The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: School

Schooling Kills Creativity And Then Work Buries It

So, there are different measures of creativity. One of them is divergent thinking, the ability to come up with lots of different ideas. George Land created a famous test for NASA, then applied it to children. Test-takers were given a problem and then had to come up with many different ways to tackle it.

Land’s dead now but before  he died he gave a Ted talk. Generally loathe them, but this one is interesting.

As for the results of his test…

Yeah. Woops. The reason for this is simple (and I can hear some regular readers eyes rolling, since this is a subject I’ve talked about a lot.) School is about coming up with the “right” answer the “right” way. There aren’t 50 right ways. I have many memories of coming up with the right answer in math, for example, using different methods than the teacher and being downgraded for it.

In math there’s often a “right” answer but in other disciplines, there isn’t one. What caused the French revolution or World War I? There isn’t a right answer.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking “but the social sciences and humanities are different.”

Oh, somewhat.

Back in the 90s I used to tutor university students. I’d tell them I could teach them to consistently get a B, but not an A, because the extra step from B to A was knowing the person who is marking your tests and essays, and both working them so they like and respect you and tailoring your answers to their prejudices. It’s actually harder to get get an A in the humanities and social sciences than in the sciences and in math. I’ve gotten 100% on a chemistry or physics test. I have never done so on a paper or non multiple choice test in the humanities or social sciences because there isn’t a correct answer.

But you will get higher grades if you learn to give the marker about what they want.

In the sciences it’s about getting the right answer the right way. In the humanities and social sciences it’s a social game of “please the market” or in very rigid standardized tests of “please the test designer.”

In realm of the real world this leads to the something called “best practices”, which I loathe. There are no such things as best practices. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach workers what is known to work, but if you enforce “best practices” then they can’t innovate. If you tell people “how” to do something, rather than say “I need you to accomplish X” you shut down learning and creativity and you also strangle advancement.

People have to be free to try new things. There are degrees of this, of course, in some cases the task still needs to get done. But mandating how and not what stiffles progress and creativity faster than almost anything else.

What we do to children and adults is psychologically cripple them. It’s better, in our society, to be wrong with the pack or in the approved fashion than to be right against the pack or  using non-standard methods.

Very, very much better. In the pack, wrong with the pack, or more accurately wrong in the way leader-teacher wants you to be, you’re safe.

But get it right the wrong way, or get it wrong trying something new, and you’re toast.

We all know this, but many of us refuse to admit it and this is especially true with regards to school. We spent more awake time in school for twelve to sixteen or more years than we did anywhere else, except in some cases home. That creates strong identification. We either want to believe school is good, or we rebel against it, but very few people can remain neutral. If something “must” be then it must be good.

But school teaches (eye-roll time) us to be a bunch of conformists, giving teacher what they want in the way they want, sitting down and not even talking or using the bathroom without permission.

That’s school and denying that is what school is is rank stupidity.

It’s also most workplaces. You replace teacher with boss.

And then you think you’re free when you’ve spent most of your life doing what you were told, the way you were told to do it.

(By the way, one corollary of Land’s test is that you started out as a creative genius. Perhaps you can be one again? It’s not nature that made you un-creative. Nature started you as a genius.)

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


What will it take to stop asking why are there school shootings? By Marcus Gardner

By Marcus Gardner (not by Ian)

There was a time in my life when I believed with certainty that I was going to raise my child in a small village of other parents, single people, elders, and children. The toddlers would look up to the older boys and girls, and they to the teenagers, and they to the young singles, and so on and so forth. The kids would mostly watch each other, learning in the daily ebb and flow of successes and failures, play and conflict, that is – from my observation and experience – a far richer learning environment than any human-created institution. And, because these kids would be at home in their community nearly 24/7, they’d see what their parents did – woodwork, gardening, harvesting, fishing, and hunting wild foods, fixing technology, auto repair, counseling one another, and raising their children – these kids would naturally gravitate to what their role is, and not just in the sense of what they wanted to “be” when they grew up, but who they “are.”

