T Nation

Having Education

The assumption, in regards to all the talk on privatizing education, is that education is necessary for a healthy, functioning society. After all, the strength of any democracy rests on the wisdom of the average voter, yes? Thus, the best way to improve society is to increase the average intelligence of its citizens.

I disagree. The notion that a democracy relies on how smart its constituents are is, generally, bunk. The vast majority of things taught in the classroom, from multiplication tables to basketweaving, has little application to a representative democracy.

In such a democracy, we must rely on broad generalizations about elected officials, such as:

  • Are they trustworthy?
  • Do they have foreign policy experience?
  • Do they support the values that I do?
  • Have they been successful in the past?

All of these questions are answered through journalism, largely, not formal education. Certainly critical thinking comes into play, but the classroom is not the only (and frequently not the best) venue for developing quality critical thinking.

Okay, so it is not necessary for people to make informed voting decisions. But it is important for making productive citizens…after all how will we learn the skills necessary to get a job, like writing composition, like mathematics, like…pottery?

I contend, in the tradition of Dewey, Holt and others, that mandatory classroom education is potentially the worst and most inefficient medium to communicate knowledge.

A critical issue in the psychology of learning is motivation. We have elected to motivate our student in modern times with grades. Learn the material, take the tests, get the grade, forget the material.

I challenge you to tell me how much you can recall that you learned from high school that you ACTUALLY remember. You’ll probably retort that it gave you a foundation that you could refresh quickly, but I suspect you could learn it from ground zero almost as quickly.

Consider your actual job skills–you were motivated to learn them because they impacted your ability to succeed and advance in your career. Did you ever go back to school? How much more motivated were you when you returned?

Probably much more so, because the material you were learning had significance and purpose, they were not abstract concepts floating in the ether, but concrete ideas that could be applied to real life.

With rare exception, jobs don’t even care much about your education. Experience plays a far greater role in your hiring and advancement. Why? Because they know that most kids don’t know shit after graduating and will remember even less in a few years.

But if you have designed an award winning website, or build a successful small business, or built a very useful invention, they know you possess desirable skills.

Of course there is the occasional student who goes through school with a love of learning and absorbs everything he can, but these are the exceptions and I suspect that the strictures of the mandatory formal education system probably suppresses such an urge rather than promotes it.

Thus, I advocate not for the elimination of public education, but for the change of its structure:

  1. Do not require children to attend any sort of education. Parents, of course, should encourage it, but there should be no requirements. If parents allow their children to be bums, that is the fault of the family.

  2. Encourage programs in which children are exposed to a variety of situations. Maybe they work in a doctors office for a short while, maybe they spend some time in an auto shop, maybe they help in a research lab, maybe they try to paint.

Much like a rotating medical internship, kids will get an idea of what they are interested in and good at.

Also force them into some situations. Send them on guided outdoor expeditions where they learn how to build a fire or they eat cold food, where they learn how to build a shelter or spend a night out in the cold.

This is just one example, but there are a variety of things that could force a child to learn certain skills or suffer the consequences.

  1. Deformalize education. Instead of forcing children to sit in a class for six hours per day, money used for schools could instead be put toward making modular classes and seminars that anyone can attend, child or adult. Some things can be taught in a a weekend for eight hours per day–say, learning “Active Release Techniques” or even a day, like learning “How to Change Breakpads”.

Others could be in depth, 12 week, formal courses like “Concepts of Developmental Psychology”. All of these would be offered and the benefits would be the knowledge itself not a GPA to put on your resume.

This lack of formality would preserve the classroom as it has show itself to be supremely useful throughout the ages, but it would allow a greater variety of ways to learn. Those who learned better through reading could simply get a library card, which could also be bolstered with funds saved from a rigid public education system. Online classes would undoubtedly flourish.

Autodidacts could take advantage of the already existing plethora of free resources, such as those indexed by http://selfmadescholar.com/ (not my site so don’t worry, I’m not trying to pimp it). Clubs could also benefit from a greater amount of free time from children.

Students could tailor learning to their learning styles and they way they could learn the best. If they need to study a lot of things at the same time, they do so.

