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.
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.
And private school voucher programs that currently exist cost as little as 25% of the cost of educating that same child in public school.
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.
If that's true, there ought to be some culture that doesn't have this problem. Can you name one?
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.
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.
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 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.
That's the problem, right there.
My daughter doesn't stay bored for long because she's curious about everything (essentially killing your TV helps too).
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 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."
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.
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.)
Also, "postscript", something which comes after the main statement. That it changes the basis of the statement itself, could be called a linguistic hack.
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.
* Free as in speech, but I don't think there is anything like that in the US.
"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'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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So homeschooled kids may have less opportunity to socializing with "school-aged" peers --- unless there are other homeschoolers around.
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.
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 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.)
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.
(Upthread: I have read Jean Piaget so I am hoping that ahoyhere will allow me to post)
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).
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 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.
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.
Or you'd better do a lottery to assign children 1-on-1.
Further experiments are needed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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."
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?
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'd like to this so, but the sheer number of people who defend the current system suggests otherwise.
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.
Not sure if this is truly relevant, but Dekalb County in Georgia has a CEO position. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vernon_Jones
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)
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.
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.
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.
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, why are you bothering to write?
 On the other hand, I will accept novel theories about why all these men are named John.