The True Purpose of Schools
The other day, it “clicked” for me: I think I understand better now what schools are really for.
It is generally believed that schools exist to help children learn. Of course, we critical rationalists know that that’s baloney. Instead, we understand—thanks to Taking Children Seriously—that schools exist to standardize children: to get them to replicate society’s memes as faithfully as possible under threat of punishment. Static-society stuff (cf. David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity). At least that was my current understanding of it. But I’m starting to see that it goes deeper than that.
Consider a child who is interested in, say, astronomy. Most elementary schools do not offer astronomy classes. And even if they did, it is highly unlikely that any given child would happen to be interested in all of the things that are shoved down his throat year after year, at just the right time. A child’s interests don’t evolve in sync with the school’s schedule. If the child is lucky, he will be genuinely interested in a few of the topics any given year, but never even close to all of them.
So, the child wants to learn about astronomy—but doesn’t get to. Instead, he is forced to learn other things he isn’t interested in. Day in, day out, for some 12 years. As Popper said, he has to learn answers to questions he didn’t ask.
A child is then faced with two options: to go insane, or to learn to cope with the situation. So, what can one possibly do in such a situation to stay sane? I see only one solution: one must learn to put one’s own interests on the back burner and prioritize other people’s interests—in this case, the teacher’s, and society’s at large. One must learn to coerce oneself to neglect one’s preferences. I think that is what school is really for: not just to standardize children, but to break them, too, to place others’ interests over their own.
I recently asked a 14 year old close to me if she’d like to go to college. She said no, but that she probably will anyway because she thinks she should. It’s heartbreaking.
It is only after 12 years of mind-numbing boredom and neglecting one’s preferences that people voluntarily spend the next 30, 40, sometimes 50 years at jobs they hate. Forever delaying their dreams is what they’re good at. It is in school that they learn how to live with problems and endure them instead of solving them. It is there that they are taught that their interests have no chance of leading to anything fruitful, so they shut them down quickly.
Parents are often complicit in this. E.g., they take away things that their children enjoy, such as their computers, gameboys, etc, or at least put time limits on them—so that their kids spend less time doing what they want and more of what they allegedly need, which is determined by anyone but the child.
I’m thankful that David Deutsch puts emphasis on fun and interests. They’re hugely underrated.
If school’s main purpose is to teach children how to neglect their own interests and instead pursue other people’s interests, that also explains where altruism comes from—the evil doctrine Ayn Rand so eloquently refuted and which, she says, “regards man, in effect, as a sacrificial animal,” quoting Auguste Comte, who coined the term “to mean, specifically, the placing of the interests of others above your own.”
The true purpose of schools is to turn children—born individualists—into altruists; to make them systematically neglect their own interests in favor of others’ interests.
It is to force children to betray their intellectual integrity. They must “sacrifice [their minds] to what others believe or want to be true.” — Ayn Rand (though she didn’t state this in the context of schooling and children in particular, but society at large)
This true purpose explains why people live for others, and then expect others to do so as well. It’s what they were forced to do during the most formative years of their lives after all!
It explains why so many expect their peers to sacrifice their happiness for the health of others by agreeing to house arrests. Why those who don’t want their salaries to be cut in half by taxes are considered “evil.” Why so many can’t begin to imagine a world without coercion. “If I had to do it, why should anyone else get a free pass?”
I’m guessing that most teachers do not understand this true purpose of school. They become teachers because they want to “help” children—that is, give children what they allegedly “need.” It is only altruists who can become teachers and perpetuate the cycle. In other words, the memeplex of schools depends on breaking children so successfully that some of them decide to continue the tradition. Not only do teachers not know why they’re contributing to this altruism machine, it relies on teachers not understanding its true nature to keep itself alive. This makes me wonder if schools as a whole are static memeplexes.
I think many experienced critical rationalists, on the other hand, understand school’s true purpose deeply. For me, it was a breakthrough. Though the topic is sad, writing this post was fun. A lot of stuff is beginning to make more sense. I’m pursuing my interests right now. I love critical rationalism.
EDIT 2022-01-02: Slight rewording in sentence prior to large Rand quote; linked to video instead of embedding it.
EDIT 2022-02-24: Removed “The following quote is from this interview with her:” as the next paragraph is made of my own words, not Rand’s, and turned “she says” into the link to the interview instead.