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An Unschooling Manifesto (salon.com)
135 points by jlhamilton on April 26, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 89 comments

I was home schooled for grade 2 and 3 and private schooled the rest. Throughout that whole period my best years of learning were grades 11 and 12.

The reason for this was that during all other private school years I was forced to sit and trod through material that was far too easy. I never did the homework because I could still pull of 70s and didn't see the value in having a higher grade. I was invited to province wide math contests, but was only scoring 72% in math. Finally my math teacher in grade 11 asked me how this could be. (He also happened to be the vice principal) I told him clearly: I hate class and I hate homework. They are not challenging, so I refuse to put effort into them.

He suggested the exact same thing that article advocated. The change was immediate. By grade 12 I was scoring 97 in calculus, 95 in linear algebra and 92 in finite math. All because I could move at my own pace. When I had exhausted the course material my teacher gave me books like Aristotle's mathematical proofs. These changed my life.

Imagine if this type of freedom had been available my whole life. My parents tried when I was young (via homeschooling) but my social development suffered too much and I wasn't getting the passion for the subjects that teachers can impart.

If I were to raise children now I would insist on a school that used the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori style. It might not be the best for everyone, but for even slightly gifted children I think it will drastically improve their mental growth.

I think Montessori is unbelievable. I went to a Montessori school through third grade and loved it. But I don't think it works for everyone. My brother didn't enjoy it or do as well in the unstructured environment as I did.

So I think multiple kinds of education are necessary. The problem is that there's a lack of information about education options for most people. And perhaps an issue of affordability. You might say that the public school system ought to offer alternatives to the structured model. And maybe it should. I don't know how much that would cost. But I'm sure a lot of people would take advantage of it.

One of the great things about the market model is decentralized choice. Nobody has to decide what choices are offered for everybody. That decision is between the consumers and the producers.

And private school voucher programs that currently exist cost as little as 25% of the cost of educating that same child in public school.

Agreed. I think there should be multiple ways of actually learning a subject that a student/parents can choose from, but that there should be a standard obviously for evaluating that learning. The problem with this kind of system is that a tremendous amount of responsibility is put on the child and parents who may or not comply with what he/she is expected to do.

My parents tried to home school me in the late 80's, early 90's (they were very religious). It turned into unschooling, because I was able to plow through the "curriculum" in very little time, and then spent all the rest of my time online. My dad worked for IBM so we had computers around, but when I found out that computers could talk to each other, I fell in love.

This drove my parents nuts, they kept telling me I was throwing my life away, blah blah.

Well, it's obvious how that all turned out.

Let kids follow their passions, and they will LOVE learning, which is the most important life skill anyone can learn.

Typical nerd. I love learning, so everyone else must too! Fact: the majority of kids don't give two toots about learning and never will. Most kids need order and discipline. The follow your passions message is great for those with good judgment and disastrous for those without. http://www.vdare.com/sailer/iq.htm

You'll never find a four-year-old who doesn't love learning. Our culture does something to screw most of them up sometime soon after.

Our culture does something to screw most of them up

If that's true, there ought to be some culture that doesn't have this problem. Can you name one?

Just a guess: Western civilization? Perhaps not today, but before schooling was made compulsory.

My daughter is four and has an insatiable appetite for learning. Whether we ever structure her learning into a curriculum is TBD. She already reads at a 8-10 yr old level, and asks me questions that force us to open up wikipedia on my iPhone for late night tutoring sessions before she goes to bed. She loves it, I love it. What could be better?

I tend to think everyone loves learning stuff that's within their ability range. If you put a kid who simply is not naturally talented in math in a calculus class with a bunch of kids much smarter than him, then he will be miserable. But that same kid might naturally pick up the drums and learn to play them for fun, because he can be really good at it.

"But that same kid might naturally pick up the drums and learn to play them for fun, because he can be really good at it."

I don't think the reason a kid may pick it up is so much that "he can be really good at it", but rather because he is "learning to play them for fun". I.e., he's actually interested in it and therefore puts time and effort into it.

With the calculus example, I don't think it's that he's "not naturally talented" (although he may come to believe that), but that he is discouraged/intimidated by his environment. Given enough time and effort, there's no reason he couldn't pick up calculus just as well as the drums; the class simply takes away his passion for it and/or makes it feel like a job.

Do you really think that everyone has the natural talent to be able to do well at calculus?

but rather because he is "learning to play them for fun"

But what is fun? A person experiences fun when they have a feedback loop of effort, accomplishment, and reward. If you are good at math, you get this from doing math and you find math fun. If you are good at Halo, you get this from beating levels, and playing Halo is fun.

