Terra Transcends Textbooks
Like many of us, I began to critically reconsider the nature of our collective academic efforts when I was only a toddler.
When kids would play around me, I would reflect on the nature of how we play, why we play, and what we stand to gain from our chosen forms of play - thoughtless play confused me. Of course, our freedom to interact was very limited by authority, so it was difficult to achieve an intimate understanding of what most children really think when they play.
Still, despite the restrictions of the environment, I was able to learn from my observational mindset. What I realized as I reflected is that we play in order to meet the people we want to meet, learn the things we want to learn, and feel good. Some children around me were fortunate enough to be guided toward forms of play that intuitively satisfied their souls while developing their personalities. I was not so fortunate. Eventually, I had to consciously teach myself to play more productively. In my earliest years, I asked too many questions and followed through on too few actions. Friendship was hard to find, and most teachers only recommended one course of action to children who had that kind of problem: “Be nice, and do your homework.” This advice struck me as absurdly optimistic.
These simple observations, however, were only the beginning.
While other kids were having an easy time reflecting on “kid stuff” (e.g., the jokes that SpongeBob told last night), I began to have very complex speculations about the interplay between our efforts to feel good, our common intuitions about being a “good” person, and what we really “ought” to be learning - in other words, I thought about which information is truly important to an individual human’s prosperity, which information is less important, and how relative importance “should” affect our choices (in both moral and pragmatic terms).
However, I would soon learn that this kind of reasoning is not welcome in school. In school, we must know everything we are told, and if that leaves us with little time or energy to learn or discuss other ideas, we are expected to accept that.
The most important decisions, I learned, are “solved” for most of us before we’re born. Realizing this reality, I withdrew for a long period of my life, and my imagination struggled to stay alive as I stared at clocks in a world that didn’t seem to care about anything I found interesting - a world that doesn’t care about creative knowledge, because it prioritizes knowledge that has already been created.
Many people believe that school is a place where children can learn to be social and feel less lonely. For many others, however, that belief falls somewhere between naive and utterly ridiculous.
I, for one, feel supremely lonely while I'm being forced to regurgitate pseudoscience ad nauseum in a classroom full of unhappiness. When we can’t socialize freely, it often doesn’t matter how many hours we spend in a room with a group of “strangers”; most people will simply await more orders without pursuing a single honest interaction about their lives.
But it’s hard to blame kids for being shy in a world of terrified parents who constantly remind them that strangers are at-least-probably subhuman enemies that “should” be avoided until an authority figure approves our interactions with them (which implies a “shouldness” that is founded upon the debatable belief that an aversive fear of the unknown promotes happiness or survival or some other ambition whose value is greater than bravery).
After a long childhood of “shut-up-and-listen” mode, the Internet arrived in my life.
Suddenly, I could answer nearly every strange question that had ever crossed my mind - entertain almost every speculation - investigate subjects that are utterly taboo for conversations between children and adults.
My ability to reason exploded. My imagination was reinvigorated. My grades jumped, purely because I had so much access to free information about which I could freely think. I blissfully moved from hyperlink to hyperlink, just as Tim Berners-Lee envisioned so many years ago, absorbing everything that I could understand.
In the presence of such an obviously positive stimulus, the damage that school was causing to me and everyone around me became increasingly obvious. Every day, I began to notice new assumptions and instances of weak logic and weak character in my own mind and the minds of the people around me (the trainers and trainees, alike). Almost everyone was a fact-babbler, and no one a true thinker (for instance, the power of controlling the linguistic and empirical standards of a human population was rarely discussed in my school, despite the fact that the exploitation of this phenomenon so obviously pervades our culture and world culture in a way that enslaves the modern peasant everywhere). Almost no one would admit the true limitations of their knowledge - not even teachers. Almost no one would take knowledge from the scholastic world and actually do things in the outside world with any of the supposedly-worthwhile education that they had been desperately struggling to forcefeed themselves.
Still, in the end, I didn’t know where else to go. Where does a kid meet other young people, if not school? I figured that there are not many options. I was not welcome as a trainee at most paying jobs. As far as I knew, there were not clubs where children can go to freely meet other children. Ultimately, I accepted that school was my best bet of remaining socially competent and competitive.
