Kids Want To Learn, But Probably Not What You Want To Teach

It’s always hilarious to me: reports on poor classroom performance, poor test scores, and on and on.

Thing is, that’s a “report card” on teachers, administrators, bureaucrats, politicians, collectivism, socialism, and society’s just-another-brick-inb-the-wall meat grinder in general—not on kids. Accordingly, it almost always comes down to MORE MONAYS! (for teachers, bureaucrats, administrators, et al.).

This is all dumb. Very dumb. Why? Because what’s going on isn’t really learning per se, but indoctrination disguised as learning, and “poor performance” is really a measure—and a good one at that—of resistance to such indoctrination, euphemistically labelled learning or teaching. Hell, even Hellen Keller learned, and with no visual or auditory perception—the core stalwarts of learning (indoctrination, too, though). Humans—indeed animals in general—yearn for knowledge from the moment of first breath. The acquisition of knowledge over how to survive and prosper is baked into the cake of survival on this planet.

…I got a question in email from some parents yesterday that inspired this post, and my wife Beatrice—a school teacher of 4th, 5th, and 6th grade levels for 33 years—wrote the principal response.

Hi Richard,

I’ve commented a few times on the blog – most recently about the gliding thread.

Seems strange contacting someone I don’t know personally to ask this question – but being surrounded by closed minded relatives I’d really appreciate your opinion.

Homeschooling is something that has always been in the back of mind but never acted upon.

Due to my son recently been labelled as stubborn and difficult for acting out army games in school (play acting soldiers is now forbidden apparently) and getting in a tit for tat scrap with another kid, myself and my wife are on the verge of giving up on an increasingly fucked up education system and homeschooling our two children. They’re good well mannered kids that are being hammered into a distorted shape due to a ‘sit down, be quiet, and don’t question anything’ teaching methodology.

I confess, I reluctantly agreed to let them go to a Catholic school as my wife initially thought the ‘moral’ grounding would benefit them. Suffice to say she has completely changed her view on the merits of a Catholic education.

So, if you can spare a minute or two to give me some thoughts on the merits of homeschooling children vs my perception of the indoctrination process of state school I’d be much obliged.

Your opinion matters to us.

Well, as you may see, parochial or private—or otherwise cloistered—isn’t really the key, because the same premise of indoctrination holds sway…it’s just that you’re indoctrinating over a different set of values. Sometimes, those values are closer to home, so that’s likely the Occam’s Razor explanation for why kids in private indoctrination often fare better than those in secular, State-indoctrination systems.

OK, here’s my wife’s unedited take on it. Notice that she does not write like I do (Duh!). She doesn’t write for fun, or to get an endorphin spike. She writes to the issue, to the question specifically.

If he’s thinking about it, he should do it. He’d have to be willing to find out what his son is passionate about and provide experiences that nurture it. It’s like working backwards. Once you find the passion, it’s a piece of cake, the learning follows..the reading, the researching, the math, the science, the social studies. It’s called Project Based Learning, 21st Century Teaching. Look it up.

The only thing missing is the collaboration with other kids, to work towards a goal to complete a project. This is an important component, but only part of the complete process. Perhaps you could join other kids who are being homeschooled; do some skyping with kids in other countries, blog, etc.

I’m sure his son will not be the only one to benefit. I’m sure his father/mother, the teacher will be just as excited about learning and exploring… going to many cool places together, having new experiences together, delving deep to figure things out that you are excited about. It will be cool.

And if it’s too much for you as far as a commitment, find a school that teaches this way.

I posted the other day about a PBL project the 5th graders did at her school: teams designed boats for four 5th grade students per boat, working only with cardboard, glue, and tape. Then, they had to get in them, in a lake, theory to practice like. What did they learn?

  • Research
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Critical thinking
  • Rudimentary water-displacement engineering
  • Materials adhesion characteristics
  • Measurement
  • Social collaboration

The list probably goes on, and with sub-lists. Now, did those 10-year-olds set out to learn all aspects of that foregoing list and pass aptitude tests? Bitch, please! They wanted to build a fucking boat four of them could get into and float across the lake. That list is just a few of the required prerequisites for getting that goal of passion done, and perhaps done better than other teams.

A couple of specific points.

