Browsed by
Tag: schooling

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How the Education System Destroys Social Networks – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

I was at a restaurant for lunch and had time to visit with the waitress, who turns out to be a college graduate from a good institution. She has a degree in European languages. Here she is waiting tables with nondegreed people, some five years her junior, some 10 years her elder.

She is making good money, but so are her co-workers. You have to wonder: given her position, what was the professional advantage to her of those four hard years in school and the $100K spent on them? What were the opportunity costs?

This is not another article to disparage the value of a college degree. I would like to raise a more fundamental question. It concerns the strange way in which our education system has overly segmented our lives into a series of episodic upheavals, each of which has little to do with the other, the value of one accomplishment being oddly disconnected from the next stage, and none of them directly connecting to our professional goals except in the unusual case.

From the earliest age until adulthood, we’ve been hurled from institution to institution in a way that eventually sets young people back from developing continuity of plans and a social support system to realize their goals. At the end of it all, people find themselves back where they started: figuring out their market worth and trying to find a buyer for their services.

Instead of drawing down on accumulated capital, they end up starting fresh at age 22. Even after years of building social capital, they are drawing down on a nearly empty account.

There is something seriously wrong with this system. Shouldn’t our investments in our friendship networks extend across and beyond the stages of our development to make more of a difference in our lives?

The post-graduation diaspora

In a couple of months, for example, many millions of high school students will graduate. Celebration! Sort of. It’s great to finish school. But what’s next?

Many students find themselves devastated to lose the only social group and friendship network they’ve ever known. They worked for years to cultivate it, and in an instant, it is blown apart. They are left with a piece of paper, a yearbook of memories, a transcript, and, perhaps a few recommendation letters from teachers — recommendations that do them little good in the marketplace.

“Don’t ever change,” they write in each other’s yearbooks. The sentiment expresses a normal longing to hold on to the investment the students make in each other’s lives, even as everything about the system tries to take that investment from them.

Is this the way it should be?

Then, the same group, or at least many among them, look forward to college, where they are mostly, again, starting from scratch in a social sense. It can be very scary. College students begin their new experience isolated. They work for another four years to develop a network — a robust social group — to find their footing and to establish both a reputation and sense of self. This is the only world they’ve known for years, and they have invested their hearts and souls into the experience.

The social fabric ends up rich and wonderful, with intense friendships based on shared lives.

Finally, after four years, the graduation march plays, the tassel is moved from one side of the cap to the other, and the whole social apparatus goes up in smoke — again. Then, another diaspora.

Once again, students find themselves nearly alone, with few hooks into the world of commerce and employment. They have a degree but few opportunities to monetize it. Their social network is of limited use to them. All they have, yet again, is a piece of paper. Plus they have recommendation letters from professors that still do them little good in the marketplace.

This not always the case. There are workarounds, and digital networking is helping. People join fraternities and social clubs, and those can be useful going forward. But it might take years for these connections to yield results. The more immediate question is this: What do I do now? Lacking a broad sense of the way the world works, and missing any influential hooks into prevailing networks, a college grad can often find herself feeling isolated once again, starting over for the third time.

The failure of the central plan

This is the system that the civic culture has created for us. For the years from the ages of 14 through 22, students’ primary focus of personal investment and social capital building is centered on their peers. But their peers are just the same as they are: hoping for a good future but having few means to get from here to there.

Why does this keep happening? Looking at the big picture, you can start to see a serious problem with the educational system politicians have built for us. It is keeping people “on track” — but is it a track that prepares people for the future?

A core principle of the education system, as owned and controlled by government, is Stay in school and stay with your class. This is the emphasis from the earliest grades all the way through the end of college. The accidents of birth determine your peer group, your primary social influences, and the gang you rely on for social support.

To be “held back” is considered disgraceful, and to be pushed forward a grade is considered dangerous for personal development. Your class rank is your world, the definition of who you are — and it stays with you for decades. Everyone is on a track as defined by a ruling class: here is what you should and must know when. All your peers are with you.