If they prefer to focus on one thing at a time, they do that. If they have to make games out of everything, fine. If they want to take tests to review their knowledge, that fine too.

And with all this, I am not necessarily saying that I would do away with all mandatory education. I think there could be a case made for a basic education consisting of basic math, reading, writing, critical thinking, and research skills.

But I would streamline it enormously toward only those things that were indispensable and foundational and needed to move forward into any endeavor one might wish to enter.

Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom. We don’t need government educators for that.

I think our educators are doing a fine job pushing out mediocre students and that is the defining quality of democracy: lowest common denominator.

Great discussion but privatization has a better chance of happening and is at least a step in the right direction.

Kind of like reading the Austrians and Rothbard, as compared to someone like Friedman.

Friedman knowingly made concessions to (i suspect) gain a larger audience and increase the chance of anything positive happening.

Err, isn’t the above forgetting two important points.

  1. Equal Opportunity. Isn’t the foundation of any liberal (classic liberal) society that there needs to be some degree of opportunity afforded to everyone. Coercive education ensures this to at least some degree. Giving children, or worse yet, parents the ability to not educate their children removes many streams of “moving up” in society.

  2. Tyranny of the Majority. The only way a democracy can survive, is if the general populace is educated enough such that they won’t vote for a robin-hood government. Without enforced education of some kind, we’ll likely get the mob rule that Plato warned about.

More anecdotally, I think it’s very difficult for kids to be able to tell just how much they learned in elementary school. An argument can certainly be made that science, history (fact related courses) were forgotten, but basic math skills and the ability to “learn how to learn” were certainly improved upon in school.

Equally as importantly, school doesn’t exist to teach people how to work. School exists to expand their minds, teach them how to think critically and become functional members of society. Regardless, I can’t imagine a 10 year old being interested in changing brake pads

[quote]shookers wrote:
Err, isn’t the above forgetting two important points.[/quote]

Not sure if you’re referring to me, or to one of the other posts, but I will work with the assumption that you are talking to me.

What about “coercive” (or mandatory) education ensures the capability of upward mobility? I have already laid this out–the current educational system fails in ACTUALLY educating our children. Sticking them in a classroom and lecturing to them guarantees learning no more than letting them stay at home. Children have to WANT TO learn and parents have to WANT TO encourage them.

I see no evidence that the current system is succeeding in its objective to force information into the heads of our youth presently. Forcing the onus back on the parents rather than letting school babysit them for six hours a day might actually get them active in their childrens’ lives again.

As to this being unfair to the child, unfortunately this is the way things have always been. We have to put our faith in the support of the parents as genetically interested in the success of their offspring via evolutionary kin selection.

Once again, if the masses were actually being educated, this might be an issue. As it stands it is moot, because the majority is ignorant anyway and mob rule already exists. If you don’t think a burgeoning robin hood government is not already in the works you are blind.

I think it is less an issue of mandatory education and more an issue of a change in the American way of thinking and the American way of politics.

Recall that I did leave an opening for a basic, foundational skill set, and I am leaving free public education as an option. But it is merely that–an option to be taken advantage of if children and parents elect to.

Expand their minds by doing what exactly? Sitting in class with a bunch of other uninterested students?

School exists to educate. And schools are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for education. Consider: Karl Popper, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Malcom X…the list goes on. All self taught. Classroom education is merely one route that may be taken.

Mandatory education is taken more as an assumption of something that must be accepted. Few have ever ACTUALLY considered the TANGIBLE BENEFITS.

Indeed, many prominent voices have come out in condemnation of education.

Wikipedia’s summary of Ivan Illich’s position captures the ideas quite well:

"He claims that schooling confuses teaching with learning, grades with education, diplomas with competence, attendance with attainment, and, especially, process with substance. He writes that schools do not reward real achievement, only processes. Schools inhibit a person?s will and ability to self-learn, ultimately resulting in psychological impotence.