I was wrong. In the end, I did not fit into my social scene, and escape would have been a blessing.
As we all got older, I thought about increasingly radical concepts, and most children remained intellectually stagnant, struggling to answer the simplest questions about major details of novels and individual definitions of words. Contemplation of the legitimacy of definitions and word-forms was beyond the scope of their capacity to reason. Such conversation would confuse and exhaust the average student rapidly. They had no practice, after all, with either reading or thinking freely. They were simply told to remember lists of word-forms that were associated with some other lists of word-forms, and then use that knowledge to circle the appropriate lists of word-forms on a multiple-choice test sometime in the ten- to sixteen-week period following their exposure to those word-pairings.
What about real questions, like, “How do circuits allow our TV to display an image?” That’s not taught in school - sure, circuitry is a two-week lesson in a general physics class, but we don’t learn how to build anything that actually matters in our everyday lives outside of the classroom. Or, maybe we could ask students, “How does tax law ‘work’?” Apparently, that’s not worth a class, either. And what is the collective attitude about such questions? “Who cares?! Too complicated! Voltage = Current * Resistance! We have to move on to the next topic someday! Also, I want to keep my A!” - this is the consequence of the educational standards to which parents hold their children every day.
So school fails many people. But cui bono? - who benefits? - is anyone happy living in Common-Core Land?
Of course. No zero-sum game is entirely negative. In my experience, the greatest beneficiaries of school-as-is are people who are relatively competent (compared to other students of the same age and environment) in the pseudoscientifically academic and superficially social domains of existence that tend to dominate schools. But most people are pretty bummed about the whole mess. After all, no one who actually appreciates unique expressions of intelligence is going to be happy as the puppet of a Machiavellian hierarchy that systematically prevents people from fully expressing their truths. And, to make matters worse, virtually no one was experiencing any real intimacy with anyone else.
In this context, school again fails many people - because the ability to attract love from others is essential to happy, healthy development as a materially-dependent organism on Earth, and no one becomes attractive by only knowing what everyone else already knows, or doing what everyone else can already do. We must learn our own special set of skills, and thereby render ourselves extraordinarily valuable to others. Instead, school fosters a debilitating degree of conformity.
In light of this reality, it becomes possible to recognize that the education offered in school does almost nothing to make someone beautiful and thus happily successful in society at large. Every skill we learn will be a skill that almost everyone else already has - and so we will at best become masters of the mundane sorts of skills that rarely elicit deep appreciation from others.
We would be happier if we knew how to be creative storytellers of our own adventures, but we are instead taught to be formulaic storytellers of whatever we were told to say.
Thus, school fails not only the intellect, but the heart, as well.
So, how do we set ourselves apart? How do we avoid this trap?
Rationally self-interested humans must respond by minimizing the time that is spent sounding too much like everyone else (except insofar as we must seek common ground through basic grammar and mutually-acceptable definitions in order to communicate at all). We always need to allow intuition to guide the search for personally important knowledge - if we hope to grow healthy, wealthy, and wise, we must seek information that matters to our own growth as individual humans. This is how everyone must strive in order to thrive. We suffer whenever we suppress the instincts with which we must determine our own optimal next moves.
Tragically, mainstream education is unconcerned with helping people to find unique paths - its primary concern is grades on paper as they pertain to a very specific set of tests established by private procedures that almost no one (student, parent, teacher, or bureaucrat) can honestly claim to fully understand. To make matters even more dangerous, the system is self-perpetuated by the fact that “good” grades bring more money to the bureaucrats whose lives depend upon any given academic institution, and whose decisions determine the structure of the educational status quo - this feedback loop further incentivizes the state of widespread, pervasive grade-obsession that continues to corrupt our schools.
Beauty and creativity, however, aren’t the only sacrifices of modern education - it gets worse.
Consider an aforementioned point in a new light; remember the fact that, rather than allowing each child to excel in their own unique way, mainstream education tells every child to learn exactly one set of concepts about a few specific subdomains of human knowledge in approximately the same order? - (they call this the Common Core in America). Good, because this fact is the root of a major problem that is currently being perpetuated by our educational-industrial-congressional complex.
