Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom. Let’s give our children freedom.
Trish Millines Dziko
I strongly believe the education system is a relic, it has to be destroyed and completely rebuilt. We’ll focus on schools here but universities are often not much better. Much of the same applies there.
I was a near excellent student. I also had a lot of decent teachers. According to my friends I have a good memory. Then why do I remember next to nothing from 12 years of school now? Why was no precious intuition created there?
There are 5 major factors:
1. Education ignores the realities about life and emotions.
Nothing really important about life is taught in school (at least when and where I studied but mostly true everywhere, today).
Instead we learn much more facts than we need. Facts are learned and forgotten. Children learn to think (if we’re lucky with good teachers) but only in narrow fields, they don’t learn to make the connections needed to invent.
Worse still, no one teaches us how to deal with feelings, emotions and our internal world. Like if we don’t have any… That brings us to:
2. Wrong education goals in the first place.
It’s time to ask ourselves… what do we really want from education? Do we really think it’s in the students’ best interest to get up at 6:30 AM and zombie-walk to school to learn google-able facts 80% of the time? And spend 8-10 hours there? Do we really?
Number one priority for any educational system should be fostering a supportive atmosphere where children care for each other until they grow up and enter free-of-oversight life with an open heart, honest thoughts and an emotionally intelligent mind. Feelings can not be excluded from school. Kids and teenagers still carry them. A system ignoring and suppressing feelings is psychologically damaging 🙁
Love/Empathy and Freedom are the building blocks of life. The aspiration for truth, which is the basis for science and education, cannot even be understood if you lack Love or understanding of why Freedom is important. It’s meaningless if you don’t care about whom the truth concerns. Especially to kids.
3. Wrong structure of the education system and its rules.
The entire structure of school should foster empathy and freedom. Not exactly the current state of things. But why are we even surprised that the educational system (like all systems) cares the most about preserving itself in its current form?
Freedom means only rules the students agree with, period. Give them a blank rulebook and let them write. There is no other way if you want decent engagement later.
On the Love/Empathy part I cannot recommend this documentary about a specific teacher in a specific class enough. No words can describe what you can see for yourself in this short documentary about a Jappanese schoolteacher.
Here are some ideas:
- School should not begin before 9:00, period. No one will remember anything after having slept 6 hours, not to speak of health issues associated with the tyranny of youth sleep depravation.
- Outdoor activities and games are needed with potentially boring topics. Even the most boring subject can be made fun.
- Music has its place in school out of the music class. Students can vote and veto on what to listen to whenever they have quiet work like solving a math puzzle or writing an essay. Music is magic and we cannot deprive children from it.
- School can be the natural support system for the many children with abusive, neglective or otherwise broken families. It should provide healthy food and mental health support and make sure an emphatic atmosphere is fostered. Children can be mean to the different and suffering ones but it’s not because they are evil, it’s because there have not seen any better. They can learn empathy from a young age.
4. Wrong choice of subjects.
The world changes and so should what we learn in school. Unfortunately it’s all too static. So lets start from scratch.
On the already built foundation of empathy we need no more than 11 mandatory subjects:
1. Your Language: reading, as little handwriting as possible, communication, argumentation and debating.
2. English (if not native): the language of the world and The Internet and the best AI – better know it.
3. Mathematics (the foundation of science): it’s everywhere around us and essential. Too much is built upon it.
4. Logic, intuition about numbers, statistics & sources, critical thinking and research – needed for truth searching.
5. Anatomy (You have to know your body) + Principles of health: Good food, sleep, energy levels, exercise, addiction avoidance.
6. Psychology (You have to know your mind) + Helping yourself and others with mental health + Emotional intelligence.
7. Economics and entrepreneurship: assigning value, money, ROI, sales, marketing, business ethics, philanthropy.
8. Productivity and optimal use of your computer: OS, basic security, file manipulations, list operations, Excel, touch typing.
9. Productivity and optimal use of The Web: email, browsing, searching, building websites, social media, SEO, spam as a concept.
