August 20, 2019

Why School Sucks and Which are the 3 Alternatives


Have you ever wondered why some people drop out of college to start their own companies and they end up being millionaires? The reason is that school and the formal educational system in general suck. Here’s why school sucks and which are the 3 alternatives.

In schools and colleges, we learn most of the skills necessary to succeed as a consumer and wage slave. It’s not the subjects that are taught so much as it’s the way they’re taught.

During children's typical 12-year stretch in the public-school system, the most "successful" (i.e. well-adjusted) learn:

  • not to question authority,
  • not to ask questions which don't relate to the task at hand,
  • to be a team player,
  • not to stand out and
  • that trying is better than doing.

Most importantly, schools train children to sit still for increasingly longer time spans while doing mentally menial busywork. If it wasn't for this behavioral training, the limited subject matter that is actually taught could be accomplished much more quickly.

Why does school suck

The mass education in high schools reflects the mass production of the real world. The teaching style has one teacher (supervisor) lecturing (leading) 20-25 students (workers) sitting in rows, much like a manager and his employees.

Practically all problems that teachers present are closed-form problems where there's only one answer that, by construction, you can find using the methods in the textbook.

Teachers select to teach subjects that are testable, preferably using standardized exams with predefined answers. This means that most subjects are mechanical rather than organic in nature.

They have a well-defined problem with an easy, step-by-step method of arriving at a solution. An open-ended problem, however, with nonlinear and complex solutions could be more beneficial.

The testing structure is simple. Some chapter in the book will have a paragraph which reads: "There are three known instances of..." while the test will have a question: "Name the three instances of...".

This is not much different from a job, where there are 10 kinds of vegetables for sale and the cashier has 10 pictures of vegetables (press the correct one). This kind of education doesn't require much deep understanding of the fundamentals.

What it mostly does is to test students' short-term memory, and their willingness to use it to maximize their test scores and grades. It's fortunate that most office jobs don't require much prior knowledge from the job applicant.

If you know how to handle an Excel sheet, you are good to go. Many employers, however, don't hire people without the required proof of achievement and conformity--that is, a degree.

Universities that don't educate

If you are sufficiently smart and ambitious to get into a top-ranking university, the value you get from the university apparently doesn't matter for your future success.

Thus, if you were smart and ambitious enough to get into an expensive top-tier university, you don't actually need to go to a top-tier university to succeed in life. The ambitious and smart people realize this, drop out and go start their own companies.

Those that are merely smart, stay, but quickly learn to select a college degree tailored to their desired job or income-level. They also select the courses with the highest grade-to-effort level in order to maximize what employers are looking for.

Most people never learn anything outside of their textbooks. Two weeks after an exam, they have forgotten practically all of what they have being studying. So, they turn into successful white-collar workers! The educational system works, just not according to its stated purpose: to educate.

Professors give entertaining and easy courses in exchange for good evaluations. This way, professors have enough time so that they can get back to publishing papers to bring in big money.

Students get their degrees, and everybody is happy. Except those that came to learn and challenge themselves, and in many cases went deep into debt for the privilege.

A photo of Albert Einstein

“I never teach my pupils, I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

Albert Einstein

The educational growth of the graduates or the teaching skills of the professors doesn't matter. What matters is the image of the school, the imposing campus buildings, and the habits acquired from several years of following procedures.

The best part: Students' debts

Ask a college graduate when the last time was that they read a book from one end to the other. The answer may surprise and depress you. Despite this, it's possible for individual students to get a broad background in college.

However, it will come at the cost of a high-grade point average, as the student focuses too much on particular interesting subjects or courses. This may not economically provide the optimal grade point return on student effort.

College means different things to different people. It can be a place for higher learning, a two-to-four-year binge party, or simply a brand name admission ticket required by the job market.

Still the increasing demand for education and resulting higher cost mean that many students take on debt. And they consider these student loans an investment in one's future. What most students forget is that the only way that they can sell this asset is by working off their debt.

Also, except for possibly MBA students, few people do a discounted cash flow analysis to verify that their "investment" actually has a sufficient internal rate of return.

Despite this, many young people keep believing that their best shot at a middle-class lifestyle is a college degree. Just as the lower class spends almost 10% of their already limited income on lottery tickets to achieve their financial dreams. Yes, 10%!

Alright, school sucks, but what are your alternative to school? Let’s see… below I present you with three alternative schooling options.

1. Homeschooling

Homeschooling is when children don't go to school but are educated at home. In this case, parents have two options depending on whether money is the case or not.

The first scenario when money is not the case, is for parents to hire experts in every field and bring them at home to teach their children. The other case is when parents cannot afford to pay experts to teach their children and, therefore, they teach their children themselves.

A counter argument to this is that children don't socialize enough by not being in a school environment and they end up becoming anti-social. The solution to this is for parents to either organize homeschooling in small groups. Or to simply make sure their children socialize in out of homeschooling hours (sports, parks etc.)

2. Radical Unschooling

While homeschooling has attracted wide-spread debate, what is normally considered a sub-set, radical unschooling is a more extreme philosophy focusing on equipping the child with real world situations. Radical Unschooling is what Elon Musk employs to his children. Traditional school does not provide any value or interest according to the entrepreneur.

Taking on the more radical approach to schooling, Musk’s children learn through natural life experiences. Household responsibilities, play, work experience, mentoring, books and elective classes that the children are interested in, will most likely be on the agenda.

The intent will be to focus the child’s curiosity and exploration of activities initiated by them under the philosophy that if it is more meaningful to the child, it will become more understood, and useful.

3. Online courses and bootcamps

We live in the digital age, meaning that by having access to the Internet you have access to knowledge. Online courses are abundant (Coursera, Lynda etc.) offering all sorts of subjects for someone to learn from home. If online courses seem to you like a very passive way of learning things, then try live bootcamps which offer more interactive environment.

A great example, that I personally participated, is a coding bootcamp called Days of Code. Days of Code takes place in the Netherlands and helps people learn how to code for free.

Is School a waste of time?

You may have beautiful memories from your school years that you'll never forget. Your friends, your teachers and your school trips.

By reading the above you can't imagine how your life would be without those memories.

No matter how faulty the educational system may be, people will continue taking their children to school for the following years for sure.

What I want to stress in this article is awareness. I want you to be aware that traditional schooling is not the only choice out there.

And you can always create sweet memories for your children. It's just not necessary to keep these memories inside a building that doesn't really educate.

What's your opinion about traditional schooling? Have you tried any of the alternative methods? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Until next time.

P.S. I borrowed some of the thoughts for this post from Jacob's Fisker book 'Early Retirement Extreme'.

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About the author 

Manos Syngarefs

I am a child of God, that loves gardening, growing my own food and trying to live as natural a life as possible. When I feel like I have something to say then I will write an article. I hope you enjoyed this one :)

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