32 Comments
Oct 27, 2023·edited Oct 27, 2023Liked by Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

You might want to check the results of Germany shaving of the last year of Gymnasium/Abitur for some years and often adding it back "Because students too stressed". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abitur_after_twelve_years

I never heard of any actual number how much more/less was "learned".

I send my kids to school because a) I must. Home-schooling et al. are illegal in Germany.

b1) I want the daycare. School-lessons are an awful way to day-care kids and an awfully expensive way on top. But I want the kids out of the house, away from minecraft, Mr Beast and worse for some hours a day. Preferably for even more hours - in Germany the ""more" is called OGS ("offene Ganztagsschule", better translated as "optional-afternoon-school-time" - including lunch, help with homework but NOT lessons). The tricky thing: In my town too many on the waiting list - and as my wife is busy at home: no chance. Having a baby does not count as an excuse.

b2) There are no longer enough kids in the direct neighborhood to just step out of the door and play. (How I miss the seventies.) So I send them of to "supervised free-time-options", amap.

c) Sure, they do learn some stuff in school. Very slowly. Not very efficiently. As there are many kids who struggle with German, reading/writing has become snail-pace. Other stuff seems beyond the age level (two are in primary school). As my kids are less bookish/nerdish than I was: Better, someone else works with them on that. I can not muster the patience, when it is about my own kids.

As soon as they discover books or blogs like yours, I will have their back when they start to miss classes.

Expand full comment
Oct 27, 2023Liked by Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

This was very interesting--thank you. I am a former public high school teacher (for 16 years) and I couldn't agree more that far too much of the school day is a waste. I think this is particularly true of middle school. I was 'old school,' in terms of my expectations and personal performance, and I have no regrets, but all that effort amounted to constantly swimming upstream, since so few other teachers held the same standards, and almost no administrators did. I have felt for many years that the entire education system is beyond antiquated and needs a major overhaul, but this article correctly identifies the reasons we'll probably never see it. Along with the fact that the bureaucracies at every level of government have become self-perpetuating--a lot of salaries to pay and justify--what are we going to do with the kids if they're not in school?? It's a mess, for sure. (By the way--I mentioned that I was a teacher, so I can't help myself--"lead" should be "led" in those sentences indicating that a certain condition produced certain outcomes. "Lead" is either the metal, or the present tense of the verb: "A will lead to B." Past tense of the verb is spelled "led." A led to B. :)

Expand full comment

For me the most striking thing about various debates surrounding education, is that your outline of it should be obvious to anyone who has spent any amount of time at school, yet basically no one will admit that it's socially a massive waste of time and money.

Relatedly I've never understood what the supposed magic is of having a teacher, that even prior to the Internet a couple good textbooks are more than sufficient.

Expand full comment

Algebra and geometry are just about the only things I actually learned in school. If I had my way school would consist of nothing more than math/logic, reading of challenging texts, Latin/Greek/foreign language, some form of shop where you have to actually build things.

Expand full comment

Honestly, I have always had a gut feeling school days are far too long for far too little benefit. I've sometimes wondered how I'd structure a school system for young children if I were tasked to redesign it. So here goes.

I'd only school them for 3 hours a day, 1 hour of english in the morning, followed by a 2 hour break, then 1 hour of maths, followed by a 2 hour break, and finally 1 hour of general studies (can be science, geography, history, etc, it can change every day).

The key is that these 1 hour sessions would be one-on-one, or at the very least 2-4 students max to a teacher. We've seen repeatedly how big of an effect this has on childrens learning.

What would the kids do in the 2 hour breaks in between class? Create a school environment where they have plenty to explore and learn about by themselves. Surround them with electric circuits and motors, with legos, meccanos, knex, 3d printers, history books, geography games, you name it, and let them do whatever they want. Kids get bored pretty quick, and when they get bored they'll explore their surroundings. They'll naturally begin to compete too. Who can name the most countries? Who can build the biggest bridge? Who can program the fastest robot?

Plenty of the kids, maybe even most, probably wont partake in the way you intend them too, they'll play tag instead, or use the history books to build a house of cards, or throw lego at each other. Thats fine, they're kids. The point is that even if they spend 80% of their time doing that, eventually something will peak their curiosity and they'll begin to explore it and learn about it, of their own volition and at their own pace.

Now obviously this doesn't seem very feasible, but I wonder if its more feasible than it seems. If teachers have to spend 3 hours a day teaching instead of 7 they can teach twice as many kids, and if we instead send teachers to homes directly - like tutors, saving the cost of maintaining expensive physical schools, of hiring receptionisits, security guards, etc. Maybe it is?