Today, my wife and I are raising a toddler as nuclear parents and are trying, with no little effort, to put off sending her to school. We’re looking for the right community, or at the very least, the right kind of free school/forest kindergarten that won’t break our little girl’s spirit. While we, ourselves, try not to break her spirit, which is pretty fucking hard if you’ve ever spent much of your day with a toddler, day after day. My moral compass with regard to children is rock solid, but I can still understand how tempting it must seem – especially when you haven’t had the right training and experience – to result to shaming, to indoctrination, and, ultimately, to institutionalizing your kid, all under the guise of “it’s for their own good.” When it’s really just your own cope.

I saw a quote in Reddit the other day saying something to the effect that children are the largest oppressed class. Their concerns are not taken seriously. They’re given no meaningful way to contribute. And they get shuffled between institutions, kept occupied with busy work. I couldn’t agree more.

What I learned from all my time with kids is that you’ve got to trust them. They can’t really help but tell the truth (even if they’re lying.) Children, especially young children, don’t have the artifice that we adults have. They’re not satisfied to simply rationalize their hurt and pain – they actually want to stop it, quell it. So I listen to them, and extend myself not just beyond my own assumptions and personal convenience, but beyond our culture’s. Because this culture was not designed for the needs of children (nor for the real needs of adults, of course.) And to hear a child – to really hear them – I’ve got to question this whole crazy superstructure that we’re trying to cram our lives into.

So when my two year old daughter is giving us hell, or just being a pain in the butt and I can’t get x, y, or z done, I ask myself: why is this happening? Because, despite the “wisdom” of my baby-boomer parents (“let her cry it out,” “put her in a crib in the other room,” “teach her manners,” “stop nursing already”) I actually trust this little girl more than anyone else. She’s telling me something’s wrong.

Is it because we’re too isolated right now? Does she need more older kids to show her how to do things? People she wants to follow around and copy, instead of her parents correcting her, yet again? Does she need my wife and I to be have more integrated lives, rather than juggling work schedules and “blowing off steam” and/or working on our own projects, (projects we hide from our daughter so she doesn’t mess them up?) Does she need something more real than another day in the house with her books and toys, or another playdate at a playground designed to keep her busy?

And it’s hard. Because of course she needs all of those things, and we fall short in so many ways, even though we do, at least, take her seriously. But our abilities to trust and include her as much as possible is limited, because we’re largely nuclear, isolated individuals. Our lack of a real social support net leaves a lot out.

When I think of sending my daughter to school, either so my wife and I can have more “adult time” to get work and get stuff done, or so our daughter can get more time around other kids, or simply to get away from needing to deal with her, I’m terrified at how fast the change might happen.

Right now, with the acceptance and love she receives from my wife and I, she’s maybe half full. Maybe a bit less, as she went through chemotherapy and was given a potentially lifelong disability as a result of spinal surgery at 1.5 years old.

But take her away from mom and dad’s acceptance, put her in a room (or even outside,) watched over by another adult as that adult tries to corral another ten kids. I know what it’s like; I was a Montessori pre-school teacher for a while. With so many same aged peers, the power struggles will quickly ensued, and, despite however well-intentioned the teachers are, a pecking order will be established. Even if (and that’s a big if) the teacher doesn’t resort to shame, the children, in their desperate situations, will. And many if not most of them will have become adept at shame even at the tender age of pre-school.

Tell her it’s going to be like this for fifteen years.

How long would it take to empty the bottle of my daughter’s soul in this way? Six months? A year? And how long until it’s filled with the fuming poison of shame, competition, needing to be “good” to be loved – by teacher, by friends, by Instagram?

How long – and I’m not just finger-pointing at school here, but at our whole cultural package – until she’s a Molotov cocktail? Because without an engendering community to grow up in, to get to know herself in, to get to know healthy relationship within, how could she ever become anything else? Long before she throws her graduation hat in the air, she’ll have learned – with the help of her school, her peers, experts, and the media – that to be a good participant in our zero sum society she not only has to win, but she has to learn to manage the pain. Being “good” only means that you’re good at procuring something to sooth the poison inside you. That’s the goal: functional addiction. Inner Pepto Bismol. And all the better if you can multitask and make noise about how you’re the one with the answers to other people’s and/or the world’s problems, while ignoring and medicating your own.

And despite our hand wringing about gun control, mental health, or how we’re giving our kids the “right” values, some of these Molotov cocktails run low on their Pepto Bismol. When they look around, they see everyone clamoring for the limelight, to make a statement, to be known and seen and given a place, and they think: “Better to be an anti-hero than a nobody.” But their poison and emptiness is the same as yours and mine.

