“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”—Mark Twain
This chapter examines individual pursuit of knowledge through self education, the only means of becoming educated. The chapter does not deal with efforts to reform compulsory public schooling. It cannot be reformed precisely because it is compulsory. People learn only what they want to learn, when they want to learn it. While the principles of education are universal, the focus here is primarily America and the United States. Throughout this book there is a distinction made between America as a culture that originated in a quest for greater freedom, and the United States of America, a coercive political institution that has always been and continues to be an impediment to the human quest for freedom.
Homer Hickam seemed destined for a life of labor in a coal mine until the night he saw an orbiting satellite in the sky over his West Virginia home. Inspired by that sight, fourteen-year old Homer decided to build a rocket of his own. He later became a rocket engineer in the U.S. space program.
Steven Spielberg, the world famous creator of motion pictures, produced his first movie when he was twelve years old, writing the script, getting siblings and friends to act in it, and filming it himself. Steven continued making movies throughout his years in school.
Sarah Chang first picked up a violin on her fourth birthday. At age five she was accepted into the Music Division of the renowned Juilliard School. At age eight, she appeared as violin soloist with the New York Philharmonic, on one day’s notice due to illness of the soloist scheduled for that performance. She has become one of the world’s leading concert violinists.
When Laura Deming was eight years old she dreamed of finding ways to alleviate and mitigate the aging process. Laura was home schooled. She never set foot inside a classroom until she was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age fourteen. Since age sixteen she has been an entrepreneur financing biotechnology companies that work on the aging process, participating since age nineteen in financing or founding five such companies.
Laura Dekker of New Zealand lived the first five years of her life on a sailboat as her parents sailed the South Pacific. At age eight, Laura dreamed about sailing alone around the world. She left school at age fourteen to prepare for her voyage, and achieved her dream at age sixteen, when she became the youngest solo sailor to circumnavigate the globe. She continued to live her dream, earning her living making presentations about her voyage and qualifying for a New Zealand license as a ship’s commander.
The five young persons mentioned above became successful in life by working at the very thing that interested them the most when they were young.
Psychology professor Peter Gray has observed that, “children come into the world burning to learn. They are naturally curious, naturally playful, and they explore and play in ways that teach them about the social and physical world to which they must adapt. Within their first four years they learn to walk, run, jump, and climb, to understand and speak the language of the culture into which they are born, and with that they learn to assert their will.”
Something happens to most young people along the way to growing up, something that suppresses and drains away their curiosity. Nature does not turn off children’s desire and capacity to learn. What is it? It is the oppression of young people by compulsory schooling with its practice of testing and grading students on their ability to repeat what they have been taught rather than encouraging their curiosity to learn what interests them.
A professor at Columbia University observed that students in the university seemed motivated to get the highest grades they could while learning the least possible amount of the subject matter. He attributed that to their schooling before college. He left the university in order to start a school that would nurture and encourage curiosity.
People will learn what they want to learn. Learning cannot be compelled. It is a voluntary, individual activity.
Compulsory schooling has an adverse impact on the curiosity of young people by demanding that they set aside their own interests in order to learn what schools and parents want and require them to learn, or at least try to learn. No learning can actually occur under coercion, only temporary memorization of material soon forgotten after a test has been taken.
NOTE: This chapter takes a critical view of compulsory public schooling. However, it is the institution of compulsory schooling that is the subject of criticism herein, not individual teachers. Among the 3.6 million public school teachers in 900,000 schools across the U.S. there are some teachers worthy of praise. For some young people in the United States, the public school is a haven of refuge from a dysfunctional home and a crime-ridden, dangerous neighborhood.
Many public school students throughout the United States are not learning much according to the results of standardized nationwide tests.
Many parents and students in low income and minority neighborhoods are eager for the better schooling that they believe is available in charter schools. However, the number of charter schools is severely restricted due to political opposition in the schooling establishment. Hence, there are lotteries and waiting lists for entry into charter schools.
A significant proportion of high school graduates are academically unprepared to do work at the college and university level. Therefore, many colleges and universities offer remedial courses for the academically unprepared students they admit.
