failed methods.

>>We just blow it on administration-heavy bureaucracies and demonstrably failed methods.

Not to mention sports. The absurd amounts of money, attention and time poured into college athletics especially never ceases to amaze me. Even at the high school level, many students focus way too much on being "discovered" by talent scouts so that they can get scholarships to colleges they want - grades be damned.

I would refine this to say that teaching is not sufficiently respected as a profession. A large part of this is the low pay. Another part is the top-heavy bureaucracy, and that we take our best teachers and push them out of teaching because administrators are the only ones making decent money.

Other posters have pointed out that there's plenty of spending in schools, but it is in frivolous activities on the periphery of education. They did not mention facilities, which I believe is another huge point of financial irresponsibility when it comes to how municipalities fund their schools. Any town pointing to a dilapidated school as proof of need for a new one is among the least likely to be a good steward of that school, given that it is deferred improvements and maintenance, not age, that really causes problems (to a point, of course). Worse yet, they move these schools to huge complexes on the edge of town so that no one can reach it without a car or bus. Then they get to spend more good school money on buses.

Reminds me of an experimental school my grandparents had started in Australia around the Second World War. Unstructured lessons in nature and student involvement in decision making.

Sadly it had to close due to lack of funding at the end of the war. There is a short documentary made before closing showing the student parliament and school life - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg7TJ2WRndM

What if students (or whoever in a power sharing dynamic) are making decisions that are bad for them? How do you veto a bad decision?

I work at Arts&Ideas Sudbury School in Baltimore, 8 years old at this point. I have been with them for two years.

There is no veto. There is simply discussing the issue and revisiting it if necessary. While it is always possible that a disastrous decision will be made, anecdotally, it seems to be exceedingly rare.

Students want the school to succeed. They want to be safe and respected. When you start from those places, bad decisions rarely happen if someone points out why they are bad. Of course, like any group, we may all think a decision is good when, in fact, it is bad. But if someone has a good view or argument, everyone listens.

I have learned that democracy is not about voting. True democracy is listening and being heard. It is a bit like in Buddhism and how simply witnessing and acknowledging emotions will often lead the way to a good outcome.

The absolute core of the school is accepting, without question, that each student is responsible for themselves. Once everyone really gets that, bad intentions melt away.

It is important to have a strong environment for students to experience mutual respect. Starting a Sudbury School is very difficult. But once it starts, as long as a small percentage of new students is added at a time, they will acclimate to the environment and accept the idea of balancing the needs of the many with the needs of the one which is ultimately the balancing act that we all must struggle with.

On many occasions, students have come to School Meeting with a rule that staff did not like. Sometimes during the discussion the staff have their minds changed. Other times, the student might change their mind. Still other times, the rule gets passed and the staff come to see that it is a perfectly good rule.

We also have a jury-style system (Judicial Committee) for rules. It is a body that the staff turn over the responsibility of adjudicating rule breaking and sentence making to. When some students make a mess (no cure for that, I am afraid) and I feel angry, I go and write them up. My anger passes and by the next day, I am okay with whatever our JC comes up with. It is generally fair and equitable.

Students almost always plead guilty if they did it, but if they did not do it, they will certainly say so. And we all get to suggest a sentence, but the members of JC decide on what it will be. They debate thoughtfully and generally rule wisely.

I have seen plaintiffs ask to drop a case while defendants ask to keep it. They want to admit to wrong doing and move past it. There is no shame, just lessons to be learned.

It is the most humane and fun environment I have ever been in. Students learn how to be part of a community, how to accept responsibility for themselves, and how to learn.

They may or may not learn academics; it is their choice. Academics, it turns out, is rather easy to acquire for children coming from a place of empowerment and respect.

To grow up accepted is a powerful foundation to accomplish anything.

One thing I was always interested in w.r.t. Sudbury Schools (but never met anyone with personal experience to ask about it) is how do the students, being trained in democratic way of doing stuff, deal with real life once they finish the school. They start working for a corporation with strict command & control hierarchy, they have to deal with political system where your vote has basically zero value etc. One's naive expectation would be that they limit their choice of work to the few places which are run in truly democratic manner -- but how many of those are out there, really? If they do not, they are likely to be deeply unhappy about what they do.

I work with a young school so the experiences are not quite there yet for me personally. Sudbury Valley School did do a study of its graduates at one point and found that they led very satisfactory lives embracing challenges everywhere: http://www.sudval.org/05_alumni.html#03

There is a lot of entrepreneurship involved in their pathways.

Our first graduate wanted to become a pastry chef and upon graduating our school, apprenticed to become one and is now a pastry chef at a well-respected restaurant. Our only other graduate just graduated from the college of his choice so it is a bit early for that one. From SVS, of recent fame is Laura Poitras, of Citizenfour.

My impression is that they embrace life with eyes wide open. If they happen to work for a bad outfit, they will understand why they are there (need the money, perhaps) and be open to moving on. They keep their power, always carrying around a memory of this accepting community in their hearts, motivated to take on challenges in their lives.

I am sure there are good stories and bad stories amongst the alumni, as with any group. But I would be willing to bet that the spark of living in the moment is almost universally present in all of the ones that attended a Sudbury school for most of their 5-18 years.

As for politics, a person can have a lot of power by taking actions, organizing, doing the hard work of establishing a movement. They learn at our school, presumably, that while voting is important, it is not nearly as important as being actively involved in the community, in talking with people, in making the connections that lead to results. Even bad bosses can be politicked for is not a bad boss just someone who is suffering and could use a helping hand?

I susepct your real question, and it is quite telling about our society, is "If you were going to end up a slave, would you rather have some freedom first or not?"

Is it slavery if it is the only (statistically) viable reality?

That question sounds like cognitive dissonance at work. As if you're stuck in a big corporation without any influence and need to rationalize the path of choices that led to this point.

Grandparent's point was that that is, by far, not the only choice.

> One's naive expectation would be that they limit their choice of work to the few places which are run in truly democratic manner -- but how many of those are out there, really? If they do not, they are likely to be deeply unhappy about what they do.

Why is that naive? What's stopping them from redefining work? I would venture that adults emerging from these type of school systems will be very well armed to call bullshit when they see it and not comply with it for the sake of belonging. I think you underestimate just how many good organizations, teams and opportunities are out there.

Or maybe I'm also too naive (and that's really not a passive aggressive statement, I actually mean that that could also be the case!)

EDIT: That said, I'd be very curious to learn about the challenges the alumni run into when leaving school too!

You wrote a very beautiful post and created value (at least for me). Thanks for taking the time to write this. It was thought provoking.

(I've been reading HN for years. I know agreeing or appreciating something is handled via upvoting. Sometimes it's just not enough and a human connection is more important than the HN guidelines).

> I have learned that democracy is not about voting. True democracy is listening and being heard. It is a bit like in Buddhism and how simply witnessing and acknowledging emotions will often lead the way to a good outcome.

I agree with this so strongly - do you have any ways in which you've seen these thoughts or ideas shared or written in some form?

No, but I haven't looked. I have been reading about Buddhism lately and working at a Sudbury School so the two naturally are feeding into one another in my mind.

I have been always curious to know the outcome: how do they become when they are 25-30 yrs old? Do they perform exceedingly better than other students? Are they more brilliant? Or ... smarter?

I am also curious about something I hope you can answer. I guess (big assumption!) that most of these pupils share similar backgrounds, like families with good/high education, high income, etc. How would it work if we put these kids together with students with different backgrounds, e.g., parents with severe problems, very low income, bad language, etc.?

And how do these kids react when one or two bullies (a group of outcasts (?)) of try to overpower the democratic "state"? Or ... what happens when one kid more "ambitious" than others is trying to manipulate them? How do they react?

Do you have any articles about this?

Just saw this. For the older, look at http://www.sudval.org/05_alumni.html#03

I think the basic answer is that they seek out a challenging and satisfying life. They can get along with people and are generally more emotionally stable.

At Arts&Ideas as well as the Philly Free School, we are working to support those who have low incomes. We have one student who was even homeless for a time this past year. We have parents who have been recently bankrupted, unemployed, etc. We also have some well off parents as well.

For the most part, it is hard to spot the kids that have different backgrounds. Everyone is accepting of others. Sometimes students from challenging backgrounds get stressed out about the insecurity at home and the students around show them compassion and acceptance which goes a long way towards eliminating the stress.

I have never witnessed anyone try to overpower the democracy. It is possible in theory, but it just doesn't seem to happen nor do we have a group of outcasts. Occasionally, someone will dislike something about our system and try to change it in a way that the community would not want. It gets voted down. But by letting the disgruntled have a voice, their disgruntlement seems to dissipate.

There was a time when a group wanted to get a gym bar. They outnumbered everyone else in the room, but through discussion, it was made clear to them that they had to think this through a lot more. They did, came back later, and got it in a way that the community was comfortable with. They did not try to overrule with their numbers.

It can be hard to understand, but when one is in a culture of cooperation instead of competition, winning at the expense of others is not a path often traveled.

There is a lot of reading one can do from Sudbury Valley School. For the low income experience, you can see if Philly Free School has anything. Urban Sudbury Schools are still pretty new so there just isn't too much out there yet about it.

How do parents react if their child doesn't choose to learn academics?

Depends on the parents. Some are okay with it, some try to manipulate their children, some try to manipulate the school.

When parents and school disagree on the degree of autonomy children should have it puts quite some stress on the child. That's why the Sudbury-like school I went to does have a discussion with the parents beforehand on wether this kind of school really is what the parents want for their children.

It is very important for the school to make it clear that this can happen, is likely to happen, and that they need to be okay with that. This can certainly be a deal breaker.

