Alternative School Programs
I find it bizarre how similar all schooling is, and how few alternatives people have tried.
Of course some experiments exist, such as Summer Hill, run by Neil, which famously did not demand that pupils attend any classes, and showed why children would attend classes anyway. And of course different schools exist - boarding schools - with harsher standards than the lower-class school I had to attend. Despite slightly-different schools and rare outliers, I find the lack of variety strange.
I can’t attribute the near-universal learning method of man-talks-students-write to optimization - humanity did not attempt a thousand styles of learning before settling on one. We group students by age instead of their ability at that subject. We make all lessons a set time, leaving the cafeterias and large halls empty most of the time, then pack an entire year’s worth of children in at a time. All years start and end new subjects all at once, causing a rush of exams, rather than staggering exams across the year. Children select their own subjects at later ages, never earlier, and must select blind - you cannot study a little Home Economics, then decide if you want to do more in the next year or semester - you take when someone says you take it. And you cannot try Philosophy courses to see if you want to take the subject - you select it nearly blind, from a short description, when reaching the right age.
It seems worth our while (‘our’ in the broadest sense, as in ’to all of humanity’) to try a few different times to give exams, or changes to class times, and see which results come out the best. We have so many untested options!
I am done, can I go?
Why bother completing the Maths tasks if you just get more? Instead of telling people ‘you are locked in this room for 1 hour; during which time you must pretend to be busy’, we could say ‘solve these 15 tasks and you’re free!’. Multiplication doesn’t seem all that fun when you’re learning it by rote memorization (as I did, singing the “three-times-tables”, before inevitably forgetting them), but if someone said ‘count these boxes, then you can go’, and provided this image, things could different.
______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
Here, we have a truly bland task, but we can count these marks a lot faster by doing 6 x 8. Pretty much all Maths can become a game, and on that note, I don’t see why Maths always has to be a solitary activity. The world’s most prolific Mathematician - Paul Erdos - was raised in the world of Maths by his parents, and typically published with others.
Teaching as Learning
Teaching and explaining is a valuable skill, so why not try getting the older kids to teach some of the younger ones? I’m not talking about making them them teachers - just having rooms large enough that some older kids can get round a table with 1-4 younger kids, and pass on the knowledge. Grades could be given to the older students based on how well the younger students test.
This also increases the student-to-teacher ratio. Even if the quality isn’t great, having more attention per student for a while could be invaluable, and the incentive of getting the most students to pass a test will encourage the more sensible teacher-students to focus their attention on those struggling most.
Which madman decided I should learn to use a sewing machine, rather than sewing by hand? Every adult should know how to sew, but I had to learn the skill with nothing more than trial-and-error, and a couple of pointers from family.
Why does everyone read Lord of the Flies, and not The Hobbit? Why do we only write in English classes, and never learn to edit? Everyone’s already writing short stories for their essays, why not add editing to the mix?
Sir, when are we going to need this?
It’s popular to insult the dullard who wants to know why they’re memorizing useless information, as if people who memorize the initial digits of pi all made great friends, and lived fulfilling lives. I’d like to provide an honest answer to this question:
"You probably won't need this. We don't know what you'll need, so the best plan we have is to provide problems which have very general applications, so even if you don't use this exact type of Maths, you'll get used to learning and understanding.
That’s the most reasonable response I can give, and we can immediately see room for improvement. A sufficiently sharp (and irreverent) student should have one more question:
If any learning is good, shouldn’t we learn things which we’ll use? Are triangles the most likely thing to be important later?
Triangles are definitely less useful than other things we might teach.
P → Q
This basic piece of Predicate Logic, and its like, have become fundamental parts of my thinking. I routinely find that I understand the flow of language in a different way from others, and learning Logic is a big part of that. Dividing meaning into these kinds of symbols not only helps with reaching a conclusion - the biggest change I notice is that I can remember the topic where others become side-tracked with associations and other items. They cannot think atomically, so if we ask ‘does a monarchy help a country’s stability?’, the conversation doesn’t wander into chatting about Marxism.
The fallacies also work wonders in ferreting out nonsense, not because they stop people’s biases, but once someone becomes acutely aware that if they complain about someone’s hypocrisy, everyone around them will think ‘ad hominem’.
Why Does Anyone Fail?
Schools claiming they ’test a child’s knowledge of Physics’ is ridiculous. The child has entered with no knowledge of Physics, so we have no need to test - all children know nothing of Physics. Tests don’t tell you about the child so much as the school system itself. To say the child has ‘failed physics’, really just means that they attended a school which failed to test them physics. With very few exceptions, every child can learn the levels of Physics taught in schools, and any child which failed within their own school could have passed in a different school.
Our story about grades suggests the children are already good and bad, and the schools sorts one from the other. It seems obviously better to aim to have everyone exit the school with the ability to read and write up to some level.
Arguments concerning employers, and how they require these grades are nonsense peddled people people who either haven’t hired anyone, or are so hard of thinking that they think they can get get paid to hire people by comparing lists of numbers. These number-comparing employers would undoubtedly find some other arbitrary metric to use (Astrology, most likely) if they lacked the grades to differentiate people, but nothing real has been lost here.
(In case this last claim sounds implausible, I’ve had potential employers asking about my high-school grades in English class, despite the fact that I was over thirty, and had a Master in Philosophy)
We might get on better by setting a target of 100% of pupils reaching total comprehension. And as with other subjects, once someone has finished their schooling - whether by the age of fifteen or nineteen - they could go on to self-directed projects, or simply left to play computer games.