The deficiencies in elementary and secondary education in the U.S. are not due to lack of spending on the public schools. The schooling industry is big business, with $600 billion yearly spent on school for 50 million young people from kindergarten through high school.
Much of the spending in public school systems is wasted because, generally, public school systems are rife with overspending on administration, under-spending on teaching, and outright corruption that siphons money away from the teaching function of schools.
Many young people on track for college suffer from sleep deprivation and stress ailments. The miseries of such young people are due to time spent in a regimented school curriculum, an immense burden of homework, advanced placement (AP) courses and extracurricular activities intended to build an impressive résumé for college applications.
When such young people arrive at the university, many of them continue to be motivated primarily to achieve high grades, rather than exploring the opportunities a university may provide to learn about the achievements of human civilization.
Since the 1950s the cost of attending college and university has risen considerably faster than the consumer price index and the growth in family incomes.
As of the year 2014, loans taken out by students to pay for college expenses amounted to $1.2 trillion—an average of $28,000 per graduating borrower. That was in addition to sizable credit card debt many college students incur.
To what purpose, to what end do young people strive so hard for high scholastic grades and accumulate debts into the bargain? To seek a high-paying job? Will working for a living be the consequence of school and college, rather than engaging in an occupation that brings satisfaction and happiness?
Will life after college consist only of getting a job and a car, getting married, getting a house, having children and continual work to pay off college loan debt and a mortgage?
This is likely to be the consequence of years of schooling that prevented and discouraged young people from pursuing their interests—interests that could lead them into work that satisfies them, that helps to make life worth living.
Concurrently the job market for many college graduates is less promising than at any time since the Great Depression.
Because public schooling is administered politically and coercively, the suppliers of compulsory public schooling are assured of continuing and growing revenues while they provide poor and ever worsening service.
This chapter posits that:
- Reform is not possible in a system of monopolistic compulsion
- Individual and voluntarily cooperative decisions provide an alternative to the social pathologies of contemporary public schooling
- U.S. government student loan programs have caused high tuitions and encouraged young people to take on heavy student loan debt
- Political coercion, though presumably well-intended, is also the cause of unemployment among college graduates.
THE POSSIBILITY OF EDUCATION OF A CHILD STARTS BEFORE CONCEPTION
The path of a newborn child towards learning and education or oppression and ignorance starts in the minds of parents—before the act of conception. Being mindful of all that it will take to be a responsible parent would be a good first step to success in parenting. However, it seems that many prospective parents are not mindful of the responsibility they will have once a child arrives, at least until they have some experience with a first child’s needs and wishes. Yes, the child’s wishes, because children know from birth what they want.
Parents give up some of their own freedom by becoming parents. That is why some people choose not to be parents. That is a wise decision for those people because only unhappiness for parent and child can result from a parental attitude begrudging the loss of freedom entailed in being a parent.
In addition to nurture, the greatest good parents can do for a child is to avoid discouraging or frustrating a child’s natural curiosity. Humans learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn. Curiosity, exploration, and learning are the essence of education.
EDUCATION, SCHOOLING, SKILL, AND TRAINING
Education is the transference and acquisition of knowledge in the form of rational conclusions together with understanding how those rational conclusions have been established. To be educated in a subject requires understanding its fundamental structure and logical basis.
Learning to read and write is not education; rather reading and writing are skills, like learning to drive a car. The skills of reading and writing facilitate pursuit of education.
Skills are acquired by training. Education cannot be acquired by training. Education is the individual acquisition of knowledge, of understanding.
NOTE: This chapter distinguishes between schooling and education by positing that schooling means operating or attending a school, while education means acquisition of knowledge. Acquisition of knowledge may occur in a school but is most likely to occur away from school. That is because education is an individual activity while school is a group activity.
CURIOSITY, KNOWLEDGE AND EDUCATION
Curiosity is the first step in the acquisition of knowledge. Curiosity leads one to seek knowledge. Therefore, curiosity is a prerequisite for education. No one can be educated about any subject if he or she lacks interest in it.
Education includes the process of making knowledge available to a new generation of people, without having to replicate existing knowledge, and previous discoveries and inventions. It is a very important, vital service and function of any society.
