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Unschooling: The Case for Setting Your Kids Into the Wild (outsideonline.com)
174 points by saadmalik01 on Aug 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 192 comments



The fundamental problem with the elementary school system in the west is that kids are given no room for self-direction whatsoever; school for them is de facto a part-time prison or "labor" camp. As a result they are trained by association to dread to that which the system purports to champion: learning, culture, reading, knowledge, even any demonstration of intelligence.

It takes a combination of luck, will and positive external influences (good parents, a mentor) to overcome that. But most kids don't.

Which is why it seems to me that "setting kids free", in the sense of giving them significant latitude for self-direction in their activities and education, is a great principle. The key problem of education is motivation. Most kids are smart and fast learners, the only difficulty in getting them to learn is to get them interested (even better: passionate). The only way that can happen is by giving them choice, freedom. The opportunity to exercise free will. Let's guide kids, not force them to sit and listen passively (they won't).


Perhaps I am clouded by my own positive experiences with school, but I disagree on two levels.

Firstly, your use of the phrase 'in the west' implies that outside of the 'west' there is some different, better elementary education system. This has not been my experience in India, where capacity for rote memorization is regarded as equivalent to intelligence from an early age. What countries fit your boundaries of 'the west'?

Secondly, school serves as a valuable social and educational center to most children. Even though elementary education is imperfect, it does not mean that a viable solution is to simply do away with it. In fact, I think the social interaction with other children of similar age is extremely important to developing social skills and friendships.


In fact, I think the social interaction with other children of similar age is extremely important to developing social skills and friendships.

And unfortunately social interaction is severely restricted and punished in K-12 education (in the US, which is the extent of my familiarity).

I volunteered at an elementary school for a year, and the kids there had little opportunity to socialize freely. Recess and lunch were limited to a combined 40 minutes, including transition periods to and from the classroom. Gym/physical education was a "unit", only attended one week out of every three, and much like I remembered from my own schooling, more than half of that time is spent explaining the rules to some highly-structured, barely-constitutes-exercise activity.


You'd still get far more social interaction than what unschooling would get you.


I was home educated. I had far more time for out of schooltime activities than my friends in schools did. I was part of the town band, the church band, the local drama school (learning, and then helping to teach the younger kids, and touring with the team and performing in schools), Karate, etc. Some of my friends had no social life outside of school at all, really. They had school, homework, TV, and sleep.

I had far more time hanging out with adults who were interested in the same kinds of things as me. Wonderful, lovely people who were interested in mechanics, drama, etc. and spent time mentoring, teaching and helping me.

I feel like I had a really good social experience, as I didn't feel any kind of peer pressure, or pressure to conform or like things (like football) that I found pointless, or to do drugs, or whatever. When I was older, I felt secure enough in who I was, and the acceptance I found in likeminded (and differently minded, but good) people, to not feel like I had to conform, or that I had to judge or conform others. We're all different, and all totally valuable.


>Secondly, school serves as a valuable social and educational center to most children. Even though elementary education is imperfect, it does not mean that a viable solution is to simply do away with it. In fact, I think the social interaction with other children of similar age is extremely important to developing social skills and friendships.

Great, let's make primary school a place to park children so their parents can go to work where children can do whatever the hell they want. These exist. They are called Sudbury or democratic schools.

While I have your attention, some links.

Teaching arithmetic to children below sixth grade has either no effect or negative effects, seeing as the extra education makes them worse at word problems.[0][1]

Homework has no positive effects on learning in any non-mathematical subjects and no positive effects whatsoever before middle school.[3]

[0]http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201003/whe....

[1] L. P. Benezet (1935/1936). The teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment. Originally published in Journal of the National Education Association in three parts. Vol. 24, #8, pp 241-244; Vol. 24, #9, p 301-303; & Vol. 25, #1, pp 7-8.

[2]http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272775711... Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science (Impact Factor: 0.46). 06/2011; 43(3):195-202. DOI: 10.1037/a0022697 ABSTRACT Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups.


Got a newer reference than Benezet 1936?

Got a reference where they tested it with good math teachers?

Has the study been replicated in a country with a different (better) math tradition, such as France?


[1] looks a pretty reasonable overview of the research on homework effectiveness. The meta-analysis is quite supportive of homework as an effective way of improving results:

With only rare exceptions, the relationship between the amount of homework students do and their achievement outcomes was found to be positive and statistically significant. Therefore, we think it would not be imprudent, based on the evidence in hand, to conclude that doing homework causes improved academic achievement.

[1] http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar0...


Not OP, but it wouldn't matter that a good math teacher would've had a more positive effect.

Most teachers are shit at what they do and that won't change.

There are too many advantages in a lot of countries for becoming a teacher (civil servant) - salary excluded.


Improving education involves improving the approaches used by teachers, whether teachers already employed or new teachers. These kinds of things don't change overnight, but they can be changed over generations. Studies are, in theory, an effective way to determine what aspiring teachers should know and apply.

I don't think driving down the advantages of becoming a teacher is an effective way to improve performance. Many people interested in making a difference would, rightfully, forgo being a teacher for their own sakes and take a different approach.


Thank you for these references, these are all good things to know.


I did not imply anything about school systems outside the western world, I used the term simply because I know close to nothing about education outside the west and therefore did not want to include it in my description.

I also certainly did not imply that children should be educated in isolation. I agree that social interaction with other children is fundamental to kids' development throughout elementary education. In fact, if you followed my suggestion and let kids do, to a certain extent, what they were interested in, I assume you would see most of them gravitate towards social learning, because that's how most humans are wired.


> I did not imply anything about school systems outside the western world,

You obviously don't know anything about the plethora of different systems inside the Western world, either.


Hey, thank you for this sharp and insightful one-liner.

I am keenly aware of my own ignorance, and always looking for opportunities to learn. Care to enlighten me?


Start with Beeby in New Zealand.


> In fact, I think the social interaction with other children of similar age is extremely important to developing social skills and friendships.

But is putting 30 kids together in a room with one adult the right way to do it?

I question the belief that school is necessary for socialization. Obviously home school for everyone isn't an option, but there are plenty of studies that show home schooled children turn out just as well off or better. So where is the evidence that socialization in a school environment is necessary or even beneficial.


>> "So where is the evidence that socialization in a school environment is necessary"

Just anecdotal but might help. I had a younger family member who had to miss a few weeks of school and stay home. After a few days he was itching to get back for the sole reason of social interaction. If you don't go to school you see your friends for maybe 1 hour in the evening. If you go you see them for 20mins on the bus to school, in-between classes, 45 mins of recess per day, and the 20 min bus ride home. Not to mention the interaction during group activities or lulls in classes. If everyone was homeschooled there would need to be a substitute for this and suggestions I've seen like "all parents should take their kids to the park for an hour" don' suffice. I think the length of the interaction isn't important, the fact that it happens throughout the day is. Seeing someone for 5 mins an hour every hour is different than seeing them for 1 hour, even if it works out to be less time. It's a different experience and one that's hard to replicate.


>It's a different experience and one that's hard to replicate.

I agree that it's different and hard to replicate, but again where is the evidence that the school socialization model is actually beneficial--that we need to replicate it? The studies I've seen from home-schooled children seem to suggest that it isn't necessary for a successful productive adult life.

If people are going to argue that homeschooling is detrimental because it doesn't replicate institutionalized socialization, there needs to be some evidence that this kind of socialization is necessary other than "lots of kids do it".


I wouldn't argue that home schooled children can't lead successful productive lives. It would be nice to see a study of which children are happier though. Those in school socializing all day; or those at home socializing for an hour or two in the evening. You get to interact with a wide variety of people at school from many different backgrounds. You can learn a lot from that and it can help you in many ways when you enter the real world. Homeschooling you're with your parents or a tutor all day and your social circle would likely be limited to those who live in your street. At this stage I think it's impossible to say which scenario is better, there needs to be a lot more research done. Personally though I am very happy I was not homeschooled. I would have been educated well - maybe even better - but I think I would have missed out on a lot of important experiences.

More anecdotal evidence:

When I was 0-8 years old we lived in neighborhoods full of kids. Then we moved to a place with none. I was much happier in the first place because of the socialisation. It didn't matter that the new places we lived were nicer or more convenient for certain things. I think this also hurt my social skills. I was pretty sociable at a younger age but compared with my peers my social skills have lacked since then. This can impact on interview performance, networking, etc.


Choice, but also, role models. How does a kid know they want to learn to read, except to see others reading? How does a kid know they want to learn math, except to see someone else able to solve a useful problem they had no idea could be solved?

In a thread on income inequality, someone posited that the best indicator for economic success was whether a person was read to as a child. They meant it as a holistic indicator over a number of factors, and I think one large one is that it meant the child early on had a role model for education.

I know for myself (anecdotal evidence, yeah yeah), I chafed very early on to learn to read, because my parents could and I couldn't. Similarly, early on, while I could figure out some kinds of math (the basic of multiplication by seeing arrangements of windows, "oh, three fours is twelve!", and then being given a toy that had the multiplication tables on opaque buttons that when pressed would show the answer, I recall other times when people were able to solve problems (long division, multiplication of 2 or more digit numbers) that I didn't know how to solve, and I -desperately- wanted to. For a friend, who came from a rural family whose only owned book was a Bible, largely unread, it was when I introduced him to video games (RPGs), and fantasy novels, that he really began to read, and actually to purchase books himself.


Completely agree --the fundamental problem to solve is that of motivation, and motivation will very often come from role models and mentors.

The function of a mentor is not limited to providing an example of what can be learned and why it should be learned. A mentor should also directly provide motivation reenforcement whenever the kid shows progress on the right path.

The best education will be self-direction in a culturally rich environment that rewards and celebrates learning and educative achievements.


Sure, self-directed. But then the support of a tutor is invaluable! Why let the poor kid flounder around, motivated but unskilled at learning? Show them the right path! Or at least all the options.


True, except that it's more the case in unschooling for adults to be guided by the children, being available to give help or find help when required.

It takes years for the average adult to break his school conditioning and find the courage to follow his own direction. Most never manage it, and of those that do, most don't till retirement, which is tragic.


Learning can be hard. Kids love easy things. It takes direction, monitoring, pushing to get them to try to read, or do arithmetic, or master pretty much any delayed-gratification skill.

Left on their own, kids will likely get a broad shallow education with one or two deep dives into subjects of dubious value.


This is partly attributed to 'No Child Left Behind'. The fact that public funding for schools is strictly determined by each school's performance on rigid, standardized tests is a huge issue. How can schools allow free-flowing learning, culture, exploration, and self direction when they HAVE to perform well on standardized tests?


This is bullshit. Sit down, shut up and do as you're told has been the primary and secondary school curriculum in most every mass school system everywhere. John Taylor Gatto wrote Seven Lessons long before No Child Left Behind.

http://the7lessonteacher.com/


I don't know if self-direction is really a good idea. When I was a kid I would have directed myself towards video games and cartoons. I probably would not have independently developed an interest in english grammer and math.


Video games and cartoons can be valuable learning experiences. We learn a lot through play. If you got into minecraft you'd be doing engineering. If you got into Wildstar or WoW or some other guild-based combat system you'd be learning leadership and social dynamics - how to keep a team together and happy - and also a certain amount of math. If you got into Quake-like games you might discover the modding community and get interested in learning how to be a level designer, a programmer, a visual artist, or an architect.

Or take "watching cartoons". You might discover stop-motion and start making your own. Or if you got into Anime you might get interested in learning Japanese.