Many factors entrench this reality. The public school system is organized on the assumption of homogeneity, a central plan imposed from the top down. It didn’t happen all at once. It came about slowly over the course of 100-plus years, from the universalization of compulsory schooling, to the prohibition of youth work, to the gradual nationalization of curricula.

In the end, we find the lives of young people strictly segmented by stages that are strangely discontinuous. Where are the professional contacts that result? Where are the friends who can smooth your way into the world of professional work? They aren’t among your former classmates. Your peers are all in the same position you are in.

Laws that lock people out

The workplace might help to mitigate this problem, but it’s incredibly difficult for young people to get a regular job thanks to “child labor” laws that exclude teens from the workforce. For this reason, only one in four high school kids has any real experience outside their peer group. They miss all the opportunities to learn and grow that come from the workplace — learning from examples of personal initiative, responsibility, independence, and accountability.

There are extremely narrow conditions under which a 14-year-old can find legal employment, but few businesses want to bother with the necessary documentation and restrictions. A 16-year-old has a few more opportunities, but, even here, these young people can’t work in kitchens or serve alcohol. The full freedom to engage a larger community outside the segmented class structure doesn’t come until after you graduate high school.

By the time the opportunity comes around to do authentic remunerative work, a student’s life is filled with other interests, mostly social, but also extracurricular. Instead of working a job, people are doing a thousand other things, and there seems to be no time left. It’s not uncommon for people to graduate with no professional experiences whatsoever to draw on. Their peers are their only asset, their only really valuable relationships, but these relationships have little commercial value.

How natural is any of this?

If you look at the social structure of homeschooling co-ops, for example, younger kids and older kids mix it up in integrated social environments, and they learn from each other. Parents of all ages are well integrated too, and it creates a complex social environment. The parents know all the kids and, together, they form a diverse microsociety of mutual interests. This is one reason that homeschooled kids can seem remarkably precocious and poised around people of all ages. They are not being artificially pegged into slots and held there against their will.

A better way

When you read about the experiences of successful people in the late 19th century, they talk of their exciting and broad experiences in life, working in odd jobs, meeting strange people of all ages and classes, performing tasks outside their comfort zone, encountering adult situations in business that taught them important lessons. They didn’t learn these things from sitting in a desk, listening to a teacher, repeating facts on tests, and staying with their class. They discovered the world through mixing it up, having fabulous and sometimes weird experiences, being with people who are not in their age cohort. They drew on these experiences for years following.

The system to which we have become accustomed is not of our choosing, and it certainly isn’t organic to the social order. It has been inflicted on us, one piece of legislation at a time. It is the result of an imposed, rather than evolved, order. Why wait until age 22 to get serious about your life?  Why stick with only one career choice in the course of your appointed 40 years in professional life? Why retire at the young age of 65, just because the federal government wants you to do so?

Think about this the next time you attend a graduation. Are the students shedding only tears of joy? Or, in the sudden mixture of emotions, is there also the dawning realization that they are witnessing the destruction of a social order they worked so hard to cultivate? Are they also overwhelmed with the knowledge that, in short order, they will have to recreate something entirely new again? Where is the continuity? Where is the evidence of an evolved and developing order of improved opportunities?

The most important question is this: What are the alternatives?

Bring back apprenticeships. Bring back remunerative work for the young. Look beyond the central plan, and don’t get trapped. Rethink the claim that staying in school is an unmitigated good. Find other ways to prevent your heavy investments in others from dissipating; ensure instead that they will pay more immediate returns. Our friends should remain in our lives — and yield a lifetime of returns.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Don’t Assume I’m Smarter Than My Contractor – Article by Kevin Currie-Knight

Don’t Assume I’m Smarter Than My Contractor – Article by Kevin Currie-Knight

The New Renaissance Hat
Kevin Currie-Knight
September 11, 2015

“So, I figured I’d ask you,” said my contractor. “You’re a lot smarter than me and—”

That’s when I stopped him.

