What’s Wrong with Traditional School?

In this video, Simon (a 9 year old mathematician and programmer) shares his views on what absolutely needs to change in the educational system and why self-directed learning works better than traditional schooling. Simon’s main points are:

  1. At school, you’re forced to master a few subjects at the same “average” level while when learning at your own pace you tend to follow your talent and passion and learn some subjects at a much higher level. Simon depicts this difference as two bar chart diagrams. On the schooled diagram, there’re fewer subjects/areas of exploration and they are all at about the same level. On the self-directed learning diagram, the bars resemble a diverse metropolis with multiple buildings of varying height (or a garden with many sorts of flowers). Simon also explains that standardized tests and IQ tests expect a child to have developed evenly in all areas, while it may be more natural for a child to be much more developed in a few specific areas depending on her interests, and that there therefore such a thing as a total score simply shouldn’t exist.
  2. Simon’s second point is that the internet, with its online educational opportunities, is going to kill traditional schooling. Simon himself is a perfect example of someone who learns a lot more on than off line.
  3. Simon regrets that the way a student’s proficiency is evaluated today is mainly based on testing the speed at which the student can apply trained strategies as opposed to looking at the student’s original problem solving ability in an untimed setting.
  4. Simon’s final argument against the traditional school system is that it doesn’t allow for failure. Failure is being discouraged and stigmatized, a bad grade can have serious consequences. That is very counterproductive, says Simon, because failure is an important part of the learning process. You don’t learn from your successes (when you have simply used what you already knew), you learn from your failures (because you start to look into why you’ve failed and that makes you a little smarter every time).

Simon has been teaching himself since he was a toddler. He is especially fond of math and sciences, doing university level math and researching serious questions about quantum mechanics and general relativity. He is also fluent in several programming languages. We have had to move from Simon’s native Amsterdam to Belgium to be able to homeschool, because homeschooling is nearly illegal in The Netherlands. Simon is an adamant advocate of educational freedom. There is a growing body of evidence that forced learning is not only ineffective and damaging to the intrinsic motivation, but may also be psychologically detrimental.

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