The Sudbury schools emphasize the power of boredom. When you don't play videogames that much you might FEEL like you could play them all the time if allowed to. But if you were ACTUALLY allowed to, you'd eventually get bored and want to go deeper. And then you'd inevitably be learning stuff. A repeated discovery was that most kids eventually DO decide they want to learn math, in part because it's something other people can do that seems like it might be useful. And when kids are actually interested in the subject, they can learn it in a really TINY amount of contact hours and it doesn't harm them at all to have waited a few extra years.

The reason standard schools waste so much time teaching math is that they're trying to force kids who aren't interested at all in learning it on the school's schedule rather than their own.

As for "english grammar", you can learn that just by using some of your freed-up time to read lots of books.

Here's a story that involves teaching 6 years of math in 20 hours of class time:

http://sudburyschool.com/articles/free-last


I think it might be wishful thinking to imagine that kids left to their own devices will identify and persue useful skills without adult guidance. Even if every kid who watches cartoons develops an interest in stop motion animation, how many stop motion animators do we need? How would you even understand how to start with quake modding without knowing basic math and reading comprehension?

When I was at school there were kids who would frequently "unschool" themselves by skipping class, the interests they developed were mostly related to vandalism and other petty crime.


One develops reading comprehension by reading, including texts, blogs, and videogame chat - and time spent sitting at a desk being talked at takes away from the time you could be using to do that. Realizing you want to do something that requires basic math gives you a reason to learn basic math, which makes learning that basic math easy. (Me, I learned trigonometry because it was helpful to draw cool patterns on a computer)

I think you're suffering from status-quo bias. Read the link I gave you above.

One of the biggest secret weapons of homeschoolers and unschoolers is age-mixing. Standard schools artificially segregate kids by age and force them to learn in a specific order. This guarantees that no kid in the room knows much more than the other kids. In the real world, on just about any subject at all you can find people who know a little more than you and learn from them or find people who know a bit less and teach them. Kids teach EACH OTHER how to do cool stuff like use a computer or mod a video game.

The hardest and most important thing to figure out in life is "what do I want to learn and how can I learn it?" When schools decide on a specific curriculum and spoon-feed it to kids, they destroy the intrinsic motivation to solve that question for yourself; you can just passively accept what is being force-fed to you by your teachers. But then when school is finished, what do you do THEN? Over a dozen years or more you haven't PRACTICED setting your own goals or figuring out how to fulfill them! Mightn't it be better to do that starting much earlier in life?


In order to read you need to be exposed to books and also somebody to read with you until you can do it on your own. Since there is no instinctual human drive to seek out books you need to be guided in that direction and encouraged to push through the pain barrier because it's quite boring to start with. This is basically what the job of a teacher is.

It may well be true that kids with educated parents can do well in a loosely structured environment with freedom to explore, but these kids tend to outperform whatever the education structure. Kids who grow up in deprived areas without educated role models risk being "educated" by criminal gangs.


> In order to read you need to be exposed to books and also somebody to read with you until you can do it on your own.

That's what parents do. You don't need teachers for that.

You found reading "boring to start with"? That seems sad. Me, I wanted to read almost every minute of every day - I was always in the middle of multiple books, read while walking, read books held secretly under the desk during boring class lectures, even occasionally read while riding my bike. I imagine today kids learn texting and tweeting (or whatever the next thing is) with similar vigor, even if long-form work is starting to lose out a bit to it. Do you really imagine that kids won't be able to read if not for elementary school? We live in a world that is saturated with the written word. It is an inescapable fact of our environment that we are surrounded by text and use text to communicate; it seems crazy to imagine that kids of average or better intelligence would fail to find some incentive to learn to read something. I mean, sure, a priori it seems conceivable that could happen, but it doesn't seem particularly likely and as far as I know that hasn't been the experience of anybody who has pursued unschooling.


I think you're making my point for me. Kids of above average intelligence with the right parents can do well with unschooling, but then they also do well with regular schooling. A kids educational outcome would become linked to that of their parents and other adults in their environment, even more so than is currently the case.

In fact it's worse than that , because as soon as one generation messes up because for example a parent develops a mental health issue there is no mechanism for fixing the next generation.


> Kids of above average intelligence with the right parents can do well with unschooling, but then they also do well with regular schooling.

That is not true, and is kind of what this whole discussion is about. My impression is that there might be some sort of happy middle that isn't too damaged by regular schooling, but towards both ends of the bell curve are kids who are poorly served by it. Smart kids are often bored to tears, lose intrinsic motivation to learn, lose out on the opportunity to make good use of their youthful energy and developing brains, lose the opportunity to REALLY LEARN and GET STUFF DONE because they're wasting all their time in classes being talked at by idiots. Or at least, that's what it seems like to some of them looking back (including me).

I think you're needlessly universalizing this. Nobody is saying that EVERYONE MUST unschool. People are advocating that unschooling is a good OPTION for many kids, not that we need to dismantle the entire existing school system to make everyone switch to the new system. If we consider unschooling as merely an OPTION for kids/families that seem well suited to it, while there still ALSO exists the traditional option for everyone else, do your objections mostly go away?

Why does it bother you if kids who "can do well with unschooling" in fact do get to pick that option?


fchollet's original post in this subthread reads as a criticism of traditional schooling in general rather than in specific cases. Also, the article is light on evidence to suggest that unschooling actually does lead to superior educational outcomes in any cases. Data on this is likely hard to come by considering that unschooling parents are self selected by definition.

The problem seems to be giving sufficiently talented students a sufficiently challenging education , for this I think institutions such as grammer schools that used to be popular in the UK are a more equitable solution.


You can't compare the schools you went to with the Sudbury system. The skipping class happens exactly because you are trapped, because there is something you rather will.

But why skip class if you can do what you want?


Sure, if they were allowed to swear and fight in class they might not have skipped so much but what would that achieve besides disrupting the kids who actually wanted to learn?


It's easy to make a point when you make up your own premises. I never swore or fought in high in class but i did skip class.


Can't upvote this enough.

I owe my programming career and my English language knowledge solely to video games. I learned English because I really wanted to know what my hero and NPCs were talking about in Fallout. I learned programming because I wanted to make a StarCraft clone.

I remember taking the end exam in secondary school; there was an assignment there that basically amounted to summing up hypotenuses of right triangles, deriving them from known triangle legs beforehand. When we all left the exam room, kids were cheering, "this task was simple, you had to use Pythagorean theorem!". I was cheering, "this task was simple, you had to sum up lengths of 2D vectors! By the way, wtf is that Pyythagorean thing?".

I learned a lot of maths quickly by 15 thanks to game development - things like vectors, matrices, trigonometry. I didn't always have the right terminology (but that I acquired later on the way), but I understood what they are, how they worked, and I had a purpose for learning them.


I wish you were right. I wish my little brother's Minecraft addiction would lead to something productive. He's talked about learning to program because of it; but of course, he hasn't actually started. That's because he's a child, and lacks the force of will to do anything which is not as immediately satisfying as playing videogames. If he was forced to learn programming, he would probably like it, but he's never going to do it on his own. Because it's hard.

Cartoons are even worse. There is nothing more vegetative than watching TV.


> elementary school system in the west is that kids are given no room for self-direction

To be fair this is happening not just in the West. Japan's education system is a disaster in itself which creates kids who stop asking questions after a couple of years. I let you imagine what you end up when they reach the state of adulthood.


Japan are part of the west. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I say 'the west', I'm not talking about geography. I mean cultures that value economic success above most everything else. Besides, they're only 'west' when the US is on the left side of your projection of the globe. It's a useful and well understood colloquialism so I use it.

PS: I'm not saying economy is to blame, but the idea that there's exactly one way to be successful (make money in this case), given enough time and belief, will eventually devolve and create dysfunctional systems like those we see in schools today where individuality is quickly eroded because a 'higher' goal is being chased: pass your tests so you can progress to college (or whatever) and then become a success. Step one: learn the same stuff, in the same way as everyone else (in an environment that, by design or not, encourages conformity), step 2: ???, step 3: PROFIT.


Japan is not really part of the West per se. There is still so much cultural legacy at work in the industry and politics, if its part of the West then its a very poor imitation of it. And lets not talk about the place of women in "westernized" Japan, lets not.


It doesn't seem to have hurt the Japanese ability to innovate in technology and culture too much though.


Maybe you missed the fact Japan s economy has been in recession for the past 20 years or so. Its not so much a hotbed of technology anymore. Or if it is, they are clearly failing at making money with it.


Do you think this is a result of the rigidity of the Japanese education system?


When times are changing it always help to have a fresh look at what you are doing instead of rehashing the same thing over and over again. Japan is not reflecting at all upon that, and yeah, I do think the education system is a huge part of the problem over here. It does not encourage forward thinking at all.


I've got too kids in primary school in the UK, and my experiences are entirely different. They've gone through schools with lovely, kind, nuturing teachers who have instilled an interest in learning. My youngest daughter delights in maths puzzled and writing bizarre and gruesome stories, for which she has been awarded and praised. My eldest daughter as just finished primary and enjoyed all of it (apart from French) and the P.E teacher recently unearthed an apparent latent talent for cricket (I couldn't catch a ball if you asked me).

Sweeping generalisations about any mode of education is bad. I was lucky in that my kids and school were well matched. But yes, we did also work hard to support the work of the school.


Taking luck out of the equation was a primary reason for not sending any of our kids to school.

You are right, you are lucky.


I'm all for making school more fun. But self-direction? Don't forget: these are children. Most (and certainly enough) of them won't have any natural inclination to learn even reading, writing and math. The whole point of having schools is to give an external sense of direction.

I think schools need to be optimized and tuned, but please, please stop these extreme experiments.


Having worked with much younger children for several years, I can assure you that most children start of with a natural inclination to learn how to read & understand math, just maybe not in the structured 'worksheet' type approach you see in some schools.

A child that enjoys baking becomes naturally motivated to learn how to understand recipes, a child that is interested in computers & games wants to learn how to recognise the symbols that start their favourite game. It is all about finding the right motivation.

For the even the most reluctant writers it can be about building up the necessary physical skills using less obvious means- lego, clay, eye droppers in the water area. Then instead of practising writing we are making road signs for our car game or writing a list of things to take on our outing.

The point is when young children are given a supportive, no pressure approach that acknowledges & responds to their interests they do have a natural inclination to learn those skills and others. They just need adults that know how to facilitate & scaffold that learning. What is more important- that a child knows how to read by 4 or a child who learns at their own pace, and is far more likely to become someone who loves reading for pleasure?


I couldn't disagree more. My kids are only 2 and 3, but what they've learned has been entirely driven by their own interests. They learned to talk because not being able to communicate well is frustrating. They learned to walk because crawling everywhere is frustrating, etc. Not because I sat them down and said "OK, now it's time for our talking lesson".

Why would this suddenly change? As a parent I think it's still your job to evaluate the things that are positive and negative and try to limit the negative influences, like TV or intentionally addictive video games (farmville, wow, etc.), but I don't see how this is at all related to school. School shouldn't be exempt from being scrutinized for it's positive or negative effects.

When I finished school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. School classes bored the crap out of me for the most part, and not because I'm too smart (which I'm not), but because it just wasn't interesting. I had no practical or immediate use of the material being taught. I use to think I was deficient and had an attention deficit disorder. Occasionally a lesson would interest me and I would excel at it, but soon we'd move on to some other boring topic.

Many years later, looking at my own day to day life, I am constantly learning. The things I learn have either a practical and immediate use, or they simply interest me. Many of the lessons in school I thought were boring would have interested me at some point in my life when they were more relevant.

I wish I had started self-learning earlier.


Children don't necessarily want to learn,they want to do things. And sometimes their lack of knowledge stops them from doing what they want and therefore they become motivated to learn what they need to overcome that. These are other extreme experiments, and self guided learning has been used for quite a while and quite successfully (re montessori)


> At the time, my father—who earned his undergraduate degree at Cornell and his master’s at Johns Hopkins

Nothing cooler than rich kids taking all their advantages they were given and use them to live like paupers with zero concern for the the world around them.