Tom knows I am a college professor, and he wanted to ask my advice on his daughter’s education. He’s an ex-Marine who never went to college. It makes sense to ask an educator for advice about education, but why does that make me smarter?

I thought about all the times I’ve asked Tom’s advice about the house we are renovating, and about all the times he answered with a tone that implied, “Well, obviously you should…”

“Tom,” I said, “I wouldn’t say I’m smarter than you. It depends on the topic.”

He smiled politely and moved on to his question.

But even if he dismissed my objection as perfunctory, I can’t let it go. Why does our culture trivialize nonacademic intelligence and knowledge?

I think the existing structure of schooling plays a big part.

Fantasy Football

Let me tell another story, this one from my days as a high school special educator. I was teaching a study-skills class to students with learning disabilities. Partly, this course provided students extra time on assignments for other classes. One day, I sent two students to the library to work on a written project assigned for another course. About 10 minutes later, I received a call from the school librarian.

“You should come up here and get these kids, because they are off task and disturbing others!”

When I got to the library, I didn’t want to confront my students immediately. I wanted to see how, exactly, they were being disruptive.

What were they doing? Adjusting their fantasy football rosters.

As anyone who’s really played fantasy football knows, adjusting your weekly roster involves contemplating a lot of statistics: What are this player’s chances against this team? How does this team do against this type of running back?

That’s what my students were doing in the library: arguing over statistics. Not bad for kids considered learning disabled in subjects like math.

Like a good teacher, I interrupted their passionate dispute and instructed them to come back to the room, where they could get going on the more important work of writing an academic paper.

Whether we mean to or not, we constantly reinforce the message that only the stuff kids are taught in school counts as serious learning. Extracurriculars are fine, but what really counts is in their textbooks and homework.

We send them to school precisely because we believe that’s where they’ll be taught the most important subjects. We grade them on those things, and in many ways we measure their worth (at least while they’re in school) by how well they do on tests and school assignments.

Deschooling America

I’m certainly not the first person to notice this. Education theorist John Holt wrote about it in his frankly titled essay “School Is Bad for Children”:

Oh, we make a lot of nice noises in school about respect for the child and individual differences, and the like. But our acts, as opposed to our talk, says to the child, “Your experience, your concerns, your curiosities, your needs, what you know, what you want, what you wonder about, what you hope for, what you fear, what you like and dislike, what you are good at or not so good at — all this is of not the slightest importance, it counts for nothing.”

Ivan Illich made a similar point in Deschooling Society. Illich suggests that schooling makes us dependent on institutions for learning by convincing us that what we learn in school is important and what we learn outside is not.

Likewise, in Shop Class as Soulcraft, philosopher and auto mechanic Matthew Crawford bemoans the dichotomy we set up in our schools and society between knowing and doing. Schools are increasingly cancelling programs like shop class to make way for more knowing and less doing. Crawford points out that this drastically underestimates the crucial role of thinking in manual labor.

If you are still in doubt, think about this: earlier, I talked about learning disabilities. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), learning disabilities can only exist in academic subjects like reading and math. If you are bad at playing music or drawing, you are not learning disabled — just bad at music or art.

There may be good reason we leave teaching biology to the schools and teaching how to care of a car to the home (or to “extracurricular” apprenticeships). There may be good reason we teach algebra in the schools but not the statistical analysis needed to adjust a fantasy football roster. But the standard segregation of subjects sends the message that what is learned in school must be more important. We send you to a special building to learn it, we grade you on your ability to learn it, and we socially judge much of your worth by your success at it.

Almost by reflex, we ask kids, “What did you learn in school today?,” not, “What did you learn today?” The existence of school has conditioned us to regard what happens there as important, while we relegate what happens outside of school to the dust heap of “extracurriculars.”