Also a deal breaker is unlimited screen time. Or the freedom to go off-campus (with an age appropriate buddy system). Or any number of other things that giving a human being responsible freedom really means.

It is easy to give freedom to those whose actions you agree with. But that's not really freedom. Being happy with letting people make choices that you strongly disagree with is when you know you truly believe in freedom.

Of course, there are always boundaries to freedoms which is where it gets messy. We base our rules on the good of the community, not the individual. But even that can be abused. It takes honest dialogue to work it all out.

All parents have to face a time when they must let their child be free. We advocate for that being earlier rather than later. Some embrace it, others don't.

What we try to convince parents about is that they can best support their child at our school by enjoying their time with them at home and accepting them for whomever they choose to be that day.

And if a parent is into mathematics, then they should share that joy just as they might share the joy of whittling wood toys because they want to share their passions, not because they want the child to learn those passions.

A lot of parents in this culture have a problem with letting academics be optional. And by academics, I mean mathematics. No one seems to care much about anything else except maybe parents of 5 year olds and reading.

I have years of experience dealing with adults who have been traumatized by math education. They come to me believing they are bad in mathematics, that they cannot handle it. In a single semester, I get them from 7th grade algebra up through calculus and statistics. They start doing guesstimations in their daily lives. The nightmares of the math monster under the bed fade away and they are empowered. So what exactly did their K-12 academic education do for them?

Even the ones who do well, one has to wonder at the spoon-fed nature of traditional teaching. The hard part of learning is not answering the questions, but asking them in the first place and getting started in the right direction. Traditional education sweeps all of that real activity of academics under the rug. They have to. You cannot teach someone those skills. They have to acquire them by their own experiences dealing with their passions and interests. And failure cannot be socially stigmatized.

We want to empower human beings to be their own amazing selves. This is not a message most can embrace, but some do and the results are inspiring.

By the way, about reading, a great article is http://schoolingtheworld.org/a-thousand-rivers/

Thank you, holy crap that's a good article too.

I've also worked a fair amount with "alternative" educational structures, albeit in a different country (France).

In those kind of pedagogies (mostly Freinet for me), the adults ultimately do have a veto power. However, when you give kids responsibility, something funny happens - you find that they tend to become very reasonable, and you very rarely have to use veto power. More often than not, it's more renegotiation ("We can't do that today because of X, but what about tomorrow?") than true veto. And provided that you explain things clearly and don't disregard their intelligence, the kids typically agree readily.

Teenagers can be a little more argumentative, but the group is actually very good at taking care of the teenager or two who like to say dumb things just to create a reaction (one of the many reasons why a lot of Freinet implementations like to start and end each day with a group "forum").

How do you deal with the students who outsmart teachers? A lack of rule sets would seem an open field for students to manipulate the adults in the room.

One of my friend's daughters is vicious at this. At 14, for a "career and personal planning" project, she stated career her goal as "porn star" and somehow wrangled a skype interview with a 19yo "mentor" in the biz. She has no intention on following this path, but loves how it drives teachers up the wall. "If billy can want to be a soldier and kill people, then I should be allowed to pursue my dream too." She's a perfectly normal girl, but once she identifies an authority figure as weak she turns them into toys. Put her in a free environment and I'd expect resignation letters within the week.

I say the girl should be congratulated for her ingenuity. The amount of effort she put into tweaking the teacher's tail is commendable. The real "solution" here is for her to find a mentor who will channel her efforts into more projects that make people think as well as shock them. Sometimes this is risky for the teacher, but god knows we need more critical thinkers.

When I was 14, more than half a century ago, I got into trouble for holding opinions that the people her would consider merely progressive. One of my daughters in high school got into insulting her peer group by using a vocabulary they didnt understand. They thought she was praising them. She is now in her thirties and very well adjusted. If she had done such a thing in middle school, I would have been very amused, but her mother would have been absolutely mortified. Probably best that she didnt.

A good teacher could gainfully discuss the choice. Being a porn star is a short-term career; what are you going to do after 35? It's physically straining and may have health implications. It has image problems: how do you tell your friends, relatives, and kids what's your job about? It requires good physical shape, diets, etc. Is it worth it? If so, how do you pivot? Talking about that with a straight face may be useful for the whole class. (Edit: spelling.)

>> Being a porn star is a short-term career;

It depends. There is a range of approaches. The classic approach, of which I think you are speaking, is indeed very short term. Girls are paid per day/shoot/scene and that's all. Other girls own and operate their own websites, retaining copyrights, and can generate a stream of income over a great many years. There are women out there in their late twenties still releasing "new" material shot while they were 18. Many who opt for this approach don't do sex, or even nudity, and so don't suffer any health repercussions. But that takes planning and a degree of time/money investment.

I wouldn't encourage the career, but I would fault any teacher ready to dismiss the industry. If you ask kids what they want to do, you shouldn't be critical of answers that conflict with your personal morality.

In Sudbury Schools, there are plenty of rules. If a student broke the rules, their would be a jury of their peers and a sentence to follow out. If she wanted to stay at the school, she would accept it all and acclimate. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, sometimes a few months.

Someone who ignores our system of justice would be expelled. It happens.

It all depends on whether she wants to be in this environment or not. Most people want to be, but not all.

If she lasted long enough to understand that she could be heard by being her real self, then she would probably stay. But it can take a long time to get through the toxic layers some students have built up over the years.

>> Someone who ignores our system of justice would be expelled. It happens.

I hope they don't read Lord of the Flies. I'm not sure that I would want a group of teens, especially peers, to judge me on anything. Didn't Trek TOS also cover this in the episode on the planet without adults?

I have seen far more compassion and wisdom from the students on JC than I have when serving jury duty with adults. Reality in this instance speaks better about ourselves than our fiction does.

Keep in mind that your experience is with people who are living in a competitive world. If you belong to a cooperative world, no one benefits by putting someone else down. When treated fairly, they treat others fairly.

For those coming from traditional schools, it sometimes requires a few conversations or JC writeups before they start to have empathy, but most get there fairly quickly.

Lord of the Flies is fiction (and IMO overrated and unbelievable).

You said yourself, she's doing all that precisely because it annoys the teachers. She wouldn't get anything out of it if they weren't trying to stop her.

Moreover, she probably gets social encouragement from her classmates for doing things like this. Put her in an environment where the classmates made the rules, and now she's just a clown surrounded by people rolling their eyes.

Doesn't that lady have a gift worth cultivating? I'm not joking, by the way — finding weak points and exploiting them can make you a good novelist, intelligence officer, crisis manager...

I condole with her teachers, at the same very time.

I think one should congratulate that girl for both identifying vulnerabilities in the egos of adults and for actually finding a real contact in the business. Her argument makes sense, btw: Killing for money is vastly more evil than fucking for money!

On a podcast, a father with a younger daughter kinda dislikes the amount of homework she has to do. Wants to let her have time to be a dumb kid. He tried not bossing her about her homework, told her it was up to her to try. He said she was really on top of it. Managed it quite well.

Does the schools have an entrance examination to see if their teaching methods would be suitable, and therefore, have a better chance of success?

Don't get me wrong, entrance exams for the right reasons are good because it allows for a good fit between student and school. Of course, this assuming that there are more than one style of schooling available.

Are you familiar with Agile Learning Centers? I'd love to hear your thoughts on these. http://agilelearningcenters.org

>They are fully democratic and focus on producing empowered self directed citizens who understand how to share limited resources and cooperate.

The more pertinent question is whether the citizens they produce can read and write, know how to multiply and divide, can name the parts of speech, and have at least a passing notion of the history and culture of their respective countries, regions, and locales.

Somehow, I doubt it.

> The more pertinent question is whether the citizens they produce can read and write, know how to multiply and divide, can name the parts of speech, and have at least a passing notion of the history and culture of their respective countries, regions, and locales.

They learn how to read and write. Children are learning machines. They figure out how to do things that are a lot more complicated than learning how to read and write using an alphabet in a culture saturated with writing. A guy I know here in Shanghai has a Taiwanese mother and an American father. He went to American schools all the way through his education. He can read Chinese perfectly, and write when he's using a phone or computer though his handwriting is quite limited. Another guy I know whose parents speak German to him grew up in Ireland and was educated through English. His spelling and grammar when writing in German is not great but he has never studied German other than as a foreign language for an easy grade, nor has he ever lived in a German speaking country. John Taylor Gatto has written that he can teach a 9 year old to read in 40 contact hours.

People learn to perform quite complicated mathematical operations in the course of their lives, through experience. If you're interested in this there's a lot of research on unschooled children. Street children who buy and sell things learn all the mathematical skills they need in their lives, which is most of what most people need.

Knowing the parts of speech is almost perfectly useless. It has no effect on how well one writes, not even for people who are writing in a language they learned after adolescence. The only things that research shows improving writing are practice and critique.

People learn about their culture by living in it. Ditto for their history. As someone with way above average historical knowledge I can also say that history education through at least middle school is worthless. It's pre digested pap with no acknowledgment of nuance or shades of gray.

> People learn to perform quite complicated mathematical operations in the course of their lives, through experience.

With the greatest of respect, I do not think a child is going to learn significant mathematics beyond arithmetic by "living". Give them a book and an interest? Sure. A little direction and help? Better. But the number of people who can invent calculus from scratch is pretty low.

> most of what most people need


Knowing calculus and linear algebra has been of about as much use to me as my knowledge of history; none bar intellectual satisfaction. I feel the same way about people who force their interests and prejudices on others even when I share those prejudices. Those people are st best obnoxious. I derived neither enjoyment nor any discernible benefit from having to do P.E. in school. I am not in favour of forcing Math or anything else on anybody for whom it holds no interest. If you can't persuade them to learn it it probably isn't something they're ever going to be interested in.

