Thursday, June 18, 2009

On education

Taking the absurd perspective often allows your mind to drift into areas of thought where others, so shackled by traditional priorities and societal pressures and political correctness, would never go.

In this case, we look at education.

The Economist recently ran a piece in which it criticized American education because it has one of the shortest school years anywhere – 180 days compared to 195 for other OECD countries and over 200 days for East Asian countries. South Koreans, for instance, spend more than 15 days extra a year in school, which adds up to a whole year over the course of 12 years.

The Economist then brings forth the solution: longer school days and years. It praises the experiment in some parts of the country doing this already. It cites approvingly one school which begins the day at 7:30 am and ends at 5 PM every day. Plus there are classes on some Saturdays and into the summer. All told, students get 60% more class time.

We find much wrong with this whole idea.

First we must recognize that there is a vast difference between education and instruction. One may receive countless hours of instruction, but whether one is better educated because of it is another matter entirely. There is no discussion on this basic fundamental point.

It does not seem to us that spending more time consuming mass-produced instruction can do any child any good at all. Our premise is simple: everyone is different. We are different in temperaments and talents and many other facets. To run all these differences through the ugly press of public education is damage enough.

We don’t think it is controversial to say that the best instruction any student could receive is one-on-one instruction. One pupil and one student who tailors the lessons to the needs of that student. This is the ideal; we are not saying it is economically feasible. But starting from this ideal, we can better see where education ought to go and where it shouldn’t go.

It should go toward allowing the individual students and parents to find their own way, to explore their own possibilities and to find or create the education that best suits their wants and needs. It seems clear that the idea of government run school system turning out docile citizens imbued with a sameness of thinking is a very poor way to create a life for children.

There is too much of a focus on testing, too much of a focus on what teachers unions want, too much of a focus on what’s politically palatable. (Do we really need to revisit the idea of creationism versus evolution? Teaching the biggest idea in all of biology, evolution, is stunted because it offends the bible-thumping crowd of idiots. Let the idiots have their own schools, we say.) There is too much of what is convenient for parents. (We suspect most parents want to escape the responsibility of educating their own children. We can also cite evidence that many working parents love the idea of longer school days and years, because it makes life easier for them – they don’t have to arrange for care when the kids are out of school.)

But there is much more that is completely wrong about the traditional views on education of children. Another that is seldom talked about but very much worth asking is this: Should all children go to school? Are all people educable?

This very question smacks of an elitism that most Americans would find offensive. And yet it seems a critical question. Most people, we think, would admit to the obvious that not everyone ought to go to college.

We quote from the great social critic, thinker and writer Albert Jay Nock: “The assumption that all children of school age have school-ability is flagrantly at variance with the facts… Anyone casually considering a random assortment of our youngsters would be sure there are easily many who are incapable of getting through any kind of secondary school with any profit whatever to themselves [or], to anyone else…”

We think the assumption underlying public education – that everyone is educable and ought to go to school – is simply wrong and expensive. It may make us feel better, but it is at odds with nature and reality. It is an expensive error, as anyone can attest by looking at what is spent on school systems around the country. It is also expensive in that it cheapens the education of those who truly would benefit because it forces them into the compress of mass-produced education for the lowest common denominator. And it does violence to the individual by forcing the student down a path that is not right for him and that restricts his freedom and his parents’ to explore an education outside of the what the masses deem to be appropriate.

In the absurd view, we know nothing matters. But the absurdist is loathe to restrict the freedoms of other people in the name of some spurious and silly public agenda.


  1. Why do you feel that everyone is not educatable? I thought education is what opens the mind.. I dont say you should have more school hours or something like that but education is the single best thing that has happened in my life. because if not for that I would never have read this blog.. or other things which i realized only through extensive reading.

  2. Okay do you feel that a child knows what he wants to do, or whether he wants to study or not?

  3. We use educable in the sense of formal schooling. Society likes the feel-good message that eveyrone ought to get such an education, which we take issue with here.

    As far as your question, I suppose it depends on the child.