Can you seriously assume that if a person is not good at A he WILL be good at B, can't he be really average at everything. I know you are offering the optimistic viewpoint, but I am just offering the cynical one.

Even someone with average natural talent in everything, can become above average by picking a less competitive niche and learning to excel. For example, there are a lot of average athletes who are good at ultimate Frisbee.

Also, it's not just about being above average or below average, it's also about getting that dopamine hit for performing a task successfully. An average athlete can have fun playing a game as long as he is competitive. An average math student can enjoy math as long as the material is not too difficult and not too boring.

I presume you sampled the kids?

I think kids should be made to understand that learning is very very interesting. That word understand is the most important, if they are made to feel they have to then sure they wont like it, but if they are made to understand its extremely interesting well sure they'll like it.

> made to understand

That's the problem, right there.

Do you have children? The 'made to understand that learning is very very interesting' thing is entirely unnecessary.

My daughter doesn't stay bored for long because she's curious about everything (essentially killing your TV helps too).

Oh No, I'm far too young haha. However, this may be my own interpretation on the past, but I believe I remained a good student because of my family's continual emphasis that whether I study or not is for my own benefit. I eventually came to understand that studying is important for some reason, but I believe that I remained a good student because I found it interesting. Of course the repetitive exercises of maths have nothing interesting in them, chemistry is very near to Chinese, but history and literature was quite interesting for me. I do not know, I mean I had a sense that to study is important therefore I was committed to it but I think I kept such commitment because when I got into it I found it interesting. I think children perhaps fail to give school learning a chance. It may be the culture amongst the children hence the parents have some responsibility, it might perhaps be affected by the child's mental ability to grasp the content. For example, year 1 of high school we had this maths theorem and I spend 4 hours trying to understand it and in the end I had a good knowledge of its working but not an 'understanding' or a grasp of the theorem. Needless to say for that year I got an E in maths :P.

I do not really like these discussion about schooling and university though. It seems too simple to me to completely disregard the job that thousands of teachers are doing worldwide to teach these kids and consider schooling or universities a failure. Perhaps no one told them that this system has been evolving for nearly a millennia.

My daughter doesn't stay bored for long because she's curious about everything

Sure she is curious but the question is whether she and the many kids like her keep such curiosity. I remember from my early years many of my friends saying they excelled until grade four, others probably excelled until grade eight. I have said it before and I would like to repeat that schooling is such a big thing, it encompasses life itself. I do not think these kids are much different from us adults, they too would rather not do their school work but play, at other times love doing their school work, they too have their peer influence and for what an alcoholic would be alcohol for them may be going on the streets and measuring the pavements.

Schooling is there to develop these children and introduce them to life and how it works and above all lets not forget they are kids they do want some fun and they will be mischievous and not bother at times. Schooling is not to teach these kids how to live their life though. The school and life brings to these kids as much as these kids have to bring to life and school.

So how do you make this marvellous system, maybe the pinnacle of civilisation which is now perhaps universal, save the most deprive parts of this world, to become even better. I do not know but however advance our schooling system becomes it may not be immune to the criticism that it is failing many children perhaps because there is only so much that the environment may affect our biological make up. We have evolved under certain influences and sure we may be traced to one mother, but the mother after that may make as much difference down the trail of heritability. It is clear that evolution works through specialising in a certain area, i.e. faster legs, bigger jumping ability, taller neck, venom, whatever gives one an advantage and something the other doesn't have. There is no reason to not suggest that this civilisation takes this specialisation into a mental arena rather than physical. This world has so much to offer and it needs so many things to be done, it is inevitable perhaps that many children will specialise to do things outside of the schooling system while others thrive at it and as in my case like it but go on to do my own thing as well. To conclude therefore, schooling is not an end point, it is a swing board.

The whole idea of unschooling is a little too utopian for me. Teaching is a skilled craft. A good teacher will work a classroom to keep all manner of kids involved and engaged. We've all had teachers like that. I had a 7th grade social studies teacher who was fantastic and an accounting professor in college who made accounting exciting. Accounting!

The problem in this country is well known. We have too many poorly trained and poorly paid teachers. And unfortunately with No Child Left Behind, we've stiffled the good teachers as well.

You can't just remove the teacher. Even the author's experience of independent study still relies on teachers to create the curriculum, produce learning materials and monitor progress through tests. That's a far cry to "go learn on your own."

> eaching is a skilled craft. A good teacher will work a classroom to keep all manner of kids involved and engaged. We've all had teachers like that.

Amen to that. Not only is teaching a craft, I think it's a passion.