As to your distaste I feel the same way about many, many things but I'm not the one supporting making everybody "learn" things they have neither interest in nor a facility for.

You want to let a 10 year old decide for themselves whether or not they'll want to do any branch of science/Engineering that relies on mathematics at university level?

This is not about forcing an interest, this is about shaping opportunity. The ideal of school is to have provided a well rounded education such that the individual at 16 or 18 can start to make informed decisions about their life.

I get that calculus isn't very useful for the largest proportion of society. I can't remember the last time knowing how to derive the volume of a sphere was useful to me. The concepts, the mode of thought, is useful.

History? Should have been teaching you about sources. Bias. Propaganda. Analysis. Argument. Things you need to learn to be able to generate a position on something in life. I can assure you that my knowledge of medical history through the ages has yet to be useful - but that doesn't mean that what I learned in that class hasn't been?

Maybe I'm wrong, and the rest of the world isn't like me. Maybe the rest of the world are motivated self starters with insatiable curiosity and infinite capacity for broad self directed learning. Me? I'd have picked the couple of things I enjoyed, learned sod all else, and once I realised there were no consequences to slacking off? I'd have done that, heck I did do that.

In other words. Parents make children eat vegetables because we know what is good for them, better than they do at least. Abdicating responsibility for that by passing it off to the child just seems mad

"The ideal of school is to have provided a well rounded education such that the individual at 16 or 18 can start to make informed decisions about their life"

Right on, for example, phys ed. In my school, we had a wide variety of activities over the years. Almost like: here are some physical activities, hope you find one you like so that you can enjoy being healthy.

"History? Should have been teaching you about sources. Bias. Propaganda. Analysis. Argument"

Wow, I always criticize the way history is taught by bringing up Christopher Columbus. They focus on the names of the boats, not the fact that the majority of people, including the leaders of his country, thought he would fall off the world. You brought up an interesting point.

My partner became involved in Montessori a few years ago, and I've been really impressed with how it works.

If you don't know much about Montessori, here is my "in a nutshell" version: It's a method of schooling usually associated with preschool and elementary education. There are mixed age groups (e.g. 3 to 6) in classrooms. There is at least one adult who gives one-on-one lessons on how to work with "materials." The materials do the teaching, not the adult.

There are hundreds of different types of materials. They're designed to teach or exercise a particular skill, but they look like games and are all designed to be "beautiful" as to entice children to them (Montessori is really serious about this; materials are not allowed to be broken or chipped or worn). They follow a particular progression. Children may work with any material for which they've had a lesson. They can work with it as many times as they like.

My favorite example of how Montessori works is how it develops reading skills. First a child is introduced to materials that involve very short crayons - when they use them they strengthen the muscles in their hands. Then they're introduced to letter-tracing materials. Then they're introduced to letter/sound matching materials. Children who follow these lessons wind up writing first, and then reading follows very naturally. The emphasis on developing physical capabilities first really demonstrates the attention to detail that's typical of Montessori.

The math education progression is impressive also. There are materials that have children doing proto-multiplication, exponentiation, algebraic manipulation, and more. My partner developed a material that teaches counting, addition, and subtraction in base 8. (Her 4 and 5-year-olds understood it much more quickly than her colleagues!)

There are parts of the method I don't like (e.g. dogmatic resistance to rewarding performance, for example), but overall it feels like a huge improvement over typical early childhood education.

Alternate pedagogies (Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) seem to work quite well for early childhood education, but I'm very skeptical of them for middle school, and especially high school (what Montessori defines as "3rd stage"). The reason for this is that extremely few people I've met who went to such high schools came out of them with levels in science/math that could be reasonably qualified as decent (and often borderline on catastrophic).

One of the main issues is certainly that some of those pedagogies do have pseudo-science/religion baked in, and they have a hard time ridding themselves from that past (notably Waldorf). Another problem is that the kind of teachers who are attracted to these pedagogies rarely have scientific/mathematical backgrounds, and as a result this aspect of the education suffers. It's a problem that they don't like to talk about.

The hard thing to wrestle with here is that for many scientific disciplines, hardcore reading and memorizing is vastly more efficient than inferring everything from observation and first order principles. Now you don't want to overcorrect and do ~only~ that, but there's a reason medicine students spend many years cramming.

See: "Does Waldorf Offer a Viable Form of Science Education?" http://www.csus.edu/indiv/j/jelinekd/publications/waldorfsci...

I can confirm. Montessori education is great for kids under 12. For middle or high school, it was actually Maria Montessori who said, when asked what she saw as the best education for teenagers, that it was useless to try to force adolescent to concentrate on intellectual work. Instead she recommended an Earth school, where children would live close to nature, eat fresh farm products, and carry on practical work related to the economics of supplying food, shelter, transportation, and so forth.

The Montessori middle- and high schools that currently exist, at least in Europe, do not follow Montessori's advice at all. Instead they have a kind of half hearted mix of regular education with some elements of lower age Montessori, such as more responsibility to make your own homework planning. For many teenagers this is not a good combination and they drop out.

I think you're right, the issue is not that alternative schools can't teach science, it's that often they don't. I have friends who had an alternative education that got almost no maths and science education, but I know of other schools where this is not the case.

My kids go to fitzroy community school, an alternative school that is science friendly (years 0 to 6) http://www.fcs.vic.edu.au/links.php

previous parents from the school started an alternative high school (years 7 to 12) http://www.alia.vic.edu.au/about.php that has a strong maths science programme.

Both schools are very successful, and I think the key aspect is that they have managed to create a culture where the kids accept that they will have to do things that are tough, like run laps around the oval in the rain or grind their way through maths problems to achieve what they want, but this happens in an emotionally supportive environment.

The kids seem to work harder physically and mentally than kids at any primary (elementary) school I've seen in this country, but they also really look after each other.

extremely few people I've met who went to such high schools came out of them with levels in science/math that could be reasonably qualified as decent

Hi, nice to know you. Montessori-educated until University here. Even in high school, it's all about the learning material: as long as the teachers were skilled enough to make me interested in the subject, there was hardly any limit to what I could take in. I left school with high marks across the board, with five languages and all STEM subjects except biology (because I hated the learning material with a passion).

That said, my parents encouraged the same at home so it's not just my school: I wrote my first BASIC program with my father when I was nine, and there was a surplus of construction toys (Lego, Mecano, electric science kits) at home as well.

(edit: I'm not familiar with official "Montessori" policy on high schools, but I want to add that our school roster was partly free: we had a number of mandatory class hours for each subject, but were expected to spend more time in school than just our roster: all teachers had "open hours", which you could use to get additional mentoring from the teacher, peers or sometimes senior year students)

> Montessori is really serious about this; materials are not allowed to be broken or chipped or worn

This is a traditional pseudoscientific gimmick to drive sales revenue.

In the real world, children are enticed by non-new and broken things just fine... until their parents, competitive peers, TV, or lovers insist they be more materialistic and wealthy signalling.

Citation needed? I'm just describing the Montessori method, which was developed in the early 1900s. But maybe they were driving "sales revenue" then also?

"In the real world, children are enticed by non-new and broken things just fine... until their parents, competitive peers, TV, or lovers insist they be more materialistic and wealthy signalling."

Tamana is describing a behavior known to anyone who have ever watched children play or explore the world. They start out interested in all kinds of stuff regardless if it's shiny or in perfect condition. Later, after much cultural conditioning, they might become adults who aren't interested in such things. The change is conditioned into them overtime. So, focusing on such attributes when training children is unnecessary given it's crap adults make up. If anything, children having some of their best experiences with heirlooms of varying quality might make them prefer such things in the future due to the mental association. So, Montessori method promoters themselves need to show some citations for making that a requirement.

Meanwhile, that should probably be stripped out of the method given there's no hard science backing it as necessary for children's learning. As I illustrated, it's even potentially harmful in predisposing them toward specific aesthetics and disposable goods.

Do you have kids? My toddler won't even eat a cookie that has a corner broken off.

I help raise many of them. They're picky on some things but not on others. Keeping them from grabbing and playing with stuff or going into random places is work. All of them, despite many dissimilar bloodlines, seem to have in common the willingness to explore something once motivated. It doesn't need to look perfect to motivate them although certain things seem to evoke a negative reaction. Greens on a plate or scary-looking insects come to mind. Exposure reduces this.

You can use aesthetics as a motivator for children. However, it being mandatory for anything they benefit from could make them very superficial. Show them something shiny they'll enjoy. Also, show them a worn-out book that has something they'll enjoy or learn from. Do both. Get them to focus on what something is rather than just appears to be.

Awesome, my kids would take the cookie out of my mouth as I chew it. I put that down mainly to nurture.

IME toddlers will refuse to touch something almost perfect aesthetically then pick up something else out of the dirt, a worm maybe, and pop that in their mouth.

Not sure we should be modeling pedagogies to foster toddler temperamentalility.

Why on earth would intorture myself by teaching my toddler to expect perfect cookies?

> Why on earth would intorture myself by teaching my toddler to expect perfect cookies?

You're not doing it intentionally or consciously. Children form habits from imitation – "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't really work for them.

They also are fantastic at picking up social cues from their environment, especially as toddlers. That includes media as well as strangers and family. These cues can be really subtle.

When my little sister was a toddler she would eat dirt, dead wasps and generally everything unable to outrun her.

Do you ensure your toddler gets perfect cookies, or do you wait it out until she relents?

Well, the early 1900s wasn't exactly an utopian golden age where people were not interested about stuff like sales revenue.

Do especially 'beautiful' items really entice children better compared to, well, maybe bit worn but in good condition and definitely not broken or dirty items, or utilitarian mechanical things that are in prime condition but designed the function, not looks, in mind?

