The education system is in shambles, and it has been for quite some time now.
This is not weird. Old things break or go obsolete all the time. Why should this be any different?
What’s weird is that people, at large, still maintain an unshakable faith in the virtue and validity of public education.
This is the first entry of an article series about education and self-education.
The Education is Important; Schooling is Not
Education is important and will only get increasingly important.
Schooling (public education and indoctrination) is just plain bad. It is the remnant of a system rendered obsolete several decades ago.
Schooling used to serve a purpose—like the appendix inside the human body—but now it’s only harmful to the success of the individual.
Many aspects of public education are problematic. For example, the usefulness of the grading system is debatable. It disincentives creative and lopsided performance (which are the hallmarks of success in the real world).
And, many times the grading system is just plain wrong. . .
Like When George Orwell’s Writing Didn’t Qualify for the “High Standards” of Academia
It’s a funny story.
You know Michael Crichton? He’s the guy who wrote Jurassic Park (the book), among other things. He was damn smart. Unfortunately he’s dead now.
Crichton started writing early in life. He displayed talent from the get-go and was able to support himself through Med school by writing short stories under pen names.
When he was 18 years old he took an English writing class at Harvard, where he was given a C- on a paper. Which confused him, because he felt this paper was one of the best he’d ever written.
Not only did the C- anger Crichton, but he really, seriously, believed that his teacher was incompetent and unable to think for himself, outside of the grading criteria. To test if this hypothesis was correct, Crichton decided to do something risky: he submitted a well-known essay written by George Orwell. . . under his own name!
This was 100% plagiarism—Crichton copied the essay word for word, and if he was found out he would be EXPELLED from Harvard.
When the time came for the grading of this new essay he was given a B-.
It turns out George Orwell’s writing wasn’t good enough to make the cut.
That makes you wonder: what does cut it?
What the hell are you supposed to do to get an A?
Crichton was really confused now.
I can relate to that, because I too felt confused many times during my school years.
. . . starting with when I was a kid, and there weren’t even grades to think about!
8-Year Old Ludvig Gets “Put Into His Place”
When I was in second grade I had a friendly competition with a classmate. We competed over who could solve the most math problems each week.
Our class had like 60 kids in it (consisting of 3 age cohorts, aged 7-9) and for some reason, me and my friend were the only ones who were any good at math.
In our first year (age 7-8) we progressed to doing math books for kids who were 10 years old.
One day, I teased my friend for being slow because I was 10 pages ahead of him. My friend said that he didn’t care, “because he was still years before everyone else.”
Our math teacher happened to be nearby when he said this, and she went fucking CRAZY (I don’t know why, no one else cared).
She made a huge scene and embarrassed us in front of the whole class.
“So, you think you’re smart just because you are doing math of people older than your cohort, huh!?”
“How would you like it if I took away your books–huh!? You wouldn’t like that very much, would you know?
We got really scared and pleaded: “No, please don’t take away our books!”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought!”
“I really should take away your books–that’s serves braggarts such as yourself right, puts you in your place. But I will let you keep them if you apologize to everyone else in the class for bragging and hurting their feelings!”
My interest in math almost died there.
[14 years later and I’m at the finish line of my school years when. . .]
A Passive-Aggressive University Thesis Adviser Tries to Stop 22-Year Old Ludvig from Getting an Auspicious Start to His Marketing Career
When I did my thesis project I had to battle a semi-hostile academic overseer.
We had conflicting incentives:
I wanted to learn useful stuff, acquire valuable business contacts, and get the best entry-level marketing job possible.
My handler wanted my thesis to conform to “academic standards”(to be written in a quasi-academic style by citing people who wank off in armchairs for a living) and—of course—to be as easy to grade as possible.
This made me angry, because I had put a shitload of effort into getting a tailor-made thesis assignment for a top-notch marketing company, which turned out to be a success, no thanks to my university.
I took more initiative than all of my class combined and I felt I should be rewarded for it. The least the university could do was to stand out of my way. Instead they put up obstacles.
I guess they don’t want students to get jobs.
My handler wasn’t supportive at all. If anything, she was trying to sabotage the start of my career.
Looking back on this now, I don’t care at all. But as I reflect on the situation, it really highlights one of the big underlying problems with university. . .
The “Institutionalization of Knowledge” and its Problems
University is supposed to be a final checkpoint towards work-life: it’s meant to train and empower young people into getting the jobs they want; not to recruit them into the ranks of academia.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened (and always happens when something becomes institutionalized).
Like big government, the interest of university is no longer primarily in serving the people–which is why it was created–but in serving itself, and making sure the machine “stays alive,” with its cogs turning.