The problem is this: in most classrooms across the world, group-paced education is almost guaranteeing that no one ever learns at an ideal pace. Please bear with me if you don’t believe me.
The fundamental issue is that every single person is learning faster or slower than the pace at which the teacher is teaching the class. After all, our ideal pace for learning is based on the unique state of our prior experience (including but not limited to our general literacy and familiarity with the material), which means that our own capacity for learning always deviates to some degree from the teacher-targeted “average” capacity of the class.
The kids who learn too fast will therefore quickly become bored. They will fallaciously fall into illusions, e.g., “School is so easy!”, “Learning is so easy!”, or (the worst childhood illusion of all) “Life is so easy!” These kids will inevitably get sloppy (because they are not being allowed to explore anything that is truly productive, challenging, or profitable to them, anyway); and their ability to imagine and create will predictably atrophy as they wait with infinite patience for the technicalities and bureaucracy of school to end. And when they’re finished with all that waiting, their reward is the following set of wonderful surprises: life isn’t easy and it’s not supposed to be that way; school is just a fantasy land for distracting children until they’re old enough to legally work most jobs; and school is terrible preparation for the complexity and chaos of real life.
Kids who don’t learn fast enough will usually have an even harder time. They will frequently be missing things (and thus falling behind) to various degrees, at various rates. They will not want to stop the class every time they’re confused, and so they will suffer through their ignorance, quietly refusing to admit that they no longer understand what the teacher is actually saying, let alone why they were ever asked to experience that horrible situation in the first place. And when they’re finished, they will believe that they are bad at everything, because, in their experience, according to the measures dictated to them by their academic masters, it’s true.
Since almost no student in the history of group-paced teaching has ever found a teacher’s pacing to be absolutely without issue (at least not in my decade of experience as a tutor), every student will be at-least-somewhat unsatisfied in one of the two aforementioned ways.
Therefore, no student is progressing optimally (in the best possible way) in any of the subjects that is practiced in school; quod erat demonstratum.
Let me be as clear as possible. Even if all went according to plan, and everyone completely learned the material at the exact same pace, many of academia’s universally-encouraged habits are, in fact, horrible for human mental health and the development of accurate wisdom.
Consider what happens when we tell children that they must know some specific set of 10000-or-so facts, and that the goal is to always be correct about the facts before they ever decide anything, and that if they fail, they’re fundamentally worse and probably going to be less successful than the other children. How are those children likely to respond?
Do your own research, but most psychologists will tell you this: they’re likely to become highly preoccupied with knowing all the right answers about everything before they ever make a decision - which, given that this is practically impossible in real life, will promote a positively debilitating mental state in anyone who becomes accustomed to low grades. They’re likely to feel that failure is a horrible consequence that should be desperately avoided, and from which nothing can be learned except, “I should have studied more.” They’re likely to feel stupid if they don’t know everything that the teacher wants them to know.
Do those seem like healthy perspectives to you?
For those who don’t know, I feel obligated to offer the humble reminder that we don’t get to be certain of the truth about every important thing all the time in the real world. We cannot prepare for every possible obstacle that may stand between us and our goals. Very often, we must spend a great deal of time failing to beautifully perform activities that we can’t yet do well, in order to someday become more skilled. Very often, we must accept that we are unlikely to succeed in a given endeavor, and that we therefore would be happier pursuing a less-traveled path. Furthermore, human life is not primarily composed of objective judgments - that is, those judgments concerned with the factual “rightness” or “wrongness” of beliefs. The evaluation of our best possible path through the Jungle of Life is extremely, inevitably subjective, and requires us to carefully compare the value and likelihood of innumerable competing ambitions and possible choices. Excessive enthusiasm for yes-no, right-wrong systems of thinking stops billions of people every day from doing something interesting with their time.
Mainstream education fails to rationally accommodate any of these realities.
For what its worth, I am not alone in my understanding - many of the smartest parents in the world realized that this is true decades ago. However, they remain a tiny minority, and the propaganda that surrounds mainstream educational systems is very powerful, and tightly controlled by innumerable wealthy entities with vested interests in the status quo.