> I can report that Fin and Rye both learned to read and write with essentially zero instruction, albeit when they were about eight years old, a year or so later than is expected.

I'm pretty sure that's closer to 4 or 5 for most kids who grow up in families from the Cornell / John Hopkins pedigree.

> I want them to remain free of social pressures to look, act, or think any way but that which feels most natural to them.

Awesome how the author takes his past issues of "social pressures" and maps them onto his kids. Wonder if he ever realized that "social pressures" are one of the most natural things a child learns.

This thing is full of gems. I shouldn't be so sarcastic about child abuse, but I just can't help it. I've met far too many of these clowns in my life.


>This thing is full of gems. I shouldn't be so sarcastic about child abuse, but I just can't help it. I've met far too many of these clowns in my life.

If you actually believe these children are being abused I'm sure that you can call CPS on their parents. If not, the only way you could make a "joke" in worse taste would be to imply paedophilia.

>Nothing cooler than rich kids taking all their advantages they were given and use them to live like paupers with zero concern for the the world around them.

"Everyone we know who unschools, in fact, has chosen autonomy over affluence. Hell, some years we’re barely above the poverty line."

Doesn't sound like they're living like rich kids. Nor are they living like paupers. They own their farm and they're not even using as many public services as a normal family with two children would.


> They own their farm

> barely above the poverty line.

Doesn't really add up. Any guesses on how much a farm in Vermont costs? It's not cheap. Big hunch the money for that farm came from someone else. Most likely an inheritance.


An asset is not necessarily liquid; also plenty have people have negative net worthy.


> Nothing cooler than rich kids taking all their advantages

The author's father worked for the state department of education and his mother was a substitute teacher. What evidence do you have that they are rich as you claim?

> I shouldn't be so sarcastic about child abuse

Child abuse is a serious accusation. Please state the evidence you have that there is child abuse and the steps you have taken to report your personal knowledge of the situation to the state authorities.


I absolutely disagree that this type of "home schooling" should be legal. I do believe it is child abuse. These people should be treated just any parent that does not enroll their child in school. And I think they should have their kids placed in state custody and not even considered letting their children back in their care until they have had a full psychiatric evaluation.

It's true that these parents are likely sick and need mental health treatment. Maybe I should have more sympathy for them, but I think about the poor kids and about how lucky I was to have parents who cared more about their children than some crazy ideology.


>I think they should have their kids placed in state custody and not even considered letting their children back in their care until they have had a full psychiatric evaluation.

I can almost guarantee that these kids will turn out better with their parents than if they are raised in state custody. Outcomes are far far worse for foster kids than for unschooled kids.

Where do you draw the line. What about parents who don't pay attention to their kids, sit them in front of the tv and provide no education or emotional support other than putting them on the bus in the morning?

These kids can read and write, there are many kids in public school who can't. There are way more kids living in bad school districts with uninvolved parents who spend less than the 2 hours a month studying that these kids do.


I find absolutely no reason to believe those people have any sort of psychological problems. The guy writes eloquently and coherently. The arguments he makes are rational, albeit, in my opinion, not compelling.

The question is: How much freedom do parents have to influence their children's upbringing. This is clearly a political issue, and seems to have been settled in the US in a way that gives parents a lot of choice. To label somebody who actually uses these liberties as mentally ill is absolutely disgusting.


The existence of people like you---someone who would endeavor to rip children from their parents for trying an alternative education plan---is absolutely terrifying. It's the kind of terrifying that sinks deep into your bones and gives you a chill.

Coupled with the power of CPS, it's actually something that gives me some serious concerns about having children in the first place. Imagine, some nut and his insistence on conformity is enough to, at the very least, make my life a living hell.


> need mental health treatment.

That's a fantastically stigmatising view of mental illness.


I've got 4 kids, 16-7, none of which have ever been to school. The only thing we require them to do is read and learn. The subjects don't matter. The oldest likes philosophy and science. My 12 year old enjoys video production and 3d animation. My 9 year old really loves comic books and cooking. My 7 year old loves crafts and writing adventure stories.

We unschooled when I was making $10/h.

They all have big groups of friends, with an incredible level of diversity. They spend a lot of time with them, and enjoy unstructured, uninterrupted play.

Beyond that, they all love organized sports, field trips, traveling when we want.

The older children always have the option of going to school, and choose not to.

With regards to learning to read. Our oldest was reading at 4, one read at 9, and the other two around 5/6. It doesn't matter.

Your fear and ignorance is understandable. It's "radical", and certainly not for everybody. The suggestion of "child abuse" is silly, and totally unfounded. I've actually met many of these "clowns", and can attest from experience that you're not only wrong, but out of line.

Experiencing life with our children is wonderful.


> I shouldn't be so sarcastic about child abuse

What does it say about you if you feel that this is child abuse, but do nothing?

Also, by claiming that this is child abuse, you are grouping it with things like sexual and physical abuse. Are you sure that you are attempting to make such a strong statement?


The other reply to this talking about depriving your child of an education etc, is exactly what I would say. And absolutely, yes I feel that this is definitely child abuse.


Then, are the Amish 'abusing' their children? What about the Inuit[1]?

[1] http://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/home/government-pol...


No, a fairer grouping would be with refusing to let your child attend a school, read books, or use the Internet.


>I'm pretty sure that's closer to 4 or 5 for most kids who grow up in families from the Cornell / John Hopkins pedigree

There's a lot of evidence that learning to read early can be detrimental in the long run. More and more of the educated parents I know are no longer focusing on teaching their preschoolers to read.

Edit: see my comment further down this reply chain for links to evidence.


> There's a lot of evidence that learning to read early can be detrimental in the long run. More and more of the educated parents I know are no longer focusing on teaching their preschoolers to read.

That's horrifying. Can't wait for the rest of us to have to clean up their experiment.


What are you basing that on? There is evidence that not teaching children to read until age 6 or 7 has an overall net benefit.

Many countries ranked very well for education, don't start formal education until age 7 (Finland and Sweden for instance). The children in these countries are taught to read later than in the US, but they do just as well or better on reading tests later in life.

Children in the US weren't taught to read until first grade a few generations ago. Hell, when I was in kindergarten, 25 years ago, we spent the whole year learning the alphabet--now kids are expected to know the alphabet by the time they enter kindergarten. There is no evidence that this is beneficial and plenty that it is harmful.


Why wait for the state to teach your kid to read? I wouldn't trust an elementary public school teacher to build IKEA furniture let alone teach my kid the most important skill he'll ever learn.

Most importantly, once they learn how to read they won't have to wait for or trust the state to teach them anything ever again; it's all there for free on the internet and in library books.


Care to cite some of this evidence? I was just reading about this and found zero evidence its somehow harmful and only anecdotal evidence that it is not beneficial and "evens out" later.


Children in New Zealand who began learning to read at age 7 had better reading comprehension than those that started at age 5 by the time they were 10.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0885200612...

Children in Germany who started school at age 7 performed better on standardized tests than those who started at age 6.

http://ftp.iza.org/dp1827.pdf


You have to be careful with these studies - it's possible (and the authors of the research article are worried about this) that the later learners had parents who consciously chose to teach them later.

This sort of decision implies a level of involvement in a child's education that might, on its own, lead to better reading comprehension.


Even if that were true, I would have learned much less as there were many things I and many children learned via reading far before the age of 11. So while they supposedly caught up on reading, they had missed out on several years of learning when the brain is most capable of doing so.

And honestly, that study is so loose. It reminds of the good ol' days of Whole Word learning and how many kids lives they screwed up with that experiment gone bad.

http://www.readinghorizons.com/research/whole-language-vs-ph...

EDIT: Apparently, I need to clarify loose. Sample size: 267


>So while they supposedly caught up on reading, they had missed out on several years of learning when the brain is most capable of doing so.

Reading is not the only way to learn, and before a certain age it looks like it's not the most effective. There are many more studies that show that a play based education up until age 7 is superior to a rigorous academic education at the same age.

The evidence shows that it is very likely that spending an extra 2 years playing, and exploring is better than spending that time in the class practicing reading picture books.

Older children also progress faster, so an 8 year old who started learning to read at age 7 is reading much more sophisticated material than a 6 year old who started at age 5. It's not like there is an equivalent 2 year loss of reading time.

>And honestly, that study is so loose.

Care to offer some meaningful critique.

>how many kids lives they screwed up with that experiment gone bad.

In this case starting school later is not the experiment. It was the way things were for most of human history.

Schooling at 4 and 5 years old is a very recent invention--the data doesn't back up its effectiveness--so we should eliminate it.

Edit: In response to the above edit. There is nothing inherently wrong with a sample size of 267. That's actually a fairly large sample size for studies like this. My brother is a grad student in applied linguistics. He'd kill for 267 study participants for his second language acquisition research.


That's because the children that learned at age 7 weren't educated enough to understand that cramming for a standardized test was a waste of their lives.


Do you have evidence that teaching a child to read at 7 years of age is a significant detriment to their overall learning? Do you feel like the parent post that not teaching them to read at 4 years old is 'child abuse?'


My strong opinion is that educationally, THE most important thing you must do with your child is TALK to them. From the beginning. From year 0. Discuss things with them. Let them soak as much understandable speech as they can between years 0 and 2. This will have a far more profound effect in their life rather than did they learn to read at 4 or 8 years of age.

Could you specify what is horrifying about the previous post? Why would it be more important for a 5 year old to learn to read rather than, say, spend their time building Legos, practice crafts or climbing into trees? Like another poster stated, most kids in Finland do not start to formally learn to read until they are 6 (preschool, if the parents want so) and at the latest when they enter primary school (7). I would claim Finland has a pretty good public primary education system.

Pushing kids to do too much too soon has no advantages, imho. There are skills that are best started acquiring at a youngish age but you will have to convince me pretty hard that reading is one of them. Kids have this natural curiosity to an amazing variety of things. But what those things are can be quite random. The best way to have them learn something is to apply this natural curiosity - i.e. find what they are interested in - and the support them in this activity. This does not mean allowing them play videogames or watch cartoons whole the whole day.

I would say if the kids like it and want to then sure, teach them to read. But before 7, I would claim it is more valuable to find those things that they are really keen into and let them practice those. This creates a positive association to knowledge acquisition (the love of learning). And at that age they soak information and skills like sponges if they are motivated and have the mental capacity to grasp the concepts.


> Why would it be more important for a 5 year old to learn to read rather than, say, spend their time building Legos, practice crafts or climbing into trees?

The hypothesis that I think should be tested is whether there is correlation between being a child prodigy in a technical field (in math, physics, computer science or engineering) and getting to read early.

It makes sense theoretically -- if you learn to read by age 8, is there enough time for you to grasp all of high school math and computer science by age 14, like Manjul Bhargava?

While I can imagine my hypothesis being true, that doesn't make it into an argument against later reading age. It just means that for a group of kids this might not the best decision. (And since most of us think of themselves as the "smart kids", maybe that's why a lot of us here are opposed to it.)


> The hypothesis that I think should be tested is whether there is correlation between being a child prodigy in a technical field ... and getting to read early.

It would be cool if all children could be helped to find the thing they are good at and love and let them become the best they can in that field through positive reinforcement and minimum coercion.

> It makes sense theoretically -- if you learn to read by age 8, is there enough time for you to grasp all of high school math and computer science by age 14, like Manjul Bhargava?

I think the most important thing what you can extract from the case of the Field's medalist is that he seems to enjoy what he does.

Usually when lots of parents are really ambituous about their childrens futures they force their children to rote-learn lots of mundane knowledge or repeat tiring exercises... such an approach leads most of the time to lots of sad adults with average achievements. I would much prefer lots of content and happy adults with average achievements.