So, no, Tom, I am not smarter than you; we’re both pretty smart. It’s just that our school-influenced culture wrongly tells us that what I do is more cerebral and therefore requires more intelligence than what you do. And that’s a bad assumption.

Kevin Currie-Knight teaches in East Carolina University’s Department of Special Education, Foundations, and Research.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Modularization of Activity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Modularization of Activity – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
February 7, 2013

On February 2, 2013, I ran my first ultramarathon: 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) in 5 hours, 10 minutes, 50 seconds – all within the comforts of my home on my elliptical trainer. I experienced no pain, no pounding, no strain on the joints, no car traffic, and no vicissitudes of weather. More importantly, I had constant access to water and nourishment if I wished it. The elliptical trainer’s shelf held my tablet computer, and I could pass the time reading articles, watching videos of philosophical discussions, and listening to Mozart.

This kind of experience is truly new. Even when I ran my first elliptical-trainer marathon in 2008 (see my article about that experience and its advantages here), I could not have replicated it. I had to content myself with reading a hard-copy book back then, prior to the age of e-readers and tablets. Cumulatively, I have read thousands of hard-copy pages while running, but the strain required for such reading is certainly far greater. Occasionally, one must hold the book still. The tablet screen is far more stable and versatile, offering vast possibilities for entertainment. With an Internet connection, immense repositories of information are at one’s fingertips, all without interrupting one’s workout!

Although the ability to radically customize my exercise has been quite recent, I have been contemplating the broader development it represents for years.  In 2008, when walking between two buildings during a frigid Michigan winter, I was struck by the realization that life did not have to be this way in the future. I wanted to reach my destination and its amenities, but being outside in freezing weather was a mere contingent circumstance, unrelated to the specific goals I sought. As a result of this insight, I proposed that, in addition to indefinite life extension, complete liberty, and the cessation of all aggression, a worthwhile endeavor for the future should be the decoupling or de-packaging of activities from one another. Life should improve to such an extent that, when considering any activity, people should only need to accept the constitutive parts of that activity – not extraneous physical circumstances that simply get in the way.

Running is excellent exercise, but it has historically been fraught with unnecessary risks and discomforts. People have even died during “traditional” marathons, due to lack of preparation, lack of nourishment, extremes of weather, and the inability to access emergency aid. The repeated pounding of feet on the pavement damages the joints and bones; this is why so many lifelong runners get knee and hip replacements in their forties and fifties. By contrast, the elliptical trainer is gentle. The feet rest firmly on the pedals; there is no pounding or jarring. One can think more clearly and focus on study, esthetics, or entertainment. There is no worry of being stranded from civilization and its amenities. When running outdoors, every mile run away must be run back, even when one might not be in the proper condition to do so. I still remember, from my college days, what it feels like to have no choice but to run for miles after a fall, to have one’s path obstructed by unexpected deep snow, or to face a sudden, chilling wind. I remember the dangerous behavior of distracted drivers at street crossings and even the occasional loose angry dog.

It is self-defeating to take serious short-term risks in pursuit of long-term health. For the past 4.5 years, I have frequently been able to isolate the “pure exercise” element of running from the unnecessary vicissitudes of the outdoor environment. The benefits in improved productivity have been enormous as well: I attained all seven of my professional insurance designations through studying mostly performed on an elliptical trainer. I am able to keep up with current world events and read more opinion pieces, philosophical treatises, and online discussions than ever before. Writing on the elliptical trainer is still quite laborious, but I can consume content during my workout as well as I could sitting at my desktop.

What enables this modularization – this separation of the desirable from the undesirable and the recombination of the desirable parts into simultaneous, harmonious experiences? Technology is the great de-packager of experiences that have hitherto been inseparable of necessity. At the same time, technology is the great assembler of experiences that could not have previously coexisted. In the eighteenth century, you would have had to be among the wealthiest kings and aristocrats in order to hear a string quartet while reading or writing. You would have needed to retain your own court musicians, or to hire professional performers at great expense.  Now you can avail yourself of this combination at virtually any time, on demand, without any incremental expenditure of money.