  1. So-called teachers can learn too. Beatrice says that one of the things that gets her excited and motivated to get up at 5:30 every morning to get to “school,” is that she’s learning too. Picture a “classroom” where every student is on an Internet-connected MacBook Pro (they have iPads, too), and they’re calling across the room to one-another for help or critique on the various micro-projects they engage in every day. In this way, she’s not there to be an authoritarian-indoctrinarian, but a facilitator with experience, and she get’s something out of it beyond the MONAY.
  2. Collaboration is the real key to all of this working as it does. Modern “education” is based upon a model of competition where, the winners eventually get the best opportunities for jobs going forward. Well, guess what? When they get to those great jobs, they find that no man is an island, so they’re faced with a real world where we’re social animals and one must collaborate, cooperate, and even compromise in order to get shit done. So, in this old-world indoctrination system, we set them up for failure right off the bat, by pitting student against student, rather than encouraging them to collaborate towards a common passionate goal, which is the way the world works anyway.

It’s old-world prerequisite indoctrination, juxtaposed with modern Project Based Learning, where prerequisites are just baked into the colaborative-project cake. And so the goal is to first come up with projects the kids get engaged in.

Everything flows from there…backwards, piece of cake, as Beatrice says.

…Yesterday, Bea went to school early because Telemundo was there to do a segment—beginning at 5am. Yea, kids were there at 5am. Beatrice has zero problems with attendance or truancy. It’s her job to come up with projects that engage them, facilitate their splitting into teams so that every kid has a good reason to not not want to be there for every moment.

What is so fucking hard about this? Oh, yea, Follow the MONAY!

And when you follow that, it become clear whose expense isn’t being accounted for. 

Memberships are $10 monthly, $20 quarterly, or $65 annually. The cost of two premium coffees per month. Every membership helps finance the travel to write, photo, and film from interesting places and share the experiences with you.


  1. John on March 19, 2015 at 15:02

    Stefan Molyneux posted a video 3 days ago on School that complements this post well, complete with Pink Floyd references.

    I fell asleep while watching it though (see my comment a couple of posts back RE: 1% milk and rice krispies having that effect – that was what I was eating at the time of watching the video).

    I hated school growing up. I was picked on by students a lot. I still feel sadness when thinking about the day I brought my favorite toy to school one day when I was 6, and some kid threw it out the school bus window after asking if he could see it.

    I was regularly ridiculed by teachers in front of the class simply for stating my views. My second grade teacher would regularly make fun of me, or make an example out of me, to the class. She was fired a couple of years later.

    One day some college students gave a presentation to my fifth grade class on the dangers of smoking, and then handed around documents for us to sign swearing that we would never smoke in our lives. I said I can’t swear – I don’t know whether I will or wont in my entire life. After they left the teacher screamed at me for 5 minutes in front of the whole class, then told me to quit crying and read the next section from our textbook out loud to the class. After class, students from the adjacent rooms were talking about how they could hear his yelling through the walls.

    I’ve had to spend a lot of time fighting that internal hatred of school to rekindle my love of learning. As an example, I hated reading so much that I quit doing all assigned reading in 7th grade and did not read a book for pleasure until I was almost 20, when my roommate handed me Sword of Truth, said this book rules, and convinced me that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to try reading.

    I’ve thought for years about what to do about my eventual children’s education. I’m in a position where if I decided, I could have children and be a full time father – I’d love to raise children thirsty for knowledge (like I was before the first grade, at a school assigning 2-4 hours of homework to 7 and 8 year old children) that love questioning everything, and aren’t subjected to punishment just for being curious, free-thinking children.

    • Dave on March 20, 2015 at 02:24

      Absolutely. With no qualifications and a few years in the military behind me I somehow managed to educate myself and set up 3 profitable businesses. Never had or needed any formal business training or education.

    • Dave on March 19, 2015 at 15:48

      Hi John,

      Your points really hit home with me. I don’t think I found that love of reading and learning again until my late twenties.

    • John on March 19, 2015 at 16:16

      Writing that got me thinking about some of my experiences with college professors, though in college I would often challenge things that didn’t seem right to me.

