Adults are incapable of empathy in education

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This text is part of: "Problem of Schooling" by Piotr Wozniak (2017-2024)

Empathy deficit

Most of adult population use projection when trying to empathize with kids who suffer at school. Projection is an invalid tool as brains differ at various stages of development, and it is impossible to empathize with prior knowledge. The response to knowledge is unique for each brain. This type of adult ignorance cannot remedied by training in empathy. It can be remedied by training in brain science. Neil deGrasse Tyson put it scientifically in shortest possible terms: "Get off their backs!" (source).

For good outcomes in education, adults needs to stop interfering with child's learning

This text explains the problem of educational empathy using the conceptual error that underlies an educational website Wonderopolis. Wonderopolis provides rich material to illustrate how adults fail to understand the learning process in children.

Wonderopolis on a mission

Wonderopolis is a site with a noble mission. It hopes to activate natural curiosity in children. It is jam-packed with high quality materials. Some of its articles have even landed in my own SuperMemo collection. Someone called Wonderopolis an equivalent of Wikipedia for little kids, however, in Wikipedia, everyone can correct inaccurate statements. At worst, one can get into an edit war. Wonderopolis is not editable. It allows of commenting on all texts, and there are few sign of censorship. Contentious comments are included with polite replies.

Wonderopolis is a pro-school site. It is not entirely enthusiastic about Wikipedia. In a sense, Wikipedia can be seen as competition to Wonderopolis itself:

Wonderopolis: If you're writing a research paper, your teacher may warn you against relying on Wikipedia — or any wiki — as your sole source of information. While it may seem like your teacher is anti-wiki, it's really just good advice to make sure you're relying on multiple, reliable sources to ensure you base your research paper on quality information

Mission impossible

If Wonderopolis is to make kids wonder, I am skeptical. Children cannot be motivated extrinsically. The web is too rich for a single site to make a good impact without a degree of adult interference. Free kids make free choices and are unlikely to stick with a single site, esp. a site with a mission. Moreover, YouTube wins hands down with texts among children. The new generation has a whole array of learning tools that make learning far more exciting than adult-sponsored texts. I imagine that most of Wonderopolis popularity stems from parental enthusiasm for education. This is not a child-driven enthusiasm. If kids are free, they know how to use Google. They will find Wonderopolis, and hundreds of other sources suitable for providing most authoritative answers in any imaginable area.

Pro-school propaganda

The site is highly praised, and highly popular, however, I sense a sinister aura of adult insensitivity to young people's concerns. When speed-reading this article, I overlooked school as "cruel and unusual punishment". My generalizing brain ignored the obvious, but went to a screeching halt on the next phrase:

If you're honest with yourself, you know what a great place school is. You have fun, learn all sorts of interesting things, and get to spend quality time with your friends. Sure, tests can be stressful, but think of how boring life would be if you didn't get to learn new things and see other people so often!

It is April, so I reflexively checked if the date of the article isn't April 1. However, Wonderopolis keeps things timeless. It is supposed to prevent knowledge from being seen as outdated. There was no author behind the text. The site is operated collectively by a "good hand" of well-wishing adults.

I noticed 268 comments. The overall impression I get from all those comments is that adults do not care about the feelings of the young generation! The comments were all responded to individually, which provides the sense of caring, and yet, they all sound like written by artificial intelligence. I would paraphrase the repeating theme as:

Comment: I hate school. It makes me depressed. I feel like I want to kill myself.
Reply: Sorry to hear you do not like school. Please discuss it with a trusted adult. In the future, you will appreciate the value of education.

There is not a pause for consideration that the system is wrong. There is no wondering if the system is destroying the young generation. The reasoning is cold and heartless: "School is good, the pain is temporary, and freedom is not an option".

My criticism of schooling is passionate. This is why my perceptions are biased. There is no better alternative than to read the text and the comments on one's own. However, below I list a few excerpts that fit my overall impression:

Response to propaganda

Replies at Wonderopolis are a classic case of a deficit in educational empathy. They are polite, but stubbornly refuse to accept the fact that school is inherently bad as if violates child's rights.

