Dennis Hackethal’s Blog

My blog about philosophy, coding, and anything else that interests me.

Published · 1-minute read

Society Depends on School

Nick Taber tweeted:

It’s amazing to me how people actually believe that putting kids into a creativity-killing, curiosity-killing school system will give them more options.

I agree with the sentiment, but in a weird way, school does give kids some options they wouldn’t have otherwise. Though not without closing the door to certain other options.

School ‘opens up’ job prospects that only someone who has been coerced for 10+ years and is then willing to continue coercing himself would be willing to entertain.

The purpose of school is to turn children into adults who systematically disregard their own preferences and instead prioritize the interests of others. During childhood, those others are mostly parents and teachers; later in life, they’re one’s boss, partner, and society at large.

That means any job that depends on people disregarding their own preferences in turn depends on schools.

Think of all the uncreative, mind-numbingly boring jobs so many people have. Getting up early, sitting in traffic, spending eight hours performing uninteresting tasks, every day for decades – children would be unable to do these jobs even for a single day. Not only because they lack qualifications generally, but because they lack the most crucial ‘qualification’ of all: being willing to, no, forcing oneself to do things one does not want to do. So without schools, these jobs in their current form would be unable to hire anyone.

In this sense, school does not actually kill creativity – rather, it turns it on its head; it abuses it. It forces children to use their creativity to thwart their potential and individuality. (Therefore, school seems to be a special case of what creativity has been used for during most of human history, namely compliance – see David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, chapters 15 and 16). Things have gotten better since the enlightenment but adults are still supremely creative at subduing their preferences. Conversely, I’m always impressed with how good children are at not doing things they don’t want to do, and how unselfconsciously they make their preferences known. This is a skill that any adult wanting to reverse the damage of school should have an interest in relearning.

There is, however, another part of the student populace that makes it through school and survives – not without damage, but having retained their creativity for its proper purpose: the pursuit of happiness. These are the true creatives, the innovators. Another significant part of industry depends on these people. So today, we find ourselves in a strange era where school churns out mostly broken people, but also some not-so-broken people, and industry depends on both – and so does society at large, by extension.

Hopefully, as technology progresses and automates more and more aspects of life, fewer jobs will require self-coercion. That certainly seems to have been the trend since the enlightenment; things are looking up. But as long as a substantial portion of industry relies on jobs that do require self-coercion, we cannot get rid of school overnight. Not because schools are good, but because we currently still depend on them. In the Popperian spirit, any transition away from the institution of self-coercion toward that of self-determination will have to be a piecemeal one.


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