Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's wrong with school?

What I'd primarily like to do here is comment on the blog post Hides Sociobiology Like Sex?  The lines that caught my attention are the first ones in this blog entry:
Self-interest goes a very long way to explaining human behavior.  Yet when we educate our young, we prefer to bias them, focusing their attention on the virtues of indiscriminate altruism.  Why?
Before I dive into the meat, this post is the second entry ever in the great blog overcomingbias.com.  This is very near to where it started.

The meat of my response to that quote is this: Of COURSE schools don't teach our children how to work in their own self-interest.  Why would you direct the spending of resources to advance someone else's interests?  You don't institutionalize the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance 2400 times in order to advance the self-interest of the reciter.  

The paradox is that attending school is an incredibly efficient way to advance the self-interest of children.  School offers the magic of human knowledge, the gifts that keep on giving of reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic.  By the time I was 17 years old, I knew a LOT OF STUFF.

Even if you LIKE the idea of reciting the Pledge in school, it is still OK to understand what this recitation is, and what it isn't.  It is NOT education.  It IS reinforcing an opinion.  Reinforcing it 185 times a year for nearly 13 years before you are likely to be faced by a U.S. Army recruiter.  


I happen to sort-of agree that just because something is brain-washing doesn't necessarily make it wrong.  The only societies of any significance to modern humanity are those that took serious, non-academic approaches to their own survival.  This has always included and continues to include promoting the interests of the successful society in ways at best tangential to promoting knowledge and at worst filled with fear, violence, oppression, and horror.  I'd love to rise above it, but history shows me that everybody who PERSONALLY rises above it does it under the protection of a state with a military and policing forces that they are not shy about using.  


We are lucky that the most important asset of the population to the state is a well-functioning and largely independent mind.  Because THIS is why we have powerful civilizations that put a lot of resources into equipping their population with the basic intellectual and political tools of useful independent thought.

So I send my kids to the public schools.  And I subvert some of the social lessons of those schools.  Not because I am better than society, but because MY self-interest as expressed through what I do for my children is NOT 100% aligned with society's.  And thanks to a great public education, and what I have done with it since then, I am in a pretty good position to take from these schools what I want from them, and to subvert the rest.

And to help my children do the same, until such a day as their education leads them to realize that their self-interest deviates from society's, but also from Dad's.