I took College Physics I with such teacher. Physics I was one of the toughest courses in my college. According to the student polls, 70% voted it as THE toughest course. Anyway, this professor was different (there're other professors teaching the same course). He didn't mind going unconventional way. For example, he claimed that he was the only person in the country who teaches force first then motion later rather than the other way around. (In fact, he refuses to teach the other way around.) The great thing about him was he provokes students' curiosity and appreciation to the subject. During the first day lecture, he concluded it with an experiment he claimed to be the greatest experiment ever performed on earth. He just threw a chalk up into the air and caught it back, and that was it. Then he asked why didn't the chalk "fall behind" for the earth was spinning and moving at many kilometers per second. He not only knows his stuff, he has a passion to teach, cares the students learn. In many ways he has a hacker attitude. I admit there'were students who hated him because he was tough on grades, and he didn't mind shushing those students who just took up most of the time with a lot of irrelevant, stupid questions. (He'd be patient at first, though.)

Back to the topic, I think unschooling might as well work for many people, but at the risk of not meeting such great teachers.

> Teaching is a skilled craft.

In the 1800s they used to enlist prisoners to teach the newly-minted public schools, as their community service. These people had absolutely no qualifications to teach; however, the children produced from these schools were more equipped for the world of the time than any child today. (This is something from Gatto, so I have no idea if it's true, but it's a good argument if it is.)

Then perhaps you should present it as an unsubstantiated claim, and not a fact.

Didn't I? Don't decide on the veracity of something before reading the whole of it. The postscript is just as much a part of my statement as the rest of it, and it's much clearer than injecting numerous "maybe"s any "perhaps"es into the text itself.

Yes, it was presented as a fact. Prefixing it with, "this sounds cool but I have no idea if it is true," would have made it honest but reduce its directness.

Also, "postscript", something which comes after the main statement. That it changes the basis of the statement itself, could be called a linguistic hack.

It's disingenuous. You presented it as fact, and then admitted in a parenthetical that it was not.

"The Grade 12 final examinations in those days were set and marked by a province-wide board, so universities could judge who the best students were without having to consider differences between schools."

United States college admission does not work in the same way, and that is one of the reasons that few schools in the United States would try quite the same experiment. The experiment I've been trying, after years of advocating a "learn in freedom"


approach to education, is negotiating with my oldest son about which distance learning courses and local brick-and-mortar courses make a coherent, college-preparatory program to fit HIS personal goals, and then letting him take on challenges that no other high school in town would let him take on. It will be interesting to see what a college admission committee will make of the experiment. In the United States, the college admission process is enough of a black box that applicants have to cast a wide net to make sure they have a decent, affordable college choice. High test scores alone


don't do the whole job of guaranteeing admission to a strong college program at an affordable price.

There are so many examples of how a ridiculously small change can make education so much better. And yet so few, really almost none of them are widely applied. This is also very much country-independent. Among HN readers, is there a country whose educational system would accept a non-conservative idea like this?

You might be able to try it out in Denmark. Granted it would never fly in the public schools, but we have something called "free"* schools that are largely subsidised by the public, but with very wide rules for what they can do, so you might be able to use that.

* Free as in speech, but I don't think there is anything like that in the US.

Sudbury Valley


"At Sudbury Valley School, students from preschool through high school age explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. They learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community.

Trust and respect are the keys to the school’s success. Students enjoy total intellectual freedom, and unfettered interaction with other students and adults. Through being responsible for themselves and for the school’s operation, they gain the internal resources needed to lead effective lives.

Sudbury Valley School was founded in 1968. Located in an old stone mansion and a converted barn on the mid-nineteenth century Bowditch estate, the ten acre campus adjoins extensive conservation lands."

I finally engineered this for myself at age 14 or 15. I discovered that I could get into both the advanced courses and a dropout prevention program that let me out of school at noon to go work a job doing programming and animation.

I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned pg's essay on very similar issues from 2005, submitted a while ago to HN:


We all read it.

Could someone briefly explain how unschooling works for kids under ten? Do you just leave your five year old on her own, since her life is her own?

I'm not trying to be snarky--we home school our kids (although in a more classical way) and I agree with the assessment that the school system in the U.S. has failed (and I've read Illich and agree with much of what he says).

I'm homeschooling four children, and describe myself as an eclectic homeschooler with strong unschooling tendencies. My youngest is now six years old, and she spends a lot of each day drawing, building Lego constructions, doing kitchen chores with her mom, playing with her brothers, talking walks outdoors (with various members of the family keeping her company), or occasionally watching videos, some educational, and some not. She is close to being an independent reader. I give her a reading lesson each school weekday, and a math lesson. (My favored materials are Bloomfield and Barnhart's Let's Read: A Linguistic Approach


and the Miquon Math



So I guide my children's activities, but they have a lot of free time and a lot of control over how they spend their time. I like promoting QUIET activities like drawing and reading, because much of my work is done at home.