Lets do some back of the envelope maths. In the UK we spend £7460 per pupil, per year. There are 190 days of school. Thats about £39 a day of school. Say you had 4 kids to every teacher. That would be £156. Teachers get paid ~£18 per hour in the UK. Lets pay them £25 per hour, bringing us to £75 to school those 4 kids for 3 hours each day. Each teacher could probably manage two batches of 4 kids a day, bringing their daily pay to £150.

Obviously this is a terrible, terrible, simplification. There are other costs, pensions, paying someone for supervision during breaks, etc, but we still have more than half the money left over for that.

Put this another way, we spend £7460 per pupil, per year. For 4 pupils thats just shy of £30000, which is about a teachers salary. So what if instead of going to school, we just hired a teacher whos responsible for four kids. They can be taught in their own homes. I'm sure many working parents would be happy to volunteer their homes for their kids + 3 others. In fact they'd probably fight the other 3 kids parents for the privilege to do so, since it might give their kid a leg up being on home turf.

This only works for younger children since the teachers need to be generalists, which becomes harder as the kids progress, but I would be so interested to see a pilot scheme or some alternative education company try something like this out. I'd wager the kids would actually do just as well in the tests.

Expand full comment

Kids should get a couple hours of recess a day and no homework.

Expand full comment

I was the 'hard' dad. I made sure my kids did the 'hard' academic courses as soon as they could. We were in Washington State, which has a Running Start / College in High School program, so I had to have the kids ready for Calculus by 10th grade. Given that my daugher skipped 8th grade, I had her do Geometry by correspondence over the summer after 7th grade and pre-calculus after 9th grade. She dropped out of high school and went to the university after 10th grade - and earned her BS and MS in civil engineering. My son wasn't as mathematically adept, but he survived Calculus in his first year of college in what would have been 11th grade, and went to the University with almost enough transfer credits to be a Junior. He did his BS in Business and his MS in MIS - Data Security. Both had their Masters by the time they were 21. Doing the college while in high school trick can cut the college costs roughly in half - well worthwhile in the States.

My son's backup plan if his math wasn't adequate was Eastern European History, Russian Minor, Army ROTC. His mother is Ukrainian and he has some familiarity with the language group. It was clear even 6 years ago that the service was going to have a lot of interest in such grads.

What surprised me was the large fraction of students who did the college in high school path to avoid the structure of the high school - and then proceeded to slack. A number of my son's peers are still drifting rather aimlessly.

Expand full comment

Perhaps we're simply trying to teach kids a bunch of irrelevant trash (tolerance, art, etc...) instead of things that are useful?

The counterexample of many homeschoolers would be an interesting contrast to draw, as their strong focus on reading and more traditional curricula seems like the best and most useful tool kids learn in school.

Expand full comment

And what about this kind of meta-analysis?

Across 142 effect sizes from 42 data sets involving over 600,000 participants, we found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of education on cognitive abilities of approximately 1 to 5 IQ points for an additional year of education.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088505/

Expand full comment

Summer school can improve children's grades

Expand full comment

School should be long enough that no homework is required.

Expand full comment

Reducing schooling so significantly may not change IQ but it will affect knowledge accumulation. Sounds like a bad idea to me, unless the goal here is optimizing the accumulation of knowledge (instead of doing away with the concept of schooling altogether)

Expand full comment

You suggest cutting compulsory schooling by 50%. Any thoughts on shorter days vs. fewer years?

Expand full comment

I recently listened to a podcast story about school districts in the US changing to 4 day school week. One big down side of this is that CRIME goes up on Fridays when teenagers are out of school. No surprise right?

Schools are not just a place to learn, it's a place to keep troublemakers in one place under adult supervision so that they don't cause trouble. This is a necessity in places with sizeable African populations.

https://www.npr.org/2023/10/25/1197954439/four-day-school-week-pros-and-cons

Expand full comment

How about this? Let's have school, but if the kid fails twice (graded appropriately), no more school. 3 strike rule for behavior problems, excepting elementary through 2nd grade. . If you don't want your kid to go, you don't have to send them. However, if you send them and they miss more than 7 days without medical excuses or death of family, kid is out. I guarantee you if these were stipulations, more kids would act right and be more attentive because Momma is gonna be mad as hell if she has to keep you at home all day.

Expand full comment

'More schooling but not much more learning' could serve as an epitaph for post-60s Western civilisation. https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/how-diversity-narrows-the-mind

Expand full comment