Thursday, February 09, 2006

Unschooling: The Advantage of the Real World

One point raised in comments on my recent unschooling post was that you sometimes have to do things you don't like, a lesson we can teach our children by making them study things they are not currently interested in studying. It is an interesting point, and I think reflects a serious error.

We want our children to learn what the real world is like. One way of doing that is to construct a synthetic world designed to imitate the real one. To teach them that they will sometimes have work to accomplish things, even if they don't want to, we assign them homework they aren't interested in doing and reward them with grades. If grades don't work well enough, we reward the grades with cash, as some parents do.

What this approach leaves out is the causal connection between the work and the accomplishment. Someone else has told you to do unpleasant work, someone else will reward you for doing it, but there is, from your standpoint, no logical connection between the two. Doing homework does not, so far as you can tell, actually produce money.

The alternative to a synthetic world is a real world–the one we and our children are living in. If you don't tune your harp, it won't sound very nice when you play it. If you don't tidy up your room, at least occasionally, you won't be able to find things you want. If you don't sometimes do things your younger brother wants you to do, he won't do things you want him to do. That world also teaches the lesson–getting what you want sometimes requires doing things you would rather not do. And it gets the causal connection right.


Milhouse said...

Yes, the whole "debit" and "credit" thing threw me when I did a two-week accounting course 20 years ago. The way I learned it was to ignore what you think those words mean; in accounting, "debit" is simply a synonym for "positive", and "credit" is a synonym for "negative".

David Friedman said...

1. You have put this comment under the wrong post.

2. You wrote: ""debit" is simply a synonym for "positive", and "credit" is a synonym for "negative"."

That doesn't work. A credit to equity is positive--the firm is worth more. A credit to assets is negative--assets have gone down.

markm said...

Out in the real world, you also run into many circumstances where someone else has told you to do unpleasant work, and someone else will reward you for doing it. However, real jobs have a visible connection between the work and the pay, and usually an apparent need for the work. Flipping hamburgers is excruciatingly boring as well as unpleasant in other ways, but it doesn't take a three-digit IQ to see that it's necessary if you expect the restaurant to feed people and collect the money that is used to pay the burger-flipper. Schoolwork is pure make-work - and for much of my time in public schools, it wasn't even significantly related to learning. I had already learned that; the teacher was just loading on the work to try to keep me quiet while the idiots caught up.

This was a good formula for teaching laziness. I had a great deal of trouble in unlearning it when I finally ran into college subjects that even I had to work hard to learn. I think it would have been much worse, except that I grew up on a farm, where the work is really hard and the real-world necessity often quite obvious.

Anonymous said...

Well because you're responding to a point I raised, I should add that I completely agree that organized schooling is a terrible way to try to teach what I was talking about. Probably worse than unschooling as it may be counterproductive.

Also on the accounting, be careful with your words. I would say milhouse is correct, a debit is always a mathematically positive number and a credit always a negative number. I would never say 'a credit to equity is positive', because that's far too confusing. You're better off saying a credit to equity is good, or a gain for the company.

Anonymous said...

David said in the previous thread...

"The other way is to put him in the real world--let him actually try to achieve his goals, and learn what is needed to do so."

So at what age did your kids need to work for or pay for their own food? An out of tune harp, yeah that sucks, but no hamburgers, now that's real incentive.

David Friedman said...

Mark asks:

"So at what age did your kids need to work for or pay for their own food?"

The real world my children live in includes their parents.

Anonymous said...

I wrote this in my unschooling FAQ made for family and friends (regarding unschooled children unable to face the evil real world filled with a lack of freedom and choices)

Think about it though….Do you really not have a choice? Yes, your boss sometimes gives you tasks you don’t want to do. If you like your job, you’re going to do it anyway. You want to keep your job and want to please your boss. If you hate your job, you might quit and if this is not in your best current financial interest, you will complete the task so you can eat more than bread and water next month. Hunger is a great motivator.

Right now, I am a free agent. I have no boss and no one telling me what to do. But still I am often doing things I don’t want to do. I don’t like changing poopy diapers, but do it anyway. A)because I don’t want to see my precious child suffer from diaper rash and B) I don’t want my nose to suffer. I get up in the middle of the night to show my cat that yes there is food in the bowl because if I don’t he’s going to bite my ankles. I call family members when I’m too tired in order to avoid guilt trips from my parents. I limit the amount of chocolate I eat because I don’t want to get any bigger."

Anonymous said...

Another thing:

Why do we have this idea that schooled children are all going to grow up learning how to blindly follow their bosses and not cause an uproar?

Yes schools say you MUST do your homework. You MUST not help your neighbor with their work. You MUST not go to the bathroom when the teacher is talking. You MUST color inside the lines. You MUST read about geography from 10-11 and you may not read ahead in your textbook.

Schools have these silly rules, but do all the kids follow them?


So maybe schools aren't teaching children how to do things they don't want them to do. They're teaching children to rebel against stupidity. Or at least they teach some children.

I think schools teach children that the world is full of people telling us to do things for no good reason at all.

It teaches us how irrational and unfair the world can be.

Unschooling teaches children that if you really want something, sometimes you have to work your butt off to get it. And although people will stand behind you and support you, the motivation is going to have to come from yourself.

What would happen is ALL children were unschooled? We'd probably live in a world where people made choices for the right reasons: Not to avoid being bullied, not to show off their authority, and not for the mere thrill of rebellion.

Anonymous said...

The solution is obvious. We send all the children to live with the Friedmans.

What? Oh. Well, biotechnology can solve that little problem; we can whip up 10 to the 6th Friedmans in 20 years. (Who's going to educate them? Maybe Google. After all, Google assimilated a Friedman recently, so the borganism should start to show some Friedmanoid characteristics soon).

Faline said...

I think school could use Some unschooling help to reform itself.

Anonymous said...

David says...

"The real world my children live in includes their parents."

I don't have much to argue against that. The key of course is the transition from the sheltered to unsheltered, which I believe is a more substantial change then 'just' learning to do chores etc. But I don't have any evidence or further argument that unschooling would be any worse at facilitating that transition than any other possible method of child education, which leaves me nothing more to say. I was really only playing devil's advocate anyways, I think it's a really interesting idea.

M.C. said...

Hello David.

Reading Machinery of Freedom was the argument that convinced me that AC libertarianism was the best political form of organization for human welfare. And my wife and I are unschooling our two kids, age 8 and 11.

I'm a bit of an iconoclast myself, I write AMNAP, a blog covering scientific studies and observations that cast doubt on the "standard model" of mechanistic reductionism.

Jeremy said...

I think schools teach children that the world is full of people telling us to do things for no good reason at all.

How is this not the perfect education for the modern sociopolitical reality they face?

The question we should be asking ourselves is not how to reform education to fit kids into the current system better, but whether we want the current system at all.

I'd argue the reason why we have a "synthetic" educational world of arbitrary demands and consequences buffers children from perceiving the true nature of "real world" arbitrary demands and consequences of the corporate state experience. That's just my whimsical speculation, though.

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