One of the major ways universities do this is by forcing students to waste their time writing theses (that no one reads or cares about). 1
This is a Really Shitty Final Rite of Passage Before Entering Work-Life
We need a new one that is adapted for the 21st century!
Why force boring and non-value-adding activities on those who don’t want to join the “institution of knowledge”?
University is now strongly mismatched to the demand of the job market.
College and uni might be a good place for finding yourself, but it’s not a good place to find a job.
Like My Friend Kyle Eschenroeder Wrote a Few Years Ago:
“You go to college to figure out what you want to do, what you like. Going into college I was mainly interested in three things: Libertarian ideas, trading, and making movies. Graduating, those are still the most interesting things to me and none have been enhanced by my college career. In fact, I’m an economics major and my ability to grasp what’s happening in the world is almost totally thanks to the internet and a willingness to read, not their bullshit textbooks.
My Economics degree is like my SAT score, people can look at it and say, “well he jumped through those hoops well”. More and more companies, especially ones worth working for, are looking at what you can do, what you’ve actually created.”
I graduated with a master’s degree in business—and guess what?
–I’ll never have any use for it!
Because initiative beats “jumping through the hoops” every day of the week.
Now, let me tell you…
10 Reasons Why the School System is a Failure
- The School System Was Created for the 18th Century
- School Teaches You to Fit in…to an Obsolete Economy!
- School Turns You Into a Sissy Conformist
- School Breaks Down Most People’s Will to Learn
- School Does Nothing to Cultivate Self-Knowledge
- School Makes Otherwise Independent People into Co-dependent Peons
- School is Full of Propaganda
- School Does Not Teach You How to Think Properly and Develop Your Own Style Through Synthesis
- School Inculcates You with a Sense of Baseless Certainty That You Base on “False Knowledge”
- School Imposes a Bunch of Fake Rules on You That Handicap You for the Real World
Starting with reason #1…
Reason #1: The School System Was Created for the 18th Century!
It’s hard to pin down when and where public education started, but the first time public education was cohesively organized to fit the needs of an entire country in a successful way, was in Prussia under Frederick the Great ca 1750.
To entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master.
—Frederick the Great
Frederick’s Education System in Prussia:
Frederick turned Prussia into a socialist state with planned economy. The country was so bureaucratic that women had to register the exact date of each month’s period to the state. 2
The purpose of Prussia’s public education was to train citizens into the jobs its government decided was important for the future of the country.
Remember, this was a planned economy (not a free market) and:
- The economy, at that time, was simple enough 3 plus,
- Prussia’s population was small enough for a bunch of highly intelligent people to “plan ahead”. Frederick and his administrators could make reasonably accurate projections and decide that “we need so-and-so many workers for this and that role”.
Napoleon’s Education System in France:
50-something years later, Napoleon noticed how successful Frederick’s education system had been and decided to copy it for France, with some minor adjustments.
For example, Napoleon wanted his education system to:
- Train competent personnel (military leaders, scientists, and engineers) for his army and administration.
- Indoctrinate citizens into obedience and patriotism (and wrest power from the Christian church to the state).
Like Frederick, his system was also a massive success—for its intended purposes. The skill with which Napoleon’s engineers built bridges, moats, and other combative structures was unparalleled at its time.
The Western World’s Education System:
After noticing the obvious success of Prussia and France, much due to their education systems, the rest of the western world eventually copied their approach, with minor adjustments of their own.
This change took place during the early stages of industrialism, and so the biggest difference between the Prussian and French educational systems and the western education systems had to do with training the population for new stuff like:
- Factory work
- Managerial work (outside of public administration)
- Scientific inquiry (the origins of the STEM fields)
The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention.
Off the top of your head, you probably will instinctively think most about managerial work and scientific inquiry. But those areas received maybe 10 % focus each, whereas training people into factory workers received around 80 % of the focus.
Why? Because factory work was by far the most important thing to the economy at the time, and it does not come about naturally.
Accordingly, lots of public education had to do with what we now call schooling (disciplining and indoctrinating) people into obedient and reliable factory workers.
You know, stuff like…
Sitting in straight rows, raising your hand before you address the teacher, asking for permission to do XYZ. Following the rules.
And so, here we are today!
Reason #2: School Teaches You to Fit in…to an Obsolete Economy!
See public education for what it is: a system for training as many people as possible into professions reasonably projected into the future.
It worked pretty darn well for Frederick the Great and Napoleon. It also worked for many western countries during the industrialization (although it may not have been the most enjoyable experience).
Today it does not work well, because the world is changing so much faster than before. The Internet, AI, robotics and such things are rendering many industries obsolete. The school system can’t keep up.