Humans do not have to rediscover or reinvent everything that has already been discovered and invented. Humanity does not have to reinvent the wheel or writing, reading and numbers in every succeeding generation or rediscover the laws of nature known already.
Knowledge is cumulative. As humans develop knowledge, each new generation has a larger existing knowledge base from which to search for new knowledge. Therefore, the rate of growth and expansion of knowledge has become exponential, which means that it grows in proportion to the amount that is already available. The more that is available, the faster it will grow. History corroborates this.
Andrew Galambos, whose thought inspired this book, claimed that there is no limit to the expansion of knowledge because the more humans discover, the more is revealed about the universe and about life that opens new vistas for knowledge expansion.
As Isaac Newton (1642-1727) said after he had made amazing breakthroughs in knowledge and understanding of the physical universe,
“I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then by finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
If children are allowed to be children, and encouraged to follow their interests, they will grow up with the qualities and characteristics that compulsory schooling is supposed to build and does not: independence of thought and joy in learning.
Albert Einstein commented on schooling in general and his own school experiences, that
“It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.”
CRITICAL ANALYSIS AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Critical analysis based on the scientific method is one of the few things that formal schooling could teach that most young people are not likely to discover on their own. Schools and colleges are not teaching critical analysis, much less emphasizing it.
Despite all the time young people are required to be in school, schools and universities generally have not taught them the methods of rational and logical thought that are the foundation of human cultural and material progress. Why not? It is because teaching critical thinking skills is not the aim of the schooling and college establishments.
In elementary and secondary schools the primary goals are to make citizens who are obedient to authority, to provide a custodial service for parents who want to be free of responsibility for their children during the time they are in school, to enforce the mandatory attendance laws, and to enforce order in the classroom.
If young people were free to do what they want, they would be in a classroom only if they believed they were benefiting from the experience.
Colleges are not teaching critical analysis, according to many observers. Rather, it appears that over the decades since the Vietnam War era, the goal of all too many professors, and of some college students themselves, is to inculcate an orthodoxy of politically correct views that tolerates no dissent.
Many professors at elite universities avoid teaching in favor of research, much of it of little or no value to anyone but themselves in the publish-or-perish environment of academia.
LEARNING IS UNIQUE TO EACH INDIVIDUAL
Gillian Lynne was eight years old and doing poorly in school. She was disturbing her class; her homework was always late. The school wrote to her parents and said, “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.”
Gillian’s mother took her to a specialist. Gillian waited while the man talked to her mother. After 20 minutes the doctor came to sit next to Gillian, and said, “I’ve listened to all these things your mother’s told me, I need to speak to her privately. Wait here. We’ll be back; we won’t be very long.”
As they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk. Outside his office he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” The minute they left the room, she was on her feet, moving to the music. After they watched for a few minutes he said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”
Gillian remarked years later that the dance school was marvelous; it was full of people like her. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think. They did ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance. She eventually trained at the Royal Ballet School in London. She became a soloist at the Royal Ballet. Later she founded the Gillian Lynne Dance Company, met Andrew Lloyd Webber and choreographed some of the most successful musical theater productions in history.
David Boies is dyslexic. His mother would read to him when he was young. He memorized what she said because he could not follow what was on the printed page. He did not begin to read until the third grade and then only with great difficulty. Eventually he was able to go to college and then on to law school, navigating around his reading disability.
In law school, instead of reading the assignments he read summaries of the major cases that would boil down the key points to a page or so. In class at law school he did not take notes. Instead he committed to memory what he heard.
David Boies became an outstanding trial lawyer. He had long since developed the capacity to listen closely and carefully to what other people said, and to remember it. In the courtroom this proved to be a valuable skill. Boies said that learning by listening and asking questions meant that he had to simplify issues to their basics, which turned out to be a powerful tool in the courtroom.
LEARNING WITHOUT SCHOOL
Young people can learn to read and write and to use numbers and arithmetic on their own, spontaneously, without much, if any formal schooling. Some of the world’s most well-educated individuals have done that, for example Benjamin Franklin (1707-1790), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), and Michael Faraday (1791-1867). They were among the most well-educated men of their time, or any other time. All three were self educated, as is everybody who is educated. Education is an individual pursuit. Paine had virtually no schooling. Franklin and Faraday left school after two years.
