Children begin receiving a formal education when they are three to five years old, and for the next twelve to sixteen years, or longer, they sit in classrooms, read books, and memorize various sorts of data. This process bores or frustrates most of the students most of the time. And what is the end result of all this toil? The number of important facts are far too great for the human brain to retain, and in any event, computers are far better at data retention than human beings.
Yet there are important things that could be gained from formal education — the ability to reason being chief among them. But most students don’t acquire reasoning skills. All they typically retain from spending most of their youth in a classroom is some facts they will soon forget, and perhaps, a rudimentary level of skill in math, reading, and writing. A few students also gain basic skills necessary for scientific or technical exploration.
Students also typically acquire some social “skills”: The lesson most often retained from formal education may be the value of conformity, both inside and outside the classroom. But this sort of learned conformity is often completely at odds with the kind of independent judgment that is necessary to create value and lead a fulfilling life.
In adult life, people pursue different paths to achieve different goals; there are a wide variety of incentives, including, among others, money, fame, and personal fulfillment. Yet, children are given only the most vague, homogeneous incentive — a message that if they do well in school — memorizing facts that will soon be forgotten — they will do “well” in life.
Despite the fact that children differ just as much as adults in skills, interests, and potential, formal education offers little variety. A better system would be to let children choose their own path, much as adults do. Before pursuing this path they would have to prove mastery of basic skills in reading, writing, and math, and then, in consultation with their parents, they would be allowed to choose their own course of study. They might fmish the most basic course at age eight or age eighteen; and that’s a lesson that it’s never too early to learn — that people progress at their own rate. All types of students, both the intellectually gifted and otherwise, would have an incentive to finish the basic course so they could pursue their special interests. Such a program would teach one of the most important lessons: You control your own life.
Once students graduate from the basic course they would begin learning another important lesson — the lesson of making life choices. But rather than making these choices in college — after being cast away from family — they could begin to learn these skills while still in a protected environment. The options might be very broad; they could pursue computers and science, sports, mechanical skills, art, working with the disabled, or even leave the school environment completely.
Each citizen could have a number of years of education credit, rather than an age range, during which education would be provided at taxpayer expense. For it is education, rather than youth, that is truly wasted on the young. For example, a student might pass the most basic tests at age thirteen, and then enter specialized training for a trade — perhaps culinary school. At age fifteen they might graduate from culinary school, and then spend seven years as a cook. At that point, after having some exposure to the broader world, he or she might develop an interest in broader education. They might then return to school for the second phase of a more general education. Education, like any other product or service of value, should not be wasted. It should be delivered when it is wanted, and when it will be effective. To be truly effective, education should be integrated into the entire lifespan.
On education as a means of learning to create value.