I mean, many children are absolutely enticed by garbage trucks and tractors and stuff like that.

I went to a Montessori Kindergarten as a child. I think it was good, but I do not remember much anymore. I remember all the toys and other things that taught me reading, counting, fine motor skills etc.

If you think it was good, it probably was - all I remember about traditional kindergarten was hating it.

I was so bored in kindergarten that I barely participated at all. When it was over, the teachers thought I must be slow so I should be held back and do it all again. Thankfully my mother knew it was because I was bored out of my mind and fought to prevent that.

I went to a Waldorf kindergarten. I have no negative memories of it, but my mother assures me that I hated it. I suspect that she hated it on my behalf.

That said, they apparently voiced strong disapproval of the fact that I could already read, so it's not something I could actually recommend. It probably just didn't come through to the small me.

> That said, they apparently voiced strong disapproval of the fact that I could already read

Strange, I had the same experience in a public kindergarten. I never understood that attitude. I could read at a 5th grade level in kindergarten, but that was treated as an evil thing by the teachers because the material they were trying to teach was far below me. I suppose I can understand that in retrospect now that I think about it though, it must be frustrating to have a kindergartener who doesn't bother listening to a teacher teaching the alphabet, but doesn't even know how to tie their shoes so there's no possible way they could be skipped ahead.

Waldorf education assumes, for completely unscientific reasons that are about as reasonable as homeopathy, that children go through fairly specific phases at fairly specific ages. Based on that belief certain things are taught at specific ages in specific ways. Any deviation from that is seen as harmful to a child's development.

So, their disapproval is not strange at all, it's completely consistent with their view, which is that teaching children younger than 7 about abstract things like reading is harmful.

What is strange is that Waldorf is still a thing. I strongly suspect that a large number of people sending their children to these schools would've never done so, if they were introduced to the theory behind them in detail beforehand. It's certainly not the place to send a child, if you dislike the cookie cutter approach of public school systems, as Waldorf schools are even worse in that respect.

My son is in a Waldorf kindergarten. He loves it, especially the silly little rituals. I think of it as a trade-off. Most of the ideas Rudolf Steiner had are harmless, at least in the way they are practiced today, but others are clearly beneficial. Either that, or they attract teachers who spend more time reflecting on what's good for the children, as opposed to how to put some specific knowledge into their heads.

I can, however, understand where your condescending attitude comes from. I used to wonder why churches and clerics were still a thing. Until someone from my family ended up in the local church council, and it sort of dawned on me, that actually, you do not need science to do a lot of things right. You can come from a down-right anti-scientific base and still be more skilled - scientifically better - at something than someone who doesn't believe in anything but quantum mechanics.

Of course they can do well and even better for some students. You shouldn't ignore why that is though. They are at an advantage because their students that are incredibly privileged. Steiner also made rather obvious improvements on the status quo but that doesn't mean he has found an optimal solution, if such a thing exists for pedagogy.

Waldorf education has turned Steiner's ideas into an ideology and the movement is unable to reflect on what it's doing, why and that it might be wrong. This creates a culture that, just like religion, is fixed and cannot change without conflict.

Science doesn't have that problem, the culture around it embraces change and improvement. An education policy that truly takes advantage of that, will eventually lead to institutions that outperform alternative ones like Waldorf schools.

Those injection molded plastic beds for the kids to sleep in.

I remember reading that when you compare the development of a child that went to a regular school vs. Montessori the results are the same.

Something in Freakanomics kids with parents that care enough about their education, did "better" regardless of being selected for in the charter school lottery.

Wonder if that is correlated.


Kids at special schools, and even some 'home schooled' kids - have parents who obviously care a lot about their kids education. Compare that to parents who don't care at all - or worse - are toxic.

I suggest having a 'positive and balanced home life' with parents who take an active interest in their child's life is 2x as important as the school they go to.

While not scientific, my best friend had a boy when he was in his 20's. He was in constant conflict with her and the son was caught in the middle. He's had a tough life and struggled academically until he finally graduated high school.

Fast forward a decade or so and he finally settles down and him and his wife have a daughter. Both of them hold masters degrees and since she's an only child, reading, writing and math were constants during her early development. She loves to learn and is in a language immersion school and has done very well in school.

Yes, there are a ton of factors involved that could explain the difference - a relatively perfect situation (two parent home, parents put time into teaching) with a terrible one (one parent home, bad relationships, no focus on education) but it is interesting to note the differences in the kids attitudes towards learning in each situation.

That's quite surprising, given how different the methods are. What about a control group that received no schooling?

Unschooler here. I am the only unschooler from my 12 person cohort of hippie parents who did not go to University. And I am doing okay. So I think school basically has no effect. Mostly just daycare. It is good at that, though.

Sounds like your cohort was great. There was an "unschooled" girl in my college friend group who was failing remedial math and science classes in her third year. She never wanted to learn basic mathematics (we're talking long division here), so she never did, and she did not understand how to motivate herself to learn about something she wasn't already interested in. She didn't end up graduating despite the small, private school bending over backwards to try to accommodate her with personal tutoring and endlessly lengthening deadlines. She was first chair violin and had an almost full ride scholarship because of it, so she didn't lack motivation in general she just could not bring herself to care about math or science even when her degree was on the line.

That's the value school has. It teaches you how to learn about things you might not be interested in, but will be useful later in life.

Hope many times do you think the subject of your comment needed to use long division "later in life"?

I found it useful as a foundation to understand rationalising algebraic fractions; but outside that I've probably only used it a few times, none of which would have been essential.

What was her degree? Demanding maths when it's not needed by practitioners in a degree subject area seems perverse to me [I love maths FWIW].

>>What was her degree? Demanding maths when it's not needed by practitioners in a degree subject area seems perverse to me [I love maths FWIW].

Degree is inconsequential. I'd say "if she is a human, she will do better by learning math rather than not doing it."

How so?

Maths is more about "thinking creatively, clearly and critically about things that are complex and abstract" rather than about doing "arithmetic". And I guess, "thinking creatively, clearly and critically about things that are complex and abstract" is a very essential thing in human life. The entire human progress depended upon this skill and in fact, the very survival of humans depended upon this skill in the earlier world which was very hostile for humans.

Now coming back to the issue of having to do long division in early childhood: yes, it may be the case that you don't need to do long division (later) in your life even for once. Long division may not be that important but the concept of division (and remainder) is very important in our life.

Why is it important to learn division along many other complex (boring) topics in math? It's to hone your skills to "think creatively, clearly and critically about things that are complex and abstract".

Proofs in geometry and algebra help you more in this conquest. Sadly, most mainstream schools these days take out the creative challenges and motivational aspects from the math education and stuff it with mundane procedures to be followed like rituals. Sadly again, the much-tauted non-standard schools (like Waldorf, Sudbury etc) do away with the math almost entirely and which is very detrimental to academic progress of the kids.

edit: corrected some grammatical errors.

I agree with the thrust of your comment, I'm not arguing that maths isn't worthwhile, that it doesn't develop critical thinking skills, push the capabilities of the brain. Neither am I arguing that you should hold back on teaching younger children basic skills, even if it's outside their core competencies and outside their natural area of focus (all that changes quite fluidly when you're young).

What I am trying to say is that at degree level, if you're mastering a field that has no intrinsic core mathematical content that you should be able to get certified in those abilities separate to maths ability. If an employer needs/desires a student to have mathematics abilities then they can request a certificate to demonstrate that.

Suppose things worked the other way and science majors had to produce a paper on Chaucer and Puritanism in order to graduate? Whilst IMO that wouldn't be a wasted educational experience, would be mind expanding, it's pretty orthogonal to the skills one needs as, say, an astrogeologist.

TL;DR more carrot, less stick.

> That's the value school has

When you say value, are you talking about the economic type? Because Susie here is probably better off focusing on her music career than learning long division.

I don't see how you can analyze value without quantifying cost and benefit. Even if a better method existed you'd have no way of knowing - especially without more experiments and bigger data sets.

I would agree if she didn't want to learn calculus or linear algebra, but I think long division is a pretty fundamental skill in today's world. How much is my monthly car payment going to be if I take this loan? What is my share of the rent in this house? What are the consequences of running up a credit card balance?

No, sorry it's not a fundamental skill in the least. It's a method for dividing on paper. In 37 years I've never used it outside of school as I have calculator in my pocket as does everyone else (smartphone obviously). Furthermore, "In the United States, long division has been especially targeted for de-emphasis, or even elimination from the school curriculum..." according to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_division

To clarify even though it's probably too late. She couldn't do division or multiplication of any size in her head, and was fuzzy on what occasions to use them in. For example, if you said "pay me back over 3 years for this $30,000 car", she might first multiply it by 3, get a very large number and then try dividing it and decide that's the right answer.

People are getting hung up on the fact that I said "long division" but it was basically anything beyond addition and subtraction.

You are right, long division is not very fundamental but the concept of division is.

I have addressed this issue in a comment in a thread here [1].

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12034345

The flipped perspective is that she's clearly a talented, competent person who can succeed—the fact that she didn't says more about how the school system defines success than it does about her. Hell, who's more likely to end up doing something great: her or somebody who fills out the minimum requirements exactly but nothing more? Even if they manage to learn long division and she doesn't?

Besides, it's not like many of the people who did manage to pass their math classes actually learned it all that well. I bet if you took random adults and asked them to solve long division problems, a sizable fraction wouldn't be able to do it. They just figured out how to put in enough work to jump through the right hoops and get out of the school system.

Personally I'd much rather have an education system flexible enough to motivate and engage students like her (even if that means skimping on basic math) than systems which try to force everyone down the same path regardless of how well it fits them.