An obvious objection will appear immediately to readers—that most young people are not brilliant, like Franklin, Paine, and Faraday. Therefore, without compulsory schooling most people would not learn to read, to write, and to use numbers intelligently. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Reading and writing
On their own, in the absence of schooling, if children are free of compulsion, if they are free to learn by the experience of play, virtually all of them will learn to read between ages three through fourteen.
There is no relationship between the age at which young people first learn to read and their involvement with reading later in life.
With the advent of digital communication young people are learning to read earlier, and with even less conscious effort than before, because they are immersed in a culture in which people are communicating regularly with the written word—in computer games, email, sending and receiving written messages with wireless telephones, etc.
Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write. Children start learning to write as early as one, and generally will be able to do it well by age ten. They do not need school to learn.
The reading experiences of Bill Gates and Galen Rowell illustrate that it is a passion to learn, not schooling, that stimulates attainment of good reading skill and comprehension.
Computer entrepreneur Bill Gates read the entire 22-volume World Book Encyclopedia set at age eight.
Galen Rowell (1941-2002) was a world famous landscape photographer and mountain and rock climber. He learned to read on his own, was fascinated by geology by age ten, and by age twelve had read the Harvard Book of Geology and knew it front to back.
Numbers and math
Young people don’t have to reinvent math, just like humanity does not have to reinvent the wheel or reinvent handwriting. They are part of our culture. There are numbers involved in daily living, even for little children. Numbers are all around.
It is natural to think in numbers. Children hear and see other children and grownups expressing themselves in numbers. They learn that way. They learn to write numbers like they learn to write letters.
Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus are not necessary for most jobs. However, young people who are interested in calculus can learn it on their own with the aid of a home study guide. Laura Deming (see above) did just that when she was eleven years old. In life, including the world of work, people do not need math the way it is taught in school, which is abstract and lacking the context of real life problems. Math becomes interesting to individuals in their personal lives, such as in their work, in financial decisions or in considering statistical information relevant to their personal affairs.
Schooling is not a necessary prerequisite for university study or for learning at a young age
Young people have been admitted to prestigious universities—and succeeded there, even in science—who had no schooling except home schooling.
Young people free of the coercive environment of mandatory schooling can learn quickly and well to read and use math even if they are born into extremely impoverished circumstances. That was proven by Indian physicist Sugata Mitra with poor youngsters in the poorest slums of India. Mitra placed a computer on the outside of a wall facing into a slum in New Delhi, where illiterate, unschooled children played, children who had never before seen a computer. They soon taught themselves to use the computer and with it even to read and to search the internet. Details of Professor Mitra’s findings appear in the full text of this chapter.
Parent-funded private schools for the poor
In 2000, James Tooley discovered the existence of low cost private schools in the slums of Hyderabad, India. Tooley’s further investigations, travels and study of the literature on such schools revealed the existence of private schools for the poor throughout India, and in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, China, Pakistan, Nepal, and South Africa, to the extent that it became apparent that such schools for the poor have become a near universal phenomenon in poor countries in Asia and Africa.
Tooley found that in and around slums and shanty towns in India and the African countries the majority of schoolchildren were in low cost private schools. In the slums of cities in India up to 80% of children in in school were in private, parent-funded schools; in rural areas 30% of schoolchildren were in parent-funded schools. These schools were patronized by low income families. The tuitions were affordable to the poor, running less than $2 a month on average, with schools teaching without charge the children of the poorest of the poor whose parents could not afford even to pay so little as $1 a week.
TWELVE YEAR PRISON SENTENCES FOR INNOCENT YOUNG PEOPLE
“There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor. . . In the prison you are not forced to sit listening to turnkeys discoursing without charm or interest on subjects that they don’t understand and don’t care about, and are therefore incapable of making you understand or care about. In a prison they may torture your body; but they do not torture your brains.”—George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance (1910).
Standardized tests show that on average the young people in compulsory public schools in the United States do not perform well in English and math, with the average of individual scores well below a minimum level of proficiency.
Why is it that people ask what is the matter with the young people instead of asking what is wrong with the compulsory public schools?