      Web Marketing: Professor has us do a group project and make a website for a business. Everyone else chooses a national chain, rips off the national website, and makes it local. My partner and I develop an original business (modern art photography), name it, buy a domain, wrote paragraphs for each of the multitude of photos we took, and created a website with some pretty impressive visual elements for the time. During our presentation, while explaining our business being called “I4 Art”, we explained that it was because we are for art, we are close to I-4, and we had eyes for art. The professor says she thought we intended it to look like “I fart.” She then asks why there are 2 grammatical errors on one of the pages, to which I explained we wanted to convey the spirit of unconventional art in both photography and the writing. She gave us a C citing our lack of professionalism and proof reading.

      Professor explains to us that on no assignment will a student be able to obtain 100, because 100 indicates perfection, which humans are incapable of. I say that this approach did not seem fair; the grading scale shouldn’t be based on perfection since its used to grade human performance. Without God in the class as an outlier to obtain perfection, 100 should go to the best performer. His response was “who are you to determine who or what God is – you’re the person who did poorly on the ‘make a political statement’ assignment.” (This professor came in mid semester after the original professor came in high on drugs after leaving the scene of an accident, and passed out in the classroom – we should have known from his regular absences (“just testing to see if you’d teach each other when I’m gone”) and his attempts to sell his car radio to students that something was wrong).

      Something we were talking about made me think of fight club. Professor says “so to be clear, I’m a feminist, and hate that movie, so we won’t be talking about it now or going forward.”

      Professor puts 2 pie charts up on the projector, one “what men think about” and the other “what women think about.” Makes a big deal about how much men think about sex, and how only a tiny sliver is love. I ask why isn’t love even on the women’s pie chart. She says the charts were actually a project created by previous students, and not anything scientific. On the last day of class she offers every student 1 complementary therapy session but clarifies its for students, not for friends or family.

      Professor assigns final project for extra credit, extensive research project on speech methodology. Rather than traditional extra credit, however, this will be an additional grade, to be averaged in, that could lower your class average if you did poorly. I figure why not, its a chance to bring my 88 to a 90 average. Put a ton of time and effort into it, get an 87.

      Business methods capstone course
      Professor gives random attendance quizzes at the beginning of class; a paper where you check your presence. Students wait ouside the room with a spotter to see if he is doing the quiz. If so, they all run in, take the quiz, and leave. In a class of 30, there were never more than 15 that stayed for the class. I had perfect attendance, yet missed the attendance quiz when I was 2 minutes late 2 times. My grade is dropped from an A to a C, once for each “absence.” I tell him his method doesn’t seem reasonable – though I was wrong to be late, surely my perfect attendance should not result in a grade 20 points lower than the 15 students gaming the system. His face turns red, he gives me a 20 minute lecture on my audacity, sense of entitlement, and presumption about why others leave.

      We must make an 8:30 minute movie advertising for a product we create, we can recruit any help with editing we have access to. My friend, a digital arts major, offers to help. We film it, and he gets to editing – I tell him it cannot exceed under any circumstance 8:30. He tells me last minute he is going out of town and gives me the video at 8:47, then goes on a cruise. I notice several of the presentations are over 9 minutes – I tell the professor my situation, she says that since I told her my presentation is too long I will not be allowed to present it. When I ask if she would reconsider my final grade after the semester ended, she tells me she could if she wanted to, but she wont and my video cannot be counted, which was too bad “because it was the best” and I shouldn’t have said anything about the time.

      Whats funny is most of those courses are total bs, and I never had any issues with any of the professors in my major (Finance) classes.

      Damn I’m feeling long winded today.

    • John on March 19, 2015 at 16:18

      Yeah Dave,

      It was a huge revelation when I started finding things I was interested in and passionate about (besides games and spending time with friends) and actually wanted to learn. One of those “I suppose I’m not who I thought I was” moments.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2015 at 17:09

      Excellent opportunity to reiterate what I always say, now: don’t go to college, get a job or start a business.

      It’s really dumb, when you think about it, and add to that the pressure to get I to “the right school,” for either tem’s or hundreds of thousand in expense, or student debt. Eventually, the student loan default thing is going to rival the S&L debacle and housing bubble put together.

      Basically, most of what anyone needs to learn is available free on the Internet. And what’s not, there’s on the job training, like surgery.

    • Dan on March 19, 2015 at 17:43

      I was thinking just this. Entrepreneurism drives learning.

