“Or at least, I think it seems weird to hold the view that schools are a moral disaster without thinking that most employment is a moral disaster.”

The difference here I think is that, although people have to work to earn a living, they can choose what form that work takes. Sure, your choices will be limited by your skills, etc. But you get some choice. Even at the lowest level, there’s a huge difference between being a gardner, waiter, telemarketer, construction worker, retails salesperson, etc. They can tradeoff the inherent unpleasantness of certain jobs against the pay, see what works for them based on their individual circumstances.

If we made everyone be a construction worker or whatever regardless of individual wishes or skills it would be a moral disaster comparable to compulsory education. But the evil of education is how little choice kids have about how they spend a huge portion of their waking hours.

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Most of these "schools are awful" takes are predicated on having well meaning parents who are able to do things like purchase books with good information. This is probably because most people writing substacks come from a family history of education. If you're a smart person who grew up getting a good education, you could probably do a better job teaching your children the knowledge and life schools that they need than a bad public school would.

But it's hard to do home schooling correctly! Most parents in the world don't have the skills or resources to effectively raise their kids without some help from specialists. And many parents are awful caregivers for a variety of reasons. Saying that "schools are a prison" is ridiculous because for many people schools are the ESCAPE from the prison of a bad family. No one gets to choose their parents, but in a good school you can have a lot more say over what you do than at home with controlling parents.

I went to slightly above average public schools and was bullied pretty heavily at one, but overall they were very positive and essential to my successful development. My parents were smart and cared about education, but school gave me the stability I needed to deal with divorce and a chaotic home life. Schools also taught me the social skills and variety of experiences I would never have gotten at home. I wouldn't give up my mediocre public education for anything.

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There is heavy selection bias. Both in terms of all the people sayin this, their propensity to be in a place to say this, and their individual experiences. The answer so often is plane with red dots.jpeg

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Nov 7, 2022Liked by Sam Atis

Author of the dinner party linked piece here.

I largely agree that school in of itself is a good thing. I base this not on my own experience, but on that of my immigrant parents who did enjoy school and have much of their current happiness and development to thank for it.

Even my own experience, which was likely atypically bad, was mostly good except for the roughest years (say ages 11-15). This conforms to your linked survey that shows kids are "happy at school most of the time"- This is true for 4th graders, with 49% saying they are happy "all or most of the time" but for 8th graders this is only 26%.

School is largely a good thing, mixed in with a level of violence the adult world won't accept anywhere except prisons. I don't think it's as bad as prisons, but I also can't think of any other grown-up institution where violence is so routine.

To me it's what we allow to exist within schools, not school itself, that is evil.

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Very fine piece. Esp. the "fake vs real reason"! - To stay fake: US midwestern-prisons being worse than most schools - sure. Our German prisons hold much less horror for me. Norwegian prisons? Some foreigners commit crimes so they can stay (and work) there. - A nice prison with nice admin and inmates "not selected for being criminal, just the average of Joes"? How far is that really from a strict full boarding school? Same ballpark, same league I'd say. Mainly a question of stigma. Reality check: https://meduza.io/en/quiz/is-it-a-norwegian-prison-or-a-russian-hotel

Real reason: Even in Scott-reading circles, you will find most people arguing for very different or at least better schools. Though studies showed than "un-schooled" do not know much less than schooled - and catch up easily. Not least because schools really are day-care (Bryan Caplan). I sent my son, cuz I have to - but mostly cuz he would be full-day-mine-crafting else. From what he learned at school in 2nd grade: less than he did by hitting some youtube-videos.

Scott et al. and me "hating school" - indeed, WE could have learned more without compulsory attendance and with a library (now: amazing internet). But a) So, why no opt-out for us "just pass the test, learn as you want"? Back to "prison". (In my country the police will take you to school if your parents don't - next they lose their parental rights.) b) WE are not so few. Many non-smarties hate school not a bit less than "rationalists". As they can use even much much less of the stuff. And much less inclined to read. They were done after primary school, too. Check 40+ outside of academic jobs on their high-school-knowledge. Ridiculous. And so it was (Greg Cochran)

School apologists assume the kids would NOT be alright without school. Burden of proof on you, before forcing millions of kids to attend. (And before robbing millions of tax-paying parents of the funds to finance a better day-care themselves.)

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I think a lot of the people, especially men, who write on Substack, are on the autism spectrum. School is especially difficult for boys with ASD.

For one thing, social skills are really hard for boys with ASD, and the way schools are arranged do not make learning them easier. It's luck of the draw whether a kid ends up in a school that's predominantly nice people who will give socially awkward kids the benefit of the doubt or predominantly small-minded bullies.

