Non-compulsory schooling (#192)

It wouldn’t be a revelation to many of you if I say schools kill creativity. “Modern” school markets itself as a place where creativity and critical thinking are developed. But that’s false. Creativity cannot flourish in a place where you’re told what you’re supposed to do.

In such an institution, criticism is also shunned, and the authority is almost never questioned. When, on a rare occasion, it is questioned by a child, the child is said to have “behavioral issues”.

So the two alternating things required for the growth of human knowledge—creativity and criticism—are both discouraged in an institution where knowledge is considered sacred.

It is ironic that humans are trying to create computers that can “think for themselves” and at the same time sending kids to school—explicitly wanting them to follow the instructions—making them learn how to think like a machine.

Everyone seems to have their list of things “schools should teach”. But the real problem isn’t that schools don’t teach meditation or nutrition. The real problem is that they teach at all.

Indeed, the problem with school that I see very few people talking about is that it is compulsory. And that, I think, is *the* fundamental problem with schooling.

Imagine that every citizen of a nation has to spend 15 years of their life in prison, even if they’ve done nothing wrong and don’t want to be there. I’m not asking you to imagine school! I’m really asking you to imagine prison being compulsory for everyone.

That’s a hyperbolic comparison but I do think it corresponds to the compulsory nature of school. And of course, it is no coincidence that the architects of prisons are also the architects of high schools.

The future depends on the way we treat our children. By not taking children seriously, we are risking the fate of civilization. Some (kind of) realize this, and they wrongly assume then that we must coerce children to be a certain way “for their own good”.

That is just bad philosophy disguised as good intention.

Now, what would a world in which schooling were voluntary look like?

Authority would shift from the state to the individual and the family. A radical liberalization of education could result in a shift in worldview of individuals for authority.

Ideally, people would come to understand the fallibility of authority. Not just authority in education, but authority everywhere.

The ever-questioning nature of a child’s mind that today is assaulted by so many anti-rational memes that suppress their creative and critical faculties would eventually never die.

This is not bound to happen. Bad ideas around children and authority could still persist, even in the absence of State-mandated school: as they in fact did 150 years ago!

With voluntary school, the free market would create—and already is creating—innovations in the personalized teaching and education industry. There are countless books, podcasts, courses, YouTube videos, and curated playlists to learn everything you would in school and then some.

Once people—including children—are free to choose the means by which they are educated, people will innovate and drive down the costs of these personalized education resources further.

When I question some alternative education entrepreneurs on the high prices of their products, I am reminded by their response that almost any new revolutionary product or technology has high unit cost before it can be made affordable for the masses.

This is why, for example, Tesla aimed at the high end of the market with their first product: the Tesla Roadster, a sports car aimed for the elite.

Ultimately, people solving problems that are interesting to them will accelerate progress in all fields.

*Real* education never stops and is never bounded by a curriculum. Just think of the possibilities.

There is no quick fix to our obsolete yet rigid education system. Adding subjects won’t make it better. Liberalizing it will.

There are some brilliant people creating alternative education paths. As much as I appreciate their work, compulsory schooling needs to be eliminated if the “alternative” is ever to become the norm.

Thanks to Logan Chipkin for reading and editing a draft of this.

The above essay is repurposed here from my original Twitter thread.

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