At this point, I’m sure that many readers are thinking, “This sounds like an attack on all schools everywhere... all schools have kids learn the same thing at the same pace in a group... you’re seriously saying that’s bad?”
Yes, I’m saying that the development of children is impaired by systems of education that exclude individuality from the learning process. Not all schools are guilty of this, but I am criticizing all of the schools that do. Rigid institutions are good for people of power with well-paying jobs in academia - but it will not help any individual child learn to become economically or socially valuable as fast as possible.
You know what will help children learn math faster? Enrolling them in a public, adult club with people who are truly passionate about math.
Want kids to be athletes? Find a way to surround them with mature, adult athletes - not ignorant jocks who make jokes about genitalia in the locker rooms of high schools.
Want kids to be authors? Provide a neverending supply of good books for them to read.
Want kids to be historians? Encourage them to read the books of historians, and to engage in direct communications with those historians. Encourage them to study major current events in serious detail. Don’t waste their time speculating among foolish children who are historically illiterate. Almost no one will point them in useful directions faster than a competent journalist.
Want kids to be lawyers? Then take them out of primary school, because that won’t teach them to understand the law. Help them read the U.S. Code. Find for them books that detail the history of major court decisions. Teach them about moral reasoning as it relates to as many legislative contexts as possible. That’s how a person develops deep understanding of the law - not by spending a decade taking “vocab tests” about one or two oversimplified definitions for each ancient word-form that any professional lawyer is expected to deeply and intimately comprehend. A kid who began liberally studying this way at age 6 could get a G.E.D. by age 14 and attend law school by 18 - which, by the way, isn’t even necessary in every state, and shouldn’t be necessary in any state, and wouldn’t be necessary anywhere if voting citizens possessed the collective literacy and political intelligence to change the laws that authorize professional lawyership.
I could write a book of extracurricular paths to success, but I’ll stop there, because I feel that the point is clear enough. Yes, we need to go to college and receive a degree in order to perform many jobs in many states - but it is not necessary that we go through primary school to get there, and a well-educated spirit can generally circumvent any rules that would prevent them from making their knowledge profitable. After all, every intelligent boss just wants to find the most skilled employee for any given job - not the most-credentialed employee for a job. If we understand law better than everyone but have no credentials, we can still write compelling articles and even books for the global community of people who read about law. And a similar opportunity would be available to anyone who is an expert in nutrition, or medicine, or physics, or anything else.
Most of the children who graduate high school - that’s 12 years of “education” - have no real-world skills that will earn them decent wages, and, to make matters worse, have acquired an unrealistic (either deflated or inflated) sense of their own abilities and potentials through the constant atmosphere of ABCDF competition that drowns children across the country every year. We’re all taught that if we got an A, we’re awesome, and if our friends got a C, they’re not very smart. But those notions are absolutely preposterous. We’re just humans, some of whom know a few facts that the others do not know. The reasons for our differences are diverse, uncountable, and immeasurable; grades do not decisively reflect innate potentials for learning. All of us are going to have to fight hard to become economically competitive - in other words, to find employment that allows us to be happy in our free time. And each of us will without-a-doubt need to learn an utterly unique range of skills. One of us may ultimately run a restaurant to survive, while another performs surgeries. Most of us will never need to know what a physicist or an electronic engineer or a computer programmer knows, but that’s okay - humans are better-off when they specialize. Everyone doesn’t need to know every major detail of ancient Rome. That’s a great topic for a friendly conversation between freely thinking humans - but nurses do not need to be tested about whether Caesar ruled Rome before Augustus, what properties define a rhombus, or how to build a circuit.
Happiness can be simple if we don’t allow our illusions of school to complicate our lives.
What do we really need, after all? We need our health, and we need to effectively develop the power (intellectual, physical, and spiritual) and beauty (intellectual, physical, and spiritual) that will be essential to our survival.