How can you project what jobs to train workers for one generation from now if you can’t even project what will happen in many industries 5 years from now?
School today is great if you want to be, E.G a:
- Retail clerk or a cashier
- Truck driver
- Doctor or nurse
- Janitor or property manager
- A gazillion types of office workers, administrative agents, number counters, or middle managers.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly interested in holding down one of those jobs.
Reason #3: School Turns You Into a Sissy Conformist
—Too bad nearly all winners are contrarian in one way or another!
Sissy conformists have to do what they’re told. They have to obey the leader and ask for permission to go to bathroom. They have to watch stupid TV shows and memorize American Idol names to keep up with the recent happenings of popular culture.
It’s nothing short of intellectual prostitution to corrupt your Dunbar’s Number to fit in, and in doing so living in a collective hyperreality, instead of choosing to create your own reality.
Sissy conformists don’t get to set the pace or the trajectory for the projects they work on. The slowest member of the group “decides” that. The chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
In real life, winners are those who dare to do interesting stuff that stands out and runs contrary to popular opinion.
In school, winners have to carry the losers, and for the winner to get his superior ideas picked he has to rely on the consensus decision of the group, rather than the merit of the idea.
Reason #4: School Breaks Down Most People’s Will to Learn
School is jail for children, adolescence, and young adults.
—A prison of the mind.
The man with the world’s hardest name—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—put it exactly how it is in his book Flow:
Many people give up on learning after they leave school because thirteen or twenty years of extrinsically motivated education is still a source of unpleasant memories.
This ALMOST happened to me!
I thought I didn’t like to learn stuff until I was 20. Then I realized that being an A-student in school has little to do with enjoying the learning process or achieving real-world success. That’s when I took matters into my own hands and decided it would be my way or the highway. Best decision I ever made.
The trick is to create your own framework of learning and pound in the knowledge on your own terms. You’ll love it once you learn it.
Reason #5: School Does Nothing to Cultivate Self-Knowledge
Education is either for domestication or for freedom.
In a recent episode of 25 Minuter, my podcast with Mikael Syding, we said that metacognition is the single most common trait that successful people have in common.
This has been agreed upon by wise men for millennia—dating back to Ancient Greece. The purpose of education is to bring about self-knowledge.
School does nothing to teach or incentivize metacognition or self-knowledge. And why should it? That’s not what it was made for. Never was!
The closest you get is assignments having to do with “analysis” or “critical appraisal” of some subject. But—at least in my experience—that’s just for show. Whenever I seriously scrutinized anything I always got lower grades, like Crichton. (But I often did it anyway because I couldn’t help it.) 4
Anyway, it makes sense that things are this way. The industrialists of the 19th century didn’t want independent-minded thinkers; they wanted reliable managers and precise workers. The school system is still built to churn out people like that—people who know how to compute, but not how to think.
People with high metacognition—the sort who, over time, develop a strong self-knowledge—tend to succeed in spite of their schooling; not because of it.
Reason #6: School Makes Even Independent People into Co-dependent Peons
Like the bed of Procrustes, you’re forced to fit in whether you want to or not.
But a better question is: Do you even want to fit in? With those people?
Only losers and weaklings have to fit in.
The strong make their own way in life. You don’t need to make a detailed study of the Savannah to understand that you want to be the apex predator.
Humans are animals too—we just wear suits and skirts to work.
One of the most common rationalizations you hear from people who have been brainwashed by the system to believe in the infallibility of public education, is that “school teaches you how to work in a group and accept other people who are different than you. It’s important to work in a group.”
They are also quick to tell you, “teamwork is the glue that binds organizations together!”
But a better question is: Do you want to live like that?
Do you want to work with people who are so much different from you that you have to waste precious hours during your biological prime time, pleading with them to make progress?
People work well in different settings. Some people work 10x more effectively alone. Do you?
I can’t answer that for you—and neither can school.
It takes self-knowledge.
Reason #7: School is Full of Propaganda
And it has to be that way.
(. . .At least in the western world—how else will you maintain a democracy?)
You cannot get through the density of the propaganda with which the American people, through the dreaded media, have been filled and the horrible public educational system we have for the average person. It’s just grotesque.
It’s different for each country. In Sweden the propaganda is based on outdated socialist ideology (the sort that prompts math teachers to go into rage and threaten to take away 8-year olds’ math books if they use it too much).
In the real world, it is very hard to succeed when you have this sort of mental dysfunction, because it is at odds with reality.
It’s like taking perfectly intelligent kids and making them mentally handicapped. Then they have to undo this damage themselves. If they can.
Another example is in the U.S, where many schools are not allowed to teach about evolution or abortion, because crazy Christians prohibit it.
