We want to encourage children to be open and happy and healthy and to find the things that they really love in life and to pursue those things. We want to positively reinforce creativity as well as the desire for learning. I hear that the Jews, at one point in their history, in order to instill a love for the study of the Torah in their children, had the children turn a page and then dip their hands in honey and lick them-so that they would always think of the Torah and study as the sweetest things in life. This would be an early use of the kind of operant conditioning that I think would be useful. B. F. Skinner, in his book Walden Two, discusses establishing a community based on the principles of operant conditioning. His model for learning involved positively reinforcing children with skills that would be valuable for learning (a love of knowledge, perseverance, etc.) and then allowing children to study whatever they liked.
Because children were self-motivated in their learning, and because they were trained in perseverance and to endure the strain of study with ease, it was enjoyable for them rather than a chore. Children are naturally curious-always asking why. What we want is to foster that, encourage it, strengthen that natural tendency instead of shutting it down. Skinner seemed to feel that children would learn much more in this manner-by studying whatever interested them-than through the current system of indoctrination. 1 Children also seem naturally creative. They like to make things. They like to draw, paint, sing, make up games, etc. We want to encourage this. We want to, rather than tell a child to shut up when they ask questions or criticize their early work, provide them with constant praise, guide them in the endeavors they show interest in, support them in whatever projects they take on, and help them to become as fully realized in their areas of interest as possible. And if we all focus on learning and doing what is most interesting to us, not only will we all be excited and happy all the time, we will share what we learn with others in a casual, open, carefree environment. We will come to know so much with so little effort-with no real strain or frustration at all. Life's main themes will be, rather than strain, need, or drudgery-play, desire, and an exuberance at the beauty of life. We want to cultivate joy. We want everyone to focus on the things that give them the greatest satisfaction and excitement-to, as Joseph Cambell says, follow their bliss.
Learning can become a joyous process. Something that people want to do. These same principles can apply to work. Find what you really love to do and work really hard at it. What could be more rewarding? What could give a greater feeling of satisfaction and meaning? Freud is wrong: productivity does not require repression. Repression is only necessary to get people to be productive for others-to do mindless jobs that they hate.
I want to encourage what I call gratification education (what others have called "natural learning" or "unschooling") . Under this model, students would be encouraged to learn whatever they choose and would be given constant rewards as part of the process of learning. This is contrary to the current mainstream model, in which students are indoctrinated, given huge amounts of grueling work to do, and feel largely miserable about the process. 2 It would be essential to gratification education that the process be constantly stimulating, fun, creative, opening-that is to say, enjoyable. The current system, far from being an act of joy based on rewards, is a test of endurance, encouraged primarily through punishment if noncompliance occurs-thus learning is reinforced negatively, but it is also punished in the sense that it is often a tedious and painful process.
Gratification education would teach learning itself, behaviorally, as opposed to the current repressive education that teaches an aversion to learning, behaviorally. Is the latter an accident? Or is it intentional in a state that would necessarily benefit from the ignorance of its masses? By making it so that the majority do not want to read, do not want to become aware of their situation, because the process has always been a painful one, they create adults who largely shun education in their daily life and look for escapes in generic television (watching whatever is on for the sake of watching something-I find myself doing this) and trashy romance novels-the motion of taking in information coupled with the opium of non-information and base entertainment.
One thing that I think is perhaps essential to teach all children is logic. I remember when I took informal logic and learned the structure of an argument, what makes a good argument, what makes a bad argument, what are common fallacies, how does one break down, analyze, and counter an argument-I looked at the world totally differently. Symbolic logic helped me sharpen my mind even more and was an extraordinarily useful tool. And I wondered, why aren't students learning this in elementary school? If everyone was taught this kind of thing, politicians would not be able to get away with the kind of things that they do. We would all demand unequivocally that they be held accountable to reason and making rationally legitimate claims, not spewing idiocy to get people to react emotionally. If I was in a conspiracy theorist sort of mood I might suggest that this may be precisely why students are not taught this kind of thing. They are not taught to be critical thinkers. They are not taught to understand their world on the most primary level so that they can really effect it and think outside the box and strive to be more. Why? Because we want an exploitable work force, and the people in power want to stay in power without having to deal with an intelligent populace. They want masses that are easily manipulated. In truth it's probably not so much an active attempt at oppression as a general indifference. Learning logic may give a lot to the individual, but it's not quite a skill needed in a work force, so why bother? And so children are taught upper level calculus, which most of them will never use, and are deprived logic, which all of them would use every day of their lives.
I must admit to a certain skepticism when it comes to the mainstream schooling system. I feel like children are taught bad things (unquestioning submission to authority, that learning is a painful process, that learning is a top-down indoctrinatory process rather than a self-initiated process of discovery, etc), and they aren't taught some essential good things (logic, for example). This pushes me in the direction of homeschooling. The Internet already makes this more feasible than it has ever been in the past-and as technology improves it will become more and more feasible. That being said, I think there are many children with Christian parents, for example, that are harmed by being homeschooled. Their education is insular. They are exposed to only one perspective, and that perspective happens to be wrong. But I ask myself, "Could I provide my children-the children of my community-with a better education than the state?" Answer: "Yes, I can." This is something you have to ask yourself, and if you can't, maybe you can find people who can. The greatest objection to home schooling seems to be that then children won't be socialized, but with a tribal community rather than a nuclear family, this problem is solved. Schooling today is largely indoctrinization and memorization. By reinforcing the types of behaviors that will give children the character to learn and think critically as well as pragmatically, we will free them to be self-instructing.