As someone who was homeschooled all the way through high school and am now working on my PhD in aerospace engineering, keep up the good work.

My bit of advice would be to join an active homeschooling group (if you're not part of one already). Not only will your kids have a (relatively) healthy social life, but they'll meet some really interesting people. I had (and still have) friends whose interests ranged from writing operas to fellow hackers. Most of my public school friends seemed boring in comparison.

Thanks for talking about homeschooling groups.

I am from Germany, where homeschooling is more or less verboten. Homeschooling seems like a good idea. But I always wondered where children would get their social life from, when most of their peers are locked away for at least half of the day.

There is an assumption that all home schoolers keep their kids locked up all day away from other kids, or that home schooling requires this. Hardly. Many of the stereotypical home school kids (socially awkward) are that way because their parents purposefully shelter them. For them, home schooling is as much opting out of the culture as it is opting out of the school system. There's also an assumption that typical schooling is, in part, socialization, which seems odd since most of us don't spend our days exclusively around our own peer group.

We've investigated several local home schooling groups, and we're also finding that many unofficial co-ops exists too, once you get plugged into the local learning web.

There is an assumption that all home schoolers keep their kids locked up all day away from other kids, or that home schooling requires this.

Yes, that is the assumption, but that is not at all the reality. We have a very strong local group here specializing in homeschooling "gifted" children (standard term, not meant to be a brag) that is helpful for all the parents and for most of the children. I'm also part of several national online networks related to various aspects of homeschooling, and have been an officer of statewide homeschooling organizations.

I would not assume that home schoolers lock their kids up. Rather that the other kids are locked up in school.

So homeschooled kids may have less opportunity to socializing with "school-aged" peers --- unless there are other homeschoolers around.

We're "unschooling" our kids (4 and 2, right now). At their age, it means pretty much the same thing it means at any other age, as I understand it.

To us, unschooling means we don't push an agenda. Neither I nor my wife are our childrens' teachers, in the classical sense. We know a hell of a lot more and have the experience to back it up, so when the occasion arises and the questions are asked, we're there with guidance. Which is pretty much what I'd expect any parent to do in similar situations.

The biggest difference between us and more mainstream parents is that we're not anxious about our kids' pre-reading skills or whether we enrolled in the right preschool.

> Do you just leave your five year old on her own, since her life is her own?

Of course not! That's the reactionary response most folks give in the unschooling discussion, but it's nowhere near the truth. We don't push bare academics (information without context) or arbitrary schedules because we don't believe those have any value. We're involved with our kids all day, every day, as far as we're able. No preschool, no highly structured "educational opportunities". Live life, meet people, do stuff that matters, don't be anxious about how your kids compare.

Do you just leave your five year old on her own, since her life is her own?

Well, unschooling doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. Homeschoolers argue with each other over just these sort of questions.

My opinion, unschooling does not mean "no teaching" and it certainly does not mean "no parental involvement". Most of the unschoolers we know have younger kids, and they have lots of parental involvement. Mom (usually it is Mom) does activities with the kids and comes up with fun ideas and projects to do. They help the kids pursue what they're interested in and introduce new topics the kids might get excited about.

(We are not unschoolers, but we're fairly unschool-y. We have lessons, but we take a good deal of trouble to make lessons fun and interesting. Mostly we succeed.)

I remember the years I spent in high school and college just to pass the courses. It was boring and useless. All the time I waited for the course to finish to that I can go to home and do whatever I wanted to do. What a waste of time.

Nah, I disagree. It's not that bad. I'm in 10th grade right now, and here's the way I see it: I spend a few hours in school every day, where most of the time is wasted, come home, and spend the remaining 6-8 hours of free time I have learning whatever I want.

I used to be pretty annoyed about school in general, but once I realised how much free time I really have, it's amazing how much I started getting done in that same time.

(As for the actually interesting or difficult classes, which sometimes do exist, you can do the same thing; for instance, in the first few months of my calculus class, I bought a textbook and finished learning the material until the end of the year. Now that class is just as relaxing and as much of a breeze as any other.)

>It's not that bad. I'm in 10th grade right now, and here's the way I see it: I spend a few hours in school every day, where most of the time is wasted,

Your standards for "not that bad" are low. Wasting half your day sucks. Why not just take the GED and go to college? If your state (presuming you are in the US) is anything like Ohio, you can go to a local college on the public school's dime and get both HS and college credit. No GED required.

I wasted so much time in school. When most people make this statement, it's blatant anti-intellectualism. For me, it's a testament to the inefficiency of public education in the US.

