Don't rely on the system to guarantee you life satisfaction

post by JonahSinick · 2014-02-18T05:48:01.215Z · score: 16 (25 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 64 comments

Contents

  Some subjects are more important than others
  It's important to choose your extracurriculars well
  Consider alternatives to high school
None
64 comments

A brief essay intended for high school students: any thoughts?

If you go to school, take the classes that people tell you to, do your homework, and engage in the extracurricular activities that your peers do, you'll be setting yourself up for an "okay" life. But you can do better than that.

The school system wasn't designed to help you achieve your goals. It wasn't designed to optimize student welfare in general: it was cobbled together by many different actors with many different goals, from politicians to teachers to parents to colleges. It often suffers from inadequate resources. Even if the school system were optimized on average, the one-size-fits-all approach it takes means that it wouldn't be optimized for people who differ in any relevant respect from average. Compared with what you can achieve by carefully thinking about what your goals are and how you can achieve them, following "the system" fares poorly.

KEEP IN MIND: Doing well within the system should be treated as a constraint within which you need to operate, rather than a defining feature of your life.

By putting you in this situation, society has fouled you. Yes, as you suspect, a lot of the stuff you learn in your classes is crap. And yes, as you suspect, the college admissions process is largely a charade. But like many fouls, this one was unintentional. So just keep playing. Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there. — Paul Graham in What You'll Wish You'd Known

Some subjects are more important than others

 

High school can give an illusion of democracy between the different subjects you study: they all seem to get equal weight in class time and in grades, so you may believe that all subjects are equally important to study. This is not true even in general: some subjects are more important to study overall, and within each subject, some topics may be more important than what school seems to suggest.

Because the method of exposition and choice of topics in school is likely suboptimal, it generally makes sense to learn the important topics well ahead of time, and deal with the others as needed to do well on the courses.

It's important to choose your extracurriculars well

Many common extra-curricular activities (in particular, many school clubs) are not the most productive uses of time. If you go with the flow and sign up for the activities that the people around you are signing up for, you may sacrifice the opportunity to develop yourself and accomplish far more.

Consider alternatives to high school

Consider homeschooling and online school. Depending on your situation, these may be superior alternatives to regular high school for you. 

This post is a modified version of a write-up for Cognito Mentoring.

64 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by zslastman · 2014-02-18T12:19:58.798Z · score: 32 (32 votes) · LW · GW

It's also worth noting that the social environment in school is artificially horrific. That many young people should not be left to socialize amongst each other without older peers to decrease the jostling for status, and enforce humane behavior. A large percentage of people will emerge from school with mild trauma and a set of learned social behaviors that are severely maladaptive in a more normal environment.

comment by Stabilizer · 2014-02-19T10:33:45.780Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Schools are what sociologists call total institutions. They consist of rigid status hierarchies, and people are forced into repeated interaction with no possibility of escape. Bullying is a typical outcome of total institutions. Interestingly, I read the hypothesis somewhere that many people become libertarians because they hated school; they experienced first-hand the ugliness due to lack of freedom.

As an adult, if you hate your peers at work, you can always go find a new social circle. Somehow, while at school, both the school and family discourage this. So, an excellent piece of advice to students: try to have friends who are from different places (i.e. not just your high school), and even better if they are older than you. When I was kid, I always used to hang out with my cousins who went to college, and they were so much more kinder, smarter and easier to talk to. That saved me a lot of sanity.

Tellingly, the other classic example of a total institution? Prison.

comment by Baughn · 2014-02-18T16:28:40.323Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This, a thousand times this. If you have an opportunity to escape that environment, especially if it's for a different style of school that avoids it - some do exist - take it!

If you don't have the opportunity, make one. Even moving to a different town may be an option, with sufficient research.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-18T21:12:25.558Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, it's peculiar that most people think Lord of the Flies model used in mass schooling is the appropriate model for the socialization of children.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-02-18T21:42:27.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's particularly apropos that Lord of the Flies is common required reading in American high schools.

comment by taelor · 2014-02-19T01:57:29.912Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Paul Graham on the subject:

If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world. This was too subtle for me. While the book seemed entirely believable, I didn't get the additional message. I wish they had just told us outright that we were savages and our world was stupid.

comment by peterward · 2014-02-21T20:45:29.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Were it not the case the teachers are often the biggest bullies. On the contrary, IMO, it is the excessively authoritarian, prison-like model school follows that generates bullies.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-21T22:25:43.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Prison is the better model for the whole institution, while Lord of the Flies is the model of the schoolyard.

