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Saturday, February 11, 2006

David Friedman On Unschooling

Economist David Friedman blogs on unschooling at http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2006/02/

Here's an excerpt:

One of the assumptions built into the conventional version of K-12 schooling, private and public, is that there is some subset of human knowledge, large enough to occupy most of twelve years of school, that everyone needs to know. That assumption is false. There is a very short list of skills–reading, writing or typing, and simple arithmetic are the only ones that occur to me–that almost everyone will find worth learning. Beyond that, education involves learning things, but not any particular things. The standard curriculum is for the most part an arbitrary list of what happens to be in fashion–the subjects everyone is required to pretend to learn.

Consider, as examples, English composition, American history, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Each will prove very useful so some people, occasionally useful to more, and almost entirely useless to quite a lot. And, although practically every high school graduate is supposed to have learned each of those things, many, probably a majority, have not--as anyone who has taught college freshmen can testify.

Friedman's analysis strikes me as correct. Moreover, it seems to me that there is a danger in having everyone learn all the same things. If everyone spends a lot of time learning the same limited range of things, society (and each individual in society) will be the poorer for it because there will be whole ranges of things that no one knows. For instance, if everyone learns the same things, there would be no opportunity for me to learn something new from a discussion with you. Our intellectual lives would be poorer.


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