You could learn all the factual information that you learn from attending school out of books-but people lack the perseverance to do that-or very few do. So you instill in kids the ability to learn, the values that allow them to learn-you teach them how to learn-and then you set them loose. You let them self-educate and study whatever they are interested in. Again, Skinner thought that this would be a far more effective model-that students would learn far more than under the current system-because they would be self-motivated. They would want to learn. We would encourage them to develop a love of learning. We want to create a nurturing, free environment for children, where they can grow and feel supported. Children need to be guided in 1) how to learn (reading, using resources) and maybe basic skills (writing, basic math), 2) how to distinguish truth from falsehood (or the likelihood that any given claim they encounter is true-logic, the scientific method), and 3) to be wary of harmful ideologies and influences (to, if and when they are encountered, treat them as hostile witnesses rather than trusted friends). This basic framework for learning simply needs to be nudged along throughout life-the particular content of their study should be largely if not entirely up to them.
Again, as technology increases, this will be a real benefit to our ability to educate. With the Internet, huge amounts of information are now available at one's fingertips. Libraries are now putting their entire selections into digital format and making them available on the Internet. E-books make it possible for individuals to acquire and carry around with them huge amounts of information easily, like never before. Instead of having massive amounts of paper books we could just have computers and Internet access-and students would have access to all of humanities information. Everyone would. Anytime anyone has a question about anything they can look up information about it on the Internet-an easy way to learn a lot over time. Information could be stored in more and more durable and easily accessible forms. 3
Education should involve not only the development of the mind but the development of the body and spirit as well. For body education I would recommend the study and practice of yoga, martial arts, nutritional awareness, sexual health and technique, and massage therapy. Look into all forms of alternative medicine-keep what works and leave what doesn't. Spiritual education should be technique rather than belief oriented. Learn how to perceive, produce, and control subtle energies; meditate and develop the ability to have cosmic conscious experiences; lucid dream; go on shamanic journeys; produce out-of-body experiences at will; develop psychic abilities in general; bring to fruition your desired reality; remember past lives and the time between lives; and develop the ability to communicate with various forms of spirits, both physically embodied and extra-physical. Look into and critically evaluate all traditions-keep what works and leave what doesn't. Although this sort of spiritual education will involve experiences that are generally peripheral for those living in a westernized, Judeo-Christian, post-industrial society, this is no problem as long as the focus is always upon experience, critical evaluation, and what is demonstrable-never faith or dogma.
All forms of aesthetic education are of course essential as well-and anything that brings joy or raises consciousness is essential. Music (and art in general) serves two absolutely critical functions. For the oppressed it serves as a tool to motivate and to communicate the goal of liberation. For the free it serves to glorify, revel in, and sustain the passions of life. Slaves seek to be free. Masters seek-to enjoy themselves! Multicultural education will also be useful so that our children can learn about and draw upon all the world's traditions. Basic economic theory is also important, as well as any technical training specific individuals are interested in. While it may seem like this is a lot, I think the great majority of it can be absorbed through osmosis in a culture that holds these things as ideals and every day habits.
1 I'm encouraged by two movements at present: Montessori schools and the One Laptop Per Child Foundation. Rock on, friends. I'm also impressed with Rosetta Stone and how it has used technology to develop a highly effective way to teach foreign languages. I envision the possibility of all curricula being put into interactive, enjoyable, digital formats. Imagine a world in which your children learn all the factual information they want or need by playing video games. This would be an education system that is much, much more effective, enjoyable, stimulating, efficient, decentralized, and economical than our current methods. Older children and adults can buy lecturers by leading professors in their fields from groups like the Teaching Company and get in-depth, cutting edge information on any topic that interests them. You can watch the DVDs as a family instead of watching TV. You'll become wicked smart through osmosis.
2 Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison explores how the prison is merely the centerpiece of a much larger carceral system, and that our schools, factories, military barracks, churches, etc, are all based on these same architectural and philosophical principles. Let's break free from this.
3 Imagine an e-book of the future, the product of nano-technology and any number of other advances in science. Its memory banks are more than sufficient to hold everything that has ever been written, in every language. It's sealed on every side, with a screen that wraps all the way around. It's bulletproof, waterproof, and dustproof. It gets all the energy it needs from sunlight and kinetic motion. It weighs less than an ounce and remains at or very close to room temperature when in use. Nano-sized cameras allow it to project images from one side onto the other, making it invisible if so desired, and allowing it to show images as if they were floating in space. Sensors scan the fingerprints (and maybe the retinas and facial features) of whoever picks it up to identify the user. Language software identifies the language preference of the user and puts everything in that format. Its user can access the world wide web or use the mesh-network it creates (like with the OLPC XO laptop) to communicate and share with anyone else who has one in the area. It could be shaped either like a book (like with the Kindle), or it could be thumb-sized and project an interface that interacts reflexively with the environment (like with the SixthSense device). Even in a post-apocalyptic world, where cities have fallen and only a handful of human beings remain in small tribal bands, these devices could be found and everything could be regained.
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