For another, having ASD means you get physically coordinated a little later than people without it. Being good at ball sports, which is very often the key to social success in school, requires hand-eye coordination that is extra challenging until your early teens.

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Agreed with this. Two things are obvious:

1. We can think of way worse alternatives to school, that loads of kids experience;

2. We can maybe think of better alternatives to school, that pretty much no-one experiences, but most superior alternatives to whatever we mean by 'schools' are probably just better schools.

On a global level, the problem of kids not going to school is still way, way more harmful than kids not enjoying the benefits of potential alternatives. In countries with low school attendance (I spent some time working on education in Ghana), I'm convinced that even a really crappy school, being lectured on something that you barely understand for hours and getting hit by the teacher if you make trouble, is better than the alternative (I still have images of out-of-school 8 year olds playing with car batteries in a malarial swamp, and most out-of-school girls being pregnant by 13).

If you're an elite Californian (I assume most of the anti-school rationalists fit this demographic), then you might imagine that your rich parents could either take a sabbatical to accompany you in your learning and transmit their vast elite knowledge and experience, or they could just hire a few private tutors from the elite overproduction assembly line, which, kinda obviously, sounds pretty nice. Even if your parents aren't so attentive, you can just spend your time with other elite kids- you'll probably find someone to make you lunch and keep you safe either way. I suspect that even the elite Californians would be better off in school ~90% of the time- if you genuinely think you'd have been better off out of school, you surely must realise that you're an outlier, even within your elite community.

On the point that 'Most superior alternatives are probably just better schools', I think that most people would want a structured way of getting kids to socialise and make friends with other kids, become acculturated to their country's norms, language and culture, and learn a set of basic skills. We also probably want something that efficiently outsources caring for and educating kids (in the daytime) to professionals at something like a 1-10 to 1-30 ratio (lower ratios better for kids, but unsustainable at societal level)/ a way that busy parents can be relieved of childcare responsibilities for ~8 hours a day do with minimal effort.

If we have a far less formalised school system, with more freedom, fewer exams, less rote learning, more play, yeah, absolutely, but most of Northern Europe has schools like that- they're still called schools.

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Most of the debate around schools that I have seen on substack seens to me to be missing a major point. There are at least two reasons kids are sent to school that have nothing to do with education. First, parents have to work. Until age 10 or so kids need to be actively cared for and that’s incompatible with concentrating on work. Second, states need to form citizens. Schools teach history, geography, art and above all language to make sure all citizens have a common cultural ground, reducing ethnic diversity that may lead to separatism. Am I missing something?

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I think you make some good points. But I think it under-appreciates alternative ways kids -- even kids outside of the top 10% -- can learn more productively.

A system that focuses on voluntary on-the-job apprenticeships (like we had before the 1900s) is likely to be a lot more fulfilling and educational for many people. It would also give them more contact with adults, which can have a maturing effect.

These are things that would gradually evolve if compulsory schooling were ended.

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Agree that school is good, but there are probably massively better ways to do it than our current system. I think these people are right to notice that kids tend not to enjoy school in its current form, and that it forces them into a lot of unnatural behavior.

They also get something right in that there’s a general attitude adults take towards kids that involves not treating them like full human beings. Don’t get me wrong, kids need to be bossed around a fair bit for the sake of keeping them safe, helping them learn, etc., but I think adults ought to treat their authority as including a responsibility not to boss kids around arbitrarily. There should be some purpose in the things kids are made to do, and adults should tell kids what that purpose is, as best they can.

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Thanks. The concept of warehousing children in these prison farms is an idea that has outlived its usefulness it we desire an educated world.

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Imagine if no prisoners ever experienced sexual assault. Would that suddenly mean the comparison makes sense? or is sexual assault non-central to the nature of prisons that elicits such comparisons?

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I think, “Kids should be allowed to go to a relaxed daycare that’s enforces some skills useful in work and is very harsh on bullying” feels like it might be better than school.

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I came to make the same point Hanania makes - if you don't like you're job, you can quit tomorrow, so they're not at all the same.

Although that comparison is deeply flawed, it does point to a deeper problem and absolve schools a bit: schools are just an intstrument; the real problem is the over regulation & over policing of childhood (and the desire by many parents & society at large to do so).

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Mostly I agree, although I think reforming school to be better for kids is probably a pretty easy welfare gain. Lower work loads by cutting the more useless curricula, use the extra time to start later and devote more time to physical activity and play. Make violence prevention a higher priority. Allow students more freedom and choice (e.g. some high school students could be learning car mechanics or welding or ... instead of biology and calculus).

I don't think schools are a moral catastrophe, it seems that public education has been a boon to human welfare actually, but there are important and large problems with schooling that I feel like it is more productive to focus on.

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I think school as a factory is a better analogy than school as a prison.

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