He claims that forced schooling perverts the victims? natural inclination to grow and learn and replaces it with the demand for instruction. Further, the current model of schooling, replete with credentials, betrays the value of a self-taught individual. Moreover, institutionalized schooling seeks to quantify the unquantifiable ? human growth. For Illich, creative, exploratory learning requires an individual?s own initiative to truly impact the learner positively."

Perhaps, that is why these classes would be open to any and all who wished to learn, be it a 10 year old of a 67 year old.

[quote]Fiction wrote:
Children have to WANT TO learn and parents have to WANT TO encourage them. I see no evidence that the current system is succeeding in its objective to force information into the heads of our youth presently.
[/quote]
Admittedly, for optimal results, children have to WANT to learn and parents have to WANT to encourage them. But for sub-optimal results that are still a lot better than nothing, those conditions are not strictly necessary. And the current educational system is not the only possible way mandatory classroom education could be run – my understanding is the educational system of fifty years ago did a much better job of educating students, including many who didn’t like school. (Clarification: a much better job overall; not necessarily better in every single aspect and detail. I am sure there are some details or examples someone can point to where today’s system does one thing or another better. But overall half a century ago you just didn’t have as many people getting high school diplomas without being able to read, or getting bachelor’s degrees without knowing in which continent India is located.)

A lot of that goes on. I remember before taking a Regents exam in high school in New York State in the 1970’s, one had to sign a statement that said one attended class for a certain total number of hours. I disagreed with that in principle, and I still do. (Yes, I did sign the statement; I just didn’t think the statement should have been required.) Except for courses requiring research papers or lab work, I believe a bright student should be allowed to take a test and get the same academic credit as though he or she had taken the course. Some math courses in particular can be learned by a bright student on his or her own, given a good textbook and the motivation to learn the material.

But all that aside, the backbone of mandatory formal education should continue to be the basic academic subject areas such as math, science, reading, writing, history, and geography.

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.
[/quote]
Agree.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.

[quote]NealRaymond2 wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Agree.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.[/quote]

I’m not sure why you would be even remotely interested in getting to B.

Education is for people who don’t know it all…

[quote]pat wrote:
Education is for people who don’t know it all…[/quote]

…and are interested in rectifying that problem.

^is not knowing it all a problem considering one will never know it all…?

[quote]Fiction wrote:
The assumption, in regards to all the talk on privatizing education, is that education is necessary for a healthy, functioning society. After all, the strength of any democracy rests on the wisdom of the average voter, yes? Thus, the best way to improve society is to increase the average intelligence of its citizens.

I disagree. The notion that a democracy relies on how smart its constituents are is, generally, bunk. The vast majority of things taught in the classroom, from multiplication tables to basketweaving, has little application to a representative democracy.
[/quote]

education = intelligence? I think not.

[quote]Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Agree.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.

I’m not sure why you would be even remotely interested in getting to B.[/quote]

Reading is fundamental. I said I would like to see some kind of happy medium IN BETWEEN “A” and “B”.

“B” is what happens when educational “progress” is measured entirely according to the population’s educational credentials.

[quote]Gambit_Lost wrote:
Fiction wrote:
The assumption, in regards to all the talk on privatizing education, is that education is necessary for a healthy, functioning society. After all, the strength of any democracy rests on the wisdom of the average voter, yes? Thus, the best way to improve society is to increase the average intelligence of its citizens.

I disagree. The notion that a democracy relies on how smart its constituents are is, generally, bunk. The vast majority of things taught in the classroom, from multiplication tables to basketweaving, has little application to a representative democracy.

education = intelligence? I think not. [/quote]

I agree. Well, unmotivated education =/= intelligence.

[quote]NealRaymond2 wrote:
Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Agree.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.

I’m not sure why you would be even remotely interested in getting to B.

Reading is fundamental. I said I would like to see some kind of happy medium IN BETWEEN “A” and “B”.

“B” is what happens when educational “progress” is measured entirely according to the population’s educational credentials.[/quote]

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?

[quote]Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Agree.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.

I’m not sure why you would be even remotely interested in getting to B.

Reading is fundamental. I said I would like to see some kind of happy medium IN BETWEEN “A” and “B”.