To be clear, I absolutely think math is important. If anything, I think mathematical thinking is one of the most important skills you can learn. (Not that high school math is any good at actually imparting it.) And I even think I presented a false dichotomy above: you don't have to skimp on math to motivate students not interested in it, you could also just do a better job teaching. (But that's hard, of course!) If that was the choice, though, I'd rather not worry about a minimum amount of math, especially for students who clearly have lots of other things going for them.

She works at Trader Joes and has for four years now and is in severe credit card debt. Not to say that being bad at math makes you more likely to get into debt but not understanding compound interest or even percentages certainly makes it harder to understand the ramifications of it.

That also sounds like your typical, "genius" who excels at one thing, but finds frustration in other subjects that aren't as easy to pick up.

Still. You would think that there would be a correlation between music proficiency and maths.

"Because I absolutely had to", is a pretty good motivator. I've lost a lot in life, and had little support:

"Why did you start a business at 20?"

"Because I absolutely had to."

Why on Earth would there be a correlation between music proficiency and maths? Math involves no musical skill, and music only involves mathematics because mathematics is abstract enough to apply to literally every human discipline. Music is probably one of the places where math is used the least.

Surely you must be joking. You can't play music without counting.


"Mathematics, especially, are aided by music education because it targets a very specific set of brain activity: the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Highly developed spatial-temporal faculties are imperative for working through solutions to the complex problems in fields such as architecture, engineering, science and, obviously, mathematics — fields that our country desperately needs more children to pursue if we're to remain competitive in a globalized economy."

> You can't play music without counting.

This is something that I recently was amazed by. I had a friend play 140 [1] and found that he struggled with many of the advanced puzzles even after being instructed to count the beats of the music. For some reason, it was very hard for him to multitask the movement of his character with the counting of the beats.

Now that I think about it, it's quite obvious that this would come to me easily, since I played the piano for over 10 years.

[1] A platformer game where you have to time your movements to the background music. It's really cool and polished and you should check it out; it's on Steam for a few bucks.

You can't do anything without counting. And I've met plenty of mathematically incompetent musicians. Enough so that I'd say the more accomplished of a musician you are, the less accomplished of a mathematician you'll probably be.

Lots of genres involve math compositionally, and some for performance - mathrock, jazz, some classical compositions, even pop music, it's definitely necessary to properly comprehend a piece. Let alone if you're going to try anything with polyrhythms, tackle anything beyond basic harmonic theory, or have an interest in understanding the physics behind sound..

Those are some vague claims that I don't see any evidence for. I have not seen any part of music theory that requires anything more than basic fractions, and the vast majority of music that people write doesn't even require much of that.

> Music is probably one of the places where math is used the least.

As a musician, I disagree with this rather strongly. Math underpins music in pretty much every aspect. Even a beginner musician will end up needing to know basic fractional arithmetic (since note lengths are represented as fractions or multiples of a "beat" length, and said "beat" is in turn usually notated as a fraction of a minute). So if you can read music even at a basic level, you're using math constantly, even if it's notated using dots and stems instead of (or in addition to) numbers.

This isn't even going into some more advanced topics of music theory, like the wavelength ratios between notes in a scale/chord, the difference between "just" and "tempered" tuning, how resonance works and why some notes on some instruments resonate differently than other notes on other instruments, etc.

Correlation doesn't imply that every single one who is good at music is good at math.

Sounds like a failure of research and planning on her part and on the part of her parents. There are universities which have no core curriculum nor any general education/breadth requirements. I believe Olin college fits the bill.

How would you know what you don't know, though? Or what you never experienced or could have experienced?

Genuine question, just curious how anyone firmly on the "schooler" or "unschooler" side of the fence can know without some kind of external reference, particularly one which they themselves didn't choose in case of bias.

The assumption is that if there is something you need to know and you encounter a situation that requires it, you can learn it. And if it turns out you do not need it, you saved the time. Further, formal instruction only works for some types of people, albeit probably most. Synthesis from learning when you are interested tends to be more useful than memorization. The experienced part is the scary one, although in terms of spending time with peers, doing sports, art, etc. we did not really miss out on that.

> and you encounter a situation that requires it, you can learn it

Which is perfectly fine as long as you know what that "it" is, which assumes a base-level familiarity with subject X.

The problem cases I can imagine are ones where you don't have the base familiarity, or in other words the cases where you don't know what you don't know (as opposed to knowing what you don't know and where to look for the answers).

This is the case that I see leading towards the so-called "expert beginner" stage of understanding.

I'd imagine that if you can describe a problem, Googling can give you a name for the problem, with which you can google for more formal introductions to the topic (articles, papers, texts, etc). Recursive Googling is a solution to an awful lot of problems in 2016.

Anecdata, unfortunately.

Not that surprising when you consider that education may be more about the overall physical & social environment than the specific method. Despite the current fashion of doing a lot of hand-wringing over the fine points, kids are surprisingly indestructible and will generally turn out pretty well if the environment is basically sound or even if it's not-so. This is consistent with millions of years of evolution during which there was no institutional education at all. Basically a child learns the truth about whatever environment they're in, and adapts to it. So yeah, there are for example, truly fucked-up environments where a kid learns all the wrong lessons about life... but notice, they do learn them. To the degree that they manage to find similarly fucked-up environments to inhabit as adults (criminal gangs let's say) they will thrive. Meanwhile if a child is in an environment where there is mutual concern/care and a curiosity for learning, they will learn and adapt to that. Adults don't make that learning happen though; they only create the environment. They have some control but not nearly as much as they think. The point of Montessori seems to be to explicitly take the adults out of the picture a little bit more, which is just acknowledging reality - they're already mostly out of the picture. EXCEPT in their capacity as establishers of the overall environment, and I don't see nearly as much variation there.

Why should it be surprising? We're evolved to develop at about the same rate.


" Year after year, Rasfeld’s institution ends up with the best grades among Berlin’s gesamtschulen, or comprehensive schools, which combine all three school forms of Germany’s tertiary system. Last year’s school leavers achieved an average grade of 2.0, the equivalent of a straight B – even though 40% of the year had been advised not to continue to abitur, the German equivalent of A-levels, before they joined the school. Having opened in 2007 with just 16 students, the school now operates at full capacity, with 500 pupils and long waiting lists for new applicants.

Given its word-of-mouth success, it is little wonder that there have been calls for Rasfeld’s approach to go nationwide. Yet some educational experts question whether the school’s methods can easily be exported: in Berlin, they say, the school can draw the most promising applicants from well-off and progressive families. Rasfeld rejects such criticisms, insisting that the school aims for a heterogenous mix of students from different backgrounds. While a cross adorns the assembly hall and each school day starts with worship, only one-third of current pupils are baptised. Thirty per cent of students have a migrant background and 7% are from households where no German is spoken."

OK, Rasfeld. If you believe you are working this magic with normal students, switch to lottery admissions, and provide pre-admission grades, IQ scores, parental incomes or language or country of origin, and we'll see how much of that outperformance remains after controlling for baseline characteristics and comparing the lottery winners with losers...

Minor nitpick: "evangelical" is a bad translation of the German "evangelisch" (at least in the sense that many Americans think of "evangelical"). In the German context, this is better glossed as simply "Protestant".

(And the German protestant church, at least here in Berlin, is a vastly more liberal and progressive organization than one would imagine if you grew up in the American south like I did.)

Translating back, German for evangelical would be evangelikal, not evangelisch.

Every time I come home from a mind-numbing eight-hour Scrum meeting, I feel frustrated for having accomplished absolutely nothing. Then I realise that this is what school was like, every single day.

I'm sure some people prefer to be force-fed instead of learning on their own, but self-organised schools as in the OP should at least be an option for people who know what they want.

"eight-hour Scrum meeting"

Why are you having an eight hour Scrum meeting?

Isn't that the complete opposite of what a Scrum meeting is supposed to be? 15 minute max, standup meeting is a Scrum.

It could be the sprint planning meeting. Eight hours is even the figure given here, for a one-month sprint: http://www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guide.html#events-planning

These days anyone with a few free hours and a month can become a "certified Scrum master." Scrum and Agile are mostly cargo cult imitations of the real methods these days.

To be clear, I find all eight-hour meetings exhausting, be it at work, making plans for Christmas, or sitting through school. Mentioning Scrum was a red herring in this thread, but a very effective one(?!) :)

I guess our meta-problem is that Scrum was a buzzword-based requirement chosen by non-programmers, so we naturally have programmers subverting the process out of spite, lots of politics and distrust, and inexperienced folks managing the whole thing in a horribly broken JIRA installation (what else?).

As a result, our development team is _really_ far behind on a huge backlog of very fuzzy stories. If you realise in a meeting that you've misunderstood key requirements, there's no point going back to building the wrong thing after the time-box ends. You have to come up with a new plan, and at the same time you need to make it fit into the desired Scrum schedule, and don't break that burn-down chart or JIRA, ...

Of course, at that point it is not really a Scrum meeting anymore.

> horribly broken JIRA installation

That's the first thing I'd scrap. Software to control the process doesn't help unless the team understands and wants the process, otherwise it's just an annoyance.

My path towards Scrum started after a pointless and long meeting. I found some coloured memo squares and some drawing pins, and cleared everything from an old noticeboard. (This is nicer than using post-it notes on a whiteboard.)

I copied out the tasks, making a rough go at splitting them into reasonably-sized things, and making my own estimates in days. I made "backlog", "this week" and "completed" columns.

The resulting mess showed that the project wasn't under control, which itself was valuable. The PM and the 'customer' were then able to ditch half the requirements, and the developers could concentrate on the highest priority tasks.

This wasn't Scrum, but it worked well, and led to buy-in from almost everyone that we should try Scrum.

(The most important things I missed on the first go: acceptance criteria and team estimation.)

I've been involved in Scrum that became that or during crunch time somebody gets a stupid idea that there should be one at the beginning and another at the end of the day.

15 minutes really should be an absolute max as in after 15 minutes everybody just leaves regardless of how late you started. In fact you should have no more than 50 minutes per 5-day week for scrums so that anything going over 10 minutes starts counting against the rest of the week. I call them roll-under minutes.

Too often the team gets too big or unnecessary meeting jockeys start attending and it all goes to hell.

If you're talking about sprint planning that sounds like you must have one month sprints and you should probably cut that down to something shorter. I've found 2 weeks to be the most effective. If you don't have one months sprints and still have a 8 hour meeting than your scrum master is not doing their job.

Also, I would hope that you at least come out of the meeting with point values on all your stories for the next sprint and a defined sprint backlog. With each story having clear definable completion criteria and clear consensus around what the goal of the story is. If you are, that doesn't sound like a waste of time. If you aren't... back to your scrum master and their job.

If you're talking about the actually daily scrum meeting... get out of there as fast as you can. I've seem meetings go a few minutes long but that is 7 hours and 45 minutes too long. We get upset when our meetings are longer than 8 minutes for a 10 person team.

Why are you allowing this eight-hour meeting to happen? Where is your feedback mechanism?

I work as a freelance developer/consultant for several clients, and giving feedback with no regards for hierarchy or my own future is awesome. So my job definitely beats school.

I still need to sit through a few dumb meetings before I can give feedback, though, and even then it doesn't always work.

> eight-hour Scrum meeting

holy cow, is that a real thing? I feel like that's a contradiction in terms. Our sprint meetings and daily standups have slowly decreased in length based on perceived utility, to the point where they are now just a message dump in slack.

Funny you should say this. We have a mixed "agile" set of teams where I am; some are pure scrum, some more Kanban. This article reminds of the same discussions had at work of those 2 styles.

Education is extremely political. It's not that we can't come up with better ways of occupying school-age children. Montessori has been around since the early 1900s!

The problem is convincing everyone they need to adopt a new method. Which is absolutely completely politically impossible compared to making small tweaks to the system already present.

Nobody is going to turn education upside down. Ever.

Why does everyone need to adopt a new method? There can be multiple approaches run side-by-side, the results are publicly available, parents can make an informed decision.

At least, that's the situation in Germany: There are Montessori schools, Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) schools and various others. The thing is, most of these schools have a foundation in bullshit theories or religion. I think the fact that children have to start each day with prayer at the school in question needs to be highlighted more.

The comparably good results could equally-well be explained with the fact that the pupils at these schools are predominantly from well-to-do or at least education-oriented families. Neither the teachers nor the pupils face the same socio-economic pressures as they would in the public school system.

This comment triggers me. It touches stuff I've been thinking about a lot recently.

> The problem is convincing everyone they need to adopt a new method. Which is absolutely completely politically impossible compared to making small tweaks to the system already present.

Indeed. From experience I know that tweaks and improvements are always the way to go for management people. Did they greenlight something that didn't work? 98% of the students hated it (this happened at our school)? Do you think they reverted it? No, forget it, we need to "improve" it!

The only way to get rid of something existing, is to propose something new. If you want a new school, don't call it a "new school", that would be drastically changing and "who says it's as good as the old system? Can we prove that?" No. You'd need to call it "a new form of education", but without even calling it education. It seems old concepts can only be changed by not mentioning that they're an upgrade to an old concept.

Then again, ever is a long time and what is impossible on one timescale becomes possible on another. If modern society does not succeed in drastically reforming the education system with which it has ended up, it will die off and be replaced by a different kind of society, so either way, education will indeed be turned upside down; the open questions are just the when and how.

That is very true. I wish there were more possibilities for experimental school programs in my country (either private or public). The problem is that many people have an idea about how ALL schools should work, and they try to push a change for ALL schools. Evolution of schooling would be easier if there was more variation of schooling methods and some type of 'natural' societal selection.

"Nobody is going to turn education upside down. Ever."

It's arguable that there really isn't that-that much difference between the programs.

Teacher -> classroom -> students -> core subjects.

Yada yada.

Motivated students, good family life, supportive parents and peers are just as important as anything.

The bottom line is: how well do these "progressive ideas" work in practice? I couldn't find much evidence online that they're more effective in general than the "traditional" approach.

I have been a college professor for 7 years, here's what I have been able to PERSONALLY observe in that time:

(1) Frequent, regular feedback (quizzes, tests, homeworks, projects) helps a lot for most students. If you just have a final at the end the majority of students will finish the course having learned a lot less.

(2) Obviously students learn more when they're personally engaged and interested in a topic rather from just doing it to get a grade. But getting them excited is not obvious and engagement varies in predictable ways based on previous background knowledge and aptitude for the subject. A lot of the extra effort a teacher does is ultimately to try to get students more excited about a subject.

(3) One on one time with a teacher students can be very helpful. It will almost certainly produce a noticeable improvement in subject understanding, particularly for those students who are motivated but struggling a little bit. Unfortunately this requires a lot of time from the professor, so it's not really practical except with small classes and a small teaching load.

It's likely that older collage-aged people will learn differently than primary school children. In fact it may be too late to try self-directed learning, which has been trained out of them?

> The pupils decide which subjects they want to study for each lesson and when they want to take an exam.

So the student learns what they want to learn when they want to learn it. The student focuses on a subject when the brain is ready and interested. Sounds efficient.

OTOH, one of the really valuable things about a curriculum is that it serves as a guide to a complex and bewildering subject.

A curriculum, at its best, is like a highly knowledgeable person telling a novice: "Study these nineteen subtopics and you'll grasp this field pretty quickly. If you study these other nineteen subtopics, you'll just waste a year of your time and never really get a clue." Which also sounds efficient.

How to reconcile?

as Platz already pointed out

> Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”.

Also, there is some accountability in the system. That means there should be some scale to determine if the student has met the required work for the week.

> Rasfeld’s institution tries to embed student self-determination within a relatively strict system of rules. Students who dawdle during lessons have to come into school on Saturday morning to catch up, a punishment known as “silentium”. “The more freedom you have, the more structure you need,” says Rasfeld.


Here is a link on their website on learning guidance. It is google translation of their german link. So it is a bit hard to follow.


This seems quite the opposite of the headline?

What I'd like to see is a completely opt-in curriculum with introductory classes and transparent requirements. Simultaneous dense "civil education" class focusing on the specific applications of fields to everyday life. Teachers would only have interested students by definition, so they could offer more in-depth classes.

I wish somebody would try it. Nobody needs to know sines and cosines, and somebody who doesn't care about math is not going to appreciate being forced to learn. Conversely, everybody should understand percentages, calculating interest, etc. So the idea is, you'd run a "civil education" class around 8-9am, which would focus on a wide spread of practically applicable and necessary skills. Then there'd be regular "introductory classes" for each course, which would present the premise of a course, the requirements, and an overview of the topics covered, and further specializations and occupations the skill was necessary for. Then the rest of the school day would be opt-in classes.

The premise here is that people don't retain knowledge from classes they don't care about anyways. I don't know if that generalizes; that would be the main point of critique for this approach. I think traditional schooling is based on the premise that you can force kids to learn. I've never seen any evidence or long-term studies to support this claim.

The problem with completely opt-in is that kids dont know what they'll like until they try it, and if they can opt out of anything difficult, many will learn almost nothing.

> don't know what they'll like until they try it

The intro classes are mandatory. (They're also short.)

> if they can opt out of anything difficult, many will learn almost nothing.

I'm not convinced they learn anything long-term as it stands. Do you have data on this?

I am pretty sure that those who become familiar with sines and cosines will be better at understanding percentages and calculcating interests. Alas, too many underestimate the importance of broad knowledge base, patterns and building blocks.

I don't see your proposed mechanism of action.

> Set subjects are limited to maths, German, English and social studies, supplemented by more abstract courses such as “responsibility” and “challenge”

I'm not sure this would work for college freshmen (i.e. "fields"), but they seem to have limited the scope enough here.

> Year after year, Rasfeld’s institution ends up with the best grades among Berlin’s gesamtschulen, or comprehensive schools, ...

So there are still grades, or at least someone is still testing the kids. This isn't utopia yet.

>> each school day starts with worship.

Sorry. Game over imho. I am not so put off by the specifics of the religion, but by its presence muddying the academic waters. A school religion means a distinct value system, and associated enforcement mechanisms, over and above what is available at standard public schools. That means the academic achievements of this school may not be applicable as the school's faith may be playing a large role in student motivation.

I once read a paper on whether Hogwarts was a faith school. The theory went that faith schools are characterized by the fact that teachers double as faith leaders, as teachers of morality and dogma, something that does occur at Hogwarts. This motivates students in a manner not available where there isn't religious commonality between students and teachers. The problem is that the scheme breaks down once the kids realize their teachers are but human, flawed and sinful as anyone else. Let's call that the Krabappel effect. Then the religion becomes a reason to distrust teachers, to break ranks even work against them ... like at hogwarts.


As I am not allowed to reply (thanks for that btw) I'll edit in my reply here.

My comment above is not to whether religion is a good/bad thing, but to the fact that the presence of religion at this school makes it less likely that its results can be replicated at other schools with either different or no religion present.

I am not at all religious and never will be, but I wouldn't particularly care if my child went to a school that had worship every day. The point of Montessori schools is hands on learning and teaching and providing diversity of learning. Exposure to a benign faith and the beliefs that others hold, even if you don't hold them yourself, isn't harmful. Look at the effects of Catholic schools - the vast majority of people who I knew that graduated from one were very non-religious.

I went to catholic school for eight years and came out as a hardcore atheist. I don't think that's uncommon. A good education will undermine whatever superstitious nonsense that goes along for the ride eventually.

An obligatory reference:

A. S. Neill "Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing" (1960), especially chapter 1 (about the Summerhill school itself). The schools started in 1920s, and sadly, we made no progress in that direction in the last century.

Link: https://trisquel.info/files/summerhill-english_1.pdf

You're very right that our school system as a whole hasn't made any progress in that direction, but I do find it a somewhat hopeful sign that there are now quite a number of democratic schools based on Summerhill and the similar Sudbury model. 40 or so Sudbury schools (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Sudbury_schools), probably a hundred or more under the loose umbrella of "democratic" and associated with AERO.

It really comes down to the children. If they have a lot of selfdisciplin it's great if not they are better off at more strict schools.

At the end of the day though, parents and their indirect involvement is the key to a proper education no matter what educational philosophy one follows.

Everyone has self-discipline in some form or another. After observing the difference between children who have been unschooled and children who have been schooled, I would say that children are naturally disciplined (to follow their interests), and then become disinterested when the power to learn is taken out of their hands.

Not everyone have self-discipline in the way that it's needed to be able to want to learn at your own free will. There are plenty of examples of that from failed "hippie" schools of the 70ties I know a few of them.

I went to a Montessori school for a while. Much like what is described here. For me it was fantastic and I sometimes lightly regret not continuing in high school due to (minor) practical obstacles. That said, I believe these types of systems are definitely not for everyone. Lots of kids are probably better off with a bit of structure and imposed discipline.

Yes, there are definitely some children that this method of teaching is not suited to. Some children lack the drive to find things of interest, and according to the Montessori method, they should not be "pushed" (I use this term very broadly). At the point when they leave Montessori school, these children can be very ill-equipped in relation to their peers and "behind the curve". With some more discipline and structure, this could be avoided.

But, if you fit the right profile, its leaps and bounds ahead of mainstream education during the early years.

My wife is a Montessori teacher.

I have to say I'm of the opinion that modern education is terribly inefficient, and to back my claim I offer that most people who are any good get there not by following a curriculum but by having an interest which they explore on their own. But that's just on the supposed goals of education. I feel the important achievement of modern school systems is the obedience of the populace, which from a historical perspective is quite a feat really, if far from their professed aim.

I think history might refute your claims.

A) Teaching methods haven't changed that much in centuries, millennia, arguably, and they are quite similar across civilizations and cultures, and they do effectively well.

B) People are more 'free' today than they have ever been in history in terms of ideas, ideals, choices, opportunities.

80 years ago you would have been expected to serve in the Army, 50 years ago - at least the draft. Most teens nowadays wouldn't even contemplate doing something remotely 'selfless' unless it was padding their resume.

So I can't help but to balk at your claim that people are 'obedient' now.

Have a look at a 'soup kitchen' line up from 1929: even the unemployed and homeless all wore suits, proper overcoats and hats. They dressed with more established decorum than Mark Zuckerberg Billionaire. I'm not saying it's right/wrong, better/worse - but I don't think it's possible to say that people today are more conformist.

We school-educated people associate learning with authority and it's hard for us to truly grasp that education takes place most efficiently under conditions of freedom. Repealing Hitler's 1938 law against home education would be an important step for Germany.

Mandatory schooling is much much older in Germany, see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schulpflicht_(Deutschland) (in German). It was part of the Weimarer Verfassung of 1919: http://www.verfassungen.de/de/de19-33/verf19.htm (Art.145). In some parts, mandatory schooling laws were first passed in 1592; Prussia in 1717/1763, Bavaria 1802, Saxony 1835, etc. There's really no need to bring up Hitler in every article that mentions Germany.

That's interesting. Why was the 1938 law introduced?

Pretty sure Hitler didn't want anyone to get any ideas about resistance or opposition

I disagree. We associate schooling with authority. Learning may or may not co-occur with schooling depending on circumstances.

There is only a focus on "learning" until maybe 5th grade. What you do in school after that isn't making sure you learn so much as making sure you know a base set of things.

Thereafter there tend to be two types of successful students: the ones that chase A-grades ("good students"), and the ones who settle for somewhere around or just above B-grades but explore the material more freely. The key distinctions between those groups have been, in my experience, respect for authority and self discipline.

Later in life they seem to correlate with two common tropes: the person who is not superficially brilliant but can apply themselves to something for long periods of time and "just get it done", and something akin to the hacker trope: clearly intelligent, capriciously disorganize, but utterly omnivorous for any and all interesting skills and knowledge.

I'm curious- do you mean to say those two tropes are in respective order to the "good students" and the "okay students"?

IDK. The toughest calls for home-schooling in Germany come from religious extremists, be it Islamists, Jewish orthodox or Twelve Tribes christian fundamentalists.

None of those are anti-authority to begin with. Also: Godwin.

> Also: Godwin.

Godwin's law only comes in when something has been compared to Hitler, this person stated a fact: That the law in question was brought in by Hitler.

Well that's not a fact though. Mandatory schooling started in Prussia and was required for children aged 5-14 and the Weimar constitution adopted it as well.

This is just the typical "ermahgerd authoritharianism" Hitler comment that always comes up when the American audience hears the word government and Germany in the same sentence, it's a Pavlovian reflex at this point.

I'm German and the only groups currently advocating home-schooling are crazy religious sects who don't want to 'taint' their children with secular education. Getting rid of long fought for public education isn't a progressive issue.

We have home education and government schools in England. Neither rules out the other. We also have non-religious families who home educate. There are probably secular families in Germany who would like to try too. There simply is no one-size-fits-all model of education, whether we try to impose one or not.

> We also have non-religious families who home educate.

A fun anecdote for you: Most of the parents I've met through the local Home Education community have been PhD-level academics, that extremely dislike the education system -- they simply don't believe that schools are the best way to learn, and decided to set about making sure that their children get the best education. Only a minority of this group hire tutors, as well -- most prefer unschooling.

Also: Diddly.

(Diddly's Law: As the years roll by on the internet, the probability of someone mentioning Godwin once Hitler has been mentioned, is approaching 1.)

Agreed, home schooling on a religious basis should be kept illegal.

I'm American and living in Germany and I would love to be able to home school my children in this Sudbury way.

No law against home education has been passed in 1938, nor is the school law of 1938 still in effect.

Either way, there is no law against home education per se, you can educate your children at home all you want, as long as you also send them to a legally approved school. This school could be public or private, religious or not. There are basic requirements to be fulfilled.

The fact that children are forced to attend school generally isn't a problem for all but the most radical parents. Sure, there's an off-chance that some pair of super-parents could've done a better job at education than any public or private school could ever have done. There's however a much higher chance of crackpot parents ruining their children's education with nothing but bullshit, while shielding them from information from the outside world. It's a worthy tradeoff, if you ask me.

We also do have various schools with an anti-authoritarian profile. General education isn't very authoritarian in the first place, due to the influence of the post-Nazi generation.

If an activity is illegal than naturally only radicals will express a dissenting opinion on the topic. But this has no bearing on what is right.

>could've done a better job at education

There is no test that can be made to compare different educational systems since neither knowledge nor creativity can be measured. My guess is that the students who perform best in exams are the most damaged in terms of their ability to think independently. They also become the strongest defenders of the system that did this to them.

>anti-authoritarian profile

Can you see the paradox in being made to attend an 'anti-authoritarian' institution for years on end until it changes who you are and kind of person you will become?

Home schooling is not a criminal activity. Negligence is, under certain circumstance, illegal. If parents neglect giving their children the opportunity to receive an accredited form of education, that is criminal negligence in a similar way to sending them to a voodoo priest instead of a doctor, when they become ill. Does that system work perfectly? Does it account for every individual situation? No, of course not. Still, it's a worthy trade-off in my opinion.

I'd like to point out that many of these "alternative" schools had to be closed down for weeks lately due to measles outbreaks, because the majority of the parents refuse to give their children vaccinations. In a related case, one infant died from contracting it. More extremely, there are cases of parents injecting bleach (a.k.a. "Miracle Mineral Supplement") into their children's butts. At what point do you believe that the state has a right to step in and protect these children from the idiocy of their parents?

> There is no test that can be made to compare different educational systems since neither knowledge nor creativity can be measured. You can obviously measure the extent of knowledge, the ability to solve logical/math problems and the ability to follow rules/conventions of grammar and orthography. You can question the merit of these tests and what they represent, but you can still measure. Are you the kind of relativist that would argue that a public education involving math, science and foreign language can't be to demonstrated to be better than an education based purely on the content of the bible? That's what most of these home-schooling cases over here are about.

I'm certainly no fan of the school system over here, but I recognize that it provided me with the basic skills to further educate myself. It's also - for better or worse - a basic requirement for employment. Though the system may not be as efficient or productive as it could be, I wouldn't risk putting the responsibility for education entirely into the hands of the parents.

>My guess is that the students who perform best in exams are the most damaged in terms of their ability to think independently. Your hypothesis may well be true, but the system doesn't force people into performing exceptionally well in exams (most people don't), it rewards them for it. These individuals are likely to just respond well to those rewards and weren't really "free thinkers" to begin with. In my experience, these people are not strong defenders of anything, they are rather adaptive. In that sense, these people aren't "damaged", they just haven't been challenged to think.

>Can you see the paradox in being made to attend an 'anti-authoritarian' institution for years on end until it changes who you are and kind of person you will become? I see your paradox, but it doesn't serve as a good argument. Everything changes who you are and what kind of person you will become. Home-schooling means you are made to attend the "school" of your parents, it also means you are separated from the majority of your peers for a big part of the day. At a certain age, you are (likely) made to provide for yourself, whether that means taking up a job (rarely possible without a "real" school education), getting money from the government (and following its rules), begging in the streets or collecting berries in the woods.

