Old soup metaphor

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Old soup problem is my own name for a cognitive bias that makes it hard to see the harms of schooling.

If good learning is like healthy juice, and bad learning is like the last week's soup, schooling is like drinking healthy juice mixed up with old soup. Such learning brings some positive outcomes, but it also brings a lot of displeasure. Too few people pause to separate the bad from the good. Children need to drink a lot of toxic mix at school. Instead, they could just drink juice. All they need is the adherence to the Fundamental Law of Learning

All schooling combines learning effects in a wide spectrum of semantic appropriateness. The extreme ends of that spectrum are:

In a healthy child, it is very easy to identify semantic learning as learning that will naturally result in high pleasure of learning. Semantic learning results in durable knowledge whose stability can easily be increased through review or possibly sleep.

Asemantic learning is highly unpleasant, and results in fast forgetting due to interference.

If we mix both forms of learning in various proportions, we may end up with unpleasant learning that brings some results. This leads to the illusion that "school works" and "school is good".

Learn drive system is like a natural and infallible filter of the old soup.

When mixing bad learning with good learning the overall quality of learning tends to be less than the sum of the two. In other words, bad learning undermines the fun of learning, and takes away from the value of good learning. We can observe the "arithmetic of the pleasure of learning". A SuperMemo collection ranked at 0/10 (highly unpleasant), mixed up with a collection ranked 10/10 (maximally pleasurable), results in a collection whose perception will gravitate towards zero overtime (assuming no user intervention in weeding out leeches). In other words, in the math of the pleasure of learning, we have (0+10)/2=0. The pleasure of learning is a sensitive quality that tends to be dragged to the lowest common denominator.

A little bit of bad learning can ruin a great deal of good learning
SuperMemo insert. What is SuperMemo?
The impact of bad learning can be seen tangibly in SuperMemo. One of the best markers of badness is the leech count. If we take a bad collection B with 30 leeches, and a good collection A, the merger of the two collections will produce a new collection with 30 leeches. As leeches always tend to crowd the learning process, they will become as dominant in the new merged collection as they were in the original bad collection B. The resultant quality is not the average of the two collections. It is always closer to the less liked collection. The displeasure of learning will increase the chances of dropping out (see: Hating SuperMemo). The solution to leech domination is the regular eradication of the leeches

There is a slight flaw in my old soup metaphor. When I present it to teachers and parents, they stick to the belief that a little bit of bad soup is never a problem if it is sufficiently diluted in good juice. This thinking fails to capture the problem with a buildup of leeches (as in spaced repetition).

Here is then a bit more scientific variant of the metaphor:

If good learning is like water, and bad learning is like water polluted with copper sulfate, schooling is like drinking water mixed up with the polluted solution. Such learning brings some positive outcomes, but it also brings a lot of displeasure. The intuition dictates that it is the color of the solution that determines the displeasure. In reality, it is the amount of the precipitate at the bottom of the flask that counts. Adding water does not reduce the toxic effect of the sulfate

This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak

The original version of this metaphor spoke of urine instead of the old soup. That version is more convincing when talking to children. However, I was told by an enlightened teacher, that I should not be lowering the level of the discourse as it could hurt the cause

Learn drive vs. School drive
Learn drive vs. School drive

Figure: This is how school destroys the love of learning. Learn drive is the set of passions and interests that a child would like to pursue. School drive is the set of rewards and penalties set up by the school system. Learn drive leads to simple, mnemonic, coherent, stable and applicable memories due to the fact that the quality of knowledge determines the degree of reward in the learn drive system. School drive leads to complex, short-term memories vulnerable to interference due to the fact that schools serialize knowledge by curriculum (not by the neural mechanism of the learn drive). Competitive inhibition between the Learn drive and the School drive circuits will lead to the weakening of neural connections. Strong School drive will weaken the learn drive, destroy the passion for learning, and lead to learned helplessness. Powerful Learn drive will lead to rebellion that will protect intrinsic passions, but possibly will also lead to problems at school. Storing new knowledge under the influence of Learn drive is highly rewarding and carries no penalty (by definition of the learn drive). This will make the learn drive thrive leading to success in learning (and at school). In contrast, poor quality of knowledge induced by the pressures of the School drive will produce a weaker reward signal, and possibly a strong incoherence penalty. The penalty will feed back to produce reactance against the school drive, which will in turn require further coercive correction from the school system, which will in turn reduce the quality of knowledge further. Those feedback loops may lead to the dominance of one of the forces: the learn drive or the school drive. Thriving learn drive increases rebellion that increases defenses against the school drive. Similarly, increased penalization at school increases learned helplessness that weakens the learn drive and results in submission to the system. Sadly, in most cases, the control system settles in the middle of those two extremes (see: the old soup problem). Most children hate school, lose their love of learning, and still submit to the enslavement. Their best chance for recovery is the freedom of college, or better yet, the freedom of adulthood. See: Competitive feedback loops in binary decision making at neuronal level
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