Mythology that keeps the archaic school system alive

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Every student's ABC

Every child who wants to fight for her freedom against the oppressive school system must be armed with good knowledge of the rich mythology that keeps the old Prussian education system alive. Here is the ABC of what a child needs to know when talking to teachers, or parents. Parents have mostly been schooled in the old way, and have no time to study literature on the progress of brain science. Teachers are also burdened with excess duties and may hardly have time to increase their qualifications. Moreover, they honestly try to make the school system work for the kids. Via confirmation bias, teachers will naturally reject the criticism of the system they try to improve. This is why this text is not for teachers. This text is only likely to make them angry. They will likely protect their models till the day of retirement (see: Brain algorithms protect models of reality).

Prospects for school reform

The reform of the school system will not be easy. It must being from the grassroot rebellion of kids who should refuse coercive learning. They need to defend the fundamental law of learning at school, and the fundamental child's rights in general. The hope of changing the education system from above is none! After decades of training in the Prussian model of schooling: teachers, principals, directors, supervisors, administrators, and ministers all alike, are not able to think or see outside the box: the box of school coercion! See: Declaration of Educational Emancipation

Child's rights

The basic human rights must include the right of a child to education, and the right to be the ultimate decider on one's own course of learning and one's own future. Parents should help and assist, but children must have the right of self-determination. This right is regularly trampled in schools around the world on a daily basis. See: Education as a human right

Cultural paradigm shift

It is nice to know that most people involved in education have good hearts and good intentions. However, this is not enough. We also need a good understanding of the brain science. In the meantime, even simpler concepts are not permeating the awareness: democratic schooling, unschooling or free learning. I asked dozens of teachers, directors, and highly positioned education administrators if they are aware of the concept of a democratic school. I am yet to meet one who understands it. In my home country, the isolation caused by poor knowledge of languages perpetuates the status quo. The understanding of democratic schooling is slow to permeate from the USA. Even the enlightened German nation still hermetically clings to laws enacted at the time of the Nazi (see: Ban on homeschooling). The school system is rigid, underfinanced, overburdened, inert, and incapable of change. See: Grand School Reform

How to talk to adults

A child can always begin a conversation with a parent or a teacher from a reference to their natural empathy: How would you feel Sir, if the government forced you to spend one year at school to raise your qualifications without asking for your permission? If the teacher says "it would be a relief from the noise of school", ask the same about a military service that would strengthen national security: one year of compulsory conscription at the age of 40 or 50. Adults have a good sense of their own freedom, but do not empathize with kids who have no choice between school and other pursuits. The adult excuse is "school is good for the child". However, you can reply with "adult education is good for society" as an excuse for mandatory adult education (see: Introduce Mandatory Adult Education!).

Today from tomorrow's perspective

In 30 years from now, we will look back at today's school system, and we will see it as a modern version of slavery. We will be amazed. As amazed as we are today with the slow progression of a woman's right to vote or racial equality. Do you know in which country, in 1971, all-male electorate split 2:1, granted women the right to vote? No, it was not Saudi Arabia! It was the beautiful mid-European country of Switzerland. No more "kinder, kirche und kuche" (children, church and kitchen) for the Swiss ladies. Women were denied their rights on the grounds of their ignorance. This is exactly how we treat children today. Luckily, the brain science says clearly that the brain networks responsible for the detection of learntropy should be the key guidance system in efficient learning. That principle holds true from the day of birth. The younger the kid, the more important it is! This is the Fundamental Law of Learning.

School mythology

Here are a couple of myths that kids should learn and voice in conversations with adults. Without abolishing those myths, the education will never change.

School undermines self-dependence

Myth: School prepares children for adulthood

Fact: In many cases, school does the opposite: it deprives kids of freedom, autonomy, self-dependence, skills of decision making, skepticism, problem solving capacity, autonomous navigation in the world of knowledge, and more. A fraction of talented and autonomous children thrives in high achievement. However, those high achievers are then used as a yardstick for the rest of the group. While adults hope that one day the whole gray mass of pupils will match up to the top ranks, the inevitable and never-changing reality is that for most kids school is prison, form of oppression, and a place of cramming (not learning). For those kids, all fun things in life happen away from school, and perhaps even away from learning. If school was a marathon, it could be like a coach with a whip telling marathoners to catch up with the beautiful human gazelle: Eliud Kipchoge. Instead of producing elite runners, this short-sighted strategy is more likely to result in injuries or a heart attack!


Children instinctively choose efficient learning

Myth: Children always opt for easy things in learning and in life.

