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Arguing for an un-education system March 28, 2007

Posted by Sharath Rao in education.

I was walking past a book rack in the Carnegie Library when my eyes fell upon a 2565 page thick book on the topic : “Heart”. Hats off to you Cardiologists. Will all my knowledge on any single topic fit into 2565 pages ?


I somersault and turn to this post by Bryan Caplan.

But three decades of experience, combined with two decades of reading and reflection, have convinced me that our educational system is a big waste of time and money. Practically every politician vows to spend more on education, and as an insider, I can’t helping asking “Why? Do you want us to waste even more?”

Most people who criticize our education system complain that we aren’t spending our money in the right way, or that ideologues-in-teachers’-clothes are leading our nation’s children down a dark path. While I mildly sympathize with some of these complaints, they often contradict what I see as the real problem with our educational system: There’s simply far too much education going on. The typical student burns up thousands of hours of his time learning about things that neither raise his productivity nor enrich his life. And of course, a student can’t waste thousands of hours of his time without real estate to do it in, or experts to show him how.

We in India have the same complaints about our education system although the two countries have very different systems. So if Bryan is right, does it mean that the only characteristic that American and Indian systems share is their irrelevance and distance from reality ? 😀

Staying on the topic, David Friedman provides what he calls the unschooling alternative.

There are a number of alternatives to the conventional model. The one we have chosen is unschooling–leaving our children free to control their own time, learn whatever they find of interest. I sometimes describe it as throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick. In our case the sticky ones included The Selfish Gene (my daughter at about 12), How to Lie With Statistics (both kids), How to Take A Chance (a popular book on probability theory, of especial interest to my son, at about ten, because of his interest in role playing games), and lots of fiction, much of it intended for adults.

No doubt they will end up not knowing several of the things on the standard curriculum–as will many of those subject to it. But my son has learned more history and geography from books and computer games than he would have in elementary school history classes–and avoided the fatal lesson that learning things is boring work, to be avoided whenever possible. My daughter has some catching up to do in math before she is ready for college–but both kids regard solving two equations with two unknowns (and integer solutions) as an entertaining puzzle.

“throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick”, do I love that expression !

This ofcourse raises other issues – schools provide a way to socialize, get children used to staying away from their parents, imbibe certain discipline – getting to a certain place in time, doing things on time etc. – which are valuable skills. Ofcourse some of these may be taught at home, but it might be too much trouble. I think in some sense schooling is parents’ way of out-sourcing some part of their children’s upbringing to people who have a comparative advantage in doing it. Outsourcing has become a bad word I know, but I think for technical, practical and social reasons, it is hard to expect parents to spend all their day for years together teaching their child a whole lot of things.

So like someone who is not really sure of what he wants, I try to take the middle path. – while I may not go all the way down Friedman’s path, I think some of his ideas are worth …er.. stealing 🙂



1. Ashwini - March 29, 2007

2565 !
Remember one sich Cardiology text-book, made the librarian carry it & dump it on the nearest table.To top it all, the print is barely visible until the nose is [nearly] buried into it.

2. raosharath - March 29, 2007

Was true of the book as well….

in general, medicine may be stands out in terms of how much u ppl have to study before you can do anything at all 😦

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