Good for you PieSquared. May I ask how many hours you spend in school and what country you are in? One of the things that I have noticed is that in many countries school hours are getting longer and longer, so there is less time available to get kids to learn independently and grow in their own direction. No matter how good the schooling you receive is, or what its philosophy, it will never cater to you 100% as an individual.

(Upthread: I have read Jean Piaget so I am hoping that ahoyhere will allow me to post)

I'm in the United States, Maryland specifically. My school hours are from 7:25 to 3:00, or, if you include when I get on the bus and get off, from 6:20 to 4:00.

School hours are long, and it doesn't leave that much time, it's true. I compensate by going to sleep around 2:30 regularly, sometimes later, and catching up on sleep on the bus or through smaller naps during the day (and no, not during class :P).

There's an idea I've been rolling around in my head for a while, wherein some portion of the day (say an hour) for each class would be dedicated to each student of one grade teaching one of the next younger grade (so two hours per day total per student, one teaching, one being taught). The idea has a lot of potential, both because it helps the educational system scale and provides much-needed individual attention. Individual attention is useful even if it comes from poor teachers. It's much too radical to be implemented in a modern public education system (too much politics there).

The reason I found this interesting is that it gives something to do with class size disparity: have the "best" students in the oversized class work in an independent study format for that hour. It's so simple.

I would do something like this if I were running a school as well. There are many obvious benefits to having older kids help younger kids. Besides, partitioning large groups of children by age is a weird idea if you think about it from a human point of view (as opposed to an industrial one).

I think the real test of learning something is being able to teach it to others.

I used to volunteer teaching after-school middle school classes with an organization called Citizen Schools and one big part of their methodology was trying to get kids to demonstrate their knowledge and pass it on to others in the end of whatever lesson they were doing.

Absolutely, to teach something doesn't only test your mastery of a subject, it helps reinforce it.

I've noticed that in the case of the older child, it reinforces their identity as "someone who knows about X", which feeds back into their own further study of X. It also subtly evokes responsible behavior from the older child simply by putting them in a responsible position, and harnesses the younger child's tendency to look up to older kids in service of their learning. Seems like the kind of thing we ought to do more of.

Sounds good. I'd think hard about how to assign mates, though. Perhaps just letting students choose their teacher/pupil would work. Some kids would get more than one pupil, other's none.

Or you'd better do a lottery to assign children 1-on-1.

Further experiments are needed.

Check out The Day I Became an Autodidact http://www.amazon.com/Day-I-Became-Autodidact/dp/0440550130

I found this post pretty passionate and moving. I'm biased in that any writing about rethinking education is something I'm going to be pretty rah-rah about :D, but it's still a good read in that it's based both on his personal experience, and rigorous theory.

The book he's reviewing kind of suggests that schools deliberately have the effect of making students "small," which I don't necessarily agree with (I think many people in traditional formal education have pretty decent intentions, and at worst mostly get apathetic about their model). But still, I think it could only help the dialogue to have a book go "too far," in terms of describing the effects of the current state of education.

I know that this is highly tangential to the discussion, but I think it's worth sharing...

The author mentions Acquire, which is a brilliant board game of particular interest to this startup crowd. Sure, it is a gross oversimplification of the equity markets, but it is still oddly relevant and a whole lot of fun. It is very easy to learn and games have a bounded duration. Highly recommended for expert gamers and complete non-gamers alike.


Board gaming in general strikes me as a good tool for education. It usually requires quick thinking, basic arithmetic, strategy, negotiation. In my experiences fondness for gaming also correlates well with mathematical ability.

One of the things I did with my kids was to push them to take courses at the local community colleges while they were still in high school. They got better quality instruction, more advanced topics, and college level credit. My son had credit for all but two math classes in EECS at UC Berkeley. My daughter was able to graduate in four years at UCLA, rather than drag on to 5 years because of schedule conflicts and oversubscribed classes.

Great post. I agree that you often need a radical to create enough noise around a real issue that deserves attention. Richard Stallman is a perfect example. A little extreme, but brings the conversation to a needed place.

The tough part here is the 'how'. Maybe we could start at the top and work down: University undergrad programs in North America could become a lot more like grad school, encouraging original thought from the get go.

Here's my theory on the "How."

Similar to yours, but starting even a bit more removed:

Innovation will happen (and is happening) first in non-accredited adult (and maybe even non-accredited child) learning environments. Crazy theatrical lectures, Spanish classes disguised as video games, etc. People will have really positive experiences with this stuff, and it will trickle down.