I think there's a good correlation between people who think a pile of children makes for good socialization and people who ignore the overarching prison model of the institution as a whole.

But I really don't think it's the interaction with the Prison Guards that predominantly makes for bullying - it's the interactions in the prison yard.

comment by komponisto · 2014-02-20T07:01:33.955Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Very well stated, and exactly on target.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-18T06:46:18.265Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

it wouldn't be optimized for people who differ in any relevant respect from average.

School is potentially crippling if you're smart. If you're smart, school rewards you for just basically showing up. Don't mistake the ability to get the right answer in class with the ability to accomplish something in life, where there generally aren't right answers, only better ones.

If you listen to the praise, and judge yourself by their false standards, you may manage to make yourself useful to some employer, but you won't make yourself useful to you. You will never learn there the most important thing you need to learn while growing up - how to run yourself.

comment by seez · 2014-02-18T06:27:40.039Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

What is your intended audience? You said "high school students," and to me this seems great for gifted high school students, but a few sentences seem unclear if directed at average students.

I think this essay is good but would be much improved by a few examples of each point you make, and an explanation of who Paul Graham is (if your audience is average high schoolers outside the Bay Area).

Your last point is also not well explained. Homeschooling is certainly not an option for most people. For highschoolers with only a year or two left, the transition certainly might not be worthwhile given the time they have left. Many of the social advantages (and, admittedly, disadvantages) are lost. I think you need to specify who might want to consider those alternatives, why they would, and how they could go about finding out more.

comment by JonahSinick · 2014-02-18T17:49:04.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is your intended audience? You said "high school students," and to me this seems great for gifted high school students

Yes, gifted high school students.

I think this essay is good but would be much improved by a few examples of each point you make, and an explanation of who Paul Graham is (if your audience is average high schoolers outside the Bay Area).

Thanks.

Your last point is also not well explained.

Yes, we need to write up material on homeschooling.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-19T05:44:41.359Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think this essay is good but would be much improved by a few examples of each point you make

Agreed. They say to "tell a story".

comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-18T15:20:46.045Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You might want to mention the importance of diet, exercise, and sleep. Don't trust your gym teacher or school cafeteria to have optimized you with respect to the first two.

comment by Stabilizer · 2014-02-21T02:09:22.855Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I really want to second this. When I was a kid, I used to hate the physical training classes. It was boring, dull and the people who were good at it bullied or dominated the rest of us. This caused me dislike physical exercise in general. Much later I realized that I actually really enjoyed working out, running, hiking and other physical activities.

Thankfully, when it came to food, nutrition and sleep, my parents optimized those activities for me. It's only now I realize how important it has been for me that they did this.

comment by orthonormal · 2014-02-18T08:57:25.585Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My gut reaction to an adult using quotation marks around a phrase like "the system" when talking to teens is that it's a transparent attempt to condescend. I know it's not intended as such, but I'd change the title.

comment by komponisto · 2014-02-18T09:49:26.322Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, I think the title, as worded, is one of the best pieces of advice I could imagine a gifted teen receiving; I was strongly tempted to upvote the post after reading the title alone.

(Though I would choose a different title for the section labeled "It's important to choose your extracurriculars well", because that misleadingly sounds like standard advice from The System.)

comment by JonahSinick · 2014-02-18T17:43:29.723Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good suggestion, thanks

comment by Dagon · 2014-02-18T08:28:43.760Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Many high school students don't yet know how smart they are or aren't. Some of this advice is good for everyone, and some is good for the very smart, but can be actively harmful to the only somewhat-smart. Especially the "consider alternatives" advice.

I'd add "get a job" to advice for the smart/independent set. Seeing real-world impact of something you do and having an independent, if small, income, can vastly improve your perspective on some of the artificial challenges of high school.

I'd also add "don't try to be popular generally, but do try to find friends who like similar things as you."

comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-18T15:24:05.728Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Many high school students don't yet know how smart they are or aren't.

