Deschooling Society

Sugata Mitra is the subversive.

He calls it the grandmother technique, and it goes like this: expose a half dozen or so kids to a computer, and let them have at it. The only supervision required is an adult to listen the kids brag about what they learn. It’s the opposite, he says, of the disciplinary ways of many parents—more like a kindly grandmother, who rewards curiosity with acceptance and encouragement. And it is a challenge to the past century and a half of formalized schooling.

Does this idea come across as libertarian? To me, it actually owes something to the New Left of the hippie era. Anyone remember Ivan Illich?

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12 Responses to Deschooling Society

  1. I think it’s great. One of my great reservations is what the lack of early schooling could do to society. The internet has made this question less relevant, because a kid can spend hours surfing Wikipedia and explore a wide range of topics. On the other hand, I don’t think Wikipedia can’t take the place of the classroom in the teaching of mathematics, language, et cetera. And, without compulsive school how do we induce children to learn these more difficult subjects (or, without parents with a lot of drive and force)? It’s true that learning these subjects isn’t always necessary, but where someone might not have the drive to explore a field she would otherwise excel at we could be missing out on an opportunity.

    • Ajay says:

      So you “don’t think Wikipedia can’t take the place of the classroom in the teaching of mathematics, language, et cetera,” ie you think Wikipedia can take the place of the classroom in teaching those subjects (let me guess, you attended a “compulsive school” and this is what they taught you? ;) ). The truth is that even those subjects are basically useless. Knowing any math beyond counting, ie arithmetic on up, is worthless in this day and age when all the math is done for you by countless computers, by everything from your phone to the cash register to your car. And the way language is taught these days is highly antiquated and more of an “intro to basic philosophy” class than anything else. You could deschool your kids, have them learn almost nothing, and they wouldn’t be better or worse off than all the kids forced to regurgitate the worthless curricula in most schools.

      • Advanced math is far from useless. It absolutely helps us to better understand our world in ways we couldn’t without it. And no, this wasnt what I was taught at school. I wish I had taken the opportunity, though. Id be better off now.

        And good catch on that typo, thanks.

        • John S says:

          “without compulsive school how do we induce children to learn these more difficult subjects”

          The Sudbury Valley School (originally in MA, but now with similarly modeled schools across the country) is a non-coercive school that allows children to learn anything they want. It is wonderfully described in the book “Free At Last.”

          Check out Chapters 1 and 3. They are beautiful vignettes of self-directed learning:

        • Ajay says:

          Sorry, I just get so annoyed when people blindly call for the same crap education they got to be perpetuated into the future. Now that I see your blog though, I realize that you’re definitely not part of the status quo. However, I disagree about the utility of advanced math, even in fields like physics, where math is assumed to have been helpful. The physicists also blindly appropriate much that obscures more than it illuminates: I know as I did study those fields. So I don’t think you missed anything, but if you have a true intellectual interest, nothing is stopping you from learning on your own, just as you read econ on your own now. I just warn you that much of it is of little utility.

  2. Nicholas Weininger says:

    And Paul Goodman. And for that matter Murray Rothbard in his left-fusionism phase, if you want some libertarian street cred for the idea.

  3. katie says:

    Sounds like unschooling, which is non-coercive. Let the kids learn what they want, and they will learn everything very well. Parents/teachers/whatever are there to help find sources and mentors and such, not to decide what they are supposed to learn and force them to. I know lefty, righty, libertarian, and so forth unschoolers. It does tend more towards the libertarian/lefty side, as righties these days seem to be obsessed with authority as well as tradition, and teacher-led classrooms are now considered to be the traditional way of doing things, even if it is a rather recent tradition.

    They may not learn everything in the “core standards”, Johathan, but once you take coercion out of the picture, children usually decide to learn a lot of those things anyway. Usually later than the standards would have them learn it, but they learn it fast and well once they have a *reason* to learn it. Apparently many kids can learn “years” worth of arithmetic in a few months, once they are older, and will learn it usually with greater understanding.

    Of course there are exceptions, there always are.

  4. Becky Hargrove says:

    My paperback copy is from 1972 but it was clearly read many times before I got it. Dog eared, bug eaten, water damaged, one of the more prized books in my library.

  5. Jeff says:

    The incurious would just spend all day on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe some people are okay with that, but I’m guessing most would not.

    • FC says:

      Aye, there’s the rub. Most people want children to have the same sort of schooling they had.

      What I want is an “Illustrated Primer” like those Neal Stephenson described, which would reverse-engineer a comprehensive education from the student’s interests and needs.

  6. John S says:

    Illich was great; his vision is being realized at warp speed (Khan Academy, Coursera, MIT Opencourseware). John Holt, the homeschooling guru (“How Children Fail”) was wonderful, too.

  7. I’m very critical of “constructivism” here

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