Hitler didn't forbid home schooling, that hasn't been allowed in the Weimar Republic either and before that it wasn't allowed for centuries in some parts of Germany.

There is also no relevant political party in Germany that is pro-home schooling. In fact some would argue we would need to expand the Schulpflicht and make it mandatory for children to go the Kindergarten.

Is this a new idea or a rebranded old one? Summerhill school?

Or to really dig back into history, Bronson Alcott's school, Leo Tolstoy's school, and the schools founded by anarchists in the 1920s. The latter and Summerhill are really more radical than the one described here.

The essence of teaching, it seems, to assist students with theoretical knowledge while they are learning by doing the right things. We are evolved to learn by doing (beautiful studies about how children of remote rural areas in Himalaya and Mongolia are learning their native language without being taught, by mere exposure is a nice evidence).

The second factor is to be taught of right things - the first principles, fundamental ideas with no nonsense examples. This is why classic MIT or Berkeley Scheme courses based on SIP were wastly supervisor than modern "pragmatic" Python or Java crap. Brian Harvey's CS61A is a gold standard.

Schedules and grades are of second importance. The proof is all these self-educated people who picked up knowledge without attending any high school. Moreover, in many cases a municipal primary school, being much like an overcrowded prison-like facility for kids from impoverished families, did more damage than good by imposing wrong habits and impressions of what education is about.

Learning is a continuous and natural process for us and other higher animals. Removal of obstacles, distractions and idiots and exposure to right principles and ideas will do much more than all the micro optimizations combined. "Good schools", like MIT or Yale proved it many times.

There is also Pirsig's book.

Incredible! Sounds very similar to what schools like Acton Academy and Talent Unbound are doing in the US. I have no doubt that the future of education will come from private schools made by entrepreneurs re-imagining schools from the bottom-up.

I opened the second campus for Talent Unbound in Houston about a year ago, and am now working on building software to help power more of these schools. It's very exciting to be a part of what seems like a world-wide learning revolution!

I don't think you need to be a helicopter parent to be somewhat wary of the description of this. There's plenty of value in standardized education and a scoring system.

It doesn't need to be so rigid as traditional schools, but some metric, even if very abstract and vague, that helps us identify that there are possibly important gaps in the kids' knowledge is pretty damn useful.

I don't understand the 'no timetable' part. In my experience kids will do nothing if no deadline is presented. How do schools avoid some kids diddling away the semester? Or is it just OK for some kids to fail?

"No timetable" probably means "no set hours to work on subject X". For me (Montessori-educated), that meant the week assignments for each group were written on the blackboard (like "do 3 reading exercises, two writing assignments, two math assignments and one geography"). We could choose to do these assignments alone or with others, at any time we wanted.

The only "timetable" we had was the set hours for doing swimming, music and sports with the whole class (and of course the school opening, closing and break times).

It said they had to come in on Saturday if they didn't get shit done during the week

SO, a weekly timetable. I suspected as much.

AMA: We are secular homeschoolers and primarily use self-directed learning as our teaching method. Unschooling/self-directed gives our children extreme freedom to pursue their interests, encourages deep play-based learning, and instills a deep level of self-confidence in them.

Most of our homeschooling friends also use this method of "teaching". We have really become more like facilitators for the next big project they feel like doing.

It depends on perspective. Getting education or acquiring skills or better network is ol'good combination of carrot and stick anyway. Those instruments just happily passed from teachers to students themselves. Time will tell who is using these precious things more wise.

Full disclosure - I am big fun of didactics in delivering knowledge, since only implying of proper level of didactical pressure makes the right chemical background for application of nootropics.

I went to one of these as a child and learned nothing. It became a real struggle to learn in a time efficient manner. I would strongly discourage parents from choosing this kind of education for early learners as it doesn't include various social skills like how to sit in a classroom, address a prompt, etc.

How early is "early"? Grade 1-5? Kids younger than that don't need to sit in a classroom.

What does "appears a prompt" mean?

> What does "appears a prompt" mean?

Guessing, but I'd say it means "respond to a verbal question" presumably from an instructor/superior.

Surely it depends on the child?

A great primer to this type of philosophy (no grades for kids) is Deming--from about 40 years ago.

"A Theory of a System for Educators and Managers" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MJ3lGJ4OFo

The title should read "No grades, no timetable, and no degree". As much as I like the idea behind it it's simply not a feasible concept in today's society and it's competitive environment. In fact, I'd even wager that the pupils of that school will be ridiculed by their fellow peers for attending such a school. Not to mention that admission boards of prestigious universities would never give them the time of the day. With such an "education" it's literally impossible to compete in today's society.


Today, you can learn almost anything on your own from books, youtube videos, online tutorials, etc. The only thing stopping you is perseverance and a curious and exploratory mind. This school teaches you just those things.

Programming fits this to a T. Entrepreneurship as well. Writing, cooking, any type of creative design too. Sure, you want to be a Doctor or a Lawyer you need a degree, but I don't see how students that go to this type of high school would not be able to get into University.

If you are a business owner who wants replaceable cogs for his factory, sure, this type of school is terrible. But if you want people who can adapt, solve problems, stay motivated and think critically, it seems great.

What kind of society are you living in?

I'm sure Sergei Brin, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, and Jimmy Wales would be interested in hearing how their Montessori educations prevented them from competing in today's society.

I don't know how things work in Germany, but in the US all prestigious universities will consider, and have admitted, homeschoolers or others with nontraditional transcripts. This school would be no problem at all for a US university as long as you're able to demonstrate that you can compare well to others in what you've accomplished or learned.

Sounds a lot like many homeschooling approaches done well in a non-home environment. Interesting.

> such as coding a computer game instead of sitting a maths exam.

Okay I suck at math but am decent at programming and the last time I checked there is a bunch of math in game development.

I agree that some subjects in school are useless but if you give a kid the option of doing whatever he wants versus learning math (which most would) then I'd say your school system sucks.

Because everybody must learn math to be successful in life? What level of math should be required?

Basic statistics.

if I was still in school I wish they included being able to choose what matters I wanted to be graded. But I wish no grades for humanities like history, literature, geography.

so, this method is great for the outliers, kids like hawking or tony hawk - kids that are driven by themselves, don't need no guidance, help, discipline.

there is a reason asian kids outperform others, and it's not montessori.

and yes, school is about performance as kids will grow up and will need to be able to earn for a living. work, compete.

school is optimized for the average kid with average parents. all the HN outliers don't apply.

i would opt for full day schools in shitty areas, get the kids away from their parents as much as possible. off the street. teach them.

I'm guessing the reason this is getting down-voted is because the article makes it pretty clear that the Berlin school's aim is to _teach_ kids to be motivated and disciplined. It provides a lot of structure along with opportunity cities for more self-directed learning.

That aside, highly structured, rote memorization-only education may well help kids achieve the highest test scores, and it may well be the best way to prepare kids for middle management and clerical jobs - the kinds of jobs for which there has been great demand throughout the 20th century. It's not really clear that it does a great job of preparing kids for creative, academic, entrepreneurial or executive leadership roles. And it's certainly not clear that it is the best way to prepare kids for jobs - or ways to earn a living - that will be in demand throughout most of the 21st century.

9bn people - and all of them will be entrepreneurs. there is a world outside of HN and there a lot of folks can barely finish high school.

You are operating under the assumption that only exceptional children can learn motivation, self direction, and a genuine interest in learning. That is not true.

As our society outsources more and more jobs to robots, those displaced workers need to be able to do more than just blindly follow directions. They don't have to start companies, but they do need to be able to think critically and have skills that are not replaceable by a robot.

It is true in a way, if you reverse the causality: children that learn motivation, self direction and interest building are better equipped to be (or become) exceptional.

This is a child being disrespectful on a monumental level, not outsmarting anyone. It also sounds like her parents are paying a great deal of attention.

She may also be a classic psychopath.


Any internet comment that ends in "psychopath" is probably a bad one—this pattern is a Godwin mini-me—and to get there from one colorful anecdote of adolescent cleverness is a particular stretch.

Please don't practice unsolicited psychiatry on HN.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12032277 and marked it off-topic.

Whoa. Agree to disagree, big guy. Not only are the majority of HN commenters practicing amateur everything (especially with politics) but that's not what I was doing.

And further disagreeing, any 12 year old that shows such blatant disrespect - and makes friends with a porn star in the process - is in no way a cute story of "adolescent cleverness." It's something that should get protective services involved.

You don't have nearly enough information to make such personal judgments—that's an understatement by orders of magnitude—which makes your comments here unduly personal and therefore uncivil. Please stop.

Again, and as a parent of a daughter, we'll just have to continue to agree to disagree.

That comment seems excessive. She may be very normal, creative and competitive girl. Even if she really wanted to be a porn star. In such free schools, gaining respect from students without the use of punishments is something the teacher needs to learn himself.

I wouldn't go that far. Little girls can be very manipulative and yet perfectly normal. Psycopathy requires things beyond playing games with adults. This particular girl just doesn't respond well to artificially-imposed authority figures. Her form of lashing out is simply more aggressive than standard coping mechanisms which, with girls, often internalizes things (shyness, self-destruction etc). Frankly, I give her points for demonstrating the absurdity of the assignment while at the same time operating within the rule. I fault the teachers for not anticipating this.

(In my day, the popular option for such assignments was "starship captain".)

That's an odd conclusion, especially with so littke information. Her reply re the soldier signals she's capable of sensuble social criticism, and the rest of the story, if somewhat alarming, points to her being extremely resourceful.

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