I doubt this. Because of the general nature of IQ and the massive number of tests students take I bet that the smartest kid in every high school knows that he/she is at least one of the smartest 3 kids in his/her school.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-18T16:05:43.190Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not really.

In history/political education my grades depended a lot on the teacher. In Germany you can get better 0 and 15 points. A bunch of my teachers just didn't understand me. Nobody told me that good writing is clear writing so, I did the German intellectual thing of writing long and deep sentences.

One teacher didn't understand the difference between tactics and strategy and therefore just didn't get what I wrote. I often got something like 11 or 10 points which happens to be above average but not the top of the class.

Than I had one teacher who had the reputation of being really tough by other students. He gave me the full 15 points for every exam I wrote with him. If he would have followed the rules to the letter he would even have to deduct a point because of spelling mistakes that I made, so he effectively gave the quality of my writing something like 16 points on a 15 point scale.

As far as I understand it also happens frequently that high IQ people perform poorly when they are in an environment that doesn't challenge them the right. It's even one of the prime ways IQ tests are used. They are useful tool for identifying smart kids that are failed by their schools.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-19T12:49:38.641Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

high IQ people perform poorly when they are in an environment that doesn't challenge them the right

Sometimes it's not even about the challenge, but about an environment actually punishing you for doing a smart thing. (Or for doing a thing that seems smart on your level, such as publicly correcting your teacher's mistake. Yeah, it's obvious to us why this is probably a bad idea, but not to a 10-years old child. The child does it, receives some kind of punishment, and most likely learns the wrong lesson that it is wrong to analyze too much what higher-status people are telling you.)

If the lack of challenge were the only problem, we could fix it rather easily by adding more difficult alternatives within the system. For example if a child is bored during the math lessons, you could just give them an option to take the final exam at the beginning or in the middle of the year, and if they pass, they don't have to attend the lessons (they might have to stay at school, but be able to read something, debate with other similar students, or do some private project on the computer).

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2014-02-25T17:01:17.919Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Or for doing a thing that seems smart on your level, such as publicly correcting your teacher's mistake. Yeah, it's obvious to us why this is probably a bad idea, but not to a 10-years old child.

I just got a new appreciation for my country's school system from the fact that this probably being a bad idea wouldn't even have occurred to me without you mentioning it. When I was 10 - or for that matter any age - and disagreed with my teachers, they'd just look up the right answer in some authoritative reference and admit to being wrong if necessary. I thought this was the norm everywhere.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-20T02:34:51.756Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, it's both.

When I was in high school, I got a lot of Bs and Cs -- not because I didn't understand the material, but because the homework was so uninteresting that I didn't bother to do it. I slept through most of my classes -- they were slow enough that I didn't need to be awake, and the more sleep I got at school, the less sleep I needed at home, and the more free time I got -- so I got bad participation grades.

And then there was an AP Computer Science class I took, taught by a business teacher drafted into it by the administration. She didn't know the first thing about the material, so I got points docked for doing things she didn't understand, points docked for correcting her errors on the tests, points docked for going on IRC instead of listening to her lecture incoherently on things I already knew... and I had friends in the class who were in the exact same situation. She eventually cooked up some ridiculous scheme to try to get us all expelled: she falsely accused us of running a credit card fraud ring. And it worked.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-19T15:17:54.374Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes it's not even about the challenge, but about an environment actually punishing you for doing a smart thing.

Yes. Understanding exactly how to play the system is about more than IQ.

Especially those smart kids that would do much better when they would drop out of school might not reach the highest scores in standardized tests.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-02-19T01:08:00.394Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This might be different because I have a European experience/perspective, but I don't think tests are a very good indicator for general intelligence.

Due to how the system is set up, there's little incentive to score a perfect score (10 out of 10 points is often used here in Belgium). In terms of consequences, there's absolutely no difference between 10/10 or 6-7/10. You still pass the class, you still get to the next grade, you still end up going to university.