Work & School Are Fundamentally Awful for Most People

During the first year of the pandemic, there was a great deal of squealing about suicide. Turns out the squealers, as usual, were exactly wrong.

I have a friendly acquaintance who quit his job to teach the Alexander Technique online. He had a good paying consultant gig. First, for a month, he basically collapsed. Nine months later, he looks like a different person.

Daily life in our societies is essentially slavery. We spend most of the day doing what we are told, when we are told — things we would never do if we didn’t need the money, because without it we would wind up on the street.

For children, it is little different: School is training for work. Sit down, speak only when given permission, do what your’re told, the way you’re told to do it. Don’t even use the bathroom without permission.

Once the school or work day is over, we have a few hours, mostly, to do things like eat, wash, commute, and take care of family members — with perhaps a few hours of entertainment, usually something passive.

If we’re lucky, we get two days off a week, one of which most people spend on chores.

Our entire lives are oriented around doing what our masters tell us, when they tell us, in the way they want, and, if we refuse (unless we were born rich or are very lucky), we suffer.

So it’s no surprise that when we got a good period off from work or school, suicide rates dropped EVEN during a pandemic.

There was a plague, but people were still less likely to kill themselves than during ordinary work periods.

Wage slavery and school are just a description of everyday life for most people and almost any break from it, even due to a plague, is a relief.

I particularly find ridiculous all the adults who seem to have forgotten how happy most children were when school ended and summer break happened. School was and is, for most people, a lot less pleasant than “no school.” Not because of the subject matter learning (what little there is), but because the real teaching at school isn’t centered on subject matter, it’s centered on “how to be a good little slave so you’ll slave well for the bosses in the future.”



Do Adults Really Not Remember School Sucked?

One of the constant refrains which has bemused me during the pandemic is all the people saying how much kids want to go back to school.


This has struck me as crazy, because I don’t seem to have childhood amnesia. I didn’t like school, and I remember that almost no kid I ever met, even those who did, preferred school to days off.

But I shrugged until I read this teacher’s account of asking her students how their time off was.

Surprise, almost all of them were happy they had had the pandemic time off.

School is, well, mostly bad. It teaches things slowly, it mostly trains obedience, and it’s a social horror show. When we say social dynamics are like high school, we never mean anything good, and there are dozens of movies about how awfully students treat each other.

And most of what is taught in school and university is quickly forgotten. I used to amuse myself by asking recent university grads what they had learned, most of them could barely remember anything. Since I was widely read, often I knew enough to ask basic questions about their discipline, and they wouldn’t know the answers.

School is no different: information which is not used or found important, is lost, and it is lost quickly once the final, externally imposed, exam, is over.

Parents want their children to go back to school because it’s a babysitting service, and since we’re not paying parents to stay home, they need someone to take care of their kids. And yes, some may be falling behind or finding distance learning hard, but a decent system could make that up well enough.

But the idea that the kids themselves miss school, except in the sense that they can’t see their friends (which is pandemic related, and if it’s not safe to see them outside of school it isn’t safe to see them in school) is laughable.

It’s fairly obvious that the way we do school is terrible. It doesn’t teach knowledge quickly; the knowledge isn’t retained well, it destroys curiosity and natural desire to learn and it mostly has the effect of making children who should be outside running around into good little slaves: people who have learned to sit down, shut up, and do what teacher (or later, boss) says, the way they want it done.

It’s a wage-slave factory and that students come out with some actual knowledge is a secondary issue (if it wasn’t, effective illiteracy statistics wouldn’t be constantly  high.)

Effective traumatic conditioning makes you pretend that you enjoyed it. And that’s what school is: a way of taking the juice of life out of you and destroying your ability to make independent decisions and love learning.

We forget that, because what was done to us was horrible and all our trusted adults were onside with it. So as with horrible parents, we have to pretend they did it because they loved us.

Maybe they did, since they think being a slave is good, since most of them (us) are slaves, and we must believe that whatever we do is good.

But, at the least, let us not forget something simple. Most kids prefer not being at school to being at school. And if you have honest recollection of your childhood, you probably did too.

All the content here is free, but subscriptions and donations do help, a lot.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén