School is for Fools: 10 Reasons the Education System is a Failure

school is for fools

[Last updated 6th November 2019]

The education system is in shambles, and it has been for quite some time now.

This is not weird. Old things break or go obsolete all the time. Why should this be any different?

What’s weird is that people still have an unshakable faith in the system.

The Education is Important; Schooling is Not

Education is important and will only become more important.

Schooling (public education and indoctrination) is just bad. It’s the remnant of a system made obsolete, decades ago.

Schooling used to serve a purpose—like the appendix inside the human body—but now it’s just bad for most of us.

Many aspects of public education are problematic. For example, the usefulness of the grading system is debatable. It disincentives creative and lopsided performance (which are the hallmarks of success in the real world).

And, many times the grading system is just plain wrong. . .

Like When George Orwell’s Writing Didn’t

Qualify for the “High Standards” of Academia

You know Michael Crichton? He’s the guy who wrote Jurassic Park. He was damn smart. Unfortunately he’s dead now.

Crichton started writing early in life. He showed talent from the get-go and was able to support himself through Med school by writing short stories under pen names. But, before that…

…when he was 18 years old, he took an English writing class at Harvard, where he was given C- on a paper. This confused him, because he felt this paper was one of the best he’d ever written.

Not only did the C- anger Crichton, but he really, seriously, believed that his teacher was incompetent and unable to think for himself, outside of the grading criteria. To test if this hypothesis was correct, Crichton decided to do something risky: he submitted a well-known essay written by George Orwell–under his own name!

This was 100% plagiarism. Crichton copied the essay word for word, and if he was found out he would be EXPELLED from Harvard.

When the time came for the grading of this new essay he was given a B-.

George Orwell’s writing wasn’t good enough to make the cut.

That makes you wonder: what does cut it?

What the hell are you supposed to do to get an A?

Crichton was really confused now.

I can relate to that, because I too felt confused many times during my school years. . . starting with when I was a kid.

8-Year Old Ludvig Gets “Put Into His Place”

When I was in second grade I had a friendly competition with a classmate. We competed over who could solve the most math problems each week.

Our class had like 60 kids in it (3 age cohorts, aged 7-9) and for some reason, me and my friend were the only ones good at math.

In our first year (age 7-8) we progressed to doing math books for kids who were 10 years old.

One day, I teased my friend for being slow because I was 10 pages ahead of him. My friend said he didn’t care, “because he was still years before everyone else.”

Our math teacher happened to be nearby when he said this, and she went fucking CRAZY (I don’t know why, no one else cared).

She made a huge scene and embarrassed us in front of the whole class.

“So, you think you’re smart just because you are doing math of people older than your cohort, huh!?”

“How would you like it if I took away your books–huh!? You wouldn’t like that very much, would you know?

We got really scared and pleaded: “No, please don’t take away our books!”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought!”

“I really should take away your books–that’s serves braggarts such as yourself right, puts you in your place. But I will let you keep them if you apologize to everyone else in the class for bragging and hurting their feelings!”

We promptly apologized to the whole class. They probably didn’t know what was going on, but my interest in math almost died there.

[Fast forward 14 years: at the finish line of uni when. . .]

A Passive-Aggressive Thesis Adviser Tries to Stop 22-Year Old Ludvig from Getting an Auspicious Start to His Career

When I did my thesis project I had to battle a semi-hostile academic overseer.

We had conflicting incentives:

I wanted to learn useful stuff, acquire valuable business contacts, and get the best entry-level marketing job possible.

My handler wanted my thesis to conform to “academic standards” (to be written in a quasi-intellectual style, full of citations of people whose work I haven’t read or don’t agree with) and—of course—to be as easy to grade as possible.

This made me angry, because I had put a shitload of effort into getting a tailor-made thesis project from one of the world’s top brands (IKEA–read how I did it here).

I took more initiative than all of my class combined, cold-called a ton of people, and felt I should be rewarded for it. The least the university could do was to stand out of my way (I got it on my own, let me do it on my own).

Instead they put up obstacles.

I guess they don’t want students to get jobs.

My handler wasn’t supportive at all. If anything, she was trying to sabotage the start of my career.

Looking back on this now, I don’t care at all. But as I reflect on the situation, it really highlights one of the big underlying problems with university. . .

The “Institutionalization of Knowledge” and Its Problems

University is supposed to be a final checkpoint towards work-life: it’s meant to train and empower young people into getting the jobs they want; not to recruit them into the ranks of academia (like a cult).

Unfortunately, this is what has happened.

Like big government, the interest of university is no longer primarily in serving the people–which is why it was created–but in serving itself, and making sure the machine “stays alive,” with its cogs turning.

One of the main ways universities do this is by forcing students to waste their time writing theses (that no one reads or cares about).

This is a Really Shitty Final Rite of Passage Before Entering Work-Life

Why force boring and non-value-adding activities on those who don’t want to join the “institution of knowledge”? Give them a practical assignment instead.

University is now strongly mismatched to the demand of the job market.

College and uni might be a good place for finding yourself (and partying a lot), but it’s not a good place to find a job you’ll love and excel at.

Like My Friend Kyle Eschenroeder Wrote a Few Years Ago:

You go to college to figure out what you want to do, what you like. Going into college I was mainly interested in three things: Libertarian ideas, trading, and making movies. Graduating, those are still the most interesting things to me and none have been enhanced by my college career. In fact, I’m an economics major and my ability to grasp what’s happening in the world is almost totally thanks to the internet and a willingness to read, not their bullshit textbooks.

My Economics degree is like my SAT score, people can look at it and say, well he jumped through those hoops well. More and more companies, especially ones worth working for, are looking at what you can do, what you’ve actually created.

I graduated with a master’s degree in business—and guess what?

–I’ll never have any use for it!

Why?

Because initiative beats “jumping through the hoops” every day of the week.

Now, let me tell you why I think that:

The School System is a Failure

  1. The School System Was Created for the 18th Century
  2. School Teaches You to Fit in…to an Obsolete Economy!
  3. School Turns You Into a Sissy Conformist
  4. School Breaks Down Most People’s Will to Learn
  5. School Doesn’t Cultivate Self-Knowledge
  6. School Turns Independent People into Co-dependent Peons
  7. School is Full of Propaganda
  8. School Doesn’t Teach You How to Think & Develop Your Own Style
  9. School Gives You a False Certainty about Things You Can’t Know
  10. School Indoctrinates False Rules That Handicap You for the Real World

Starting with reason #1…

The School System Was Created for the 18th Century!

It’s hard to pin down when and where public education started, but the first time public education was cohesively organized to fit the needs of an entire country in a successful way, was in Prussia under Frederick the Great ca 1750.

To entrust government with the power of determining education which our children shall receive is entrusting our servant with the power of the master.

Frederick the Great

Frederick’s Education System in Prussia:

Frederick turned Prussia into a socialist state with planned economy. The country was so bureaucratic that women had to register the exact date of each month’s period to the state. 1

The purpose of Prussia’s public education was to train citizens into the jobs its government decided was important for the future of the country.

Remember, this was a planned economy (not a free market) and:

  1. The economy, at that time, was simple enough 2 plus,
  2. Prussia’s population was small enough for a bunch of highly intelligent people to “plan ahead”. Frederick and his administrators could make reasonably accurate projections and decide that “we need so-and-so many workers for this and that role”.

education system

Frederick’s stroke of genius made Prussia into the powerhouse of Europe.

Napoleon’s Education System in France:

50-something years later, Napoleon noticed how successful Frederick’s education system had been and decided to copy it for France, with some minor adjustments.

For example, Napoleon wanted his education system to:

  1. Train competent personnel (military leaders, scientists, and engineers) for his army and administration.
  2. Indoctrinate citizens into obedience and patriotism (and wrest power from the Christian church to the state).

Like Frederick, his system was also a massive success—for its intended purposes. The skill with which Napoleon’s engineers built bridges, moats, and other combative structures was unparalleled at its time.

The Western World’s Education System:

After noticing the obvious success of Prussia and France, much due to their education systems, the rest of the western world eventually copied their approach, with minor adjustments of their own.

This change took place during the early stages of industrialism, and so the biggest difference between the Prussian and French educational systems and the western education systems had to do with training the population for new stuff like:

  • Factory work
  • Managerial work (outside of public administration)
  • Scientific inquiry (the origins of the STEM fields)

The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention.

Alfred Whitehead.

Off the top of your head, you probably will instinctively think most about managerial work and scientific inquiry. But those areas received maybe 10 % focus each, whereas training people into factory workers received around 80 % of the focus.

Why? Because factory work was by far the most important thing to the economy at the time, and it does not come about naturally.

Lots of public education had to do with what we now call schooling (disciplining and indoctrinating) people into becoming obedient and reliable factory workers. 3

Sitting in straight rows, raising your hand before you address the teacher, asking for permission to do XYZ. Following the rules.

Reason #2: School Teaches You to Fit in…to an Obsolete Economy!

See public education for what it is: a system for training as many people as possible into professions reasonably projected into the future.

It worked pretty darn well for Frederick the Great and Napoleon. It also worked for many western countries during the industrialization.

Today it does not work well, because the world is changing faster than before. The Internet, AI, robotics and such things are rendering many industries obsolete. The school system can’t keep up.

How can you project what jobs to train workers for one generation from now if you can’t even project what will happen in many industries 5-10 years from now?

Modern schools are great if you want to be a….

  • Retail clerk or a cashier
  • Truck driver
  • Doctor or nurse
  • Janitor or property manager
  • A gazillion types of office workers, administrative agents, number counters, or middle managers.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want one of those jobs.

Reason #3: School Turns You Into a Sissy Conformist

—Too bad nearly all winners are contrarian in one way or another!

Sissy conformists have to do what they’re told. They have to obey the leader and ask for permission to go to bathroom. They have to watch stupid TV shows and memorize American Idol names to keep up with the recent happenings of popular culture.

It’s nothing short of intellectual prostitution to corrupt your Dunbar’s Number to fit in, and in doing so living in a collective hyperreality.

Sissy conformists don’t get to set the pace or the trajectory for the projects they work on. The slowest member of the group “decides” that. The chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

sissy conformists slowest member of the group sets the pace

In school, winners have to carry the losers, and for the winner to get his superior ideas picked he has to rely on the consensus decision of the group, rather than the merit of the idea.

In real life, winners are those who dare to do interesting stuff that stands out and runs contrary to popular opinion.

I spoke to Billionaire Martin Sandquist and asked him “What’s the worst business advice you ever got?” He answered:

Not starting Lynx. No one thought it was a good idea. Professors, banks, friends. Very few believed in it.

If you have an idea that people don’t believe in, it’s probably a good idea. You shouldn’t pay too much attention to other people’s opinions. Especially not our education system, which tends to be very biased. I believe you need to try to think for yourself as much as possible, and engage in self-studies. I don’t think I’ve learned anything useful in school; everything of value I’ve learned by being passionate about some subject and studying it for myself, reading or watching YouTube.

If you want to do something in a unique way, it’s important you try to do it yourself. Otherwise, it’s probably the same as everyone else.

Reason #4: School Breaks Down Most People’s Will to Learn

School is jail for children.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote in his book Flow that:

Many people give up on learning after they leave school because thirteen or twenty years of extrinsically motivated education is still a source of unpleasant memories.

This ALMOST happened to me!

I thought I didn’t like learning until I was 20.

Then I realized being an A-student in school has little to do with enjoying the learning process or achieving real-world success.

The trick is to create your framework of learning and gain knowledge your own terms. It will take a while, but you’ll love it once you learn it.

Reason #5: School Doesn’t Cultivate Self-Knowledge

Education is either for domestication or for freedom.

Joao Coutinho

Metacognition is the most common trait among successful people.

This has been agreed upon by wise men for millennia—dating back to Ancient Greece. The purpose of education is to bring about self-knowledge.

School does nothing to teach or incentivize metacognition or self-knowledge. And why should it? That’s not what it was made for. Never was!

The closest you get is assignments having to do with “analysis” or “critical appraisal” of some subject. But—at least in my experience—that’s just for show. Whenever I seriously scrutinized anything I always got lower grades, like Crichton.

–The only exception to this that I can think of was my Swedish and English teacher during high school. He was the sort of natural teacher who could make his students interested in anything, and genuinely encouraged students to be open-minded and reflective. He was great.

Anyway, it makes sense that things are this way. The industrialists of the 19th century didn’t want independent-minded thinkers; they wanted reliable managers and precise workers. The school system is still built to churn out people like that—people who know how to compute, but not how to think.

People with high metacognition—the sort who, over time, develop a strong self-knowledge—tend to succeed in spite of their schooling; not because of it.

Reason #6: School Turns Independent People into Co-dependent Peons

Like the bed of Procrustes, you’re forced to fit in whether you want to or not.

But a better question is: Do you even want to fit in? With those people?

Haha!

Only losers and weaklings have to fit in.

The strong make their own way in life. You don’t need to make a detailed study of the Savannah to understand that you want to be the apex predator.

Humans are animals too—we just wear suits and skirts to work.

But unlike animals, we work well in different settings. Some people work 10x more effectively alone. Do you?

I can’t answer that for you—and neither can school.

It takes self-knowledge.

Reason #7: School is Full of Propaganda

And it has to be that way.

(How else will you maintain a democracy?)

You cannot get through the density of the propaganda with which the American people, through the dreaded media, have been filled and the horrible public educational system we have for the average person. It’s just grotesque.

Gore Vidal

It’s different for each country. In Sweden the propaganda is based on outdated socialist ideology (the sort that prompts math teachers to go into rage and threaten to take away 8-year olds’ math books if they use it too much).

In the real world, it is very hard to succeed when you have this sort of mental dysfunction, because it is at odds with reality.

Another example is in the U.S, where many schools are not allowed to teach about evolution or abortion, because crazy Christians prohibit it.

Reason #8: School Doesn’t Teach You How to Think & Develop Your Own Style

In the martial arts world there is a long-standing conflict between the different styles: which style is the “best” one?

–The same goes for acting methods.

There are now acting studios where students are “taught” how to act. Many practitioners, with real-world success under their belt, like David Mamet, believe that acting studios do more harm than they do good.

Maybe you have seen the TV show Actor’s Studio, where James Lipton interviews people who are successful in the movie industry?

In the audience of that show there are hundreds of acting students, all looking at the famous guest with deep admiration, as though the person is a metaphysical guru who inhabits “the secret to acting”.

education system

Little do the members of the audience know that they’re probably about as good actors as the celebrity up on stage is, only that they lack the level of breadth and comprehensivism that the celebrity has.

The celebrity typically knows 10 other skills than just acting–such as promotion, business, networking, public speaking, etc, etc.

The celebrity’s success does not rely solely on his or her acting skills.

Again, the same goes for martial arts. . .

In the martial arts world we now know that MMA is superior to any and all other martial arts (if you can call MMA “a martial art”).

Even if the rules changed, some new type of MMA would still prevail. Why? Because it’s not just one style; it’s the practice of putting many styles together into a unique synthesis that fits the individual fighter.

–And that’s how you become successful at anything in life. Not just fighting.

You have to develop your own style in life by gaining experience and studying other fields than the one you’re in.

You can’t just rely on one thing.

–That’s how you become obsolete, not Future-Proof.

Reason #9: School Gives You a False Certainty about Things You Can’t Know

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

Yogi Berra

The memorization of “facts” probably makes up something like 80% of public education. This aspect of public education does more harm than good because…

It can lead to 3 common types of cognitive handicaps:

  1. Box-thinking: The mistaken notion that you can fit reality into neat boxes pertaining to specific academic disciplines.
  2. Outdated beliefs: A deeply rooted confirmation bias regarding “facts” and “certitudes” of life and business that may never be uprooted.
  3. Domain specifity: Conditioning of mental practices convenient in the classroom, but typically useless, or forgotten in real life, because the environment is different.

Any and all three of the above cognitive handicaps breed a sense of “false certainty” where you feel more confident in your abilities and understanding of the world than you deserve to.

You often see it in university graduates who feel entitled to such-and-such a salary for having—as Kyle eloquently put it—jumped through the hoops.

They want to be paid for their grades, not the results they produce.

This “false certainty” is especially rampant among students of macroeconomics, liberal arts, political science, and similar areas–where there are few (if any) real-world litmus tests to test performance against.

This might explain why these people are causing the most ruckus in the social debate (without a track record to back up their claims). One of the worst examples are “Gender-Specialists”.

Reason #9b): School Conditions You into Having an Unhealthy and Irrational Fear of the Unknown

Which student wants to be caught by the teacher not knowing the answer to the question?

No one dares to say, “I don’t know, but if you give me a day I will have the answer for you by tomorrow!”

Public education tricks you into “false certainty” from thinking that everything is knowable or quantifiable.

Worse still: that it’s actually worth investing the time to know or quantify everything before being able to make a decision!

(As if time was not your most important resource.)

In the real world, it’s more important to take action and get movin’ than it is to be 100% certain. Momentum and psychology matter more.

Reason #10: School Indoctrinates False Rules That Handicap You for the Real World

In school you’re not allowed to work the way you want. You have to sit by your desk and do it like the textbook says.

In school you can’t think and say what you want. You might hurt the feelings of the dullards, the immigrants or the [insert other group of currently downtrodden people].

You know what they call taking initiative and being creative in school?

Cheating!

In the real world, you can “cheat” as much as you want.

You just do what you want, learn what you want, rely on your judgment, make decisions under uncertainty, and take responsibility for your actions.

The rules are, there are no rules.

–Aristotle Onassis

What could be simpler?

The end.

–Ludvig

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  1. so that it would be easier to reliably keep track of child births and such things..

  2. technology disruption wasn’t changing the world every few years…

  3. but we still haven’t figured out how to train knowledge workers. 

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Comments

  1. Maybe I should drop out of college. Honestly, I learn more in reading at the internet than listening at my boring classes.

  2. Kay HONG says

    Nice points Ludvig. School’s never taught us how to make money by ourselves, but to teach us how to work for other people.!

  3. Since the education system makes enough billions to even start thinking about innovation (it’s a business that only pretends to “serve” students in their marketings campaigns), let’s have every freshman high school/uni guy and gal read this article. This will make our future adults realize what the heck they’re getting into.

    Talking about propaganda: apparently Canadian soldiers won World War 2… At least that’s what my naive ultra-patriotic teacher (with analytical breadth of a brainwashed monkey) sells us every day. Now combine stupid patriotism, clear distaste towards everything unknown and forcing kids to believe media as if it were god-send messages of wisdom… and, lets see, we get TESTS where poor Canadian students have to sift though 1940’s PROPAGANDA NEWSPAPERS to answer FACTUAL test questions!!!

    Call this education, but I have a better word: Brainf*cking. Come every day and we’ll make you stupid, ultra patriotic to the point of hostility towards anything unknown, make you love pop culture and always point out that everything long and intelligent is for boring armchair nerds, promote blind obedience and moronic rules, literally make thinking “unpopular”, spend most of class time dealing with the “fragile” spoiled semi-human-retards instead of beating the shit out of them and transforming them into capable humans & actually encouraging intelligence and thinking in class, etc…

    Again this is a must read for all those who think public education is a pride of their developed country. In most cases, it makes your country only less developed and uncivilized by training mindless zombies.

  4. This is what I like about you over and over, that you keep it REAL and say shit that most others shy away from. *I applaud your bravery, comrade.

  5. Most of comments related to universities, but I think, as you pointed in one of examples, that the biggest problem is in the prior education (primary, high school). Most of them in most of the countries simply suck, teachers are bad, unmotivated and underpaid. Here and there you find ‘that one teacher’ who was a good motivator but it is just a plain luck. Of course, most universities are also average, made for masses, with average students and professors, and in (maybe not so near future) will be destroyed by online education. Great professors/people in general are scarce and have high opportunity cost of sitting in class; that’s also why school doesn’t add much value. But also there is a minority of elite schools whose value come from people you get to meet during those 3-4 years and I guess that that’s what’s next text about.
    On the average I still think it is a good choice, because usually saying that education system is a failure actually means attitude like this: I’m good like this, I don’t need to learn that shit, I have Google, etc… It’s fine but don’t rely solely on it.
    Also I think that we mustn’t underestimate the signaling effect of education (those academics have theory about everything  ). Degree isn’t such a bad approximate of one’s ability but it is true that it is becoming less important because it’s harder for schools to keep up and it’s easier to show your experience over the internet. So always there is always other way around (except, maybe, for academia and medicine). I’m not so fond of criticizing academics because I think that their research matters, but also that it is extremely stupid to give them to prepare people for real life.

    Maybe he expressed it better:
    http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/too-much-education-is-bad-dont-over-educate-the-young-nassim-taleb
    I really like the notion that education (especially elite one) can lead to wrong sense of entitlement and inhibit risk taking.

    • Good points. I have to dispute one thing, though: teachers are not underpaid. In fact most of them are paid far too much. They are nothing but babysitters, and such lousy babysitters that most parents would never consider hiring them twice even at four dollars an hour.

      • Yes, not all teachers, but most are. While it is not universally true, I stand by this: “if you can’t do, teach.” Basically, unless you have have a knack for teaching (you love it and can’t live without it) then you’re a teacher because 1. You are lazy with lots of patience or 2. Incompetent to actually do the thing you’re teaching, so you teach because the only other option is swipe floors at Walmart. At least 80% (I’d say more) of teachers are there to collect paychecks.

      • I’d say 95% are just there to collect a paycheck, and what’s more almost all of them are unfit to collect it. Most of them only “teach” because they are too lazy or too stupid to handle any real job.

      • Pretty much.

      • Cheryle Janasiak says

        You must be the irritating students I wish would stay home every once in awhile so the rest of the class can get something done, or the ones who sleep all day because you know so much. When you fail, your parents come running up to the school demanding your grades to be changed because there is no way a child as smart as you could have failed….it must be because I “don’t LIKE you”.

        You’re not any different than anyone else. You have to do the same things to pass (or fail) in school as well as in life. You sound irresponsible and bitter when you make trite, stereotypical statements about teachers. It shows nothing about how innovative and creative you are in your self education. I would like to know how you have done better than any of your teachers, at any point in your life.

  6. Awesome article! (did you go to school in Canada?) and (arguably more impressive) look at the amount of quality responses! I’m afraid I haven’t much to add to that realm. As a pro, I do think the university system has a good student council infrastructure and running/campaigning then solving problems can be a very rewarding experience. Of course this doesn’t stop the “Institutionalization of Knowledge” and university’s bad traits.

  7. Loved this article. I went to school and I’ll be the first to admit, its pretty useless. I feel bad telling younger kids that it makes no sense to go to school, but in reality, you’re actually putting yourself at a disadvantage by going into debt. Then when you graduate you’ll be forced to take the first mediocre offer you get joining the ranks as a debt slave. But if you can learn almost anything watching youtube or reading up on the internet, then why mortgage your future over a piece of paper? It just doesn’t make sense…
    I also hate how school encourages this kind of linear thinking of “I want to work for XYZ company”. But what if you don’t want to work for anyone and just want to be a freelancer or entrepreneur? School really has nothing to offer for people like that…

  8. Ludvig,

    Lots of great points here, and I love the top 10. I would add another enormously important and omission from modern school systems: the missing management of money.

    Not one class teaches (accurately) how to accrue wealth and invest properly. None of the professors of entrepreneurship classes are rich, having such a class is laughable, and hardly any of the business professors make over 6 figures from their businesses outside school; they’re paid by checks. It’s extremely important to learn, yet nowhere to be found.

    Also the teamwork point is spot on, and reminds me of Dalio’s “Principles” where he speaks on weighing opinions differently. Before speaking, ask yourself if you’ve earned an opinion. It’s some non-PC advice that you would never hear in a classroom, but are forced to adapt to when working with teams of the average.

    All of this consolidates many reasons why I chose to drop out of university halfway through and learn from the world, my books, and my mentors.

    – Evan

  9. Ludvig, the story about your math teacher was really depressing. I used to hope that this sort of vicious animosity toward learning, experienced constantly by myself and other intelligent students of my acquaintance, was a unique characteristic of American teachers and a product of our notoriously anti-intellectual culture, but obviously it ain’t so.

    I’d guess your academic “handler” was just trying to make her job easy. Original work has to be comprehended to be graded. Re-hashed bullshit doesn’t; the “advisor” (as we euphemize them here) only has to check that the word count is right and the proper forms were followed. The content is irrelevant and few grad students are capable of producing real content anyway. “Higher education” is just a system for the purchase of credentials and the employment of academics. Trying to do anything unconventional for a thesis is like trying to pay with gold coins at Walmart – they don’t know how to process it.

    Universities were not created to serve the people. They were created to flatter the pretensions of the early Renaissance bourgeois regarding their offspring, and their predecessors were schools for training clerics (i.e. academics). They have also been around a lot longer than just two centuries, and in spite of much accumulated change their fundamental structure is still pretty much what it was during the Crusades.

    I don’t know about Continental Europe, but in America universal public education has been around (at least in the northeast) since the earliest colonies in the 1620’s. The Puritans brought with them from England a positive obsession for schools. Other immigrants had much less respect for education but seem to have practiced it anyway. In 1835 de Tocqueville observed that Americans were by far the most educated people in the world, with hardly any illiteracy. He also noted the remarkable intellectual vacuum in America, which still persists. Coincidence?

    School (university, at least) is far more useful today than for the occupations you list. Not that it’s necessary, or even particularly helpful, to attend school to acquire the relevant skills. Most professions are strictly regulated, and cannot be entered without credentials which hinge on “education”. See https://abgrund.wordpress.com/2007/07/14/education-is-class-warfare/ which I wrote some years ago.

    “Why force boring and non-value-adding activities on those who don’t want to join the “institution of knowledge”? >Because they are measurable and easy to achieve. If you can’t teach someone to succeed at a real task, you can document that they completed 600 pages of homework, dutifully copying the answers from the text. I had one teacher in grade school whose “teaching” method was to force every student to hand copy the whole textbook, a few pages each day – and that was the regular assignment, not a punishment! The punishment for being caught reading was confiscation of the offending book, and numerous additional pages of hand copy.

    “School Does Nothing to Cultivate Self-Knowledge” >Quite the opposite. The main purpose of school is to promote conformity, and if everyone is the same, self knowledge is meaningless. Assignments that purport to be in some way “investigative” are in fact designed to get the victims to buy in to the status quo – it is always made clear, directly or indirectly, what the result of the “investigation” is supposed to be, and the victim is graded accorded to how well her “discovery” fits that expectation. It’s like the “spiritual journey” of a Mormon Elder.

    “One of the… rationalizations you hear… is that “school teaches you how to work in a group…” >Nothing could be further from the truth. School teaches people to fail as a group. The dynamics, function, and circumstances of a group assembled for a school project have no resemblance at all to real life work units, and there is little or no cooperation. One or two people do all the work and the others coast. Having them report on each other’s performance makes it even worse because the majority of slackers will vote themselves a better grade than the one who did the work. Teachers don’t honestly give a crap about teaching people to work together, either. They like group projects because it cuts down dramatically on their own workload.

    “Do you want to work with people who are so much different from you that you have to waste precious hours during your biological prime time, pleading with them to make progress?” >Welcome to management!

    “You have to develop your own style in life by gaining experience and studying other fields than the one you’re in.” >This is the alleged intent of the “general education” requirements that are still crammed down the throats of 19 year olds in imitation of the thirteenth century university curriculum. But you can’t force people to be interested in the world, and by college nearly all of them have learned to hate learning. These classes are just pro forma; neither the teachers nor the students put any effort into them and both just want to get them over with.

    “Have you got an advanced degree? Did it pay off?” >Define “advanced” and “pay off”. I only have a B.S. but financially it is has certainly paid for itself. Is my life better because of it? Impossible to say, but it is certainly much different than it would otherwise have been. For one thing, I am less educated because I took four years off from learning in order to attend school.

    • Hey Abgrund — appreciate the long answer. Interesting analysis, I guess you’ve thought about this for quite some time…

      “The content is irrelevant and few grad students are capable of producing real content anyway. ”

      –Yeah, I agree. And I straight told her that my work was not intended to be original or academic, I just wanted to get a good job.

      “He also noted the remarkable intellectual vacuum in America, which still persists. Coincidence?”

      –I have read about this too. One assumption I’ve heard is that the reason for the lack of intellectuals could be ascribed to the U.S (at the time) being a new culture. (In his memoirs, LKY harboured similar ideas about Singapore’s current lack of intellectuals and artists, as compared to older countries.)

      “Assignments that purport to be in some way “investigative” are in fact designed to get the victims to buy in to the status quo – it is always made clear, directly or indirectly, what the result of the “investigation” is supposed to be, and the victim is graded accorded to how well her “discovery” fits that expectation.”

      –That’s an interesting idea. I think you’ve alluded to this sometime before.

      “But you can’t force people to be interested in the world”

      –That’s the problem.

      • The intellectual barrenness of the U.S. has long been noted, and it isn’t really explainable as an attribute of a “new” culture. There really is no such thing as a new culture. The colonists of the Americas brought the cultures of their home countries with them, and their descendants brought these same cultures into the hinterland, with as little change as possible. De Tocqueville found porcelain tea sets and volumes of Shakespeare and Milton in one-room log cabins deep in Indian country. Even when attempts have been to create a culture de novo, as in France and Russia, the result has not been a sudden cessation of intellectual activity.

        That the U.S. has always fallen far short of its prima facie intellectual potential, and continues to do so, is hard to dispute. In 1835, the eastern seaboard had been settled for two centuries, the population was beginning to rival that of major European nations, and America was already the most prosperous and most literate nation in the world. Yet America had made virtually no contributions to science or the arts. The whole country could boast only a few authors of modest reputation, one or two architects, and one or two painters, but not a single poet or sculptor; a handful of practical inventors, but hardly any scientific discoveries; political and historical treatises but no new theories or insights.

        The modern U.S. continues this tradition with little change; in comparison to its resources America is still intellectually barren, and it is worth noting that our scientific progress has been largely achieved by immigrants from non-English speaking countries.

        Some theories I have read to explain this:

        Cultural Origins [David Hackett Fischer]: The dominant U.S. culture originates not from East Anglian Puritans, but from Northumbria, Scotland, and Ulster. In the Eighteenth Century this area was impoverished, backward, disorderly, and violent, with a marked contempt for learning. Immigrants from this culture settled inland because they had no money to buy land and the civilized coastal societies would not tolerate them, and they proved well suited to the hardships and anarchy of the interior. As a result they spread unsupervised over most of the continent.

        Racial Inferiority [Henry Louis Mencken]: The Celts, who contributed most of the U.S. gene pool, are racially inferior in terms of intelligence and character.

        Democracy and Opportunity [Alexis de Tocqueville]: Egalitarianism discourages any activity which is not tangibly profitable; only productive work is respected and everyone is constantly struggling to get ahead. America was intensely egalitarian and provided a wealth of opportunities for people to get ahead, which absorbed all their energies. In aristocracies, contrarily, the upper class neither needs nor respects productive work, but values more abstract achievements and has the leisure to pursue them.

        Slavery [various commentors]: Many observors have attributed certain shortcomings of the southern U.S. to the long persistence of slavery there, and have pointed out that the South, in particular, has always been a cultural wasteland.

  10. Thomas Quinn says

    The American school system (just like the rest of the West’s) is utter garbage. I think it works for a relatively small majority of people (some people seem to need an amount of authority-imposed structure), but it completely alienates those that might literally NEED a different style of teaching/learning.

    Thank God for the digital age. We are all fortunate to be living at the cusp of this time.

    Your own reality is the only reality worth living in.

    – Thomas Quinn

  11. Kanagaraj says

    Great post again Ludvig!!! School is one place where I always feel that I have never been guided properly. This affected my growth as a person for more than 10 years. Its a depressing thought that I went sleepwalking through my precious life and by some luck never landed in some terrible situations.
    But I have no one to blame since everyone from my parents and teachers done what they thought was the best thing. The problems with the school is, they have teachers who are not inspired enough, who doesn’t upgrade their knowledge with latest happenings and who doesn’t show how the subject they teach connects the past, present and future. I had a history teacher who doesn’t even explain the events described in the book. He used to ask students to read each paragraph in turns to complete the lessons *SHUDDERS*. And this is the way he taught world wars and Indian freedom movement. I came to understand the value of history only after reading your blogs.
    The way I see it, school is just an extension of the society where we have mediocre and average teachers in large (around 80%) who in turn produce mediocre and average students who after going through mediocrity for 5 – 7 years continue in the same vein for rest of their life. Even the most inspired teachers in my school never shown any lessons in practical and I learned trigonometry, algebra, photosynthesis, biology with no idea of how they are useful in a real world. It’s a complete mess. My college is just an extension of school. Another 4 years of mediocrity where we were never taught about the real world skills. I HAVE ALSO NEVER SEEN ANY OF MY TEACHERS CONSTANTLY UPDATING THEIR KNOWLEDGE. It just gets passed on to the students.
    School is just like any organization which requires inspired and knowledgeable person to work properly. But again they need to select teachers from a society which contains more mediocrity than elitist. I don’t see any solution to it at least in my region in India.
    I have read an essay written by Paul Graham which criticizes the school system. I felt it was closer to truth and applies universally. You might be interested in it. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html. Even though it primarily talks about nerds and their struggles, it has generous amount of information which shows how uninspiring the schools are.

    • “I had a history teacher who… used to ask students to read each paragraph in turns…”

      >That is how almost all of my teachers “taught”, in grade school. At least one of them also made us hand write the whole book as it was read. This is just laziness on the part of the teacher; she doesn’t have to speak or even read the book herself.

      “I HAVE ALSO NEVER SEEN ANY OF MY TEACHERS CONSTANTLY UPDATING THEIR KNOWLEDGE.”

      >Most of mine never had any knowledge to update. Some were good at inventing “knowledge”, though.

  12. “University is now strongly mismatched to the demand of the job market.”

    That is the biggest misunderstanding. University doesn’t have the intent to get you a job on the market.

    University is about qualifying and educating people to be Scientists. The knowledge you get is not meant to be used in real life, but in academic world only (that’s why it’s useless in jobs).

    It’s like using a fork to eat a soup.

    People have to get over it. They only do it for the status these days anyways, to do what everybody is doing. But f**k what everybody is doing, everybody is not utilize the possibilities of these days. We live in an age of freedom, but almost everybody keeps himself in prison.

  13. Great article Sir Sunstrom, when I was in school I saw idiots making more money than my parents online. I saw they were selling shit that I didn’t even want to buy. I figured that if they could do it, so could I.

    First money I made was from a porn website at 15. I remember my mother asking “who’s this cheque from?” I just said I didn’t know (it was from the porno company because someone bought “Next Door Nikki” pictures. Or it might have been “Princess Blueyes”). Some kid laughed at me in school for it; I politely reminded him that every time some lonely wanker like him bought the pics, I made $$$. He eventually started asking me how to make money.

    I remember the careers woman telling me she “had no advice” because I’d been selling skateboards online. I remember the fat motherfucker “head of sixth form” I had to talk to (because I slept in computer class). “I don’t want to go to university”… “let’s look for a nice red brick one to go to”. Do I want to be like you? No.

    When I was allowed “study leave”, I spent the time looking for a job. Serendipity, I found a marketing one in my hometown. I applied (despite needing a “degree” in marketing ~ 4 yr). My dad gave me one of 2 epic pieces of advice (the other “you’ll eat anything if you’re hungry enough”) to actually TAKE your CV to the company. I was shaking but did it. They called for an interview, because I had nothing to lose I just made it up and got the job.

    4 uni grads lost out to a 17 year old with no experience, who made his first money w/ tits pictures. I made affiliate money before I had sex. Turns out they mainly wanted to hire me because they invested £100k in a website that wasn’t performing. £12m company with a 29yr old marketing manager & 17 yr old sidekick. I read my manager’s uni thesis the first day…………. utter shit.

    Money talks, bullshit walks.

  14. Excellent article Ludvig.

    I started studying international business at age 16 and I really liked the courses because we learned essential skills such as accounting for small businesses in excel, how to write business letters in English and also the basics of marketing (both for big and small businesses). We also spent 2 years learning about the cultural differences between the top economies in the world so that we would be able to communicate well with all types of people. The 3 years I studied this were extremely useful and definitely worth it.

    Then, I got accepted to the 2nd best bachelor program in my country (international business and politics). Most of the classes were absolutely useless. We would read loong 50 year old political theories that put the world in useless boxes and then waste time discussing these theories. The business courses were also useless since we would learn how to create strategies for large corporations (without even having experience working for a small one), and how to predict economics and finance by using models based on unrealistic assumptions. It was extremely hard to relate to all this theory and the professors had no real life experience running a small business, let alone creating strategies for big corporations.

    For example, we had a course called internet marketing and I took this course after I had already started making money online. When I wrote one of my best papers ever and shared some of my winning marketing strategies which I had already tested with success on my own business, my teacher gave me a C while other people who had no experience with online marketing got A.

    Another time, I went for an oral exam in a course called “Managing People in Multinational Corporations”. Needless to say, the teacher was a woman in her late 20s who had NO BUSINESS EXPERIENCE. Before I even entered the exam, I could tell she DID NOT like me because unlike other teachers, she didn’t offer me a drink prior to starting the exam and she shouted at me to “hurry up or else I’ll fail you” when I was about go into the exam room despite me showing up 2 hours early. Once the exam started, she would argue against EVERY answer I gave instead of trying to guide me in the right direction or work with my answers. At the end, she failed me and suggested I study hard for 2-3 months for the retake exam. (This was the first time I failed at business school). After this incident, I asked my school if I can get a new person grading me and they said NO, and that was the tipping point that made me decide I would soon quit university and start my own business. I simply didn’t see the point in wasting 2-3 months studying an useless course to please ONE PERSON who has NO EXPERIENCE in the field she’s TEACHING.

    Despite some of the downsides of University (a lot of useless courses taught by teachers who don’t have experience), university wasn’t all bad. I had an entire course covering the cognitive biases Ludvig often discusses here, I got paid monthly to study, I studied abroad in Bangkok and had the time of my life and our entire grade relied 100% on exam performance so I basically skipped 80% of classes and travelled a lot while building up my fitness blog.

    If you’re considering to attend university I would only suggest you do it if it’s 1) free, 2) elite school with a clear path to cash and networking, 3) your parents will pay it all and 4) you have no other options.

    In the case you have no other options, and you can’t enter an elite university just pick an University that either won’t put you in any debt, or minimal debt and while studying the courses at University, read A LOT of books on other topics and try out a bunch of things that you find interesting so you can find yourself and eventually plan your exit from Uni into something more meaningful.

    • Thanks for this comment, Oskar. I’ve had some similar experiences during university. Ironically, I was failed TWICE on my entrepreneurship course. Haha!

      Anyway, this is some *REALLY* good advice you give for most people, I think.

  15. @Dafydd: I fully agree with ‘school being too easy’. As long as you follow some simple recipes, you can get top grades and delude yourself that you’re some kind of kick-ass achiever…and then you enter university and fail because noone prepared you to work in an unsupervised environment with subjects of rapidly increasing complexity.
    It happened to me unfortunately and while I did graduate with a masters degree in ‘hard science’, it took me so long to finish that I forgot 90% of what I had learnt to begin with and have huge trouble finding a job. I’m not saying that my chronic lack of motivation was *caused* by the fickle and antiquated nature of the schoolsystem but it definitely made things worse.

    On a ‘lighter’ note, I wonder if the incident with ‘young Ludvig in the 8th grade’ was a typical case of scandinavian ‘Jantelagen’ -making sure that EVERYONE is average and condemning heads that try to stick out- and maybe doesn’t happen that often in other cultures. I think that any sensible teacher who’d find a kid with advanced interests would do anything in their power to satisfy said kid’s thirst for knowledge so that it won’t be bored.

  16. At the same time, when I read your article, at the news, there was a reporter who talked about three students. They did three exact copies of the same pieces of work as a experiment. They handed over the work to their teachers. In the end they all got different judgment from the teachers. Another amazing part, all the students went to the same school.. I left a few details out, but I think you got the point!

  17. hi,
    nice article,

    some other problems I see with schools are:
    * unnatural\unhealthy enviroment
    * sleep deprivation
    * stress
    * sitting all day
    * not much sport

    now I am working in a shitty job to make money so i can afford to go abroad and study at a university. i am going to study IT. i view IT as one of the best choices if choosing what to study.

    as far as i know it is not a hard school. I dont want to spend a lot of time learning so that should be good.

    instead, i want to put majority of my mental enrgy into: studying on my own (looking forward to product about commonplacing), working out, building my business/freelancing, having fun.

    my goal is to be an entrepreneur, but I view programming as: somethink that i like, something i can live from (and have a healthy lifestyle) even if my business goals does not go well

    to say the truth, i dont really know if i will want to stay there … if things about my business go well I might get the confidence to stop studying. but dont say it to my mom :)

    Anyway, What do you guys think about my plan?

    • If you want to be a freelancer, IT is a proven path. I know several well-paid IT consultants, but I can’t give you any other specific advice than:

      1) Learn useful IT skills / programming.
      2) Consider working a job to build a network (of potential clients).
      3) Get your first 1-4 clients, acquire testimonials, get repeat work, do a kick-ass job and hope for word-of-mouth.

  18. Srikanth Katrisal says

    Something you’ll find funny is that the university our engineering college is affiliated to has incorporated the most basic principals that any engineer should know into its curriculum into eight neat little units per subject. We are only required to learn any five for our exams. -_-

  19. Ludvig,

    This is a very interesting post. However, while I am no internet hater, I happen to disagree with you this time.

    Discipline

    It takes consistent effort and energy to study to get good grades. One of the greatest skills you will ever develop is shutting up and getting on with it. Whichever field you succeed in, you have to do something until you are sick of it.

    Michael Crichton

    While Michael was famous for his novels, he was in fact a brilliant doctor during his ‘day job’. How did he succeed in medicine? By kicking arse in school. Michael Crichton’s grades were exceptionally good.

    ‘Rebellious’ Professionals?

    Be honest – do you REALLY want a doctor who dropped out of high school? Do you want an accountant who failed his maths exams?
    No. You don’t.

    And before you mention Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Larry Ellison and other famous dropouts, be honest with yourself. Are you a genius like one of those guys? No. You are not. You will be a lot more successful if you knuckle down in school.

    The real problem with school

    The real problem with school (at least in Wales) is that school is too easy. Almost every student gets brilliant marks now. And every year there is improvement! I’m not exaggerating. Even average pupils get high marks.

    Creativity v discipline

    The old fashioned classroom drilling which Ludvig criticises – well, I wish we had a bit more of it. If a pupil reads some Coles notes and writes a 500 word essay, his teacher will praise his ‘creativity’ to the roof. To ace a grade A in chemistry or physics, you need to do very boring stuff over and over again. Give me an ‘obedient servant’ (to paraphrase Ludvig) with a work ethic over a ‘creative’ type who can barely read any day.

    Dafydd

    • Great points — I agree with your critique (though I don’t necessarily think it conflicts with what I put in the article).

      “Give me an ‘obedient servant’ (to paraphrase Ludvig) with a work ethic over a ‘creative’ type who can barely read any day.”

      –I certainly agree (speaking from the position of someone who would be hiring). But I would not necessarily agree if I were looking at it from a societal standpoint.

    • Matias Page says

      There are no obedient servants reading this type of website. But I agree that people who are willing to be servants must be trained, conditioned and educated to serve.

      Hard work and discipline is not (and was never) common. Period. Much less in the educational system/academia/workforce. Most people are lazy and lack self-discipline.

  20. #11: Many (if not most) teachers are dorks with no real life experience outside of the school.

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