It's probably too scary for some people to just hand over the keys to their kids' "real" education at first. Once people see how comfortable and successful changing stuff up is outside of schools, and it will feel less risky inside of schools.

I see the edge of this already happening on the Internet, with sites like edufire, for example.

I dropped out of school in 8th grade. Shortly after that I got my first modem. My education came mostly from learning what I needed to learn to be able to participate in adult discussions and debates that I found online.

Ideally I would have preferred a (very) small amount of structure, guidance and discipline. But I have no regrets. The actual other option was California public school.

Part of the problem is an obsession with diplomas and enforced curricula. Jobs will not hire unless you have the necessary diplomas - until that changes, forced, regimented, rote and curriculum-based learning is the only real option on a massive scale. Consider the alternative: employers become agnostic about your educational background (or even totally blind to it) and instead test each applicant on the relevant skillset for the position - a society that only tests on entry, not on exit. If singular test panels aren't good enough, bring back apprenticeships, internships, etc.

As IT progresses arguments bringing up signal to noise ratios and using school leaver's certificates, a-level grades and university diplomas as first-pass filters become less relevant.

It's win-win for everyone except those who were provided with a prestigious education through the funds and connections of their parents. Employers are exposed to a maximally broad base of candidates - who may have followed an educational path that's totally unique and has made them much better suited to the job than one that distracted, bored, diffused and brainwashed them; candidates get in on merit not so much on the paid-for (private) resources made available to them (though your dad's library or mum's financial freedom to stay at home and teach you will always be one source of inequality).

Brings to mind an amazing book - Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society. Essential reading if you're interested in this topic (and who wouldn't be? http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.h...)

I wanted to do this in high school so badly. I had friends whom I had met outside of school who had done this and it always seemed like they were a head in life. My co-worker has done this with his children and they are all starting college 2 years earlier or so.

Yeah, I hated school too. It's not ever going to change because it's for the masses. That's its sole and express purpose. Why is anyone trying to redesign the system or otherwise shoehorn exceptional people into a system designed for the masses? Either drop out or shut up, in my opinion. Massive social structures don't have time for unique butterflies. That's the Reality of the situation with a capital R.

The optimum solution is to just get it done at an 75-90% level until you graduate HS or college and get on with your god damn life instead of fighting it for years and years and years and pulling yourself and others down in the process. Just give them the bare minimum of what they want while pursuing your own interests. It's politics 101.

This is why many, many successful people say "I dropped out", or "Oh, I was only a B and C student" instead of "I spent every waking moment of my life trying to rebel against the system in which I had no place in, attempting to reforming it form the inside to suit my specific needs to a tee."

The education system at this point is not a designed entity. It has evolved through the interplay of various political forces. It has no purpose. No one would design anything like our system if they were doing it from scratch. It's just no one has a plan to fix it ( or the authority to implement such a plan).

>> No one would design anything like our system if they were doing it from scratch.

Why not? If I implemented a system, it would probably involve certain things that I wanted students of different age groups to learn (a curriculum). There would probably be people who were in charge of teaching them (teachers). Along the way, we'd measure how well they learned, or how we taught them (tests).

Why is this so preposterous?

Well, personally, I'm an abolitionist. But even if I believed in public schools, there are many aspects of our school system that do not even make sense on their own terms:

1) Kids are mandated by law to attend school, but then when in school, teachers cannot even adequately punish unruly kids because that would violate their civil rights (thanks to a bunch of court decisions in the 70's). That means the worst kids get little discipline, and the good kids get locked in a building for six hours with juvenile tormentors.

2) Schools make less intelligent kids feel like they are inadequate because they are not as good at a narrow range of academic skills. And for what? There are many productive ways to earn a living that require neither algebra, physics, or history.

3) The worst delinquents do not want to be at school. The teachers do not want them at school. They do not get anything out of school because the teachers have no ability to control them. The system is benefiting no one.

4) Teacher pay has absolutely no relation to the quality of their teaching.

5) Districts pay a ton of money for the tools required to equip a vocational school. But those tools already exist in the workplace, and these craft businesses all used to except teenagers at entry level positions where they could learn the ropes for free ( or even get paid).

6) The smart kids who actually do want to learn are usually not allowed to. They are usually beyond the curriculum, yet are forced to go follow the exact curriculum set out by bureaucrats hundreds of miles away.

7) We live in an era where there is far more information in the world than anyone can ever learn, and where most economic value comes from specialization. There is simply no reason to have a centralized curriculum, outside of reading, writing and arithmetic.

8) There is no clear reason to have specialist teachers. Schools could be designed as parental coops. Or as a series of workplace internships. Or as apprenticeships. There are many, many models to use.

9) Why not use older students to teach younger students? It saves money and breeds responsibility.