Reason #8: School Does Not Teach You How to Think Properly and Develop Your Own Style Through Synthesis
In the martial arts world there is a long-standing conflict between the different styles: which style is the “best” one?
–The same goes for acting methods.
There are now acting studios where students are “taught” how to act. Many practitioners, with real-world success under their belt, like David Mamet, believe that acting studios do more harm than they do good.
Maybe you have seen the TV show Actor’s Studio, where James Lipton interviews people who are successful in the movie industry?
In the audience of that show there are hundreds of acting students, all looking at the famous guest with deep admiration, as though the person is a metaphysical guru who inhabits “the secret to acting”.
Little do the members of the audience know that they’re probably about as good actors as the celebrity up on stage is, only that they lack the level of breadth and comprehensivism that the celebrity has.
The celebrity typically knows 10 other skills than just acting–such as promotion, business, networking, public speaking, etc, etc.
The celebrity’s success does not rely solely on his or her acting skills.
Again, the same goes for martial arts. . .
In the martial arts world we now know that MMA is superior to any and all other martial arts (if you can call MMA “a martial art”).
Even if the rules changed, some new type of MMA would still prevail. Why? Because it’s not just one style; it’s the practice of putting many styles together into a unique synthesis that fits the individual fighter.
–And that’s how you become successful at anything in life. Not just fighting.
You have to develop your own style in life by gaining experience and studying other fields than the one you’re in.
You can’t just rely on one thing. Your co-dependence will make you as uninformed and unsuccessful as those audience members.
Reason #9: School Inculcates You with a Sense of Baseless Certainty That You Base on “False Knowledge”
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
The memorization of “facts” probably makes up something like 80% of public education. This aspect of public education does more harm than it does good to a person’s long-term cognitive development. Because…
It can lead to 3 common types of cognitive handicaps:
- The mistaken notion that you can fit reality into neat boxes pertaining to specific academic disciplines.
- A deeply rooted confirmation bias regarding “facts” and “certitudes” of life and business (that turn out to be mistaken or outdated assumptions) which may never be successfully uprooted and overturned.
- Conditioning of unsuitable mental practices that may be convenient in the classroom, but that are typically useless, irrelevant, and—sometimes—even harmful in real life.
Any and all three of the above cognitive handicaps breed a sense of “false certainty” whereby you feel more confident in your abilities and understanding of the world than you deserve to. 5
This “false certainty” is especially rampant among students of (macro)economics, liberal arts, political science, and similar areas–where there are few (if any) real-world litmus tests to test performance against.
You can get into of all sorts of trouble—not least financial—by overestimating your own skill and underestimating the risks involved in what you’re doing. Like Bernanke did.
Reason #9b): School Conditions You into Having an Unhealthy and Irrational Fear of the Unknown
Which student wants to be caught by the teacher not knowing the answer to the question?
No one dares to say, “I don’t know, but if you give me a day I will have the answer for you by tomorrow!”
Public education tricks you into “false certainty” from thinking that everything is knowable or quantifiable.
Worse still: that it’s actually worth investing the time to know or quantify every parameter before being able to make a decision!
(As if time was not your most important resource.)
In the real world, it’s more important to take action and get movin’ than it is to be 100% certain. Momentum matters greatly.
In the real world it’s typically more important to know the limits of your knowledge–(1) what you don’t know, and (2) the certainty with which you believe your idea to be correct–than it is to have memorized some quirky-sounding formula or a bunch of “facts”.
Reason #10: School Imposes a Bunch of Fake Rules on You That Don’t Exist in the Real World
In school you’re not allowed to work the way you want. You have to sit by your desk and do it like the textbook says.
In school you can’t think and say what you want. You might hurt the feelings of the dullards, the immigrants or the [insert other group of currently downtrodden people].
You know what they call taking initiative and being creative in school?
In the real world, you can “cheat” as much as you want.
You just do what you want, learn what you want, rely on your judgment, make decisions under uncertainty, and take responsibility for your actions.
The rules are, there are no rules.
What could be simpler?
Additional resources to complement with:
If you are into hardcore self-education & want to create your own way of learning:
This is one of those mindless, obsolete, traditions that must be altered or removed from the new education system. ↩
so that it would be easier to reliably keep track of child births and such things.. ↩
technology disruption wasn’t changing the world every few years… ↩
The only exception to this that I can think of was my Swedish and English teacher during high school. He was the sort of natural teacher who could make his students interested in anything, and genuinely encouraged students to be open-minded and reflective. ↩
you often see it in university graduates (of different titles) who feel entitled to such-and-such a salary for having—as Kyle eloquently put it—”jumped through the hoops”. ↩