Some thoughts on education and school

A couple of thoughts for thinking about…  Perhaps the whole premise of “school” as we know it is incorrect?

  • Learning is focused on K-12, plus an additional 4-8 years of college.  Then what?
  • The academics themselves have taken a front row seat.  At best, academics should be a tool to learn the things you need in life.
  • What is the main point of general education?  Whatever a competent adult needs to live an effective and productive life should be the main goal of non-specialized education.
  • This has little to do with many of the subjects that are so extensively taught, and much to do with subjects that are not little taught.

The saying “begin with the end in mind” needs applied. If you were to ask the typical person “why kids go to school”, you would get many varied answers.  Some legit, and some stupid, but I guess there would be little consistency between answers.

If you told the average adult that they need to spend the next 16 years of their life, 40 hours per week, doing a job that does not pay, doing things that they do not want to do, and having no physical end result… what would they say?  That is 1/5 of the average human life, and regardless of what you are doing, there had better be a really good reason for it.

Every learning activity should have a “end in mind”.  I think a lot of kids are also confused about why they are put through so many grueling tasks, when they have more interesting things to do.  Let’s break it down into basics…

  • Learn to Read -> so you can learn and understand things
  • Learn to Write -> so you can communicate with others
  • Learn Arithmetic -> so you can “figure” problems out
  • Learn History -> so you do not repeat the bad parts
  • Learn Government -> so you can be an effective part of it
  • Learn Language -> so you can communicate more widely
  • Learn Science -> so you understand life around you
  • Learn Physics -> so you can keep your car on the road
  • Learn Accounting -> so you can handle finances in all areas of life
  • Learn Management -> so you can handle the projects life gives you
  • Learn Attention to Detail -> so you do not drop the ball in life
  • Learn Health -> so you are able to maintain a healthy body

And so on…

If the learning is not producing the correct end result, then why waste huge amounts of time and money and life?

There need to be fundamental changes in the way leaning is handled.  Anyone with experience should know that experience cannot be taught, that experience is valuable, and that experience comes only with doing.

Therefore, the goal of education should be to impart experience.  In doing this, bookwork should be reduced, and practical projects should be emphasized.  The end goal being to impart enough experience in enough areas that the student can live life without making the huge blunders that so many people have made.

But once “graduated”, this process of learning should not stop.  In our culture, I am not aware of a place where diverse and experienced people gather to teach to those who wish to learn.  Such a mechanism was outlined in two excellent books (IIRC): “The Man who Counted”, and “The Richest Man in Babylon”.
Quite frankly, the distinction between “student” and “adult” is a flaw in the way our culture thinks.  Learning should never stop, neither should structured learning.

You can force a horse to water, but not make him drink.  You can force a child to school, and not make him learn.  And even if you do force him to learn, you will diminish his desire to learn.  Everyone is different, headed to a different path in life, and their education should reflect that.  But the best thing one can learn is the art of leaning itself.

In summary, I would like to see:

  1. Free learning centers where wise people gather to pass their knowledge and experience on to willing ears who hear.
  2. A culture that promotes the above, values wisdom, and makes learning a center of culture (rather than TV, for example).
  3. Parents who teach the above, teach their children, and form a belief in their children that learning is valuable and to be sought.  Instead of school M-F.
  4. Only part time teachers, teaching the things they heavily practice in real life.  Engineers teach math, writers teach writing, editors teach spelling, historians teach history, accountants teach accounting, scientists teach science, doctors teach health, etc…
  5. People are certified in their knowledge of general areas + specific areas by the successful execution of a challenge, teaching, or test that is a real life project, or if not, as close as possible.  Similar to how Doctorate programs are currently structured, but much more diverse.

Following such an excellent general education, colleges could be far more focused on specialized knowledge needed for different fields.

While much of this may be difficult to achieve in our current culture, there are aspects which I have implemented already in our school program.  My 3rd grader writes a real letter on real paper to a real person every day (bank teller, store owner, librarian, machine shop owner).  This has several side effects:

  1. it builds his reputation
  2. it teaches him to read, write, and spell in a very practical way
  3. it teaches him to communicate
  4. it blesses many people

Likewise, the students needed flashcards so they could memorize the arithmetic tables…  Rather than purchasing them, I had them create the cards themselves.  Many good effects:

  1. Very effective learning
  2. Penmanship
  3. Organization
  4. Diligence and Patience
  5. A physical “end product” of their education

I have specifically focused extensively on reading and writing under the premise that: “if they can effectively communicate, they can learn anything.”


5 thoughts on “Some thoughts on education and school

  1. What a great article! I completely agree that education system should be focused on teaching kids how to learn! That’s it, simple enough!

    I may disagree to some extent that ‘professionals’ e.g. engineers teaching math, should be doing actual teaching. Yeah, they have a lot to show off to kids to raise their interest in a subject, but there might be a luck of actual ‘teaching’ knowledge, experience and teaching passion.

  2. Hi Andrew, thank you for the comments. I think that the “professionals” would need to exhibit the qualifications of a good teacher in order to teach. Is it possible that the qualifications of a good teacher are rare in non-teachers? Interesting perspective.

  3. > Is it possible that the qualifications of a good teacher are rare in non-teachers?
    I do not know if it’s rare or not (do not have any numbers to do a math), but it’s definitely something questionable.
    I know a person with PhD in history with complete lack of ‘teaching’ skills. Said that, there is no academic degree or experience which can make a person a Teacher.

  4. Jason,

    Great thoughts here. I agree with Andrew caution that teaching itself is a skill that not all professionals hold. However, I was also thinking many more would be qualified if learning could be done in non-classroom settings. In other words, an engineer may be a poor lecturer BUT might be good at demonstrating things or teaching a small group… I think a whole new approach on what a qualified teacher is might need to be considered (and this might vary in contexts).

    There is also something to be said for some of the “general, seemingly non practical” subjects like literature, philosophy and the arts that has value by helping people not to live in a vacuum of their own ideas only, but (similar to history) understanding the ideas and influences that have shaped cultures and generations.

    Overall you have some awesome points and I think these ideas could/should be expounded on further… could something like this be approached as a team effort here in Altoona?

  5. Matt,

    I think something like this could be accomplished if we established the proper framework. One of the issues is that non-home-schooled students would have difficulty with carving out the *extra* time to do these activities. Regardless – we should sit down and figure out #1, 2, 3, and get started!

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