So what ends up happening is that a lot of smart kids end up with grades around 7/10, because that's what they get when they put in no effort.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-19T01:26:22.633Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That surprises me a bit. Where I'm from in Europe, you basically get to (the equivalent of) 10/10 without effort if you're smart and don't make the teacher hate you completely. Now I wonder which is better.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-19T12:53:46.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

you basically get to (the equivalent of) 10/10 without effort if you're smart and don't make the teacher hate you completely

Same here. It probably depends on country. Yeah, it's kinda disappointing when winning a math olympiad gives you the same score as merely repeating the teacher's password. (But it's probably even more demotivating if your skills are somewhere in between: if you can do much better than the school requires from you to give you the best rating, but not enough to have your skill recognized somewhere else.)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2014-02-19T07:58:02.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For me it depended somewhat on the subject, for some I'd get the equivalent of 10/10 with very little effort, for others it would have required somewhat more work.

Even if I'd literally gotten perfect grades in every subject, though, it still wouldn't have told me that I was the smartest kid in the school. Since I never bothered asking others for their grades for the sake of comparing them, for all I knew there could've been twenty other kids with equally good grades.

Also, getting good grades only told me that I was good at school / playing the system, and I had serious doubts of how well that translated into "real-world" intelligence.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-21T20:50:39.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's pretty much the same in Italy (or at least it was when I was in high school), and besides that getting more than 8/10 is often not only useless but also extremely hard.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-02-18T18:17:18.836Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Because of [...] the massive number of tests students take I bet that the smartest kid in every high school knows that he/she is at least one of the smartest 3 kids in his/her school.

That's probably close to true in the US, at least by college admissions season -- there are only a few merit-based scholarship packages that are open to anyone going to any university, and if you've landed one of them, or even gotten close, you can be pretty confident that you're if not the smartest kid in your school then at least in the 98th percentile or so. (There is some noise.)

I think it becomes a lot less true at percentiles below the 95th or thereabouts, though. You'll have gotten standardized test results, yes, but if I'm remembering my own high school years right, they'll likely have been perceived (not entirely without justification) as utter bullshit. Grades are better correlated with conscientiousness than IQ, and you'll probably have gravitated towards students close to your own intellectual caliber, so social proof won't be helping you much. All told, I think I'd expect high school students that aren't obviously more than two or three sigmas out to perceive themselves as much closer to average than they are.

comment by seez · 2014-02-18T09:40:12.585Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

why would you say "don't try to be popular generally, but do try to find friends who like similar things as you"?

I think if it comes naturally, widespread popularity is an incredibly helpful quality, and a very important one to nurture.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-02-18T12:49:26.801Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think if it comes naturally, widespread popularity is an incredibly helpful quality, and a very important one to nurture.

Is it? I think "popularity" is being conflated with "influence".

I wasn't popular at all with high school. I was the guy you suddenly want to be very friendly with and then stay far far away from for a few weeks when he started dropping names and pointed hints. And I was also the guy whom people came to tell what they saw in corridor E-2 so they could work in some good will or hopefully even make me owe them a few favors.

And all without the disadvantages of being publicly visible! Like having to maintain appearances to a much higher standards! Or the whole community turning against you once you cross one of its many invisible lines of unacceptability!

(note: The above examples were not the widespread thing I've portrayed them to be, but rather rare and isolated cases I've fished out as salient images. Still, I find the advantages I enjoyed much better than outright "popularity".)

comment by bbleeker · 2014-02-18T11:19:59.462Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if it doesn't come naturally?

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-18T12:07:31.592Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Try for it anyway because adolescence is the time to learn social skills.

comment by bbleeker · 2014-02-19T10:36:24.182Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's too late for me now, because it's been a long time since I was in school. I've managed to learn some social skills by myself somehow, and anyway adults are much easier to get along with, but I'd have loved to have better social skills back then. I didn't have the faintest idea of how to go about learning them, though.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-19T13:11:43.172Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a hard question - what do you do as an adolescent when your social skills are terrible. I don't actually know a good answer. The best I can think of is to find different groups to socialise in via hobbies/extracurricular activities to just get practice.

I have a hard time believing that the optimal solution really is to isolate yourself and learn them only as an adult (because, indeed, adults are easier to get along with), because that means both your adolescence and the first couple of years of your adulthood are liable to be awful.

comment by bbleeker · 2014-02-19T13:38:59.511Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

School did indeed suck mayorly, even though I did have a few friends. (I wasn't that terrible, my problem was mainly just shyness.) I still wouldn't know what to tell young me, though. I guess I'd start by telling her that this is something that can be learned in the first place. Your idea of finding other groups outside of school is good, too. Unlike school, you can always drop those if they don't work out.

comment by seez · 2014-02-18T12:12:01.547Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know, but a serious attempt to learn social skills as well as possible seems likely to be a worthwhile endeavour, since they are useful in so many different endeavours.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-02-18T12:55:57.782Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Problem is, most high school denizens don't have the slightest idea what a "serious attempt to learn social skills" even remotely looks like, let alone know how to go about it.

Hindsight says studying politics, monkey tribes, evpsych and game theory together with occasional experimentation outside of the main / high school community are probably the better way to go if you're not socially gifted but at least moderately smart.

However, my first thoughts about politics and monkeys in high school were most definitely not "Yay better ways to make people help me!". And I wasn't aware at all that I didn't even know about the existence of the field of game theory, and only peripherally aware that some evolution research might touch on psychological and social issues.

None of which is intended as a counterargument, mind you. It's just that dropping "learn social skills" without something to support it, preferably a whole coursework guide including the above material, seems to me like it would only do more harm than good by way of wasting the student's time they could spend studying other, easier things, while they'd learn good skills more easily later once they became more aware of things. Or, at least, that's what seems to me to be happening most often.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-18T16:14:58.899Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And I wasn't aware at all that I didn't even know about the existence of the field of game theory

I actually don't think that game theory helps with winning friends. It's useful to prevent other people from bullying yourself but it doesn't make people like you.

Teaching kids nonviolent communication is something I would consider much more effective to create a good social environment. Whether it's a benefit from a single kid alone to learn it might depend on the amount of hostility in the school enviroment.

comment by DaFranker · 2014-02-20T13:01:26.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I actually don't think that game theory helps with winning friends. It's useful to prevent other people from bullying yourself but it doesn't make people like you.

Game Theory per-se won't help with winning friends, but it does wonders at helping one analyze and plan strategies about political landscapes in the general sense, including the tribal and clique networks of highschool in the specific.

Dealing with negative shenanigans is definitely its primary strongpoint, but that in itself can be counted as removing obstacles or negative influences on winning friends. Which, in my interpretation, is equivalent to pouncing on those opportunity costs and making a profit.

comment by seez · 2014-02-19T10:54:48.097Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the essay should include a description of how to gain social skills (unless the authors know a much better way of doing this than I do). I just think the essay should NOT say "don't worry about social skills or popularity". Depending on one's desired career, those skills can range from useful to necessary. Also, encouraging kids to only spend time with those they "like" often leads to them spending time only with those from similar backgrounds, with similar interests, which often limits their perspective and social flexibility.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-18T21:07:04.895Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd add "get a job"

I'd say "start a business".

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-18T22:19:30.410Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think the section "It's important to choose your extracurriculars well" would benefit from examples.

As a kid I thought that playing Go was a good extracurricular activity for myself as a smart person. I watched some bad TV programs because my friends thought they were cool.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2014-02-21T08:06:42.642Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you're in California, I recommend you consider taking this test, leaving high school two years early for community college, and transferring to a UC school (they look very favorably on California community college transfers). I did this and got in to UC Berkeley's computer science program. Feel free to PM me with questions.

comment by Sieben · 2014-02-19T00:46:20.497Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The points made seem very vague and trivially true. For example: "Consider homeschooling and online school. Depending on your situation, these may be superior alternatives to regular high school for you." Yes, of course, for the "right situation" homeschooling is good. Kind of like how you shouldn't drink "too much" water or breath "too much" oxygen.

Try giving specific examples of the way the system is bad for them. For example, point out that most adults can't actually do algebra or calculus, and that these skills are almost never used even by professionals who CAN do them, such as engineers, on a regular basis.

However it is pretty easy to get students to admit that at least some of the classes they take are a waste of time. You could try getting them more concerned about having hundreds of hours of their lives wasted following instructions from an unambitious middle aged authority figure. Do we really want children learning from or respecting people who chose one of the easiest careers possible and conceded to be lower-middle class for the rest of their lives? Pfft. Although this point will probably receive a lot of pushback because "education" is a sacred cow and teachers should be worshipped because a few of them claim to have a "passion for teaching".

