Is it really necessary to make kids spend six or more hours a day, five days a week, for 13 years, in a place they don’t want to be, listening to things they don’t want to listen to, and doing stuff they don’t want to do just because more powerful people are telling them to do it? Why? Why must we do school the way we do?
Two reasons people cite, which seem to go together, deal with honing attention and doing unpleasant things. Children need to learn how to focus and pay attention to the right things and not be distracted by the wrong things, and they need to learn how to make themselves do unpleasant or boring things, such as sit still and be quiet and do worksheets and memorize things and get up early and show up every day when they don’t want to. In short, it’s a form of behavioral and attention training. I think it is indeed valuable to be able to ignore distractions, do stuff you don’t want to do sometimes, and sit quietly and not disturb people while you are confused and/or bored out of your skull. But do people really need to practice these skills for six hours a day, five days a week, throughout their entire childhood? I have to say, that seems excessive.
After 13 or more years of such practice, are most adults really good at doing those things — sitting quietly while bored, paying attention to uninteresting things, following instruction without questioning, raising their hand to ask permission in front of their peers to use the bathroom or get a drink, and doing jobs day after day that they didn’t choose, didn’t willingly apply or interview for, and are not allowed to quit by force of law?
I don’t think most adults are actually very good at doing those things, really, so I question whether their 13 years of childhood practice helped them at all. Still, certainly at least some adults are good at doing things like that. So for them, was it their 13 years of practice in school that made them so good at doing them? Could they possibly have honed those same skills with a little less practice? Or (dare we ask) would people be even better able to focus on boring things as adults, and more willing to do unpleasant things, if they had not been forced to do it so much throughout their entire childhood?
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Another reason people give for the 13 years of sitting in classrooms and following orders and so on that this is the best way to teach young people how to read and write and calculate and do science experiments and learn history and geography and other potentially fascinating subjects they never, ever could have encountered anywhere else. Those people, I submit, know very little about how people actually learn things. Also, they’re always complaining about how after 13 years of public schooling (plus college), they still don’t know how to help their own fourth-graders with their homework, so how helpful could all of that instruction have been? But academic learning is a slightly different topic from the behavioral/attention one, so I will leave it for now.