Thoughts on education

Big caveat: this will be a different style to the other pieces published here. To get over my problem of needing a high activation energy to publish a full piece, I'm going to start and publish this in a very raw format and evolve it over time. Treat it as commensurately ephemeral!

The problem

Education is generally awful. My lived experience posits this and plenty of statistical and anecdotal evidence confirm it.


I mean education generally, not one particular part of it. Ground up. I've written elsewhere about my views on university/college, though, so here I'll focus on educating children and teenagers.


Why am I talking about this?

This topic animates me a lot because (a) I didn't have a great experience of school, (b) my parents are both teachers, (c) I worked in education a little as a high school tutor and university tutor (basically a TA in American colleges), and (d) I've started thinking about what I want for my family in the future.

I don't pretend to have any huge expertise in this area beyond being well-read and intelligent, and having thought and talked about it more than the average bear.


  • The core problem is that we conflate our needs for educating our children with our need for child care while parents are working. Both of these are important and valuable, but they have very different goals, their success should be judged by very different standards, and they require different skills from the staff we hire for them.
  • We do a tiny amount of nodding to the idea that we want education and childcare, but only in early grades. It's something like: Preschool is 10% education and 90% childcare, Kindergarten is 50/50, and then ostensibly every grade after that is supposed to be fully about education.
  • In reality, though, it's only the last few grades that should really fully be about education, because by the time someone is 15 or so, they are no longer a child and don't really need 'care' per se.
  • This was my experience: in the system I grew up with, the final two years of schooling (grades 11 and 12) were at a whole new school with very different rules and expectations. Students were allowed to call teachers by their first names, and had full control over which subjects they took and their schedule, and could come and go as they pleased. I LOVED this completely, because one of the things that had been rankling me (although I didn't realize it at the time) for the previous couple of years was the sense of being so constrained and regimented.
  • That's one of the big problems with schooling today (and is downstream of the education/childcare mix-up): the regimentation. Bad luck if you're not in the right frame of mind to learn maths at 9am on a Wednesday, that's when we're doing it. And bad luck if you actually could have used more time on algebra (or Hamlet, or World War One, or the Constitution), because we've moved on. Also bad luck if you learned algebra super fast and are now sitting there bored – we've still got four weeks of learning scheduled, so that's what we're all doing.
  • Also the removal of agency from the child. The meta-skill that is really being taught in school is compliance with the rules and instructions. If you don't pick that up (or, like me, were incapable of fully embracing it), then regardless of how much subject-matter learning you do, you're not going to fully succeed within the school system.
  • OK, so what is the solution? I propose explicitly separating the goals of education and childcare, and making the latter optional and flexible to the family's needs (that's another problem with schooling as it currently stands – it reinforces a 9–5 cadence of life that doesn't reflect reality for many families).
  • Education should be staffed by highly-trained, highly-paid teachers who are responsible for helping their students learn well. Open question: how do you measure this? Incentives are the key here.
  • In contrast, childcare can be staffed by people with far less training whose main trait should be kindness and empathy for children and teenagers. This role could be far more flexible than that of current teachers, since continuity of childcare staff is far less important than for an educator – I want the same person teaching me algebra week in, week out, because they know where I'm struggling and where I'm breezing through, but it's much less important that the same person plays board games with me each afternoon.
  • This would have the effect of raising wages for the 'educator' function of teaching and lowering them for the 'childcare' function of teaching, but that's matched by the far lower training requirements for the latter and the higher inherent appeal of the job. Much more fun to play games and hang out with kids rather than have the stress of figuring out how to explain calculus to them!

If you are interested in this topic, have thoughts, or want to tell me I'm wrong about something, email me! mail {at}