10) Why segregate by age? Why cut off children from the rest of society in a big box building? Kids always act better when they are trying to impress someone older. Older kids act better when they know younger kids are looking up to them.

11) Despite a tremendous increase in the hours spent in school over the past 90 years, tests of numeracy and vocab among the general public have been flat.

12) Why assume that we need high school. We got through the 19th century just fine without it. What changed?

13) We send kids to college to supposedly educate them, but where the real result is spending 4 years of partying and no responsibilities.

14) The left puts up huge fights against voucher funding for private schools, because they fear that will lead to more class segregation. So instead, many posh suburbs have essentially become expensive private boarding schools where the parents live too. Instead of the different classes living in the same town but going to different schools, they live in entirely different towns altogether.

15) A student has his school paid for for 18 years. But after that he is entirely cut off. Why can't a student take a few years off when he's young and does not appreciate school, and then have the money available when he's older, and realizes he needs to a community college degree to achieve his chosen profession?

16) The school system pretends that it is supposed to raised up the lower classes and increase their earning potential. But in reality, the reason for much of the earning differential between drop outs and graduates is that there are needles barrier to entry laws for many professions. Take away those laws, and lower class students could simply self study and test into the jobs, rather than spending a huge amount on college.

There is only one fallacy that invalides your arguments #1, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, #15 and #16: if you offer the freedom of not going to school that you seem to advocate, and if the parents don't care about their kids' education, you have a major problem.

In order for your plan to work, it assumes that either the kid is bright or the parents place a high value on education. Think about this scenario and tell me how you take care of it.

In the meantime, the current system does a good job of providing a baseline education for all.

if you offer the freedom of not going to school that you seem to advocate, and if the parents don't care about their kids' education, you have a major problem.

If parents cannot raise their kids properly, well, you have a major problem. Fortunately, parents evolved to care about their kids more than anyone else, and they are also much closer to the problem than any government. The parents that are so incompetent that they cannot ensure their children have basic economic survival skills are very rare.

In order for your plan to work, it assumes that either the kid is bright or the parents place a high value on education.

What percent of jobs in the economy need more than reading, writing, arithmetic, and apprenticeship? 10%? 15%? In my observations its much lower than people think. And learning the basics was never a problem in the United States. The U.S. had near universal literacy since 1800(1), long before the modern educational complex was created. The baseline requires two or three years to teach max. So how does that justify a compulsory 12-16 year educational track?

In fact, part of the reason that so many parents do not care about their kids academic education, is that the kids academic education does not matter. Neither the kids nor the parent is part of the cognitive elite, so they are never going the game in striving for cognitive elite jobs. The parents are right, the government is wrong. The idea that 100% of the population needs to stars in the academic fields is a lie ( or more politely, marketing).

(1) outside of slaves, who were actively barred from reading

"What percent of jobs in the economy need more than reading, writing, arithmetic, and apprenticeship?"

My Dad lost his welding job around when I was starting high school. He took a few different jobs, one of which was cutting brush with a machete for a local private surveyor. He found the surveying work interesting, so he checked out books from the library to re-learn his Trigonometry (and probably a few other things). This allowed him to get a job with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation surveying group, from which he took early retirement a couple of years ago. I think having an initial exposure to Trig in high school allowed him to realize this career change was possible.

So, it is hard to say what knowledge will be useful, or not, over the course of a lifetime.

If the parents don't care about their kids' education, you generally have a problem regardless. The kids are likely to pick up this attitude, and forcing them through the current school system will not change it.

Anyway, it should definitely be possible to test out of the default classes/curriculum. If one understands what one is ostensibly going to be taught for the year, one is better off spending one's time doing something else.

I agree with many (though not all) of your points. But I beg to differ on this one:

12) Why assume that we need high school. We got through the 19th century just fine without it. What changed?

The complexity of the world changes. The minimum amount of education required to function well in society increases with it. (In particular, knowledge with basic sciences and technological skills.)

An average person, though not everyone, would need more time to absorb information and skills to prepare for adult life. Schooling might not be the best means to train them, but until an viable alternative is implemented, we still need those extra years.

I used to believe this but now I think the opposite. Technology obviates the needs to learn many skills. Some 18th century skills I no longer need to know: sewing, soap making, farming, canning, penmanship, spelling, using a slide rule, long division. I work in software, but I no longer have to learn assembly or C. I don't actually need to learn anything more than my dad did, because I stand on his shoulders. I just learn different things. In fact, the definition of technological process is when a process becomes so good you can use it as an abstraction layer to build the next process on top of it.