This chapter posits that schools established and administered by coercion generally cannot produce good results; that if some young people emerge psychologically undamaged and proficient academically after twelve years of coercive schooling, it is in spite of the schooling, not because of it.
Compulsory school attendance
The law provides for coercive enforcement of compulsory school attendance—by school authorities, police, judges, courts, and, in some states, jail (euphemistically called detention). Parents’ failure to compel their children to go to school is made a crime by law.
Schools that resemble prisons
Entering many urban schools is somewhat like entering a prison. The perimeter of the premises is guarded by high fences and locking gates. To enter the school one must pass through metal detectors and the surveillance of a security officer. More than a few schools have a police officer permanently on the premises.
That school is like prison is proven by the discipline employed to control young people in and outside of classrooms.
Discipline is imposed on young people in CPS classrooms to assure that the classroom is free of disruptive behavior of class members. Classroom discipline is necessary to maintain order because otherwise some of the young people would rebel continually against the compulsion and coercion of being in a place they do not want to be and being part of a process they do not want to be involved in.
Dangers in school
Just as some prisoners in a jail or prison constitute a threat to the safety of other prisoners, some young people in a compulsory school are a danger to their schoolmates. Consequently, there are an estimated 14,000 police officers on school campuses across the United States, a number of them carrying weapons.
Charter schools offer schooling at no cost to students’ parents. The term “charter school” refers to a school that is paid for out of taxes but is organized and operated by individuals who are not employees of the state or of the school district in which the charter school is located.
Almost invariably charter schools hold a lottery to choose among applicants for admission because there are more applicants than facilities available for additional students. That is so because the number of charter schools has been restricted by political action of state schooling establishments.
Charter schools are an embarrassment to the state schooling establishment because many of them produce significantly better academic testing results of students, typically at one-third less cost than state schools.
As of the 2013-2014 academic year there were 6,400 public charter schools in America with a total enrollment of 2.5 million students.
The growth in the number of charter schools has been restricted severely by the political power of the schooling establishment. Of that there cannot be the slightest doubt.
ALTERNATIVES TO FAILING PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Parents dissatisfied with the compulsory public school system have alternative choices. Charter schools provide an alternative in some places. However, their availability has been limited by fierce political opposition from the schooling establishment. Home schooling is a universally available alternative. It can be highly practical, economical, and beneficial to both children and parents.
As of 2011 the number of young people being home schooled in the U.S. was 4% of all young people of school age, or about two million compared to the fifty million in public or private schools.
Many parents are dubious about home schooling their children. Such parents may think that they lack the ability to organize and supervise home schooling, or are reluctant to spend the time to do it, or both.
It appears that homeschoolers generally do not need much parental involvement in their studies. They manage quite well on their own to learn what they want to learn, and to perform well academically.
Compared to students who have been schooled traditionally, homeschoolers score significantly higher on tests for college readiness and have higher grade point averages as college students.
Homeschoolers generally have no problem getting admitted to college and university. They are actively recruited by prestigious schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Duke University.
Home schooling is inexpensive financially; the average annual schooling expenditure for a homeschooler is $500 to $600, compared to an average expenditure of $10,000 per student, per year, for public schools.
Homeschoolers do not miss out on socialization. They actually tend to be more socially engaged than public school peers.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE: A WAY OUT OF THE TRAP OF COERCIVE SCHOOLING AND COLLEGE LOAN DEBT
Parents who are frustrated and repelled by the compulsory, coercive school their children attend can do something about it. They are not helpless. This chapter explores alternatives to coercive schooling, including but not limited to home schooling.
For a family with two working parents home schooling will present a choice of reduced household income vs. increased freedom and happiness for their children and for themselves. Life is full of choices. All that CTLR can say that may be helpful in considering the choice of home school vs. lower household income is to repeat two maxims. The first is by Yogi Berra: when you come to a fork in the road, take it. The second is time honored: where there is the will there is a way.
If young people decide that college is for them, there are ways to obtain the benefits of higher education while avoiding burdensome college expenses and heavy debts to pay those expenses. This chapter touches upon the choices and tradeoffs involved in obtaining the benefits of higher education on a relatively low cost, debt free basis.