Unfortunately, school is not actually helping anyone do that. If your child is in school right now, there is almost no chance that they are trying to find a way to make money, and it’s a virtual guarantee that they are being forced to suppress a plethora of questions that would guide them to more valuable knowledge than that which is being shoved down their throats. And, still, it gets worse - they’ve probably been sitting, letting their bones and muscles and tendons become fragile while people talk at them (not to be confused with talking to them, which implies far more participation on the part of the listener than is typically found in a classroom of young children), for thirtyish daylight hours a week, for most weeks of the year, for most of the years of their lives, not counting any of the time they spend doing homework. It’s worse than it sounds. Please go use Google Scholar to research the long-term effects of chronic sitting if you don’t believe me.
Again, none of this mindless, profitless, subservient sitting has ever been ideal for any student - not even those who compete effectively within the academic system.
We need to pursue growth when we are ready to pursue it - not when others force us to do it. And we need to grow according to our own desires - not the desires of other people.
Therefore, radical though this may seem, my honest suggestion is simple: if we want our children to be successful - intelligent, wise, happy, wealthy, influential - we need to stop requiring them to learn against their will. We will be healthier if we attend school for the experience or the accreditation, rather than the illusion of mental progress. Yes, I meant what I just said - I’m not joking. Allow children to decide whether they want to go to school.
It’s that simple. Children learn as well as they possibly can when we allow them to explore knowledge in their own way, support them when they are open to our support, and refrain from coddling them (because failure and self-dependence are necessary components of healthy growth).
I’m not suggesting that parents force children to leave school, or that everyone who likes school would absolutely be happier if they withdrew - there are a lucky few people who genuinely enjoy being paced by a teacher in a strict and formulaic way. If you want to continue learning in that environment and you are still enjoying yourself, then you may benefit from that environment at the moment.
But if, like most students, you’re increasingly unhappy, unsatisfied, unhealthy, and generally stagnant in school - if you feel like your time is being wasted in ways that do not optimize your use of your precious energy - then please realize that your feelings are accurate, stop playing along with nonsense, and seriously consider the true extent of your options as a free human being on this planet.
If your child is experiencing profound discouragement at the hands of the academic-industrial complex, react appropriately on their behalf by offering them greater liberty.
Parents all-too-often say that they want children to be independent, while simultaneously behaving as if the opposite is true, by chaining and leading and babying children - by trying to pervasively control the fate of children, thus rendering them dependent upon “parenting”, which all-to-often ceases to mean “loving support” and instead becomes a euphemism for anxiously fearful protection and control.
If we want our children to be independent, we must let them be.
Parents both collectively and independently choose to make their children dependent, by establishing the permissions under which those children live. If every action were suddenly permitted to the extent that Nature, itself, permits it - if children were responsible for their own profit, protection, survival, and, importantly, consequence – then children would immediately be independent, and their skills and competencies will increasingly reflect that state of independence. That’s how independence works. There is no need for any wishful thinking that children may someday become independent - they will be, if that’s what you really want.
I mean no offense - I honestly only want to help everyone by telling them the truth about what I see. Sometimes, our education system literally makes me sick. It’s hard to be nearly alone in knowing with such certainty that so many children everywhere are wasting their time and potential, and suffering for no good reason, under the mistaken impression that this is somehow eventually going to be good for them and the world. I just want to spare them the feeling of wasting their youths on lies and mistakes. They can be so much more successful and happy if they are simply free to be human - to make mistakes - to try, fail, try something new, fail again, give up, and try something else until finally they find a satisfying life for themselves.
Liberated children cannot help but learn to compete and find happiness.
When we are freed from the oppressive terrorism of mainstream schools, our natural curiosity guides us to truly flourish.
Let us read books (at our own pace!). Let us explore the Internet (all of it!). Let us ask professionals in our favorite fields to point us in the direction of helpful resources. If we can stop being so afraid to carve our own paths, we can travel further than we ever imagined.
Remember, no one can know everything, despite the illusions fostered by the “straight-A student”.
Don’t play that fool’s game.
Focus on knowing what is good for you.
Take the road less traveled. It will make all the difference.
I hope that all plunge-takers will discover unimaginable beauty in the freedom to learn and grow by the instincts that Gaia gave them.
The world is infinitely bigger than our textbooks.
Aiso Ippudu Milele
28 March 2017