Fact: Learning is pleasurable if it maximizes learntropy. Children look for maximum reward. Complex materials cause displeasure. Easy materials cause boredom. Children look for well-matched challenges. With sufficient freedom, a science program on TV often turns out fascinating. Even the best teacher of physics may find it hard to complete with Phet Simulations. For details see: Problem valuation network

See also: Pleasure of learning

Passions are never lazy

Myth: Students are lazy

Fact: The myth was born in coercive schooling. When kids lose their autonomy, it is healthy to provide resistance (see: Education counteracts evolution). This generates the impression that kids avoid learning, or are simply lazy. On a good day, the same kid immersed in passionate learning will lose all vestiges of laziness. Kids have many areas of interest that could develop into a bona fide case of deep learning. All they need is sufficient freedom and time to pursue their passions. See: Myth: Students are lazy

Formative years must be free from coercion

Myth: First years of life are most formative. They should be devoted to intensive education

Fact: The opposite is true. Formative years must be free from coercion. All early learning must be free learning. Kids have no metacognitive skills, and cannot be motivated extrinsically. Early academic instruction is harmful, unless it is enjoyed by the child. Early coercive learning affects the architecture of the brain by interfering with the process of structural conceptualization. See: Dangers of early instruction in math

Self-learning builds the best cognitive toolset

Myth: School gives children the basic tools for life, or for later learning (e.g. counting, reading, writing, etc.)

Fact: The best cognitive tools are those that are acquired in coherent learning based on good mnemonic anchors. This crystallization process needs to be guided by the learn drive. Schools provide children with tools long before they become convinced they need the tools for a job. Give a stranger a shovel, he will toss it away. Give a stranger a pointer to buried gold, he will ask for the shovel himself. Knowledge acquired via self-directed learning shows the highest quality of generalization essential for problem solving. Early direct instruction in modern curriculum is nothing else than letteracy. See: Jigsaw puzzle metaphor or Mountain climb metaphor of schooling

Slow crystallization is welcome

Myth: Late talking, late counting, or late reading are a sign of a pathology, neglect or abuse.

Fact: In a long-term growth trajectory, all processes based on crystallized metacognition will naturally be delayed. The longer the brain grows, the better it lives up to its potential. As a rule of thumb, two years of speech delay, may translate to two years of reading delay. To say that a 4 year old child is delayed because it does not speak is analogous to insisting that a cat is smarter than a human because it can walk at 3 weeks. A whole parade of Nobel winners in physics were late talkers. See: Advantages of the slow brain growth

Freedom shelters critical periods

Myth: Early education can accelerate growth by making good use of the critical period in brain development

Fact: Critical periods refer mostly to the sensory cortex specialization. All a child needs is a free access to information rich environments that provide all the necessary stimuli. All forms of accelerated academic training are risky due to the fact that any form of stress may lead to toxic memories that can be hard to uproot later in development. If ideas such as Baby Mozart or Baby Einstein involve coercion, they are bound to be harmful. While stress is an effective tool of acceleration, childhood amnesia is a result of extensive neurogenesis. See also: Why bad memory in childhood is a sign of brain growth, and Why early education can lay bad wiring in the brain.

All children are great learners

Myth: Child is not mature enough to make decisions about his education

Fact: We are all born with a healthy learn drive system that is the best tool for decision-making in learning. It is the regular override over that system that leads to learned helplessness, and the loss of love for learning. See: ABC of unschooling for Dr Phil

Open system socialization works

Myth: Without a socialization at school, a sociopath might emerge

Fact: The opposite is true. Closed system socialization is notorious for its pathologies, the effective socialization is based on social groups of mixed-age, mixed-capability, and mixed-interest functioning in an open ecosystem. An example of a closed system is a prison or military barracks. An example of an open system is a playground with minimum adult interference.

Democratic schools boast of the lowest violence index even if they often recruit children rejected by other schools, or children who exhibited school refusal.

See: Optimum socialization

We make friends in many contexts

Myth: Without school we would not meet new friends

Fact: We can meet friends in dozens of contexts. School is not the best place. At school, social skills are supposed to be developed during breaks or after school. During a class the kid is more likely to see his peer's back or to hear "You are not here to socialize!". Breaks are short. School playgrounds are too noisy for mindful communication. Friendships can be facilitated by schooling, but kids who do not attend school, have more and better opportunities to meet friends.

Parents often romanticize their own school days recalling fantastic friendships lasting a lifetime. They should then recall that humans are social animals that will form bonds in all imaginable circumstances. Great friendships are also born in boot camps, in hospitals, in concentration camps, in street gangs, or in prison

Early math instruction is dangerous

Myth: Early academic instruction in mathematics provides children with logical thinking framework that doubles the fruits at later ages

Fact: Early instruction in math is better known for the potential damage in incurs on fluid mathematical reasoning. See: The Benezet experiment

Freedom is essential in development

Myth: Unrestricted freedom for children is a form of child neglect (or even abuse)

Fact: Large behavioral spaces are conductive for development, including socialization and the development of pro-social personality. See: Optimization of behavioral spaces in development

