Reflections “One World School House

This is my second post on homeschooling, written almost 8 months after the first one Deschooling Society.

8 months ago when I talked to my friends and family about homeschooling they worried that I was “losing it”, that spending too much time working from home made me lose my grasp on reality.

Funnily enough, I never expected COVID-19 to be a catalyst for normalizing homeschooling. However, paying $200,000K+ for a bunch of videos over Zoom has made everyone I know reevaluate what they are actually paying for.

There are many excellent books written on the benefits of homeschooling and I thought I’d walk you through my thoughts while going through “The One World School House” by Salman Khan

When in History class in 11th grade we were covering the political system of the 3rd French Republic. I was spaced, uninterested, started flipping the pages of my textbook and stumbled on a page covering the cold war.

It was my first time seeing propaganda posters and seeing a war waged without direct violence. I was fascinated. I kept flipping even more pages but my curiosity was interrupted by my History teacher — yelling at the top of her lungs that I was being “incentive”, “slacking off” and that I wouldn’t amount to anything.

I think it was at this moment that I understood that school wasn’t really about learning.

Issues with Lectures

Customs are useful in setting a direction that has generally worked out well in the past since they synthesize the learning of our predecessors. The current schooling system draws heavily from the Prussian Education system which has remained relatively unchanged since the 1,700s. Customs need to be challenged for any society to evolve.

There are no basics, no subject is ever fully grasped because there are always more relationships to explore. Many topics require multiple visits to grasp, I’ve personally revisited Electrodynamics countless times over the years and I still feel like I barely grok it. Unfortunately, the basic unit of the Prussian system “The Class” has remained relatively unchallenged even though fields and their boundaries have long eroded.

Lectures are passed or failed and if passed come with a corresponding letter grade which signals how well you absorbed the material. But a subject is never really complete so why grade people at all? The common answer is we need to rank people. But this is not a real answer which conflated the goal we are trying to achieve with a proxy metric we are using to measure that goal. What we want is for students to master a subject and what better test of mastery than a publicly available portfolio of essays, proposals or codebases?

Joy of discovery is the key to learning, read what you love until you love reading. Give students free reign on curiosity. Class boundaries are too rigid and actively discourage going deep and finding relationships between fields.

Issues with Teachers

Star students should become teachers assistant quickly as they can better relate to their colleagues. Students should strive to teach other and create a sense of community and collaboration instead of an artificial competition for good boi points.

Many professors are monitoring their students over Zoom to make sure they are not copying their answers from Wikipedia. Professors should instead question why their questions are easy enough to be answerable by a Google Query.

A lecture is a one way communication channel from a teacher to a student but when it comes conveying information some students absorb content quickly and others more slowly. The way this dilemma is resolved in the current schooling system is repetition to cater to the lowest common denominator. However, as many students around the world have already observed it’s easier to absorb information when you can freely rewind it in the comfort of your own home. The role of a teacher then switches to that of a media producer to create lectures and a discussion facilitator in office hours where students can ask specific questions.

Elite schools like Stanford overburden their students with homework, free time is viewed as an evil that must be eliminated at all costs and while it’s important to help create good working habits, this desire must be balanced with others or else it becomes very easy to fall into dogmatic incremental work that simply doesn’t matter.

Teaching and Researching are two separate skills but they shouldn’t be. Make professors teach their research and if they can’t teach that well, it’s questionable whether they are good at their research.

Issues with School

The schooling system in general doesn’t acknowledge the role of failure in learning. I’ve been yelled at for saying I don’t know during a pop quiz in school but have been lauded by my peers in industry for being so honest. Failing a class in school is humiliating, failing an entire year is enough to get you ostracized.

Vocational studies are not considered prestigious even though they are are more generally useful. A degree in computer science can also train you to be a good software engineer but not as efficiently as a degree in software engineering or just a year or two doing software projects for a client.

Division between theory and application is nonsense. We have the tools and simulations to full explore applied problems on a computer and for the vast majority of people, applied problems are easier to grasp. This division maintains a perverse incentive where schools and universities can charge students exorbitant amounts for worthless information.

Issues with Society

It is not the state’s responsibility to educate you, it is your responsibility to educate yourself.

Ritalin is a drug we’ve forced on children to deal with a broken system. Children that can’t sit still for 8 hours at a time are considered hyperactive when most adults can’t sit through a 1 hour meeting without going for their phones. It would be a lot simpler to admit that the number of school hours is way too long.

Board games and video games help students explore complex phenomena in an enjoyable way and learning is supposed to be enjoyable. However, if we guilt students into thinking learning has to be tedious then is it really surprising that people don’t generally enjoy learning after work or school?

It’s impossible to “prepare students”, fields such as software change so much that preparing students 1 year into the future is as pointless as preparing them 20 years into the future. The most important role of an education should be to help students find a few topics to dive deep in and produce public facing content that reflects their understanding. A portfolio is far more impactful than a CV.

Personal Responsibility

Entrepreneurship is a part of the american DNA, this is why opening up a Lemonade stand is a right of passage for many American kids. It almost seems tautological but the more practice you get at starting a business, the more likely you are to start a successful business. Scaling a Lemonade stand is a lot more useful than getting an MBA.

Dumping money at a failing institution doesn’t make the institution magically better, in fact most of the improvements I propose such as looking at high quality video content, emailing top researchers and working on side projects can all be done at a fraction of the cost of an undergraduate education.

The way we make education more accessible is to have less of it. Admittedly this is counter-intuitive and I don’t expect policy makers to reach this consensus.

Just remember it’s never been easier to learn anything and the best way to learn something is to take personal responsibility for it.

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