You can also took at the most technically skilled people from the 18th century - architects, civil engineers, mechanical engineers. Their jobs were just as complex as the modern equivalents. Yet probably half of them entered their profession with no education beyond grade school. They learned on the job.

Schooling might not be the best means to train them, but until an viable alternative is implemented, we still need those extra years.

Schooling does not provide any training at all for 95% of the jobs in the market. Most people learn everything on the job.

Most of your points apply to the German school system, too.

Well, that seems normal to you because it's how the educational systems you know work. It's hard to even objectively evaluate the current system in comparison to other possible ones.

"No one would design anything like our system if they were doing it from scratch."

I'd like to this so, but the sheer number of people who defend the current system suggests otherwise.

I think almost everyone wants the system changed, but they just disagree with how to do it. A lot of people make money from our current system and will not support anything that threatens their income. Even so, I still think it might be possible to design a reform that was close to being a Pareto improvement. But nobody involved in politics has the ability to design it, or to push it through.

"I think almost everyone wants the system changed"

But the changes that the majority want are really just ways of defending the current system, like adding more AP classes or improving standardized test scores.

The system is all they know, so that's the terms in which people think. The school system is like any product, you cannot design a great product by giving people exactly what they say they want. I'm pretty confident that if I was the CEO of a city, I could design an education system that would blow away anything that currently exists. But alas, such a job does not exist.

* But alas, such a job does not exist. *

Not sure if this is truly relevant, but Dekalb County in Georgia has a CEO position. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_Jones

A lot of the people who defend the current system are making money from the current system, or are paid (usually via campaign contributions) by people who are making money from the current system.

When asked to assign the national public school system a letter grade, 62% of Americans gave a C or lower. Only 22% gave an A or B. They were more positive about the schools their own children attend, however. (2008, http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kpollpdf.htm)

Schools are not designed for the masses. It is designed to satisfy those who are in power and make them look good.

A better system is to go completely private. A real school would be something like "School of Grammatica" and "School of Mathematics" where you know, people learn actual reading, writing and mathematics without having to do 10 god damn standarized tests every year.

It would serve the masses without politicans getting pretenious for "saving the school system".

Then there will be tons of microschool which teaches different careers. You could have a School of Game Programming which might have a class like "Physics Programming" which combine mathematics, programming, and actual physics.

For those that alway want expensive, liberal art education, there's alway universities.

Your idea of an all-private school system might indeed be better, if only because the current one has such severe shortcomings.

But there are benefits of education that just won't be incentivized at all in a market model, especially in whatever option the market makes available for people with lower incomes. Remember that the existing system was designed by big business in the first place, to turn out docile workers for German industry.

I'm not sure what the right model is, but I don't think it's market-centric or parent-centric. It has to be learner-centric.

I am pretty sure it was a system designed to make docile citizens, not docile workers. The system is skewed in the favor of the state(Duh, conflict of interest) and by definition whatever the hell its special interest group the state is in bed with.

Whatever options the market makes availiable for people with low incomes should eventually accures from new schools opening up. Unless special interest groups colludes with private schools, innovative entrepeneurs should be able to build schools that train ever more highly skilled professionals with better educational techniques.

To ensure that this process doesn't get screwed around, you cut all the red tapes and regulations on schools so that people can experiment and innovate to their heart's desires.

Wouldn't that kind of situation foster hyperspecialization? Real, true insight is the result of a degree of expertise plus a smattering of general knowledge. Not that public schools necessary provide that kind of education. Nor do so-called "liberal arts" schools for that matter--rather, they seem to serve as a dumping ground for the innumerate.

Your rant appears to be based, at least in part, on the assumption that massive social structures are in some way necessary and beneficial to the lives their constituents.

OK guys, since this conversation comes up every single time...

Yes, public school systems can be very good, and tailored to individual students. Look at Scandinavia, especially Finland and Sweden.

Yes, lots of people do extremely well without structure and authority figures breathing down their backs.

Yes, teachers are underpaid, and yes, paying them more will not solve the fundamental issue.

Yes, unschooling kicks ass, and no, your excuses don't really make sense.

No, you don't need to keep rehashing your story to defend your choices or whatever, will you please take the chip off your shoulder already. It's the internet, nobody knows (or cares) that you dropped out, or that you stuck with it and graduated.


And if you're going to debate - on the Internet - you might want, in the spirit of hacking, to brush up on the material on the topics that already exists by eminent people who've spent much longer thinking about it than you. E.g. if you haven't read John Holt & John Taylor Gatto & Jean Piaget[1], why are you bothering to write?

[1] On the other hand, I will accept novel theories about why all these men are named John.

> [1] On the other hand, I will accept novel theories about why all these men are named John.

Selection bias?

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