“B” is what happens when educational “progress” is measured entirely according to the population’s educational credentials.

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?[/quote]

Are there no public libraries in the US?

[quote]orion wrote:
Fiction wrote:

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?

Are there no public libraries in the US?
[/quote]

Currently, diplomas and certificates are an employers way of knowing you have some basic level of competence before hiring you.

I’ll freely admit this is only a perception, not an actuality.

However do you seriously expect employers to hire someone based upon their statement that they know a given skill because they read some books on it?

[quote]Otep wrote:
orion wrote:
Fiction wrote:

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?

Are there no public libraries in the US?

Currently, diplomas and certificates are an employers way of knowing you have some basic level of competence before hiring you.

I’ll freely admit this is only a perception, not an actuality.

However do you seriously expect employers to hire someone based upon their statement that they know a given skill because they read some books on it?[/quote]

He wants to “provide functional understanding” to all people. I am arguing that everyone who wants “functional understanding” has access to it.

You cannot make someone learn anything, either they want to or they don´t and if you spend 10 times then amount you spend now, some still won´t want too.

[quote]orion wrote:
Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
Fiction wrote:
NealRaymond2 wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Education is necessary for the development of everyone; however, not everyone needs the same type or level of education.

Agree.

Some people could get by with just enough knowledge to push a broom.

I don’t quite agree with this. For persons unsuited to higher education, I would like to see some kind of happy medium in between “A” and “B”:

A) giving them just enough knowledge to push a broom

B) spending tens of thousands of dollars to give them advanced courses where they can get B+'s with virtually no understanding of the material

In fact, I believe that somewhere around the early-to-mid- twentieth century most of the USA had achieved something reasonably close to such a happy medium.

I’m not sure why you would be even remotely interested in getting to B.

Reading is fundamental. I said I would like to see some kind of happy medium IN BETWEEN “A” and “B”.

“B” is what happens when educational “progress” is measured entirely according to the population’s educational credentials.

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?

Are there no public libraries in the US?
[/quote]

There are. In fact, public libraries represent just about the ideal of learning–a place where people can go and learn at their own pace in their own way about the things they are motivated to learn about.

However, sometimes the written word is limiting. For example, you could not become competent in massage or chiropractic manipulation by reading a book.

[quote]Otep wrote:
orion wrote:
Fiction wrote:

Right, which is why I don’t understand why you’d want a happy medium between functional knowledge and expensive lack of understanding. Why not provide functional knowledge to everyone who wants it?

Are there no public libraries in the US?

Currently, diplomas and certificates are an employers way of knowing you have some basic level of competence before hiring you.[/quote]

Actually, if I were to guess, I would imagine that employers hire only partially for that reason. More likely they hire because of what the education represents. For instance, an employer is probably enthusiastic about hiring from Harvard only partially because they believe that Harvard gave them a good education. Equally (probably more) important is the fact that Harvard is extremely selective, and only someone who is ALREADY intelligence and driven could get in and hence already has the natural abilities desired by the employer. Going to Harvard gets you the name of Harvard as much as it gets you an education.

On the flip-side, consider 99% of high school dropouts. Most of them are not intelligent and driven already or have some sort of personal issue that is causing them to not be interested. Employers again will be considering less how exactly these individuals differ educationally from a HS grad, and more the personality traits associated with dropping out.

Also, consider that most people who are going to college grow up in at least somewhat well-off homes and thus are exposed to more things (reading at a young age, various opportunities for learning)…again you’re buying the demographic not the education.

If mandatory education was dropped, independent learning would have the opportunity to gain more credibility and employers would start to focus more on accomplishments than demographics.

[quote]I’ll freely admit this is only a perception, not an actuality.

However do you seriously expect employers to hire someone based upon their statement that they know a given skill because they read some books on it?[/quote]

As far as knowing whether employees are competent in the information they need, employers could easily design their own individual sets of standardized tests required for entrance into the company.

We could also have public accreditation tests, in which a person takes a publicly available, but rigorous test (like the AP tests) which would demonstrate a strong grasp in whatever field they wanted to profess competency in.