Other common modularizations now occur with scant notice by most. Today, thanks to global shipping networks, you can eat two fruits on the same plate, whose growing seasons are months apart. Some of these fruits will only have the parts you like, and none of those pesky little seeds – thanks to genetic engineering.  Whereas previously you would have had to purchase prepackaged  vinyl records, cassette tapes, or CDs, now you can obtain individual songs, lectures, speeches, podcasts, or audiobooks and combine them in any way you like. Whereas old-style television networks expected you to adjust your schedule to them, and to sit through annoying advertisements every ten minutes, you can now access inexhaustible content online and watch it at your own schedule.

But this great process of empowering individuals by breaking down old pre-packaged bundles is just beginning. Consider the improvements we could witness in the foreseeable future:

1. The rise of autonomous, self-driving vehicles could not only get rid of the chore of driving, but could also save tens of thousands of lives annually, as the overwhelming majority of automobile accidents and fatalities are due to human error. In the meantime, occupants of autonomous vehicles could entertain themselves in ways previously inconceivable. Texting while driving will no longer pose a risk, because the vehicle will not depend on you.

2. The mass production of in-vitro meat could enable humans to consume meat without requiring the deaths of millions of animals. This will not only increase the ethical comfort and esthetic satisfaction of meat-eating, but will also reduce the messiness of food preparation. It will also reduce the unpleasant odors emanating from large-scale livestock farms.

3. The rise in videoconferencing and telecommuting will simultaneously raise productivity, lower business costs, and improve employee morale. Employees will be able to more flexibly balance their jobs and personal lives. Neither work emergencies nor personal emergencies would need to escalate, unaddressed, just because attending to such emergencies immediately is impractical. More remote collaboration will become possible, without the need to amass huge travel bills or endure sub-optimal and sometimes outright undignified conditions at airports or on roads.

4. Personalized medicine – aided by vast and cheap data about the body and the use of portable devices as the first line of screening and diagnosis – would save considerable money on medical costs and encourage a focus on prevention. It would also enable people to avoid much of the bureaucracy associated with contemporary medical systems, and would free doctors to receive visits related to genuinely the serious conditions that require their expertise. Patients who discover specific health problems could apply directly to specialists, instead of using general practitioners as filters. Burdens on general practitioners would thereby be reduced, enabling them to provide a higher quality of care to the patients that remain.

5. Improved infrastructure should mitigate the effects that the vicissitudes of weather and vehicle traffic have on our everyday movements. Air conditioning and heating in automobiles, trains, and airplanes have already helped greatly in this regard. Additional investments should be made into covered passageways connecting proximate buildings in cities, as well as subterranean and above-ground pedestrian street crossings. Dashing across a traffic-filled intersection should be made obsolete, and our future selves should eventually come to be astonished at the barbarism of societies where people took such outrageous risks just to get from one place to another.  In less populated areas, the least that could be done is for sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists to be made ubiquitous, so as to avoid the mingling of cars with less protected modes of transport.

6. Nanofibers and innovative fabrics could render much clothing immune to the typical inconveniences and hazards of everyday wear. Wrinkling, staining, and tearing would become mere historical memories. Packing for a trip would become much easier, and compromises between esthetics and practicality would disappear. Individual expression would be empowered in clothing as in so many other areas.  Some clothing might be engineered to keep the temperature near the body at comfortable levels, or to absorb solar energy to power small electronic devices.