10. A diverse world (games/quizzes, stories, arts) – to build intuition about countries and understanding of their current cultures.
11. Physical education that includes everyone plus spending as much time as possible in nature.
Most of these would need some non-stressful form of progress evaluation.
(choose at least one without parent involvement and be able to change it or join more at any time):
Optional Humanities and Arts
(choose at least one without parent involvement and be able to change it or join more at any time):
1. History and Culture
6. Mixed arts
The optional Sciences and Humanities and Arts should not have mandatory evaluation. The world will not end if you’re bad at geography in the age of Google Maps.
Optional extra sports, both individual and team.
5. Wrong teaching of subjects.
Now lets dive into a single subject and see what’s wrong on that level. Let’s talk about not how to learn more, but learn what really matters and what will stick long term. While having happy and motivated students.
Schools make one very wrong wishful thinking assumption about students:
That they are all already motivated to learn.
While in fact creating the conditions for this motivation is their main job. Take it for granted and most students fail to get motivated from the start.
Schools then make another very wrong assumption about education:
That it needs to be systematic in order to be effective.
In fact systematic things tend to be boring, the motivation is gone. And being bored means you learn nothing, period. No matter the amount of hours spent on the subject. Just an endless time sink and an unhappy experience and after a few months the test is in the distant past and you remember nothing at all.
The main ingredients of education success are motivation/curiosity and understanding founding principles.
What happens if you have only 20 hours of chemistry a year? You have to make it interesting and interactive and go through the material fast. You have to build understanding and pinpoint the founding principles in the field. So after the 20 hours you will know the basics. You may not be able to write complex chemical reaction equations but you will have an idea of how they work. You can always build on this intuition later if you want to. The teacher will have to focus on the students and be effective.
What happens if you have 100 hours of chemistry a year? Well, there are 2 options:
– A good teacher/curriculum designer will use the first 20 hours exactly as if they were the only ones. Founding principles and deep understanding of the simple building blocks and their relations. Then the next 80 would be expanding and diving deeper, one step at a time, making sure everyone understands everything.
– But a bad teacher/curriculum designer would use the 100 hours to take those basics and overcomplicate them from the start to show off how much they know about chemistry. And you won’t believe how strong the urge to do this is in most teachers and curriculum designers. Simplicity is underrated.
So how to fight the human nature of showing off and complicating? Just limit it by making any mandatory chemistry no more than 20 hours a year during no longer than a month. My guess is that those 20 hours will bring in 80% of the understanding and it will be there long term. Because the distractions and overcomplications will be gone.
You think that 20 hours is not enough?
It only depends on how you use the time. For example here I’ll explain you the basics of why it’s hard to solve Climate change in 5 minutes of chemistry. There will even be time left for a side note.
1) Everything in the universe tries to get rid of its potential energy. Apples fall to the ground, balloons collapse when pierced with a needle and stuff burns and then cannot burn again because the energy is gone. It’s the way things work.
2) Every molecule has energy in its atomic bonds. Because of the above it “wants” to get rid of it and never have it back, just like the apple and balloon. This is why you can burn wood in the presence of oxygen – both molecules want to get rid of their energy. This is why you cannot burn water since its energy is already low (actually if you burn hydrogen and oxygen together, water is the result as it has lower energy than either. So water in a way has burned already just like useless burnt wood). And this is why nitrogen, which is 70% of the air around us, does nothing and would rather watch everything oxygen does from the side.
Side note: The N2 molecule has a triple bond which is so strong and low energy that a huge energy input is needed to break it and steal a nitrogen atom away for industrial use. In fact this is so hard that the Haber-Bosch process (synthesizing NH3 from nitrogen and hydrogen gases) was discovered as late as 1909. The development of this process was incredibly important for agriculture because ammonia can be used to produce fertilizers. Earth’s population grew from 1,7 to 8 billion people since then and a main reason was that we learned how to break the strong bond of the nitrogen molecule. If we didn’t, it’s extremely likely you would have never been born, and that would be kind of a bummer. I decided you having been born deserves a side note. Now back to the topic 🙂
3) On the earth we burn stuff such as wood, but even more we burn fossil fuels. Its molecules have higher energies and want to combine into something with low energy. Something like CO2.