The prodigies will happen, but it would be really nasty to force all children to try to be prodigies.


> I'm pretty sure that's closer to 4 or 5 for most kids who grow up in families from the Cornell / John Hopkins pedigree.

If you met two 10 year olds, one learnt to read at age 4 the other at age 8- do you think you could tell the difference? Would it really matter?

Actually more than likely it would- the one who learnt at age 8 is more likely to read for pleasure. An overly formal approach in the early years can be counter productive, and often damaging. Not to mention the fact that all the time spent at age 3-4 learning to read, is time missed doing the stuff they should be: learning social skills, problem solving, independence...

See some of the vast amount of research on this by reading the section on reading for pleasure pages 16-19 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/c...


Thanks for linking to an article that at least mentions research - it's easy to go off of general feelings in conversations like this.

I just want to point out, however, that pages 16-19 do not conclude that children who learn at 8 years old have a greater pleasure than children who learn at 4. The conclusion, which isn't a hard one to agree with, is that teachers should find ways to make reading more exciting.


Agreed- just think it is worth pointing out that there is no proven advantage in teaching children to read early,that there can actually be some concerns with teaching reading at an early age, and that there are also no disadvantages to learning to read later. These are worth a read to:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029435.000-too-much-...

http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago006408.html


> with zero concern for the the world around them

How do you figure that?


Just fair warning, most of the people who are responding to you in disagreement have never actually met a un/homeschooled person / person's parents in real life.

The reason why unschooling is so bad is entirely social. Homeschooled kids are crippled socially.

It sounds good, feels good, etc. but once you actually see it with your own eyes it makes sense why this hasn't caught on.


> It sounds good, feels good, etc. but once you actually see it with your own eyes it makes sense why this hasn't caught on.

I doubt that. To me a more plausible and equally good explanation is that schools are primarily places where parents can drop their kids off for half of the day to be able to go to work. Homeschooling requires someone to stay at home and do the schooling, which is becoming less and less affordable for most of the people.


Yeah.... no. I know people who were more than financially able to do this, and the kids still ended up messed up.

To reiterate, if you actually haven't seen this first-hand, it's best to keep your mouth shut. Confirmation bias only makes this whole thing worse.


If by 'socially crippled' you mean unscarred by bullies, unbored by mass indoctrination lectures, and untutored in vandalism and cheating, then sure.


I've met plenty of homeschooled people/parents. What on earth do you mean by socially crippled? If anything, these people have been the most socially apt people I've met.

Maybe that is because I value different social traits than you do.


> Everything I learned felt abstract and standardized. It was a conditional knowledge that existed in separation from the richly textured world just beyond the school’s plate-glass windows, which, for all their transparency, felt like the bars of a prison cell.

Tell that story to a kid in Africa who has to walk miles to get to school and the school might not have electricity or water and so on. They would say "So, you're telling me, you have free transportation to school, teachers, computers in ever classroom, air conditioned rooms, and you choose let your children learn to carve 'beautiful long bows' instead?"

Sorry that is how I feel. I can't shake the feeling that this is elitist. Like the article puts (as if pre-emptively trying to defend against a counter argument) this is like living some "Jeffersonian fantasies" -- that is exactly what I see here.

At the end of the day they are dooming these children to live in an isolated sheltered bubble. Which would have worked great in early settler days. Not today. Today unless they keep in that bubble they will be controlled and owned by those that understand how compounding interest rate works, how computers works, how the legal system works, how lobbying works, how quarks work, how genes work and so on.

Now with that said, it is their right to do it and it is nice to have that choice. This is what makes it great to live in this country. I personally think they are a little bit crazy for doing what they are doing.


My school has 1600 students but most of the building doesn't have air conditioning. The school had federal money to install central air conditioning but "borrowed" it to buy iPads for all the students. Then whatever they intended to reimburse the money fell through. (This was illegal.)

Somehow a PE teacher manipulated his way to become the Director of Human Resources for the district. He now lives in a million dollar house in the nicest housing edition in the city. He divorced his wife and married a new girl. She had no qualifications but he gave some 6-figure job in the school district. He also got his mother a job.

The district hired a new CFO, who quickly realized the district had two sets of books. He protested and was offered a bribe via an increased salary. He went to the FBI and subsequently wore a wire. The school district concocted a false sexual harassment charge against him and fired him.

He sued the school district. A federal grand jury was convened months ago but so far nothing has happened. Maybe the FBI is waiting to indict the various individuals involved once the civil suit is over. But it's been months and maybe there will be no indictments.

There's about 75,000 people in my city. We are far from progressive and this small town good ol' boy network has negatively effected our public schools.

The story doesn't even sound true but it's a great example of just how corrupted and messed up public education is in some cities.

http://www.stjoechannel.com/story/d/story/musser-files-lawsu...

http://www.stjoechannel.com/story/d/story/grand-jury-asks-st...


I can see how some towns have problems and how there are ridiculous testing requirements.

But I also don't see "let's have kids learn to hunt, grow garlic and carve long bows" as a viable alternative.


As a urban parent who plans to unschool our three kids, I think this article only gives a single perspective to the unschool movement - namely a rustic one, which happens to be very popular with this movement.

What is overshadowed in the article, largely because it is an outdoorsy magazine, is that the philosophy behind unschooling is the difference rather than the specific skills learned.

Case in point, my kids will be getting hands on experience with robotics and computing as early as they can read and form abstractions - which includes mathematics and physics education. The distinction is that we will teach at the pace of their understanding and curiosity rather than set milestones in the form of testing.

I think your metaphor generalizes too widely however I do agree that done right, unschooling truly is a rich mans school (time, effort and materiel) because it is so narrowly tailored.


What you are describing sounds more like the author's definition of homeschooling than unschooling. That said, he is teaching them the skills to run a farm, so at what point are you exposing children to something rather than instructing them.


You have to do some instruction around the edges, but largely the idea is that you offer different avenues for exploration and then they choose which way to go. Homeschooling generally has a fixed curriculum, often as restrictive as traditional schools - so that is the distinction.


How can it be 'elitist' if the education is not only cheaper but its graduates are allegedly doomed to be exploited in their 'bubble'?

The reality is that school leavers are more likely to be exploited. Once cast out of their enclosures, which resemble almost nowhere else in the wider world, they are mentally unable to pursue their own interests.

>I personally think they are a little bit crazy for doing what they are doing

All moral progress looks crazy in the beginning.


>Tell that story to a kid in Africa who has to walk miles to get to school and the school might not have electricity or water and so on. They would say "So, you're telling me, you have free transportation to school, teachers, computers in ever classroom, air conditioned rooms, and you choose let your children learn to carve 'beautiful long bows' instead?"

This is a bit of a false dichotomy. You can learn pretty much whatever you want without being locked in a brutalist concrete box with no windows with dozens of other restless children.

Honestly, I think I would have learned way more (and way faster) if I had just avoided elementary school and was given the latitude to study at my own pace (and maybe do some outdoorsy stuff like that mentioned in the OP). It wasn't until middle school that "normal" schooling (being locked in a room for hour-long sessions) became even remotely useful to me.

Of course, a lot of this is about finding a learning style that works; there is no universal learning style that is good for everyone. Which is why I agree with

>it is their right to do it and it is nice to have that choice.


>I can't shake the feeling that this is elitist

Hardly relevant. You have a better life on top of a society, it has always been so. Hence we should encourage people to move up in society.


> I can't shake the feeling that this is elitist.

It's not elitist to acknowledge the faults of a current system even thought it might be better than others.


>Tell that story to a kid in Africa who has to walk miles to get to school and the school might not have electricity or water and so on. They would say "So, you're telling me, you have free transportation to school, teachers, computers in ever classroom, air conditioned rooms, and you choose let your children learn to carve 'beautiful long bows' instead?

Why not? Teaching arithmetic appears to be a waste of time at best before sixth grade[0][1]. Children who receive no formal instruction in arithmetic catch up with their agemates who have been receiving that instruction and are better at word problems. If the most unnatural skill we teach in primary school shows no benefits from earlier instruction I sincerely doubt something that comes much easier, like reading, will show any long-term negative effects.

>At the end of the day they are dooming these children to live in an isolated sheltered bubble. Which would have worked great in early settler days. Not today. Today unless they keep in that bubble they will be controlled and owned by those that understand how compounding interest rate works, how computers works, how the legal system works, how lobbying works, how quarks work, how genes work and so on.

Those children learned to read. The only research I've been able to find on unschoolers suggests they function about one grade level behind[2]. I really doubt that has much of an impact on their long-term prospects and if it does...

They can still probably skip primary and middle school to little effect.

[0]http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201003/whe...

[1] L. P. Benezet (1935/1936). The teaching of Arithmetic: The Story of an Experiment. Originally published in Journal of the National Education Association in three parts. Vol. 24, #8, pp 241-244; Vol. 24, #9, p 301-303; & Vol. 25, #1, pp 7-8.

[2]Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science (Impact Factor: 0.46). 06/2011; 43(3):195-202. DOI: 10.1037/a0022697 ABSTRACT Although homeschooling is growing in prevalence, its educational outcomes remain unclear. The present study compared the academic achievements of homeschooled children with children attending traditional public school. When the homeschooled group was divided into those who were taught from organized lesson plans (structured homeschoolers) and those who were not (unstructured homeschoolers), the data showed that structured homeschooled children achieved higher standardized scores compared with children attending public school. Exploratory analyses also suggest that the unstructured homeschoolers are achieving the lowest standardized scores across the 3 groups.


Good point on the arithmetic. Ok let' teach them about patterns and shapes. Let's have them play games. Let's have school field trips to museums, the woods or farms. Let's teach kids about playing together, about negotiating and all those things.

There is a big gap between "well arithmetic doesn't work before 6th grade" and "let have them live in the woods and carve long bows".


Seriously? If unschooling were so great 3rd world countries would be dominating the world.

Creativity is domain specific. Walking around the woods won't help you be creative in solving math/engineering/science problems. You need a strong background in the subject, and to see how other people solved similar problems.

I feel bad for these kids as their future is being pigeon-holed. Who's going to hire someone who's educational experience is walking around the woods unsupervised?


I think you're wrong on a bunch of points.

The reason developing countries aren't "dominating the world" is because of a bunch of things, and the life of a kid from a developing country is very far from the life of an unschooled kid in the west.

Unschooled kids (and I know a lot of them) in the west are usually fairly privileges. If not economically (which definitely isn't always the case) then they are privileged to have intelligent and thoughtful parents who have the time, energy and interest to try to nurture a love of learning in them.

I also think you're wrong in regards to creativity. Creativity isn't domain specific, but being able to apply your creativity does take a lot of domain knowledge. You can have endless domain knowledge, and not an original thought in your head.

There are plenty of opportunities for unschooled kids to enter the mainstream education system, if they need certification of some kind to work in their field of interest. I know a good number of unschooled kids who became biologists, computer scientists, etc. by going to college/university when it became relevant.


> You can have endless domain knowledge, and not an original thought in your head.

I hear this a lot, and don't think it's at all true. It's pretty difficult to get to phd-level background in an area without having some thoughts no one else has explored yet. In fact I'm not sure it's even possible.


I would like to clarify that this article is not representative of all unschooling, I'm not an expert on the subject, but my best friend was essentially unschooled until eighth grade. His parents ran a biology lab and just took him with them to work and let him go. He quickly became interested in the computer system in the lab and developed a lifelong love of computing. At age 6 he installed Linux on a computer for the first time. By 14 he was employed by the lab as a sysadmin and also did some bioinformatics for them.