Many good teachers and Wonderopolis live a delusion that school is good for kids. That delusion assumes that mental health problems are just an unavoidable fact of life

Being suicidal

Comment: School makes me have depression and suicidal thoughts. Why is it a good place? Did you know school was first created for bad kids?
Wonderopolis Reply: Thanks for sharing. We're sorry you're struggling with school. We urge you to talk with a trusted adult

From the point of view of a well-schooled adult, the answer may seem the only possible. It is that just most adults do not see that the whole problem of schooling stems from bondage. Freedom is essential for mental well-being. The obvious cure seems invisible because it is obscured by a large overpowering dogma: school is good and school is necessary. Instead, the only enlightened reply should be:

We sympathize with your pain inflected by the system of child bondage. Wonderopolis will spare no effort in making kids free.

For contrast see: Declaration of Educational Emancipation


Stan Loona wrote (and many others): 'Comment: School is slavery

See: End School Slavery

Lucas wrote: Comment: I hate School

Artifical intelligence of Wonderopolis replied in Kubrik's Space Oddysey voice:

Wonderopolis Reply: We're sorry to hear that, Lucas

Joniel is familiar with the philosophy of unschooling:

Joniel wrote: Comment: School is not a wonderplace. The world is, but not School. School is just somewhere you're forced to go, and accept things you don't really care for

AI deployed a copy-and-paste template:

Wonderopolis Reply: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Joniel


The introduction and comments seem to indicate that tests are the only source of stress, and definitely not a reason for suicide.

Dawsonator wrote: Comment: The reason I don't like school is because I get bullied all the time

AI replied:

Wonderopolis Reply: We're sorry to hear that, Dawson. We hope you tell your teacher. We hope things get better. Thanks for sharing your story

Teachers, parents and AI may be unaware of how hard it is to snitch on a bully. For too many kids, suicide seems like a better option.


kaylaT wrote: Comment: Honestly the school system is trash from the age of 4 we are put into this system where we are basically force fed information just to puke it out and hope you at least get above a 60%. As children and young adults, we should be living our life and not be stressed over a mark that really doesn’t determine our intelligence. The main source of teen stress is school which leads to depression then that leads to wanting to kill yourself. If anything school makes me feel so stupid, I feel like I can’t do anything in life because I’m not smart enough. It’s even worse when teachers are pressuring you to get the highest mark and if you don’t, well you’re just a failure and you’ll not succeed in life

AI misses the point, as usual:

Wonderopolis Reply: Thanks for sharing your opinion, kaylaT! We agree that there is a lot of pressure from high-stakes testing


Sasuke Uchiha wrote Comment: I have hatred and despair towards school I just wish they would burn down all the schools in the universe.😡😤😡

Wonderopolis Reply: Sorry you are feeling that way, Sasuke. School can be rough - lots of work, trouble with peers, teachers who don't understand you. But hang in there! The lessons you are learning are making you smarter and stronger to face the world as an adult. We hope things get better for you!

Sasuke already knows what bothers him. Listing school problems is not helpful. If Sasuke felt school made him smarter, he would not be enraged. Hoping for "things to get better" is exactly what Sasuke does not want. He lost all hope. He wants his school burnt down. He wants all schools burnt just to be sure he won't be ensnared again, or just of sheer vengeance. The idea of burning or bombing schools is on young minds all the time. Often, when kids discover I oppose compulsory schooling, they punch the air: "Yeah! Burn them down". That's not exactly the solution I have in mind.

By being deaf to young people's concerns, adults make ground for more school shootings


Schools fail due to the learntropy problem. Only a child herself can maximize the value of input channels. All forms of imposition undermine the quality of learning and intelligence. Children know this because they get penalty signals from their brain (see: decoding failure penalty). Adults do not know it because they are generally ignorant about the art of learning. They are best versed in the art of cramming, which is one of the 100 bad habits learned at school.

Olivia hit the nail on the head:

Olivia wrote Comment: School is not helpful at all. We go there for eight hours for five days to learn what? To learn irrelevant information that will never help me in the real world. They teach us about the past of our country, but what about the present. Telling me how people in the olden days won't help me in society today. Teach me about modern day politics, so that by the time I'm old enough to vote I'll know what I'm doing. Don't tell me school is important when I can't take anything from it and use it in the real world. Maybe if school was updated to fit the needs of today, but until then School is useless and, so is your article

Olivia is not the only one with the opinion. Most of children have similar sentiments pretty often:

Nolan James wrote Comment: Boy that was pretty factual

Wonderopolis is characteristically ignorant of the issue with extrinsic motivation. As knowledge is networked, so are knowledge valuations (see: knowledge valuation network). Telling a child "history is important" is useless. Only a child's brain can generate the valuation signal that is vital for memory consolidation, learn drive, intelligence and a child's well being.