      If I have an idea I go and read about how to do it, there has never been a better time in history (even with all the regulation out there) to start a business.

    • John on March 19, 2015 at 17:57

      Yeah Richard,

      My best friend was waiting tables at a country club in high school. Some diner said “you’re a smart guy, you should get into cabinents! I just paid someone a fortune to install them in my home.” He did, then started his own business doing wood finishing at 26. He makes more money now than most of the people I graduated law school with. Like, way more. And he has developed a much more useful skill set, such as the ability to fix or change anything in or about a house. And he knows a guy for everything.

  2. CharlesQ on March 19, 2015 at 23:33

    Dangerous Children Master at least 3 Different Ways to Support Themselves Financially By Their 18th Birthday: And That is Just the Beginning

    Survival Is Not Politically Correct; But It Is Mandatory

    How I Found Freedom is really good. However, Browne’s book on Selling is mandatory

  3. Dave on March 19, 2015 at 13:33

    Thanks Richard.

    Sometimes, I think you probably don’t realize that you really help people in a far deeper way than debating the merits of rice / potatoes / beans or anything else that the anally retentive get obsessed about.

    Although these matters can be interesting, and certainly important to those with life changing medical issues, what do they matter in the end…

    Because of your admirable refusal to tow the party line, and therefore likely alienating the paleo fan club movers and shakers, I imagine you’re going to receive fewer comments and shit in the future of this blog. But I’m betting you’re going to genuinely help an awful lot more people on the start of a free thinking journey.

    My sincere thanks for this. And please also pass our thanks to Beatrice.

    – Dave (the email sender)

    • Dan on March 19, 2015 at 14:03

      Thanks Dave for sparking the discussion as well. My partner and I are considering kids at the moment and consider home schooling an integral part of raising them right. Given my woeful experience in the “system”, it was never going to be an option to put my kids in there.

      A quick search for home schooling brings up the crazies for sure but digging deeper and you find people similar to the above, doing it for the right reasons, its better for the kids. Where I live has one of the highest percentages of home schooled kids. We see kids running market stalls for pocket money, I bought a mob of goats from a family (jehovas witnesses) whose home schooled kids were looking after them as a business exercise for them. I paid cash and it went straight to the children for their next enterprise. Wonderful, confident, bright eyed children make me excited for the future of the species.

      We are fortunate to have a Steiner school close by I will give consideration to, run by hippies, for hippies, they were right.

      Thanks Richard and Bea.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2015 at 15:40

      There’s also Sudbury schools.

      A couple of Milton Friedman’s grandkids went to the one here in San Jose.

  4. T33CH on March 19, 2015 at 14:33

    Hey Richard,

    As a middle school teacher that group on a farm, I find our modern education system extremely stifling. Essentially, it fits only a certain style of person – the academic with a good memory. If you don’t fit that mold, then school will be a grind for you. Furthermore, its amazing how the system actually produces failure. For example, students are not allowed to get intervention until they are two years behind. Who in their right mind would allow anyone to fall two years behind before they get extra help?! Its amazing how the system fails so many. And for many teachers and administrators, the solution is to punish those students more in the hopes that the beatings will improve their scores. Sigh

    Common Core is a little better in the sense that it focuses on critical thinking, but not everyone knows how to teach critical thinking.

    My fiancee and I hope to one day open an experimental school for struggling students. One that not only helps students, but parents as well. One that encourages different skill sets and learning through them. I’d throw out grades and just focus on developing the person, not the numbers.

    Thats my one utopian/idealist dream.

  5. Sean II on March 19, 2015 at 15:23

    In my teens I started saying it should not take 5 years in primary school to teach a child the alphabet and 12 times tables.
    My first son went to the local catholic school until he was 8. When he told me about “Silent Reading” where they ate told to read quietly for an hour while the teacher does paperwork and they weren’t checked for comprehension, we took him out.
    He, his sister and baby brother are all home schooled and very heavily socialised across a broad age spectrum.
    Big son keeps focused in activities that support his aim to one day own a transport business.
    The girl is 6 and learning to read and write at her own pace, is serious about her artwork and gymnastics and she enjoys teaching the 3Rs to the 2yr old.
    I wholeheartedly encourage anyone considering such a move.