The kids in the article might go on to a life in agriculture like their parents, or they might develop an interest in carpentry, as per the structures in the forest. I know that to many people on HN such a lifestyle might be very foreign, but there's nothing wrong with it, and if one is happy in that lifestyle than they are much better off than the many people who were pigeonholed into engineering or medicine or law and find themselves unhappy.


>I feel bad for these kids as their future is being pigeon-holed.

For what it's worth, your opponent's argument shares the very same sentiment. After all, the schools in question all offer little appreciation for self-directed specialization.


Albert Hofmann (legendary chemist who synthesized LSD) and Shigeru Miyamoto (godfather of Nintendo who created Mario), both cite walking around and playing in the woods freely and unsupervised as a child being transformative experiences which (they believe) led to their later life accomplishments.

[1] http://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Hofmann

[2] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/20/master-of-play


> If unschooling were so great 3rd world countries would be dominating the world.

Except that they don't have easy access to books or the Internet. And also food.


Yeah, all they need is a library and a food bank and they'll be ahead of Japan in no time...


> someone who's educational experience is walking around the woods unsupervised?

That would be "whose".

Nobody cares about education before degree level, so I suspect they'll be fine.


> Nobody cares about education before degree level, so I suspect they'll be fine.

That would be, "Nobody cares about 'your' education before the 'university' level.."

Hard to imagine a decent university that would accept kids that can't do high school math, unless they learned algebra in the woods...


No, I meant what I wrote. Your inability to understand context is not a sign of intelligence or education (especially when the context is from your own post).

Oh, and lighten up. Did you not think it was funny that you made a grammatical error in a post deriding others' education?


I don't understand how, on a site called "Hacker News," so many people seem oblivious to how damaging the primary educational system is to young peoples' minds and methods of thought. Unschooling doesn't mean not teaching children: that's what happens in schools.


These types of handwaving "this is broken", "that is broken" statements are really starting to bug me. I'd expect better from a site called "hacker news".

As someone who hated school growing up, I don't think the system is broken or "damaging". Our education system is an old structure, evolved mostly in a time without computers, large scale data analysis or widespread real time communication. The deficiencies of the system (especially the more recent industrialization of education) are popping up as if they were obvious all along.

You underestimate the scale of the education system, and how much effort it takes to change and evolve over time in a way that is reasonably fair (filling air with whiny noise doesn't count).

There are countless initiatives underway to find ways to improve the education system. There are people working really hard to change the giant machine that is our education system. There are plenty of problems that have been brought to light (administrative bloat, memorization over critical thinking, authority over freedom), we know.

Can we as a community start putting votes to people who are acting, rather than people who dramatically whine with ideas that really aren't practical? Exchanging ideas is awesome, I just get tired of the whiny peanut gallery with inexperienced dogma.


> I don't understand how, on a site called "Hacker News," so many people seem oblivious to how damaging the primary educational system is to young peoples' minds and methods of thought.

I don't understand how, on a site called "Hacker News," so many people seem happy to upvote mindless, sweeping, and ignorant statements about a specialist topic from people obviously largely ignorant on said topic.


Nearly everyone reading went to school. We know it sucked for us, why should we not believe it sucks now? I know far, far more about primary and secondary school than I do about almost any other industry, I spent thousands of hours in it


> Nearly everyone reading went to school. We know it sucked for us, why should we not believe it sucks now?

Vaccination clearly causes autism, because people who had their kids vaccinated have autistic children!

Or if you'd like a more industry-relevant example, "Boy, I spend a lot of hours playing computer games. I have some great ideas how to make a great game. I just need a programmer to do the easy bit."


>> Nearly everyone reading went to school. We know it sucked for us, why should we not believe it sucks now?

>Vaccination clearly causes autism, because people who had their kids vaccinated have autistic children!

I find it difficult to engage with your sarcasm because the stupidity of the statement you are paraphrasing from idiots hurts my brain.

If you would like a criticism of school written by an industry expert may I recommend John Taylor Gatto. He was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Taylor_Gatto

http://the7lessonteacher.com/

http://www.newciv.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt


Is the elementary educational system truly "damaging" to young minds?

I think of my elementary education (which, mind you, was only 6 years ago) as perhaps boring or tedious in some areas (like math, for me), while also exciting and rewarding in others (science, learning to make friends, deal with gossip, etc). I certainly don't think I have a very 'damaged' method of thought now because of my elementary education.

I think that, on the whole, it was not at all damaging; in fact, it was important to my development as a child.


> Is the elementary educational system truly "damaging" to young minds?

I think so, and not just because some schools fail to provide a decent core education on the primary subjects. Obviously, many public schools do provide a reasonable core education (I got a pretty decent one, although Wikipedia sure helped). I'm more worried about the culture of schools and how kids are taught to think about creativity, authority, society, etc.


Have you read The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher? I recommend it to you and would be curious what you think of it. Here's a Cliffs Notes abbreviated version, just listing what the seven lessons are:

http://www.athenstalks.com/node/179729

And here's the whole essay (which is still pretty short):

http://www.worldtrans.org/whole/schoolteacher.txt

Of the "seven lessons", I think the lesson of the bells was the one I found most damaging. When I get interested in a subject, I would want to study that subject deeply, intensely, to the exclusion of everything else. Having to learn a subject like math divided into TINY LITTLE CHUNKS, mere drips and drabs spread out over an entire YEAR, takes something that could have interesting and makes it infuriating. Being expected to turn your interest on and off like a light switch when bells ring at arbitrary intervals...just didn't work for me.

I'm sure it depends on the student. Kids are resilient; I think most manage to learn a fair bit despite their schooling and some learn a bit due to it. For myself, I'm pretty sure school damaged my intrinsic motivation and wasted my time; I feel like I learned much more despite school than due to it.


The fact that you use anecdote to support a position might be evidence that your schooling did damage you. Your position would be more convincing if it had taught you about bias and about using reputable sources to support your argument. :-)


I'd guess that HN users are typically people who performed well academically. I certainly did. Think about the kids in class who couldn't sit still, couldn't stop talking. Oftentimes they ended up with an ADD or ADHD diagnosis and a prescription. Being told that you act abnormally and need medicine to stop you from being you is understandably damaging.


Except if you consider that ADHD is a consistent syndrome with extremely predictable negative consequences.

I believe this attitude about ADHD being some kind of "conformity issue" is almost as dangerous as "vaccines cause autism". It certainly is about as wrong...


I don't know. ADHD looks to me like a normal consequence of putting a small kid in a jail and telling to listen to boring stuff for half a day without moving or talking, or else. Think of how you'd behave in such situation as an adult.


First of all ADHD is not a "normal consequence" in the sense of being the majority.

Second, ADHD is so much worse than not being able to sit still and quiet for hours...


Do you know how the DSM ("diagnostic manual") is edited, http://www.dsm4tr.com ?


I know about the problems around the DSM. That doesn't make ADHD less of a "thing" though. Turns out that a questionnaire can diagnose ADHD. This diagnosis predicts anatomical, physiological and psychological differences, and on top of that certain negative consequences and suffering on the part of the patient. Treatment reduces that suffering. What more do you need?


Questionnaires are cheap but less reliable than brain (PET, fMRI) scanning or quantitative attentional testing. What is the impact of a false positive diagnosis on a still-developing young brain?

Adults are a different story - they can make their own decisions.


I mentioned questionnaires as a means of reaching a diagnosis which is not dependent on instrumental testing, to make a point about the consistency of subjective evaluation, objective findings, suffering and treatment.

But in General, ADHD diagnosis is not based on PET, fMRI or EEG.


Not sure how accurate your profile is, but if you're still 16 and thus in high-school you may not appreciate just how different the real world is. And that exactly is why it is so damaging.

In school there are a small number of people that are given authority over a huge swath of your life completely arbitrarily. This affects how you act and spend your time. This is completely opposite to how things work in the real world.

Another issue is that you're surrounded primarily with people of the same age. That is children/teenagers that similarly have little to no external life experience. In the real world you are surrounded by people of many demographics (age, ethnicity, background, etc).

Physical violence in white-collar workplaces (which is what I imagine most readers here would be working at) is near non-existent vs being at school where it's a very real threat for many people.

The concept of responsibility and bills. This is not directly about school, but often a result of school. Because you're in school you don't really have any bills of your own. You're placed in an artificial construct where your parents take care of most of your major bills (housing, food) and you are not forced to make your own income - and in fact many people are discouraged from finding employment during their school years because it may "impact their studies". So the essential life skills of managing a budget, balancing income and bills, etc don't get learned at all.

You don't see yourself as "damaged" because you don't understand or imagine what is possible outside of the school environment. While you can communicate with your peers, how well can you communicate to managers in a company? Can you sell a service or product to someone? Can you ask the right questions to find out what someone's true pain point is and not get distracted by their proposed solution?

If you left school right now (or 5 years ago) and had to make it on your own, you'd obviously be a very very different person today. Is that person better than you are now? Obviously that's impossible to say. But if that person is/would be better, then you can argue that your current self is damaged relatively speaking.


I'm actually quite hurt by this comment.

Firstly, I have worked for the past three years as a software developer. I've had to deliver things to a manager, figure out exactly what a client wants, and work collaboratively. I think that I've at least had a taste of the "real world".

Secondly, the idea that I lack some kind of mental capability to "understand or imagine what is possible outside of the school" is deeply flawed, and frankly unfounded. In fact, the condescension that arises from this statement is exactly the kind of attitude towards children that discourages them from taking risks and exploring independently.

I hope the next time you talk to or meet a 16 year old, you don't assume that they lack any ability to understand the "real world".


>I hope the next time you talk to or meet a 16 year old, you don't assume that they lack any ability to understand the "real world".

Most 16 year olds in the developed world do lack an ability to understand the "real world" (by that I mean the adult experience) because 16 year olds lack adult responsibility by default. Having a part time job is not the same as working to provide food and shelter for you and your family. At 16 your parents shield you from the freedoms and consequences that come with being an adult, and with no experience of those freedoms and consequences, you can't really internalize what it means to be an adult.

In addition, the human brain doesn't fully develop until around 25, so your judgment at 16 is fundamentally flawed.

There's nothing wrong with being 16, but in 10 years you'll look back and laugh at 90% of what you know right now.


> In addition, the human brain doesn't fully develop until around 25, so your judgment at 16 is fundamentally flawed.

Even if the premise is true, that seems an unreasonable conclusion. On what possible basis could one describe the judgement of a pre-25 brain as "fundamentally flawed"? What makes you consider an old, decrepit, no-longer-developing brain optimal? "Finished growing" doesn't mean "best", it just means "finished growing".

Jewish law considers a man "an adult" at 13, a woman "an adult" at 12. 16-year-olds are perfectly capable of adult behavior, regardless of the degree to which we choose to coddle them in the modern era.

When we treat kids as rational beings capable of mature reasoning, they are more likely to act as such.


Specifically the undeveloped part of the brain, is believed to be the part that evaluates risk. Meaning that 16 year olds are less likely to account accurately for the consequences of their behavior.

There are advantages to this for society and for the individual teenager. But there are disadvantages as well--they are more likely to commit crime, are easier to convince to go off to a foreign land and fight in a war, and take unnecessary risks when driving.

The inability of teenagers to fully comprehend the risks and consequences of their actions leads me to label their judgment "fundamentally flawed."

>When we treat kids as rational beings capable of mature reasoning, they are more likely to act as such.

I agree to an extent. But there are many circumstances where this isn't the case.

In a situation where the consequences of failure won't destroy the life of a teenager and those around him, sure treat him (or her) like an adult. But there are times when parents have to step in, exercise their authority, and protect them (and those around them) from themselves.


> Specifically the undeveloped part of the brain, is believed to be the part that evaluates risk. Meaning that 16 year olds are less likely to account accurately for the consequences of their behavior.

