Schooling is actually a net negative

Sunday, November 6th, 2022

The Slime Mold Time Mold crew think that Erik Hoel is right that historical tutoring was better than education today:

It’s no secret that school sux. It’s not that tutoring is good, it’s that mechanized schooling is really bad. If we got rid of formal 20th century K-12 education, and did homeschooling / unschooling / let kids work at the costco, we would get most of the benefits of tutoring without all the overhead and inequality.

Our personal educational philosophy is that, for the most part, the most important thing you can do for your students is expose them to things they wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. Sort of in the spirit of, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. So K-12 education gums up the works by making bad recommendations, having students spend a lot of time on mediocre stuff, and keeping them so busy they can’t follow up on the better recommendations from friends and family.

From this perspective, mechanized schooling is actually a net negative — it is worse than nothing, and if we just let kids run around hitting each other with sticks or whatever, we would get more geniuses.


  1. Bomag says:

    Reminds me of a blogpost that referenced a study that had education professionals evaluate a mixed group of 25 yr. olds; half finished high school, half either dropped out or were expelled.

    The ed. pros were no better than chance at sussing who was who.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    The historical fact is that before mass, mandatory schooling the great majority of people were illiterate and innumerate.

  3. Bomag says:

    “…the great majority of people were illiterate and innumerate.”

    Yes, but they learned communication and calculating skills appropriate for their time.

    We didn’t notice deficiencies until there was a need for such.

    When the need arose for mass literacy in the written word, and more extensive use of numbers, mandatory schooling stepped in to good effect: the modal household had no access to such teaching materials. But a corner was turned when the needed knowledge became readily available to all, and school became largely superfluous to knowledge transfer. Now schools are drifting into political indoctrination and “subsidized dating”.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Before mass, mandatory schooling, the great majority of people were literate and numerate:

    Sheldon Richman quotes data showing that from 1650 to 1795, American male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent. Between 1800 and 1840 literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. In the South the rate grew from about 55 percent to 81 percent. Richman also quotes evidence indicating that literacy in Massachusetts was 98 percent on the eve of legislated compulsion and is about 91 percent today.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    Literacy means nothing if you don’t read anything but trash.

    Numeracy means nothing if you don’t know what you’re counting and why.

  6. Jim says:

    The schools do what they were designed to do.

  7. Jim says:

    So true, Isegoria, so true.

  8. Becky says:

    I’m all for that after putting my kids in public school by mandatory no choice. My liberal college professor said you just hope the school doesn’t screw them up. That was in 1990.

  9. Lucklucky says:

    There is a difference between learning to write and do elementary math, which can be learned in 3–4 years as a child, and all the remaining stuff. I learned stuff in school that was helpful, but that was at an elementary level. After that, it was a net negative. I learned more outside school.

    Not all school learning is equal. We should avoid binary thinking in this stuff.

    And another point, at University (1996–2000), I learned more because I had Internet access than because of my teachers, who were mediocre or bad. So in this case school helped me , but not because of curricula, but because of tech access I had while there.

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