Alarm clock is a brain destroyer

Myth: Early rising teaches self-discipline

Fact: Using any form of alarm clock to wake children for school is highly detrimental for brain development (see: Kill the alarm clock). Premature waking suppresses neurogenesis, it undermines learning, it suppresses creativity, and it destroys one of the most precious stages of neural optimization in sleep. Stress and premature waking are the two main reasons that schools slow down the development of the brain. An alarm clock is one of the prime killers of big ideas in modern world (see: Natural creativity cycle). For more see: Science of sleep

Good learning is always a pleasure

Myth: Learning is often unpleasant and requires a great deal of self-discipline

Fact: All good learning is highly pleasurable. All signs of displeasure are a result of registering incongruence signals in the brain. Low learntropy is a form of penalization. Unpleasant learning may result in toxic memories, loss of love for learning, and it is the key cause of school apathy and school refusal. Mixing good learning with bad learning results in the old soup problem that makes it hard to see the harms of schooling: If good learning was like healthy juice, and inefficient learning was like the last week's soup, schooling is like drinking healthy juice mixed with the old soup. It brings some positive effect, it brings lots of displeasure, but few people seem to pause to separate the bad from the good. See: Pleasure of learning

Passive learning is inefficient

Myth: Teaching makes sense. Lectures are valuable

Fact: Brains are not tape recorders. Lectures make sense if they have been chosen by the student (e.g. Ken Robinson's TED talks). Otherwise, in words of Nobel winning Carl Wieman, lectures are like blood letting. See how one missing fact can render a lecture incomprehensible and unmemorizable: Unpleasant learning at school

Learn drive trumps the expert

Myth: The best measure of a child is determined by experts. They know what's best for the child

Fact: The natural learn drive mechanisms provide spontaneous differentiation and development of passions. Applying the same measure to all children is harmful in terms of self-esteem, development of lifelong interests, etc. If Einstein came up with his theories in primary school, nobody would notice. He might fail because of his poor handwriting. Nobody would bother to ask him about his theories or attempt to understand them. This is why Albert came up with the metaphor of a fish forced to climb a tree.


The best learning comes from passion

Myth: The education is what we get at school

Fact: Most of quality knowledge we gain from our own initiative, e.g. while passionately pursuing lifelong learning. See: Childhood passions

Exploratory learning provides high quality knowledge

Myth: Schools broaden intellectual horizons

Fact: The best way for exploratory extension of human knowledge is the power of the learn drive. Exploration may be slow, and may be heavily biased. However, acquired knowledge possesses qualities unobtainable in direct academic instruction. The school system operates using the curriculum developed in conditions of asymmetric information. It assumes that a "schooling expert at the Department of Education" knows more than an individual brain with direct neuronal access to coherence estimators and the knowledge valuation network. An expert takes a lifetime perspective, which may superficially seem superior. A child's brain takes the only valid perspective: the learntropy, i.e. the match between the prior knowledge and the new information filtered by the knowledge valuation network. With the acceleration of human progress, the importance of live trajectory optimization will keep increasing. The impact of asymmetric information can be seen in the comparison with the command economy. See: Modern schooling is like the Soviet Economy

School does not contribute to success in life

Myth: School helps people earn more, live longer, and succeed in business

Fact: Research on correlations between the years in school and success suffer from survivorship bias

Degrees obtained at school correlate nicely with longevity, earnings, and entrepreneurship (e.g. the number of initiated startups). However, this correlation is the effect of the survivorship bias.

School hurts humans through coercion. Most of learning occurs when the brain is free to explore. Most of damage occurs when students are forced to learn against their learn drive. School increases the level of depression, and the level of additions. There is a romantic narrative of school rebels who drop out to set up Apple, Microsoft, or Facebook. However, most dropouts occur due to a degree of injury to mental health. As a result, degrees are granted to those who receive least injury. Those are the people who learn in conditions of relative freedom (e.g. having liberal parents), or who learn things they are passionate about. No wonder, degrees correlate with good outcomes.

To know the truth, we would need to compare long-term outcomes between well-schooled people and unschoolers. Sadly, there are very few studies. Not only are unschoolers a tiny minority, but they also slip away from all forms of comparison. For example, they are more likely to love their job, accept lesser pay, or choose independent entrepreneurship over getting involved in the turbulent activities of a startup

No amount of money can make schools work

Myth: By throwing in more money, we can make education work

Fact: The old model of passive schooling is flawed. Schools are based on a wrong design. What we see in democratic schools should rather be called free learning (the name school is retained to pacify the skeptics). Bill Gates lost a lot of money because of the education money myth (see: Bill Gates is wrong about education). If the design is wrong, no amount of money can heal it.

For details see: Myth: You can improve education by throwing more money in it

Myth busting is an important mission at SuperMemo Guru. We tackle myths about memory, learning, creativity, SuperMemo, and incremental reading. Please write if you want a myth busted or if you disagree