Again, you seem to be assuming that when the brain STOPS developing, it does so because it has achieved perfection. It is pretty easy to support the view that adults are far TOO risk-averse, too unwilling to let teens take chances that would benefit them. To claim adults account "accurately" is going a bridge too far. Adults account for risk "differently" and do so in a way that other adults are likely to agree with, but that doesn't make it more "accurate".


I think experience pretty much explains it. A 16-year-old hasn't learned yet to judge when its safe to turn left across the highway - is the truck too close? is it going too fast?

Witness ANYBODY learning a new computer game. We all have to play a while to learn the controls on that star fighter.

Teenagers are just newbies to life. Nothing to do with neurology.


Absolutely. I hope that every year of my life, I look back, and laugh at the things I 'knew' 10 years ago. Is it the same for you?

The oft-repeated idea of an "underdeveloped" teenage brain is a bit old. Scientific American did a piece on it in 2007. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-myth-of-the-te...)


>Absolutely. I hope that every year of my life, I look back, and laugh at the things I 'knew' 10 years ago. Is it the same for you?

To an extent yes, but that slows down the older you get.

>The oft-repeated idea of an "underdeveloped" teenage brain is a bit old. Scientific American did a piece on it in 2007.

That article itself is outdated. There are numerous studies done since then that support my assertion.

Here's a few articles.

2011 http://www.edinformatics.com/news/teenage_brains.htm

2011 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dob...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1411647...

http://phys.org/news/2010-12-brain-fully-mature-30s-40s.html

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000087239639044371370...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1241194...


> I hope that every year of my life, I look back, and laugh at the things I 'knew' 10 years ago.

You know what? I never did do that, and I'm starting to think I never will.

There may be many 20-year-olds that "knows" many things (in the same scare quotes you indended), but there are a lot of 30- and 40-year-olds who do that as well. I have a growing suspicion these may all be the same people...


Doing all of this at 16 how do you compare to your peers? Are you atypical or ordinary? If ordinary then maybe things have changed in the 15 years since I was in high school.

And if you're responsible for your own major bills and expenses like housing, food, clothes and transportation then even more kudos to you. I'd be extremely surprised if that was the typical situation of an average 16 yo American.


> But if that person is/would be better, then you can argue that your current self is damaged relatively speaking.

That's a weird interpretation of personal development.


Private school, well off neighbourhood?


Public school, but fairly wealthy.

What's your point?


Since schools are primarily funded locally, your experience is likely vastly different from someone who went to school in a less affluent area.


There are a lot of things I like about this, but I am do see some issues.

I think the boys are learning a lot of very interesting skills, but I think they would struggle a lot with becoming lawyers and doctors like the author claims.

My biggest concern would be their reading skills, and later, their advanced math skills.

He says they read fine, but reading is something that must be done almost every day for years to get to a highly literate point. Literacy and reading comprehension are essential skills to navigating the modern world.

I am just not sure what kind of jobs or careers they will be prepared for later on.

I mean, it sounds great and I would love to have done a lot of this stuff as a kid, but I just see issues if the parents don't really stay on top of it.

If you grow up hunting, fishing and farming, you don't exactly prepare yourself to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer.

On the other hand, if you have the reading and maths skills, you can still be a hunter/fisher/farmer.


I was unschooled, and I think that it really depends on what passion your kid has (which you can't predict, but can impact). If your child becomes really interested in the law, he will have unlimited time to pursue that goal. If your child is really interested in math, he will be able to study that in a much deeper way than someone similarly into math attending public or private school. He can learn not only at his own pace, but his own depth.

My younger brother, also unschooled, quickly began reading so he could use the computer and google things (like funny YouTube videos) but later things like free drawing applications (independently finding and installing Inkscape) and emulators (learning on his own how to install, find, and download, and play emulations of old NES and N64 games, around age 8) - which in my mind requires not only reading and literacy but deep comprehension. My point is, their passions will drive their knowledge. I think if you have a passion for technology, math, etcetera it will inevitably rub off on your children. You need to convey to them a passion for the subject, and a hunger for knowledge.


Much depends on the options that the kid even considers. If they're growing up on a farm environment, then their natural curiosity will drive them towards the skills that are useful and interesting in that environment - from the article it appears that they are learning a lot of skills that are useful for a farmer or a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, since it brings immediate feedback and is consistent with the opportunities that they have there.

Have they interacted with lawyers, saxophone players, programmers, art historians, ballet dancers or microbiologists in any meaningful way to practically consider it a viable lifestyle that they could understand and identify with, to consider it as a normal available option? Given their current situation, will they do so in any time soon? A few years in college would do it but that's a bit too late. You can't really understand if you'll like a profession if you haven't seen/felt how the daily life of it looks like, that's why this choice is often dominated by your local environment and public role models.

The point of general education is that kids are in the process of 'searching for themselves' and a large part of them don't and can't choose their future direction until near-adulthood or later. If at the age of nine you're consciously preparing to be an astronaut ninja fireman or unconsciously preparing to be a farmer, then it doesn't really correlate with "what your passion is" and what you'll want to do when you're 20 or 30. And at that time point, if you have significant gaps in key education areas, then it cuts off your options. If after puberty you figure out you'd really like to be a doctor, and you spent two hours per month (as the article states) on science and math, then you're simply not getting in med school.


For what it's worth, I was unschooled, and I scored a perfect 800 on the critical reading section of the SAT. I didn't spend nearly as much time outdoors as these kids, though; I gravitated toward computers from a young age.


My daughter is unschooled and taught herself to read and type mostly from the web browsing.

Most people somehow assume that because they learnt to read and write at school that one cannot do it out of school, and more efficiently. This despite the fact that they themselves didn't get good at reading until they found books they were excited about and wanted to read for their own reasons (reasons, btw, that might include hunting and fishing).

And if they think about it they'll correctly predict that asking adults on the street what 7 times 8 is will yield the wrong answer, or no answer at all, despite many years of compulsory arithmetic and socialization. Yet the commonly proposed solution to this deficiency is more compulsory education rather than less.


> taught herself to read and type mostly from the web browsing.

first. thumbs up if u agree lolz ndb smh


G-d. If my college freshmen came in knowing how to add fractions and understanding the meaning of x^2+y^2 = r^2, they'd do pretty well in precalc or calc. As far as I can tell many American students learn nothing mathematically between 7th grade and 12th grade, except a big old mental block about math. These kids will be fine with math when it happens.


>He says they read fine, but reading is something that must be done almost every day for years to get to a highly literate point. Literacy and reading comprehension are essential skills to navigating the modern world.

Almost all of my reading was done on my own time. School work was a detriment to the reading ability of me and my siblings. I read for fun, and by forcing me to spend time reading things I didn't want to, I spent less time reading overall.


Without doubt, school was an impediment to my reading.

My favorite class in high school was US History. I had an interest in the subject, so I already knew everything that was being taught in class... so I read a book instead. The teacher called on me repeatedly during the first week or two because he saw I wasn't paying attention. I asked him to repeat the question, then answered it correctly every time. Then, he stopped asking me questions and let me read my book in peace.

Then there was the time that my health teacher called my parents - and my girlfriend's parents - in for a conference. Turns out, when a 15-year-old boy knows the difference between a vagina and a urethra, he must be having sex in the janitor's closet or something. The fact that when I was curious about the mechanics of sex I went to the library and checked out anatomy textbooks apparently never crossed his mind.


If you hunt them for sport from childhood, the survivors get wily indeed.


Except I did this (almost exactly this) when I was a kid, and it left holes in my education that you could drive a bus through.


The author implies that self directly learning is always better than classroom. I can think of examples where this is not true.

For example, I know dozens of people who were never formally taught how to touch type on a computer keyboard. Most of them simply learned to type on their own by using the keyboard. They often type with 2 fingers on each hand (index and middle). They get to a level that they feel is "good enough" which is usually about 20-30 words per minute. However, with that approach, they will NEVER get up to 60-100 words per minute which you can easily do if you were taught to properly touch type. I often feel these people are hindered by the way they learned how to type.

I often prefer to learn from experts, which sometimes means forgoing learning how to do it myself and simply being taught the "right way". I know seeing the words "the right way" may make some people cringe, but there are a lot of things in this world to which that expression applies. If the kids want to challenge that after they have learned the "right way", be my guest... and I hope you find a better way.

my $0.02


I taught my younger sister (20 years younger than me) to touch type pretty easily when she was 8. I gave her a keyboard with blank keys and convinced my mom to make sure that was the only keyboard she could use.

Then I pointed her to the BBC typing practice website. She learned in about a month out of necessity.

She's almost 11 now, and she can touch type close to 60 words per minute.


Eh, not really. Most computer-typing professionals (programmers etc) learned touch typing by natural practice. People who don't type much and never practice don't get fast. School definitely not required even for intense practice.


A person can go a lifetime as a typing cripple. It takes work to get out of bad habits and into good ones. And its a delay-gratification process - you're screwed up for a week or so as you deconstruct your typing reflexes.

OR, they can take a class or buy a learn-to-type book, bite the bullet and study/practice.


I work in the software development field and I'd say only 50% of the QA & Dev people use touch typing... and I've worked in 4 different companies.


Agreed. The most valuable class I ever took was high-school typing. In my profession I see folks resist revisiting/improving code, because it takes them so damn long to type anything.


This actually seems astoundingly misguided and dangerous.

One of the unique, defining qualities of humanity is an ability to build on the knowledge and experiences of generations before us. Why throw all of the knowledge of the past 5,000 years of human civilization out?

When will they learn math, or science, or history? How can you become a lawyer, doctor, or engineer without learning these subjects? Can they really be postponed until college?


These subjects can be learned from people who are actually passionate about them, whether in person or remotely.

My uncle is a University history professor, and I learn more about world history from his uncontrollable desire to constantly relate every event in our lives to some event historical, than I have from any in-school study.

No sense in having to spend so long covering the first eight years of school arithmetic — the material is achingly simple, and can be taught with colour and passion in an afternoon by someone who truly loves it, to someone who is truly keen to learn.

If you give a self-motivated and eager kid access to someone who actually cares deeply for the material (unlike most every school teacher I've known), they'll be able to convey the principals and tenets of the field quickly and effectively.

When facts are needed, we have the best source of facts ever in the history of humanity: the internet, and the all the world's experts it puts you in touch with.


Do the kids in the article have access to the internet? Do they use it?


Their dad writes a blog. So they do have access, and maybe they do use it, maybe not.


No, you're fully missing the point of the article. The problem is people's one-to-one connection between schools and education. No such connection exists. A school is not the only place to get an education, and for many people no education occurs there. You can learn math, science or history on your own accord and in a way that is suited to how you learn.


Absolutely nothing in the article implies that this father is attempting to expose his children to books or other resources (the internet, perhaps?) about math, science, or history.


It looks like there was a misunderstanding here. It's ambiguous from your original post whether you oppose unschooling in general or the specific approach of the author of this article. It's clear now that you meant the latter and as someone who generally supports unschooling, I do see your point. If I had kids to unschool, I would try to encourage them towards more intellectual pursuits. And if they were anything like I was as a kid, they would enthusiastically take part without coercion (unless I required them to conform to a rigid educational program, in which case coercion would be required frequently).


You're missing the fact that modern day schools and the education system are a very recent invention. We've done ok in 5000 years without it.


The case against abandoning conventional schooling: In developing countries, every month a child goes to school significantly increases final IQ and future earning power.

You think you have an ADHD epidemic on your hand? Just wait until children who don't have ADHD don't have to learn to sit still and discipline themselves and their emotions.


> The case against abandoning conventional schooling: In developing countries, every month a child goes to school significantly increases final IQ and future earning power.

