Rely on self-learning, not school

Posted by: JonahSinick

Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 11:01 AM

I learned most of what I know on my own, outside of school. This is also true of intellectually impressive people who I know.

School is rarely well optimized for learning, especially for gifted people. This is what one should expect:

  • The curriculum is a hodge-podge of subjects grouped together by historical accident, that wasnít developed with a view toward teaching the most useful skills.
  • The materials used in public schools are often determined by fashion (c.f. the ď "math wars") by political figures who are motivated by ideological agendas and ignore evidence that contradicts their views.
  • Public schools narrowly optimize for improving standardized test scores (to the exclusion of learning) because their reputations and funding are dependent on getting good scores.
  • Public schoolsí teacherís unions prevent poor teachers from being fired.
  • Teaching is a relatively low status job that doesnít attract many intellectually talented people. (This is true both at public schools and at private schools.)
  • Gifted children are a small minority and not a major focus of schools.


These are things that are immutable, so prospects for substantially improving your childís education through advocacy arenít great.

When you learn on your own, you have the freedom to learn

  • The most important subjects
  • From the best materials
  • At your own pace


For gifted children who donít have unusually good teachers and are self-motivated, school canít compete with this. There are prospects for dramatically improving education for gifted children - they just don't come from school.

The magnitude of the benefits hinge on finding the most important subjects to learn and the best resources to learn from. It's not obvious what these are. Cognito Mentoring has been researching these things (which is one reason why I compiled a list of links to math resource forum threads) for example).

What do you think? Have I missed important points?
Posted by: KathrynH

Re: Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 11:23 AM

There are many who might argue that self-directed learning is good for all students, not just the gifted. Although there is a bell curve for developmental windows, not everyone falls in the middle of the curve. And even if you do lie in the middle of the curve, learning that knowledge is something to be discovered, not just imparted, is a valuable lesson. It brings to mind the philosophies of Montessori and Sudbury.
Posted by: JonahSinick

Re: Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 11:30 AM

@ KathrynH ó†I tend to agree.

There's a correlation between IQ and intellectual curiosity, so that one would expect motivation to learn on one's own to be lower for the average student, so even though self-directed learning is good, it might not happen in practice even if encouraged.
Posted by: JonahSinick

Re: Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 12:21 PM

Hi master of none,

Thanks for engaging!

Perhaps "learning on one's own" doesn't capture what I had in mind Ė†I certainly think that socialization is important, and an important part of learning. I've learned a huge amount from my peers. I was contrasting learning on one's own with school specifically. If one can find a friend who shares one's interests, one can learn outside of school together.

I find it plausible that curriculum designers wouldn't agree with my hodge podge characterization, but they have a conflict of interest, so I don't give this much weight.

I agree that my characterization of why most intelligent people don't go into teaching was overly simplistic. I've taught high school before, so the relevant issues are familiar to me.

Part of what we're working to do at Cognito Mentoring is to help students hone in on the most important subjects for them to learn.

I'm very interested to hear about your success with advocacy. What changes were made, and how did they help?

I can see why my post came across as favoring development of intellect over other things, but I don't endorse such a focus. I don't necessarily think that people shouldn't go to school, as there can be social benefits Ė†I just think that people should take responsibility for their learning and not depend on school for intellectual nourishment. It seems important for children who homeschool to be involved in extracurricular activities that are social.
Posted by: Zen Scanner

Re: Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 12:47 PM

I'm a big proponent of meta learning and metacognition, which I think should be addressed directly as opposed to peripherally particularly for gifted kids. It's funny thirtyish years ago as a psych undergrad, I took a course in computer aided instruction from an education professor and explained my CAI plan for a course on meta learning skills. He totally didn't understand the intent.

I find the "pursue your curiosity" approach with my son works very well, there are touch-points where he wants to hash out ideas or is stuck on a concept he's run across and wants a bit of guidance or just an extra pair of eyes enjoying some interesting topic. For typical material, school is working well with a strong, flexible teacher in a self-contained gifted classroom.

Posted by: indigo

Re: Rely on self-learning, not school - 03/13/14 01:11 PM

I value life-long learning, and the benefits to internally motivated children who want to pursue their interests with more challenge and higher resources than may be available in the classroom, or through locally available tutors. That said, I have a concern somewhat for credentialing. For example, another parent recently posted that a school would not grant credit for algebra II her son had learned well, on the basis that he had learned from an unaccredited source.