May 22, 2019

Rethinking mandatory education

Psychological investment is exactly what it sounds like: the act of investing psychological energy into something, whether it is something you spend money on or put time into (or both).

Studies have shown that psychological investment can seriously alter our perceptions of reality, and we can find examples of this in cult activity, abusive relationships and mental disorders.

While psychological investment can be dangerous, the real trouble begins when we are blinded from reality because of it.

Have you ever heard of musical dissonance? It is when two notes in a chord come closer together, and even those with untrained ears can feel the musical discord dancing between those notes. We mentally experience something similar when information challenging our reality is presented to us, and this cognitive dissonance can cause us to literally look over sentences we don’t agree with to avoid discomfort.

Now, I want you to think about the psychological investment you have in school. If you are reading this as a Fresno State freshman, then school has been a part of your life for about 14 years, and it is even longer for the majority of the student population. This makes it difficult for us to imagine a world without public education, but it isn’t impossible to consider.

Imagine if we lived in a world that encouraged us to teach ourselves, a world that believed in the value of self-instruction. In this world, you would only have to put effort into learning the things you want to learn.

If you only want to learn how to live minimally, then you can spend a minimal amount of effort into your life’s cause; if what you want to learn requires you to be literate and educated, you will have to work harder than the person who wants to live minimally. You could find help in areas where you are weak through a mentor, book or peers who have similar motives.

In this environment, you would not be tested on information that you are likely to forget once the test is over. You would learn information that you are genuinely interested in studying, which, as research shows, is essential to learning something well.

You could study at your own pace and with your own curriculum, and you would not stress about information in a field separate from your own. You would work with peers in your field to make sure you have the latest and most correct knowledge in your line of work because it is your job.

The world would not regress into some new-wave dark age. Instead, the minds of the world would be free for enlightenment.

A child’s brain isn’t suited for heavy academia. For example, the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain responsible for logical processing and critical thinking, isn’t completely developed in most people until they are about 25 years old. In fact, increased activity in the frontal lobe doesn’t usually begin until adolescence, and yet there is a huge societal pressure for children and teenagers to academically perform ahead of their time.

The idea that a child’s brain is like an adult’s, but with less experience, is an irresponsible assumption; a child’s brain has a long way to go before it reaches adulthood, and some factors of public education, such as stress, can inhibit that growth.

There is an epidemic in Japan called Karoshi, which means death by overwork. Employees drop dead at their desk or in the street because they cannot handle stress any longer. This means that, to some degree, stress can kill.

The damaging effects of stress are partly due to a release of cortisol, the hormone correlated with stress, which has been known to fry hippocampi (the part of the brain responsible for configuring short-term memories into long-term memories), reduce the production of immunoglobulin (which are B cell antibodies) and increase the risk of heart disease. It is also known to decrease overall cognitive function.

Now think about the amount of stress school has caused you. Do you believe your quality of life was improved by mandatory public education, or do you think that life would have been better without it?

Our experience with mandatory education has been a series of homework and tests on subject matters that lack real-life functionality. We were forced to sit in classrooms like it was a full-time job, and if we ever did poorly, our character and merit were usually to blame.

Some of us were bullied. Some of us knew we were put in the track that performs the poorest. Some of us flew through school without a problem at all. However, most of us have felt discouraged to go to school at some point in our lives.

I will admit that a world without public education could seem strange or even cruel, but that is only because it is all we have ever known. In a world without mandatory education, children would be free to explore the world at their own pace.

They would not be held down by chains of nationwide curriculums and could encourage their own growth in any direction they choose.

If a child wants to become an architect, he or she could spend time learning the theoretical aspects of architecture before tackling the mathematical.

You might think this farfetched, but consider this: most children struggle with math because they are not taught it properly. They are given multiplication tables and expected to memorize a series of equations. To truly learn something, it must be understood explicitly.

This means that the abstraction of math, even simple addition, must be broken down into simple, unambiguous pieces to children who can barely keep their numbers straight. Instead, maybe if they were allowed to explore the theoretical perspective first, the numbers would come easier to them when their brains are biologically ready.

Sure, most children will want play all day, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Play is how children expand their imagination and interact with peers, which is all they really need up to a certain age.

Caring parents would not let their children fall behind and fail in life, either. Parents naturally teach their children things they value without external pressures, and so it goes without question that parents who value their child’s future will teach their child everything they can to preserve it, whether it be math, English or a skill relative to that child’s life.

The quality of life for average children could skyrocket if they were allowed to simply be children, and that elevated quality would likely persevere through their adult lives.

If more of us were able to handle our life’s progression, we could ultimately be more fulfilled than we are with boundaries placed by mandatory education.

Chelsey Crumrine works at Behavioral Intervention for Austism. She is a tutor for children with autism. She is majoring is psychology. 

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