That may be true, but it omits a control group -- a comparison with people who don't attend school. It therefore lacks a scientific basis for comparison. Therefore it's not a "case against abandoning conventional schooling", it is a case where meaningful science is required to inform public policy.

> Just wait until children who don't have ADHD don't have to learn to sit still and discipline themselves and their emotions.

Some argue that the ADHD epidemic results from the very unnatural conditions in schools, conditions that are barely tolerable to otherwise normal children, and the ADHD diagnosis unjustly shifts responsibility from the oppressive school and educational system to the children.

I'm certainly not saying this is the only explanation, just that no clear conclusion can be made on present evidence.


Controlgroup? I don't think science means what you think it means. The finding that I am referring to is an observational study. There might not have been a "control group" with exactly zero time in school, but plenty of datapoints, and the "dosage effect" is undeniable. That is scientific enough.

"Some argue [about cause of ADHD]" reveals that you just quote the scientific method if you want to argue a point, and don't really understand it. ADHD has been established as a syndrome, and about as firmly as it gets in medicine.

"Present evidence" includes ADHD being a consistent syndrome in Neuroanatomy, EEG, fMRI, genetic studies, and psychological testing. There are even successful treatments for it. The most important factor in ADHD is genetic, other factors include early injuries, environmental toxins, alcohol exposure in the womb, low birth weights - very clear evidence that there are causes for ADHD that a school system can't be changed to prevent.

What kind of evidence do you need for a "clear conclusion", if you don't accept decades of research, involving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cases?


> Controlgroup? I don't think science means what you think it means.

In human studies, the absence of a control group invalidates the result. This is human studies 101.

As to science meaning what I think it does:

http://arachnoid.com/building_science

> That is scientific enough.

Spoken like a true psychologist. Observational studies without an effort to craft a testable, falsifiable theory, an explanation, for the observations is not science. If this were not so, astrology would be a science.

But since I can anticipate your reply, let me give you an example. Doctor Dubious invents a new treatment for the common cold. His treatment is to shake a dried gourd over the cold sufferer until the patient gets better. Sometimes the treatment takes a week, but it always works — the cold sufferer always recovers. So, why doesn't Doctor Dubious get a Nobel Prize for his breakthrough?

The answer is that the procedure is only a description — shake the gourd, patient recovers — without an explanation, without a basis for actually learning anything or being truthful about the connection between cause and effect. It's the same with psychology.

> What kind of evidence do you need for a "clear conclusion", if you don't accept decades of research, involving hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cases?

One study with a control group and scientific discipline, would be worth thousands of typical psychology studies that don't try to move from description to testable, falsifiable explanation. As it happens, the NIMH has now accepted this view. In a recent policy change, the NIMH has ruled that the DSM, psychology and psychiatry's "bible", may no longer be accepted as the basis for scientific research proposals, on the ground that it has no scientific content:

http://news.sciencemag.org/2013/05/nimh-wont-follow-psychiat...

But, since you think that the quantity of studies make up for their poor quality, will you also defend the many thousands of recovered memory cases on the same ground -- that, since there were so many of them, surely they must refer to something real? And that therefore Beth Rutherford really was raped by her father and forced to abort using a coat hanger -- until the day someone discovered she was a virgin?

Or how about Asperger Syndrome? A few years ago it seemed like a real thing, with thousands of confirmed diagnoses (for those of you who think counting cases makes up for poor discipline). Now, because of indiscipline and widespread abuse, it's been voted out of the DSM and therapists are discouraged from using it.

> There are even successful treatments for it.

Yes, just as there is for the common cold -- see above. If you actually understood science you would realize that ADHD means precisely nothing until a cause is uncovered.

> ADHD has been established as a syndrome, and about as firmly as it gets in medicine.

Compared to a microscope image of a pathogen, followed by development of a vaccine, which either succeeds or fails, in a properly designed study with a control group?

ADHD is located in the vast terrain of unscientific psychology, grouped with things that are discussed but for which there is no solid evidence nor known cause. The NIMH has taken the first step by denying use of the DSM in scientific research. The next step will be advances in neuroscience and the eventual replacement of psychology with neuroscience.

This doesn't say there's nothing to ADHD, or that a real cause might not eventually be uncovered. It says psychologists have no idea what they're talking about.


Withholding school from children (in a developing country) in a long term experiment is completely unethical. You can't ruin a child's future just to make a point. Such an experiment should never be conducted.

I think you should really research ADHD more thoroughly. I don't understand how you could be writing so much nonsense about it if you even took five Minutes to read the wikipedia article.

ADHD medication has been tested in double blind studies in hundreds of thousands of cases, in dozens of seperate studies, for several different substances. It doesn't get any better.

ADHD diagnosis in terms of questionnaires PREDICTS anatomical, physiological and psychological differences. It also predicts negative consequences: higher risk of depression, higher risk for delinquent behavior, low academic achievement (compared to IQ), lack of social skills etc.

And many of these predicted (and well-observed) consequences can be prevented by medication and therapy. How much more "scientific" can it get?

Insisting on ADHD not being a diagnoseable, treatable syndrom is almost as dangerous as saying "vaccines cause autism".


> Withholding school from children (in a developing country) in a long term experiment is completely unethical.

Yes, I agree, and that is why the required science cannot be done -- the science you think exists in psychology.

> I think you should really research ADHD more thoroughly.

I have researched it, I know this topic much better than you do, and at present ADHD is firmly in the pseudoscience category. This is not to say it's not real, it is to say that no one has any idea what it is, and we cannot objectively diagnose it. This means it's open to various kinds of abuse, in particular if its diagnosis relies on self-reporting and questionnaires, the bane of modern psychology.

> It doesn't get any better.

Science is better. But to understand that, you would have to understand science.

> ADHD diagnosis in terms of questionnaires PREDICTS anatomical, physiological and psychological differences.

Questionnaires? Self-reporting? This is worse than I thought. You show me a microphotograph of a pathogen (or a distinctly abnormal group of brain cells, or a cluster of genetic defects, or anything objective at all) that causes ADHD, and I will grant that the required science has begun. Until then, an ADHD diagnosis depends on how a questionnaire is filled out, which means people can get the diagnosis if they want it and if they know what to say in the questionnaire (or the reverse, if that's their preference).

> Insisting on ADHD not being a diagnoseable, treatable syndrom is almost as dangerous as saying "vaccines cause autism".

You're obviously unaware that Thomas Insel, chairman of the NIMH, holds the same views on this topic that I do:

Link: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-dia...

Quote: "While DSM has been described as a “Bible” for the field, it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity."

"Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever ... Patients with mental disorders deserve better."

Ten years ago I was having the same kinds of conversations about Asperger Syndrome. Now Asperger Syndrome is gone, discredited. Does this mean that ADHD is another phony condition? Not likely, but no one knows, because no one is doing the required science.

I'll say it again for the record -- ADHD will become a real condition when we know what causes it, and not before.

Science requires testable, falsifiable explanations. Psychology is stuck at the description stage, and has been for decades.


>I have researched it, I know this topic much better than you do, and at present ADHD is firmly in the pseudoscience category.

You refuse all the decades and heaps of evidence by some summary hand-waving over what science is supposed to be. The idea, that double blind trials are required to call anything science is ridiculous, and you prove it by not admitting any double-blind trials as evidence in favor of the existence of ADHD...

Your rant about the DSM is completely off topic. Which might be explainable by your obvious complete lack of medical training, and arguably little understanding about scientific methods in general. Otherwise I just can't explain why you want to prove the non-existence of ADHD by saying that some diagnostic manual (which isn't the only way or manual to diagnose ADHD, btw) is not useful in medical research. You don't even acknowledge the difference between medical research and medical practice.

There is a course by coursera called "Pay attention: ADHD through the lifetime". This course offers a thorough examination about diagnostic criteria, symptoms, neuroanatomy and treatment. ADHD is a physical thing that can be shown physically.

If you were inclined to listen to scientific evidence, you could go to google scholar and read any of the dozens of double-blind studies where children are diagnosed with ADHD, get treatment, and improve in several objective and subjective measures.

But, probably, while thousands of real scientists aggree on the validity of these studies, you will probably find some reason, why this evidence is not clear enough to draw conclusions you donb't like.

"DSM contains conditions which don't have physical/physiological manifestations" is not proof for ADHD not existing. For one thing, because these physical and physiological features have been well studied...


Spit the hook. lutusp is effectively trolling when the discussion is anywhere near psychiatry.


> You refuse all the decades and heaps of evidence by some summary hand-waving over what science is supposed to be.

Yes -- myself and the NIMH. We're on the same wavelength. You need to learn this topic, find out what's going on in your own field. Your ignorance is embarrassing. And there is no "science is supposed to be" trope -- science has been clearly defined in the law, laws meant to keep Creationism out of public school classrooms, laws with requirements psychology cannot meet.

> Your rant about the DSM is completely off topic.

Say what? The DSM is the source for information about ADHD. NO DSM, no ADHD. This was true about Asperger's as well, until it became too embarrassing and was removed from the new edition of the DSM. Asperger's has recently been discarded by being removed from the DSM.

> I just can't explain why you want to prove the non-existence of ADHD ...

What the fuck are you talking about? I never said ADHD is not real, I said it's not science, and until it is, the NIMH will refuse to accept it or allow funds to be disseminated to study it. Those are the facts.

Prove me wrong -- locate where I claimed that ADHD isn't real. In other words, imitate a scientist and locate some evidence for your false claims.

It's not as though ADHD information is difficult to locate:

Link: http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/adhd/problems-overdiagnosis-...

Title: "Problems of Overdiagnosis and Overprescribing in ADHD"

Quote: "Doubt and confusion as to where this disorder fits into the general spectrum of illness further feeds the general perception that ADHD is a socially constructed disorder rather than a valid neurobiological disorder. -- With the production of more stimulants every year, worries about the increased availability of stimulants for abuse and diversion rise as well. Rising production rates are cited as proof of stimulant overprescribing by physicians and indirect evidence of the overdiagnosis of ADHD among children."

I emphasize the above doesn't constitute science evidence for or against anything, only that your claim that ADHD is a solidly established disorder backed by reliable research is, simply put, a lie.

> If you were inclined to listen to scientific evidence ...

There is no scientific evidence, and it's time for your to learn something about science. This is why the NIMH has decided to reject the DSM -- it's become an embarrassment.

> ... you will probably find some reason, why this evidence is not clear enough to draw conclusions you donb't like.

AS does the NIMH, and for excellent reasons -- scientifically clueless people like you who take positions out of ignorance.

Prove me wrong. Name the property that all scientific findings and theories must possess to be regarded as science (a property included in the laws that define science). It can be expressed in a single word, and it's something psychological research lacks in droves.

> "DSM contains conditions which don't have physical/physiological manifestations" is not proof for ADHD not existing.

And? I never claimed anywhere that ADHD doesn't exist. I do say that, until we know what it is, we cannot meaningfully treat it. And the above quotation from the literature fully supports my position.

Now stop lying. ADHD is neither true nor false, it's in limbo because there is no science being done.

> For one thing, because these physical and physiological features have been well studied...

So your claim is that if something is well studied, then ipso facto it must be real. If that were true, it would make astrology real -- it's certainly been well studied.

Learn science -- stop embarrassing yourself.


I think I have to give up on you. You are refusing double-blind studies as evidence. You are misrepresenting NIMH's stance on DSM because you don't know the difference between diagnostics and research. You are quoting minority opinions as proven fact, without actual proof, of course.

> Doubt and confusion as to where this disorder fits into the general spectrum of illness further feeds the general perception that ADHD is a socially constructed disorder rather than a valid neurobiological disorder.