4) CO2 has low energy and once it’s in the atmosphere, it stays there for a very long time because it doesn’t want any more action. From a chemical standpoint it’s a happy side watcher, just like nitrogen. It can be absorbed by water or trees/plants but that takes like a century or so.
5) There is no debate that CO2 in the atmosphere stays there. It has low energy and cannot react with anything unless energy is added (like by sunlight in the photosynthesis that plants do).
6) There is no debate that the extra CO2 comes from humans. Everything we burn releases it and we burn a lot of stuff in industrial processes and power plants.
7) And there is no debate that is causes warming. CO2 causing global warming is no longer chemistry, it’s physics. To grossly oversimplify, it’s like earth’s blanket. Therefore we must limit our emissions if we like our current climate and Florida-friendly ocean levels. Otherwise we’ll suffer more and more very unpleasant weather events as time goes by. This shit is real.
See? Not so complicated. We even made a curiosity driven detour about nitrogen which helped us understand CO2 better.
This piece of knowledge you may think is worth nothing. Everyone tackling climate change has this level of basic understanding, and much more, right?
Well… turns out not quite 🙂 There is an industry called Direct Air Capture (DAC or DACCS) which tries to capture C02 from the air. It’s growing very rapidly and is expected to reach 614 million USD annually by 2030 (Marketwatch data).
Can this industry help with climate change? No! CO2 just wants to be lazy and stay as it is. The energy you need to capture it and store it has to come from somewhere. And the energy trade-off cannot ever be worth it. Better just not to produce it when we create said energy in a power plant, before we try to reverse the same process back with losses! To not do something stupid is a 0 USD industry, and while bad for GDP figures, is always the best solution (more detailed but still simple explanation why DAC doesn’t really work).
So if the investors in these projects knew what can be learned in 5 minutes and what you just learned, they would save billions of dollars. But they didn’t get the right type of scientific education. The one which builds intuition about the basic laws of nature, about what is possible and what is futile regardless of your creativity levels.
You probably think people investing billions of dollars know what they are doing. But I’ll tell you a secret:
In fact they are not so different than us – most of them don’t know what they are doing and are just faking it. Humans are wrong most of the time whether they admit it or not.
Do you know where they first learned to fake it? In chemistry class, where the teacher happened to be boring and they had to fake knowledge to earn a good grade – the same place they should have learned the laws of nature. Instead of a truth searching virtuous spiral, a truth indifference vicious spiral started then and there.
When we accept mediocre educational systems, we accept mediocrity not just then and there. We accept it for the whole world, for life. And this is absolutely unacceptable.
Now imagine my simple CO2 explanation with visuals. With videos. With memes. And this is how you expand your knowledge significantly in 5 minutes.
And now remember how many 5-minute chunks of time our children have. They can learn everything really important in a few years. And there will be plenty of time left for fun, sports, games, arts, family and friends time and sleep. We just need to throw away our current education system. Not reform it. Destroy it and rebuild it from the ground up. Its current form is abysmally ineffective, the goals are wrong and its tyrannic structure contributes to creating unhappy children and adolescents.
In the new system, the student and their happiness and motivation will be the priority. Not teachers, headmasters, corporations, the government or the occasional crazy ambitious parent. The student should be in charge and be mentally and emotionally supported and entertained, so they want to learn, no matter if they are ten or thirty years old. It’s possible and there is no alternative. Otherwise we settle for mediocrity with no end in sight.
I leave you with 3 wonderful and funny talks of the great Sir Ken Robinson that are radical enough to be actually valid.
- Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
- Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!
- Sir Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley
You can share this post with any children and students. They have no control over the ways the education system fucks them up. They at least deserve to know they are not the only ones who see the stupidity of things as they are. Change is possible!