    • Dave on March 19, 2015 at 15:55

      Sean II,

      That’s very encouraging to hear.

      The lack of progress is absolutely ridiculous. And it seems to work from opposite ends of the spectrum.

      My son feels incredibly stifled yet has a huge inclination to learn organically and a natural curiosity that leads to some pretty complex intuitions and questions. Yet, the school routine and rigid structure leaves him disinterested in homework or reading the same book over and over again in order to earn fake praise. It saps all his energy.

      Pretty fucking obvious really.

      My daughter on the hand is a voracious learner – including the topics and books assigned in school – but feels incredibly frustrated at being held back.

      It’s a battle that can’t be won.

    • Dan on March 19, 2015 at 16:03

      Something else helping me formulate these similar views is the book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World: A Handbook for Personal Liberty”.

      Its a very easy read but enlightening, I am 1/3 through and am already cutting away things/people from my life. I cant wait to see what else is in store as I read it.

      (Richard this was recommended to me by A.B. Dada who I found through you…)

      One of the traps or boxes we fall into is pinning our happiness on the actions of others.

      Hoping the school system (others) unfucks itself in enough of a way to help your children is asking others to take action.

      You can circumvent it by doing it yourself.

    • Richard Nikoley on March 19, 2015 at 16:08

      Excellent, Dan.

      What a coincidence, too. I read it many years ago, but I just got back from Best Buy to grab a Kindle PaperWhite for my Cabo trip Saturday. Sitting in the sun by the pool reading, the iPad just isn’t ideal.

      Anyway, I set it up and noticed I have HIFF in the cloud and made a note to read it again next week. Guess now I’ll have to blog some prescient quotes in-between the pics of fruit and fish (that’s all I eat when I go tropical, fruit and fish).

  6. Dave on March 19, 2015 at 15:45


    Thanks – your observations mirror my experiences meeting with home schooled children.


    Yep, it’s too often proven to be a stinking system that facilitates failure, anxiety, angst, subservience and unhappiness.

  7. Sean II on March 19, 2015 at 18:04

    Early in my son’s school journey we saw change from an easy going child to one who’d come home snapping back at both his parents.
    At school he was winning stars for best behavior at a high rate. When I asked how those stars were won, I figured out it was only natural for him to behave how he did at home.
    The children are rewarded for being not seen nor heard by teachers loaded to the hilt. with paperwork that in the long run supports some podium speech about much the government has dine to improve education.
    I banned him from getting any stars. I said I’d support detentions, low grades, patents being called in as long as he did not lose site of his respect for his family.
    He relaxed, stopped shooting for the stars and did well, both at home and at school.

  8. Dave on March 20, 2015 at 12:51

    Thanks to all for your comments. Our research and some great advice, very much including this post, have helped us commit to the decision and we are taking the plunge Monday.

  9. Dave on March 20, 2015 at 16:14

    Most definitely. It’s been an incredibly empowering process, if not a little daunting. Feel fucking alive though. As do the kids when we broke the news to them tonight .

  10. Richard Nikoley on March 20, 2015 at 13:50

    Please update. Here, or in email and I can always do another post.

  11. Diane on March 22, 2015 at 17:38

    Google “unschool”

  12. Ozquoll on March 22, 2015 at 20:27

    Loving this comment thread, thanks for all the links and recommendations!
    Looking back on my own school years, I rather think I was home-schooled myself, in the sense that I was an auto-didact who learned NOTHING at school. Mentally, I was never present at school, and from age 14 I was often physically absent too. I finally wised up at age 16, left school and got a job. Life immediately got much better.

    Have always wanted to homeschool my two-year-old, who is very possibly on the autism spectrum like me. In this country though (Australia) most people seem to think home-schooling is a form of child-abuse – When I have mentioned my desire to homeschool my son, people react as if I’ve said that I’m going to send him on a holiday to Thailand with a convicted pedophile. Hopefully these attitudes will change as more people homeschool their kids.

  13. Jim on March 24, 2015 at 03:39

    Great thoughts. Check out Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” manifesto. Schools are training factory workers.

  14. Karen on March 24, 2015 at 17:24

    Love it when two guys I respect are in sync. One of Spirko’s latest podcasts (Reclaiming Education In Modern Society):

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