What is a good education in 2023 and beyond? We may find the answer through a process of reverse engineering. If the end goal is to live a good life, then the education of the child today will look little like the education of the parent. This is to say that none of the avenues known and available are ideal—not government schooling, private schooling, homeschooling or unschooling.
The process of reverse engineering education must start with self awareness and honesty on the part of the parent. Asking and answering hard questions: How much did I really learn from school? How much of my time was wasted? Was I treated with respect and kindness? Have I succeeded because of, or in spite of, going to school? Have schools gotten better since I was a child, or worse?
People tend to like those who are like them and have traveled a similar path, so the parent must also ask: Do I truly want my child to live better than me? Can I handle being surpassed at an early age, either in monetary success, notoriety or even well-being? Am I willing to let my child be different, travel a different path and be educated in a different manner?
Thousands of years of evolution have given parents the desire for their children to be like other children, or in a single word, “normal.” This is sensible when the bulk of children are well, but maybe not when they aren’t.
The end goal of education is for the child to live a good life. One lives a good life by creating value for self and others. The child learns to create value for self and others by developing skills and knowledge through productive activity in real and natural environments.
In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle explains how greatness can be attained. Set out to learn a skill just beyond current abilities. When reaching a mistake, figure it out, then start back from the beginning. Toddlers do this naturally without any prompting. Maybe the detrimental practice of ignoring mistakes, or fixing them and continuing rather than starting fresh, is bred by having too much pointless work to complete before getting to go out and play.
If one were to reverse engineer education one would find little need for filling out workbooks, studying grammar rules or even doing set after set of math problems on paper. We learn by doing and there is enough doing needed that it doesn’t have to be manufactured.
0-4 Basic Skills and Verbal Acuity
One can buy a child a toy kitchen set with plastic food to pretend to cook and eat or let her learn with the real thing instead. From birth to four the parent should allow the child to develop skills organically. Limiting toys and screens helps.
Verbal acuity is a simple matter of how many words an infant hears spoken every day. Videos do not do the trick, according to a 2007 study out of the University of Washington, published in Pediatrics. The infant has to see and hear the words being spoken. The child should have someone in his ear every hour of the day. Conversation, stories, explanations, jokes, chatter, songs or nonsense—the more words, the greater vocabulary and verbal acuity. As verbal acuity develops, quality of speech and literature should be favored over sheer quantity.
4-8 Core Skills for Education and Achievement
The core skills to develop from the ages four to eight are drawing, reading, writing, research, typing and use of a calculator. From these foundational skills a tower of skills and knowledge can be erected.
8-12 Hands on Learning
From ages eight through twelve the child should be encouraged to create value for self and others through education focused work. Some examples are growing crops in the garden, building a pollinator for the garden, building a garden fence, harvesting crops, cooking and baking with crops, making clothes or furniture, starting a book club or debate tournament and volunteering at a bookstore or flower shop.
12-18 Meaningful Work and the Roots of Career
By twelve the young adult knows how to create value and is ready to do meaningful work. He can follow his interests, experiment and explore. An enduring sense of identity and self worth has emerged. He has authentic self esteem along with humility. Having learned organically through real-life, productive activity, he is intrinsically driven, ethical and honest. He is on course to earn a good living and live a good life.
Organic education is unheard of today but has been the rule throughout human history. Most of the world’s geniuses had limited to no schooling. People such as Leonardo di Vinci and Ben Franklin learned primarily through apprenticeships. Children should be free from the burden of work but they should still have the benefit of hands-on learning. The ideal is work which is free of any financial imperatives and performed voluntarily.
Elon Musk didn’t think his children’s private school was teaching in the right way, which he believes is starting with real-life problems and then finding tools to bring about solutions, so he pulled his children out and brought them to work with him at SpaceX. With the help of one of the children’s former teachers who agreed with him, he started an education program called Ad Astra. Though still having one foot in the door of the schooling paradigm, it’s a model to emulate and build on.
Children should not be sitting still at desks absorbing propaganda and doing pointless activities that only teach how to blindly follow orders. They should not be conditioned to stop what they are working on when a bell sounds. They should not be burdened with ideas that will take time and needless suffering to unlearn.
If it is true, as Jim Rohn said, that one becomes the average of the five people one spends the most time with, then great care should go into the decision of who a child learns from and plays with. Parents should be the primary teachers and share their skills and areas of expertise.
Those who choose to educate their children independently should feel no need to follow anything the government schools are doing. Those who do not try to mimic school should not label what they are doing unschooling. If the child was never schooled, she doesn’t need to be unschooled.
Youth of today are crying out for something new and better, something beyond schooling, homeschooling and unschooling. Organic education answers the cries, for the children and a world giving back the gains of The Enlightenment.
This originally appeared on SimplicityandPurity.com.