Wonderopolis Reply: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Olivia. We know school can be frustrating at times and some content might not seem to easily connect to modern day life. We would, however, like to share a quote with you from Confucius: "Study the past if you want to define the future". He saw great value in understanding what had already happened and how that can impact the future. We love your passion, Olivia and your desire to make the world a better place! Don't lose that!

Referring to Confucius may be appealing for an educated adult, however, for a child it all sounds like "Zabakumbu is important because Bikubamba said "if you know Zabakumbu, you will define the future". Without the relevant scaffolding, history is meaningless for children. In my own self-directed learning, history started being interesting only in my mid twenties, and it might get much worse if I was made to hate history at school. Luckily, my teacher did not give a fig, and I am very grateful. See: Learning history: school vs. self-directed learning

Long hours

Wonderopolis shows a classical lack of understanding of the Fundamental Law of Learning. An adult can spend long hours searching the web for wonders that are supposed to make kids excited about learning. For her, it may seem easy to say that "many hours of learning bring benefits". The same adult may be oblivious to the fact that those long hours have nothing to do with "hard work". The "hard working" individual simply experiences the pleasure of learning and projects that onto kids with a hope they can do the same. For kids at school forced to learn things they do not understand as relevant, this is similar to imposing a long prison sentences in order to provide regular warm meals. The suffering can be justified with the hope than even prison can be loved (e.g. one can immerse oneself in a wonderful library and benefit after the prison sentence is over).

Nya wrote Comment: Why does school have to be 8 hours

Wonderopolis brings up the standard template of "hard work" that will be "worth in the future":

Woderopolis Reply: Hang in there, Nya! It takes some hard work but it's worth it!

A commenter responded with a quip that the whole name of school was allegedly derived from long hours of boredom:

Comment: SCHOOL stands for Seven Crappy Hours Of Our Lives

Loving school

School has an uncanny ability to make kids say they love it (in front of adults). At closer inspection, this is an adaptation love. Life is easier if we try to condition the mind to love things even if we hate them. However, this conditioning leads to 100 bad school habits. How can you possibly get depressed for the need to do something that you love? See: Why kids love school

Anna Beth wrote: Comment: I LOVE school! But what I struggle with is having to get up in the mornings and actually making myself go to school. I hate when I first get to school because everyone looks so tired and depressed but after 3rd period everyone moving and are good! Also, on Sunday's when I get home from church I myself start to feel depressed that I have to go to school. But now it is Sunday afternoon and people are about to come over from church to hang out. THIS IS ADVICE FOR EVERYONE: Look, I know school can be stressful and tough. But what I do is find something to look forward to. For example, This week I only have 4 days of school

Wonderopolis characteristically offered no solution beyond further wonder:

Wonderopolis Reply: Thanks for sharing - and we agree that sleep is very important! Check out Wonder 1775


Comment: I hate Wonderopolis. I’m not your friend so don’t say Wonder Friend poopy heads

The reply was classy, but still with a touch of cold AI:

Wonderopolis Reply: We're sorry to hear that. Everyone that visits Wonderopolis is our Wonder Friend!

This makes me think that there is a worse thing than slavery. It is slavery by people who are ruthlessly adamant, and painfully polite. It is when you scream at your oppressor: "Please set me free!" and all your hear is a polite: "I am sorry to hear that you do not like to be a slave. Please consult a psychologist. Let's hope you will change your mind".

Fake joy

Wonderopolis keeps saying "Let's hope...".

Wonderopolis reply: We're sorry to hear that! School is a GREAT chance to learn new things and hang out with friends! Keep trying your best and we hope it gets better! :)

My good friend Palace commented:

Hope won't solve the problem. Wonder of the Day #2765 should be Why when we google pictures about school all kids smile and grin? There is a mismatch with reality. I see next door school students with sad and stressed faces, some resorting to soft drugs in public while still underage. Why aren't they smiling? Should we encourage them to hope to get better?


Wonderopolis is a classic illustration how adults lack empathy for children. They cannot see beyond the dogma of "good school". No amount of school shootings, bullying, suicide, sleep deprivation, stress, own child pleas, and loud screams on the Internet seem to make a dent. Hard core believers in the Church of Education are cold like an executioner who smilingly offers the last meal. While kids want freedom, the executioners offer "sympathy" and hope.

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru