Posted in Educational Reform, Independent Education, Inspiration, Tips for Students

That’s Just The Way It Is…NOT, Part 3

So many aspects of our modern lives and the way society is structured are taken for granted, and we just assume things are the way they are because they have to be that way. This series of posts looks at a few of the hidden assumptions we commonly make about education.

You Have To Go To College If You Want A Good Job

This conventional wisdom of the baby boom era is erroneous in two ways:

1. It is no longer true that you have to go to college to get a “good job”

and

2. It is no longer true that you have to get a “good job” to have a successful, exciting, satisfying, or rewarding career.

“What do you want to do?” is no longer synonymous with “What job do you want to have?”, but can more and more be answered quite literally:

“I want to go on adventures”

“I want to write”

“I want to make art”

“I want to help people discover themselves”

“I want to photograph wildlife”

“I want to heal people”

“I want to make people laugh”

“I want to create companies”

“I want to teach”

Any of these or countless similar aspirations can indeed form the foundation of a successful career.  Just as the huge lumbering dinosaurs were replaced by small, nimble, and adaptable mammals as environmental conditions changed, the changing technological environment and the resultant diffusion of the means of economic productivity is causing the huge, monolithic organization to become extinct, quickly to be replaced by tiny start-ups and independent solo operators.

These days you can be a freelance just-about-anything, and the opportunities to create a totally new career from scratch are only limited by the restrictions on the human imagination.  From 16-year-old sailors circumnavigating the globe, to 17-year-old nuclear physicists, to whole families bicycling around the world, more and more lifestyle pioneers are showing us all that life can be about so much more than getting a “good job” – if you want it to be.

Posted in Educational Reform, Homeschooling, Independent Education, Inspiration

That’s Just The Way It Is…NOT, Part 2

So many aspects of our modern lives and the way society is structured are taken for granted, and we just assume things are the way they are because they have to be that way. This series of posts looks at a few of the hidden assumptions we commonly make about education.

You Have To Go To School, Like Everyone Else

If there’s one thing that characterizes modern life, it’s options.  The freedom available to individuals in terms of the number of options for almost everything is expanding and accelerating.  This includes options about what to learn, how to learn, how to earn money, and how to pursue a fulfilling career.

Research has already shown that people perform better at all types of tasks when they get to choose what to work on, and they learn better when they study the things they are interested in.  For now school is still obligatory for most, but it is only a matter of time before governments and educational institutions catch on to the fact that their most effective role is not to mandate the learning process, but to facilitate it.  In the mean time, there are thousands of homeschooling and unschooling families are proving by example, in countless ways, that public school isn’t for everyone, and that the options for how to pursue an education and a career are limitless.

Mark Twain famously said that he had never let his schooling interfere with his education, and in today’s world we can all take this advice even more to heart, as there is no longer any reason that schooling has to interfere with education.  Instead of trying to march in lock-step with a fixed curriculum, you can learn about whatever you want, whenever you want, and let passion and interest guide you to master any type of knowledge or skill you desire, as well as design a rewarding career for yourself.

Posted in Educational Reform, Homeschooling, Inspiration, Tips for Parents

That’s Just The Way It Is…NOT, Part 1

So many aspects of our modern lives and the way society is structured are taken for granted, and we just assume things are the way they are because they have to be that way. This series of posts looks at a few of the hidden assumptions we commonly make about education.

Parents At Work, Kids At School

The fragmentation of family life is an artifact of corporate culture, but it’s not how most people truly want to live. It seems so normal now for parents to spend most of their day working outside the home and kids to spend most of their day at school that it’s easy to forget that this isn’t an arrangement ordained by nature.

In fact, many parents pine for all the moments they miss having with their kids, and miss having the chance to see them grow up. Most parents feel that they have no choice, and that leading separate lives from their kids is a matter of economic necessity.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way, and many families are proving that learning and life don’t have to be separate. Not only that, but work and life don’t have to be separate either. Go to school, get a job, work until you retire is still the dominant paradigm, but it is fading faster and faster as more and more individuals and families discover the alternatives made ever more accessible by the emerging connection economy. As the human family wakes up to its technological and social potential, the old assumptions about how we must organize our lives become more and more obsolete and less and less appealing.

Planning your life is no longer a matter of selecting from a menu of available options, it’s an open-source, DIY, choose yourself free-for-all. The bottom line is this: if you want to actually grow up with your kids instead of seeing it happen from afar, you don’t have to get permission, you just have to decide to make it happen, and get to work figuring out the nuts and bolts. If this family can do what they did, any family can equally well live the life they choose.

Posted in Educational Reform, Math

Math Is A Creative Endeavor

Many of us come away from our compulsory math education with the impression that math and creativity have nothing to do with each other, that math is the epitome of convergent thinking: there is just one right answer, and just one way to find it. At best, this is only half true.

Mathematical statements are precise, and have binary true/false values (if they are well-defined), but those of us who enjoy math see it as a creative exploration of logical relationships. The answers in math may be convergent, but the ways of arriving at them are infinitely divergent.

For example, consider the question “what is 5 + 5?” Ostensibly, it has just one answer, 10. But how many ways are there to arrive at this answer? Some people might do it by counting. Others might do it by multiplying 5 times 2. Others might do it by looking at their hands. Many probably know it by rote memorization. In terms of the inner cognitive process of computation, there is literally no limit to the variations of thought involved even with such a simple calculation.

Now consider something a bit more sophisticated (yet still relatively simple), like a proof of the Pythagorean theorem. It has been known at least since the Babylonians, definitively proved at least since Euclid, yet over the centuries hundreds of proofs of the Pythagorean theorem have been recorded, including an original one by president James Garfield. The question “how many ways are there to prove the Pythagorean theorem” is a classic example of divergent thinking in action.

If the idea of math as a creative endeavor seems surprising to you, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. It’s simply a result of outdated teaching methods. When I teach math, I do it in a way that engages both sides of your brain, so that it is actually engaging, interesting, satisfying, and yes, creative.

Posted in Educational Reform, Homeschooling, Independent Education

What’s Wrong With Compulsory Schooling?

If school is necessary and beneficial, why does it need to be mandatory? Things that are truly necessary, like eating and sleeping, don’t need to be enforced because people want to do them. Likewise, people, especially children, are gifted with an innate curiosity and industriousness that makes them want to explore, discover, and create. They want to help others, they want to do the things that adults do, and every child, at some point, dreams of saving the world. Children do not want to avoid meaningful work, they crave it. Passivity is not the natural state of the human organism, but it is a natural reaction to coercion.

The belief that people don’t want to help themselves is a self fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that children must be forced to learn, we rob them of their initiative and don’t allow their creativity and intellectual curiosity to flourish. Children forget most of the facts they are force-fed at school, but they learn the meta-lesson all too well: “You are not in control of your life.”

The reason kids don’t want to go to school isn’t that they don’t know what’s good for them, it’s that they do know what’s bad for them. They don’t want to spend their time on useless, unfulfilling tasks, they don’t want to be forced to compete, and they don’t want to be judged, ridiculed, or belittled. They want to flourish, and they seek out the things that help them do that whether we try to force them or not; in fact we can’t keep them from doing it. We don’t have to force children to learn any more than we have to force them to breathe.

Posted in Educational Reform, Inspiration

6 Realities Education Must Adapt To

1) The Entirety Of Human Knowledge Is Expanding Exponentially

This means we can forget trying to summarize it, let alone fit it all in our heads. What is “core knowledge” is entirely relative, and isn’t something that any committee or board can hope to establish for everyone.

2) The Entirety Of Human Knowledge Is Universally Accessible

This statement is virtually true already, and becoming more so all the time. This means that memorization is becoming obsolete. The two primary factors that influence memory are significance and frequency. Education used to focus on creating artificial significance and frequency (studying) in preparation for artificial scarcity (tests), but this paradigm is no longer worth pursuing. We can determine what is
significant to us, and we can expose ourselves to information as often as we wish.

3) Human Knowledge Is Increasingly Diverse

This means that we can forget standardizing. Not everyone wants or needs to know the same things, and none of us will have access to more than a minute fraction of all accumulated knowledge even with a lifetime of learning. Geeking out on something worthwhile is a perfectly acceptable way to devote one’s mental resources.

4) Human Knowledge Is Continually Being Updated

There will be more new knowledge created in the next ten years than was created in all of previous human history, and this
statement will remain true for the foreseeable future. This means that most of our knowledge will be updated fairly
rapidly, and the best ways of learning and applying it certainly will be. What was cutting-edge mathematics in
Newton’s day is now routinely mastered by high school juniors and seniors. We can expect similar advances to happen in much
shorter time frames.

5) Creativity And Conformity Are Mutually Exclusive

The importance of imagining what can be is on the rise relative to the importance of knowing what has been. This means that our educational process, however it evolves, must welcome variation and continually become more divergent than convergent.

6) People (Especially Kids) Want To Learn

And just as importantly, they want to teach; not by lecturing to a captive audience from behind a podium, but by sharing what they are passionate about with those who are motivated to learn about it. This means we can forget about enforcing education and focus on facilitating it, providing people of all ages with greater and greater opportunities to teach and learn what they want.

Posted in Books, Inspiration, Math

Schneider On Our Mathematical Nature

Excerpted from A Beginner’s Guide to Constructing the Universe, by Michael S. Schneider:

This quantitative approach keeps us dull to the potential wisdom that the familiar counting numbers can teach us. When imaginatively taught to people beginning at an early age, mathematics can delight, inspire, and refine us. It can make us aware of the patterns with which the world and we are made. Instead, math is taught as a servant of commerce, without regard for its basis in nature. It is viewed as a distant subject that instills much more anxiety than wonder and inspiration. Mathematics is seen as outside us to be occasionally called upon, rather than woven into the fiber of our existence.