This is actually exactly what I am talking about. The article worries not about ADHD overdiagnosis, but about the public perception of overdiagnosis - while the author is pretty clear that it is a valid neurobiological disorder, and that there is no evidence for overprescription.

Are you a scientist? I sure hope not...


> You are refusing double-blind studies as evidence.

You are lying -- there are no double-blind scientific studies of ADHD, one, because they would be unethical as you pointed out earlier, and two, without knowing the cause of ADHD, no such studies are even possible.

> You are misrepresenting NIMH's stance on DSM

YOU ARE LYING. I quoted the NIMH directly and linked to their decision. The DSM will no longer be accepted as the basis for scientific research, because it only lists symptoms, not causes -- required for science. Read it again:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2013/transforming-dia...

> You are quoting minority opinions ...

NIMH Director Insel is a "minority opinion"? Which planet are you visiting from? Insel and his predecessor Steven Hyman at the NIMH, and Allen Frances, editor of DSM-IV, and many others, all agree that psychiatry and psychology are in deep trouble with respect to the issue of science and evidence, and all agree that the DSM needs to be abandoned.

> while the author is pretty clear that it is a valid neurobiological disorder,

You just quoted an article that says the opposite. You are lying about the words in front of your face. Also, since the cause is unknown, anyone claiming that it's a valid disorder is contributing to folk tales instead of science.

Again, for the record, this is not to say there's no ADHD, only that there's no science for or against.

> Are you a scientist? I sure hope not...

The sure sign of someone who doesn't know how to participate in a debate about issues.


I'm sure ADHD can be diagnosed, and that it has a genetic component, and that it can be mitigated with drugs. But I've got to believe that calling it a 'disorder' is socially constructed. Is red hair a disorder?

ADHD has plusses and minuses, especially in milder forms. It can be harnessed for good. In our school systems ADHD can be dysfunctional. But an alternative to drug therapy is to school differently.


We homeschool our children and for a year we tried unschooling. My wife's cousins were all unschooled. There is definitely merit to the approach, although done right (unschooling) it can be much harder for the parent than it looks. Done wrong it can set your children up for a fantastic career barely making ends meet. So at it's worse it's no worse than compulsory public education. We're much bigger fans of alt-schooling (or home schooling as it were).

We've settled on a curriculum of the classics and are part of a home schooling group organized around said curriculum. The kids meet weekly and one of the parents facilitates each year, each "grade" level. Even though there is a "tutor" (facilitator) it requires significant parental involvement.

The most unsettling aspect to alt-schooling in general are the ridiculous things that people say to you. It's not that people are stupid, it's that there is so much they know that just isn't so. It is utterly fruitless to debate the benefits of alt-schooling with people who have not been outside the box. You cannot know how rich, valuable, and academically positive alt-schooling is on average. So you ask questions like, "what about socialization" as if it's a good thing to be in an asylum run by the inmates, or "what about college" as if Harvard doesn't want someone who studied latin from age 7. I digress.

To be fair I feel the need to share my background. I'm a high-school dropout. I subsequently aced the GED, along with the others who took the test with me. I did high school at a "blue ribbon" public school. Everything before that was at a small church-supported private school. We were by no means wealthy, and tuition was as cheap as it could have possibly been. Still my parents both had to work so that we could go. In the private school we did Algebra in the sixth grade, I read at a post-high school reading level in the third grade. It was intellectually stimulating and a wonderful nurturing environment. When I got to public school I found a prison for the mind. The teachers, while seemingly more educated seemed either not to care or to be overwhelmed with things other than teaching. The latter must have been as soul crushing for them as corporate work. It was soul crushing for me to be there. At first I began to advance ahead of my peers. I started taking advanced classes and realized that they were just more of the same mediocrity. At 16 I got a job programming and at 17 I dropped out. The rest, as they say, is history. I now manage a team of over a hundred programmers. I have a passionate hatred of the public education system. I didn't wind up digging ditches and I believe that it is 100% because of my early education experience in that humble little school that was not unlike a homeschool club.

I'm not debating the merits of your public education experience. I'm not saying you wasted your time or didn't come out ok. I'm not saying you aren't a good person or your teachers weren't either. I'm saying it can be better and it's amazing how little effort it can require. Life will not fall apart if you don't take AP Math and join the Key Club.

We've all been told the same lie, work hard in school so you can get good grades so you can go to a good college so you can get a good job so you can work hard so you can become CEO. Alt-schooling can instead prepare one well for the world where "humans need not apply".


Fantastic comment overall. This surprises me, though:

> Done wrong [unschooling] can set your children up for a fantastic career barely making ends meet.

In a world where many people change careers several times as adults, this seems unnecessarily pessimistic. Okay, maybe their first career won't be that lucrative. Most people don't make that much in their twenties anyway. But that doesn't mean they won't find something better eventually.

In the economy of the 21st century, I think pursuing one's own passions is a likelier route to success than trying to follow the well-worn paths. No, there's no guarantee of success that way, but the well-worn paths offer no guarantees either. What I think is important in childhood and adolescence is to spend enough time and effort on something to come away with a sense of mastery, so that you feel that you can master anything else that you care to, and you have some idea of what's required to do that. But it doesn't matter what the "something" is. It's the experience that counts, not the information; information is free now.

Still and all, I agree partially with what you're saying. If I had kids, there would be things I would want them to know. (Many of these are not taught in any school, like how to deconstruct advertising -- an essential skill in modern life -- but that's another discussion.) I would certainly try to interest them in many topics. But I would try to do it at the right moment -- if they have no interest, it's not the right moment -- and I would also very much try to support them in developing their own interests.

I guess the unschooling idea could go too far if parents took it as devaluing their own potential contributions to their children's learning opportunities. Maybe some of that tends to happen. I don't think John Holt meant it that way.


Thanks. The reason I said that unschooling done wrong can set your children up for not being able to make ends meet was perhaps a bit harsh but based on experience. Out of my wife's six cousins they all regret being unschooled. I don't blame them. Their father didn't do it out if some sense of enlightenment. He is an unintelligent man who made his livelihood working with his hands. Unfortunately it's much harder to make a livable wage these days in a job where you sweat. Other than building a cabin (a very well made cabin I might add) his children are weak at reading and writing and are horrible at math. His daughter wanted to be a nurse but couldn't make it through nursing school, one of his sons is a prison guard, the gregarious one is a fantastic jewelry salesman. His kids have a fantastic work ethic but will likely never come close to their full income earning potential. Had the parents focused more on academics and less on grooming horses they might not have to work in retail, a prison, or be restricted by a spouses earning potential.

The great benefit of unschooling is that you raise emotionally very well rounded kids. I don't know what it is about the outdoors but it sure does work.


I take your point -- unschooling is perhaps best done by parents who are at least self-educated, who are intelligent people, curious about the world, and enthusiastic readers themselves. If the parents can't feed the kids' minds in some way, they should recognize that and find someone else in the neighborhood who can (other parents, perhaps), or use some source of lesson plans, or something.

In this case it sounds like it might be too generous to call this unschooling -- it sounds more like simple neglect. If parents aren't unschooling out of a conviction that they will actually give their kids a better education than the schools would, why are they doing it? Sounds more like sheer laziness to me.

Anyway, the question now is, what can these kids, now adults, do about their situation? I'll hazard a guess that they watch as much TV as the average American. If that's anywhere close, I'd say the first step is to get the TV out of the house. That will free up several hours a day. The second step is to get online. That will give them a reason to read and write. Even just doing that a few hours a day will, in a few years, change their lives. There's Wikipedia, there's Khan Academy, ... well, I don't have to explain this to you, I'm sure.

I can't accept that it's too late for them to turn this around, but it will take quite a bit of initiative on their part. If their work ethic is as good as it seems, maybe it's possible.

I don't know how close you are to them, but if you have any ability to reach them, I would encourage you to try. Their lives could be very different in ten years. I know that and I hope you know that, but they don't (else they would already be working on it).

I know I'm being presumptuous here. Please forgive me if I'm belaboring the obvious. I hate to see wasted potential.


This surprises me, though:

> Done wrong [unschooling] can set your children up for a fantastic career barely making ends meet.

I will direct you to this comment from the original article: But “self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests”

I homeschooled my sons. At age 16, my youngest officially became a high school drop out so we could evade local reporting requirements, essentially. I was going through a divorce and living with relatives and it didn't look to my relatives like my kids were doing anything educational. One of their projects that year was a study of AI. We discussed a list of movies and TV shows and some learning goals (and went with that because AI -- the three laws and all that -- is intimately interrelated with fiction in part because it is still being dreamed up). I watched a lot of those things with them and had high level discussions about it with them during and after the viewing. But it looked to outsiders like my kids just dicked around all day.

They want to make video games for a living and want it to be kind of "next generation of AI" type video games. However, they are, currently, basically losers who can barely make ends meet. (We all are -- we are still together.) But that's in part because I and my oldest son have a very serious medical condition that we are dealing with in an unconventional/alternative manner and that is even harder to explain to outsiders than "unschooling."

So, basically, unschooling looks like the kids just dick around all day and, if the parents aren't on the ball, it can actually become the kids just do, in fact, dick around all day.


I was "home educated" - the typically British middle ground. Not "home school" (school at home) and not unschooling. But self-educated / family educated at home, for the whole of highschool level. We'd just moved country, and didn't want to jump into a new school system straight away. It worked pretty well for us. I spent a lot of time learning to program and play music, I joined a local drama group, played in the church band, the town marching band, and taught myself to juggle. My brother did loads of piano, singing, and IT stuff. He's now working as the IT and music teacher at a local private school (after having gone on to do his BA and MA in Theology, as well as a teacher-training certificate), and I'm working as in a non-profit doing all kinds of things. We decided, my brother, my parents, and I, to use a curriculum for a few years, which allowed us to get International Baccalaureate equivalents, which was useful for my brother with going on to Uni, but useless to me. We learned a lot of useful stuff though.

I learned all the sine / cosine stuff around age 10, as I was trying to write a computer game and needed to move things around circles, so asked my mum about it, who asked her friends on the home-educating-parents email list, and eventually someone helped. (This being in the late 90s). I wanted to learn it, so I did. I can still remember everything I need to know about those because it was interesting to me at the time. I never learned to spell at school. I was awful, always in the lowest group in class. Until I wasn't doing spelling tests, and just writing on my own at home on the computer, and kept getting annoyed at the little red squiggle under half my words. My brain eventually learned it was quicker and less distracting to my writing to learn the correct spellings rather than having to go back and correct them.

I do think a certain amount of "education" is required for a sensible life. Reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, etc. But once you've learned to read, and if you've had a love of books instilled into you, you'll probably pick up most stuff you really want to learn along the way. And there's no real reason to force any of those skills at any particular age. My brother learned to read at about 3 and a half, as I was learning in kindergarten, he decided to too. I have another friend who simply wasn't interested, and didn't learn until about 8 and a half. But then he learned to read and write in about 2 months flat.

Kids are all different. Public education was a brilliant, wonderful institution to help move millions of families out of poverty and enforced unskilled labour. But once you've moved a society out of that state, education needs to be much less of a "life support" type system, and become more of a individualised therapy / explorative / personal journey.


> I learned all the sine / cosine stuff around age 10, as I was trying to write a computer game and needed to move things around circles (...) I wanted to learn it, so I did. I can still remember everything I need to know about those because it was interesting to me at the time.

Just like me. I learned it around 13, because I wanted to figure out how to rotate sprites and move them around other sprites; I remember spending long hours looking at a math book and drawing pictures with a pencil. When I finally grokked the proper transformations, I was extremely excited, and I remembered that math forever since. Pretty much every other thing I learned for game development I understand well and remember 'till now.


Isn't it better to keep your kid inside and teach him to code?




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