Is school – as we know it – torture?

The vast majority of those reading those lines have enjoyed some form of schooling – a time when elementary education was meted out to make those unruly, pesky, adorable sweet little beings we were at birth a commodity. Future employers want to know what they get from an average human and they want to be sure that this average human comes equipped with a certain number of minimum spoils.

The commodity is the standardized, normalized, trimmed, and cleansed average person that occupies the big bulge on the bell curve.

A quick word on the bell curve – I have covered this in another post in more detail. Everything in life (especially in human life) distributes along a bell curve where there are thin fringes with extreme outliers and a big bulge in the middle. Translated to consumers this means that there are super early adopters (the geeks) who buy because something is hip, then there are the leaders who will buy before the bulk but will not camp at the door of the flagship store to get it, then there are the averages and then come the late adopters and finally the laggards and those that never cross the Rubicon.

School systems worldwide try their worst to maximize the bulge in the middle and to thin out the fringes. Because if there are too many people on the fringes, the concept of a commodity comes under threat.

Why is this so?

The school education system as we know it was invented by Prussian bureaucrats at the turn from the 17th to the 18th century. At this time, the first industrial revolution spilled over from England onto the continent and went into high gear. The very fabric of statehood changed as everything had to be optimized.

In contrast, before the Industrial Revolution, there were no jobs, no job descriptions, no factories, and not even big administrations and not even large, standing militaries. The nation that pushed the concept of organization like on a chessboard and discipline to the extreme first was Prussia. Prussia needed good, normed, predictable soldiers to fill the ranks of the vast standing army, bureaucrats to staff the vast administration, and last but not least, workers, for the countless factories.

However, there was a problem. There is no standard human – and trying to get the vast diversity of humans into the normative environment of those mass employment machines proved to be very messy. Before the industrial revolution, there certainly were schools and some kind of education but it was not universal and there was no uniform curriculum. Somehow, each family, each gild, and each community meted out the education that was needed for the new child to thrive in the environment it was born into. Crossing the lines was virtually unheard of. Generalized education was for the very thin upper class only and it was not delivered in schools but in some form of home-based schooling.

Now, however, and very suddenly, this all was not adequate anymore as this un-system produced humans as diverse as could be imagined. Besides, our very nature does not drive us toward conforming to rules. OK, today the majority of us have been bludgeoned by school, family, the job, and peer pressure to conform. But it’s not how we are conditioned by nature. We want to be creative beings that leave an imprint on this world. The extreme number of people suffering from personality disorders, burnout, role model disorientation, and what more ails the modern human mentally are living proof of that. I am not talking about real mental disorders that people are born with like Autism but rather of acquired ones like shyness.

Prussia organized everything into a neat, orderly system where children learned to sit still in a room in neat rows listening to a person in front who dispensed knowledge to them which then they should absorb. The real objective was not to give those children as much knowledge as possible and the ability to use that knowledge creatively. The objective was to kill impulsive behavior as it was considered undesirable in the military corpses, the administration units, and the factories. The new, neat, clean, rectified, and optimized system required human automatons that would behave in similar, predictable ways with some form of minimum education that enables them to understand written instructions.

And the school system gave it to Prussia – and the world as very soon the rest of the world adopted this system. To the population, it was sold as universal education and something that was a basic human right and it’s true, education is a basic human right for me except that a more humanized form would be far better at achieving this lofty aim.

Stuffing children into cubicles filled with other children is killing creativity. Yes, curriculums the world over have adapted to the requirements of the 21st century except that – this is not true. Just because teachers are nicer with the kids and can’t give them the cane anymore does not mean that the underlying system is any more human. It still aims at producing streamlined, uniform standards among humans that will allow putting untamed and unruly human nature into a box where it can be poked to behave nicely. Role models are etched into our minds at a very young age and school reinforces them with a vengeance. Plus old role models are vanishing with speed.

People complain that parents are not taking care of the offspring anymore when school takes that task completely out of their hands. Parents connect with the school life of their kids twice a year when the meeting with the head teacher is up. And when examination results trickle in. Not much room for transferring values or personalities.

School, as we have it today, is also considered vital for the social development of children. But is that true? Have children before school been unsocial and are home-schooled children some sort of sociopaths? Evidence suggests otherwise. Home-schooled children rank at the top end in any country where this is practiced.

The Industrial world with its optimized supply lines and its neat rows and columns nears its end. The Ford system is running against a wall and those neatly managed factory lines are increasingly staffed with robots instead of humans. We are entering a robotized world where the JOB will disappear. But school as we know it is made for jobs. The education we deliver to our kids today is designed for them to hunt for a job and live their lives as employed workers happily ever after. Except that this won’t happen.

20 years from now, at least 50% of today’s jobs will have vanished. In about 40 years, all employed labor will be gone. There will only be creative entrepreneurs, those with capital and the unemployed masses living on some form of general income. If you look at manhours worked there was barely any growth over the last 15 years and this trend accelerates.

So, you might feel mildly threatened by the robot onslaught. Your kids are going to grow into a vastly different world and their school education leaves them woefully inadequate to deal with this challenge.

Remember, it’s the dropouts that often make the best entrepreneurs. It’s the Steve Jobs’s, the Bill Gates’s, the Elon Musk’s, and all the other extremely different outliers that rock this world. It’s those who have rejected the school system as part of their personality that do best in an entrepreneurial world because their senses have not yet been blunted by a machine whose basic functionings were devised by some mildly sadistic Prussian generals and bureaucrats.

And it’s exactly those creative spirits we hobble away in school – that our children will need more than anything else. It’s the self-belief and the confidence that a functioning social environment and a strong family link will need in this world that will be very different from the one we had to endure.

We are torturing the creative souls of our children into submission using a school system that was designed to produce compliance and enforce uniformity to get broken and frightened spirits unable to cope with change. And there was never more change than now.

1 reply
  1. Evan Jones
    Evan Jones says:

    Good points. Children should spend their daylight hours in the company of adults who are doing real work, not in the company is equally ignorant children and teachers. Small boys should spent their time with adult men and the girls with grown up women. The best author on education is John Taylor Gatto.

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