A world beyond textbooks

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Beauty, creativity, and freedom aren’t the only sacrifices of modern education.

[Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Aiso Ippudu Milele, the writer and curator behind Unknown Lives. It is an edited excerpt from his original essay.]

In school, the most important aspects of the world are decided for us when we are small children. 

Realizing this reality, many of us essentially “give up” for a long period of our lives, during which our imaginations atrophy as we stare at clocks in a world that doesn’t care about anything that any individual finds interesting – a world that doesn’t care about creative knowledge, because it prioritizes knowledge that has already been created.

The lucky are those who escape soon enough to save themselves from a miserable, boring, subservient life of wageslavery and bureaucracy.

As has been the case for many of us, after a long childhood of “shut-up-and-listen” mode, my own intellectual liberation started with the arrival of the Internet.

It had already come to Earth, of course, but not to my family – only to wealthier ones (the spread of the Internet obeyed the standard process of resource distribution on our planet). Suddenly, I could answer nearly every strange question that had ever crossed my mind – entertain almost every speculation – investigate curiosities that are utterly taboo subjects for conversations between children and adults.

In the presence of such an obviously positive stimulus, the damage that school was causing to me and everyone around me became increasingly obvious. Every day, I began to notice new assumptions and instances of weak logic and weak character in my own mind and the minds of the people around me (the trainers and trainees, alike). Almost everyone was a fact-babbler, and no one a true thinker.

The fundamental issue is that every single person is learning faster or slower than the pace at which the teacher is teaching any given class.

The kids who learn too fast will quickly become bored. Kids who don’t learn fast enough will be missing things, i.e., falling behind, to various degrees, at various rates. Therefore, no student is progressing optimally (in the best possible way) in any of the subjects that is practiced in school; quod erat demonstratum.

Even if, however, all went according to plan, and everyone completely learned the material at the exact same pace, many of academia’s universally-encouraged habits are, in fact, horrible for human mental health and the development of accurate wisdom.

You know what will help a child learn math faster?

Enrolling them in a public, adult club with people who are truly passionate about math.

Want a kid to be an athlete? Find a way to surround them with mature, adult athletes – not ignorant jocks who make jokes about genitalia in the locker rooms of high schools.

Want a kid to be a historian? Encourage them to read the books of historians, and to engage in direct communications with those authors. Encourage them to study major current events in serious detail. Don’t waste their time speculating among foolish children who are historically illiterate. Almost no one will point them in useful directions faster than a competent journalist.

Want a kid to be a lawyer? Then take them out of primary school, because that will barely teach them anything about modern law. Help them read the U.S. Code. Find for them books that detail the history of major court decisions. Make them read every treaty that the United States has ever signed. That’s where a person develops deep understanding of the law – not by spending a decade taking “vocab tests” about one or two oversimplified definitions.

I could continue with examples for hours, but I’ll stop there.

Yes, you need to go to college and receive a degree in order to perform many jobs in many states – but it is not necessary that you go through primary school to get there, and a well-educated spirit can circumvent any rules that would prevent them from making their knowledge profitable. After all, every intelligent boss just wants to find the most skilled employee for any given job – not the most-credentialed employee for a job.

Most of the children who graduate high school – that’s 12 years of “education” – have no real-world skills that will earn them decent wages, and, to make matters worse, have acquired an unrealistic (either deflated or inflated) sense of their own abilities and potentials through the constant atmosphere of ABCDF competition that drowns children across the country every year. Students who get an A, we’re taught, are “awesome”; students who get a C are “average”. But both of these ideas are wrong. Students are nothing more or less than human beings, some of whom know a few facts that the others do not know.

Our myriad differences are uncountable and immeasurable – humanity is far too diverse to be coherently reduced to an “average person”.

Each of us will without-a-doubt need to learn an utterly unique range of skills. One of us may ultimately run a restaurant to survive, while the other performs surgeries. Neither of them will need to know what a physicist or an electronic engineer or a computer programmer knows, but that’s okay – humans are better-off when they specialize. Everyone doesn’t need to know every major detail of ancient Rome. That’s a great topic for a friendly conversation between freely thinking humans – but we do not need to be tested about whether Caesar ruled Rome before Augustus if we intend to serve the world as nurses. We do not need to know anything about the geometrical properties of rhombi if we intend to fix cell phones for a living.

Happiness can be simple if we don’t allow institutions to complicate our lives.

None of this mindless, profitless, subservient sitting has ever been ideal for any student – not even those who compete effectively within the academic system. We need to pursue growth when we are ready to pursue it – not when others force us to do it. And we need to grow according to our own desires – not the desires of other people.

I hope that all plunge-takers will discover unimaginable beauty in the freedom to learn what you want to learn – to grow how you want to grow. The world is so much more than your textbooks.

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