7. Education could be greatly improved by decoupling it from classrooms, stiff metal chair-desks, dormitories, bullies, enforced conformity, and one-size-fits-all instruction aimed at the lowest common denominator. The Internet has already begun to break down the “traditional” model of schooling, a dysfunctional morass that our culture inherited from the theological universities of the Middle Ages, with some tweaks made during the mid-nineteenth century in order to train obedient soldiers and factory workers for the then-emerging nation-states. The complete breakdown of the classroom model cannot come too soon. Even more urgent is the breakdown of the paradigm of overpriced hard-copy textbooks, which thrive on rent-seeking arrangements with formal educational institutions. Traditional schooling should be replaced by a flexible model of certifications that could be attained through a variety of means: online study, apprenticeship, tutoring, and completion of projects with real-world impact. A further major breakthrough might be the replacement of protracted degree programs with more targeted “competency” training in particular skills – which could be combined in any way a person deems fit. Instead of attaining a degree in mathematics, a person could instead choose to earn any combination of competencies in various techniques of integration, differential equations, abstract algebra, combinatorics, topology, or a number of other sub-fields. These competencies – perhaps hundreds of them in mathematics alone – could be mixed with any number of competencies from other broadly defined fields. A single person could become a certified expert in integration by parts, Baroque composition, the economic law of comparative advantage, and the history of France during the Napoleonic Wars, among several hundreds of relatively compact other areas of focus. Reputable online databases could keep track of individuals’ competencies and render them available for viewing by anyone with whom the individual shares them – from employers to casual acquaintances. This would be a much more realistic way of signaling one’s genuine skills and knowledge. Today, a four-year degree in X does not tell prospective employers, business partners, or other associates much, except perhaps that a person is sufficiently competent at reading, writing, and following directions as to not be expelled from a college or university.

The modularization of activity promises to liberate immense amounts of time and energy by enabling people to focus directly on what is important to them. The hardships that are typically seen as part of the “package” of certain experiences today are not, in any manner, necessary, ennobling, or “worth it”. A good thing does not become any better just because one has had to sacrifice other good things for it. Modularization will enhance individual choice and facilitate ever greater customization of life. Some will allege that this will reduce the diversity of experience; they will claim that individuals lose out on the breadth of exposure that comes with being involuntarily thrust into unexpected situations. But this was never an optimal way to pursue diverse experiences. A better way is to remove from one’s life the time-consuming byproducts of useful activities, and to fill the resulting extra time with a deliberate pursuit of new endeavors and experiences. If you do not have to drive in busy traffic, you can spend the extra time reading a book that you would not have read otherwise. If you do not have to deal with a random group of people your age in a traditional school, you can instead go out and meet individuals with whom you could undertake meaningful interactions and mutual endeavors.

Because modularization allows individuals to form their own packages of activities, it will enable us to arrive at an era of truly effective multi-tasking – not the frenzied and stressful rush to do multiple incompatible tasks at the same time, as often occurs today. Technology allows for diversity among individuals’ minds and enables each person to combine and recombine activities so as to make the most out of all of their abilities at any given time. For instance, I think of activities as occupying particular “tracks” in my own mind. I can only competently handle one verbal “track” (written or spoken) at one time. I can combine a verbal “track” with a motion-based “track” and an auditory non-verbal “track” – by reading, exercising, and listening to music simultaneously. I can also do so by writing (which is both verbal and motion-based) and listening to music simultaneously. If I am listening to an audio recording of a book, essay, or podcast, then my visual faculty is free to look at art, or to create it. I can do the former while exercising.  On the other hand, I do not enjoy leaving off any particular verbal or motion-based task prior to its completion, in order to engage in another task of the same “track”. Thus, I generally structure my activities so that such tasks occur in a linear succession and without interspersion. Auditory experiences are easier for me to halt and resume, so I can more readily shift from one to another, depending on where I am on my other “tracks”. It may be that some of my readers have extremely different combinations with which they are most comfortable. The very purpose of modularization is to allow each individual to make choices accordingly, while being subject to increasingly fewer material or cultural limitations that constrain people to accept any particular “packages” of activities.

Modularization is liberation – of time, energy, comfort, and productive effort. It is yet another way in which technology empowers us and enhances our lives in an unprecedented fashion.