Instead of focusing on why high school is bad though, maybe you could get more mileage out of telling teenagers what they SHOULD be doing with their time. Most kids don't work out or eat properly because their parents don't have those values. Maybe since teenagers should practice being less biased, because certainly they don't get any sort of pressure to be rational. Suggesting that they get in the habit of googling the expert consensus on issues before they make up their mind COUGH politics COUGH is a step in the right direction.

Or maybe direct them to radical cultural outlets like RSDNation so they can get some perspective on the monogamous suburban middle class life they're planning on living.

Once you figure out what you want to do, high school and college just become tools that are very easy to optimize for your goals. But most high school kids are just going through the motions, passively expect to get , passively expect to marry , have kids when they're 27-30, etc. This is how a lot of people wind up unhappy. If I could tell a teenager anything, it would be for them to become 10,000x more strategic and independent.

... of course convincing someone to ACTUALLY become these things is very difficult.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-19T14:04:25.842Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

point out that most adults can't actually do algebra or calculus, and that these skills are almost never used even by professionals who CAN do them, such as engineers, on a regular basis.

This is true, but this information outside of proper context could hurt them, so it should be emphasised that this is not a Fully General Counterargument against learning anything. It is okay to not learn something if you are learning something better instead. (Insert specific examples of things that are better, and things that might seem cool but are not actually better.)

Also, for the "teacher's password" subjects, your options are not only "learn everything" and "ignore completely". For example, you can just put all the teachers' passwords in Anki, remember as much as Anki makes you, and ignore the rest... this would probably still allow you to get decent score and take relatively little time. (And you get some meta-skills by doing this.) This could be useful to avoid some conflicts with your teachers or parents, if they hate the idea of you strategically ignoring a subject.

concerned about having hundreds of hours of their lives wasted following instructions from an unambitious middle aged authority figure

Again, tell them they shouldn't replace these mediocre authority figures by something worse, e.g. conspiracy websites. And if you tell them to listen to smart and successful people, you might be preparing them to fall for the next MLM scam.

Okay, but how to fix all this? There is no probably no way to jump across the whole inferential distance in one lesson. So maybe there should be some long-term support system where students trying to become more rational could go to ask more questions. Maybe just... give them your e-mail and tell them to feel free to ask anything (after they spent 5 minutes thinking about the problem).

comment by Sieben · 2014-02-19T17:47:37.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

so it should be emphasised that this is not a Fully General Counterargument against learning anything.

I think it's okay to tell kids that if you're incompetent you'll still do fine in life, because it's true. The function of telling them that the material doesn't matter could be to reduce their anxiety over the obvious tension between valuing coursework and real world pragmatism.

Another takeaway from the argument could be that adults are generally pretty incompetent. Most people don't use math or calculus, but in my experience this hurts them quite a bit. If they have a bunch of data they won't be able to model it as well. If they have to design an experiment they won't even think to go look at the constitutive equations. All of this cross-applies to evaluating other peoples' work... Like professional engineers will frequently look at academic literature but only be able to read the abstract/conclusions section. They aren't punished for it per se, but they aren't exactly rewarded for it either. So you could go the other way and say: "look, if you want to be in the top 0.1% of achievers, learn this stuff because it actually is applicable if you go out of your way to apply it, and it will be awesome".

I also just don't have any sympathy for the people who are hurt by informing them about their biases :)

And if you tell them to listen to smart and successful people, you might be preparing them to fall for the next MLM scam.

Above I told them to google or wiki stuff. Just start doing it. There are so many things the average person believes that are just false upon reading the wiki article. For example, eating breakfast is the most important meal of the day because you've heard it in Kellog's commercials since you were 5. Except maybe that's not true and you should look deeper into the issue since you'll be eating every day for the rest of your life. Similarly it boogles my mind that parents can't summarize expert opinion on corporal punishment for children. Your children are insanely important, and you can't even spend 5 minutes reading wikipedia to double check what you already "know"?

Regardless of how they get their information though, it would be good for them to get in the habit of discussing their ideas with strangers (on the internet) to serve as kind of a check on them getting too out of whack. You don't necessarily have to convince other people, but they shouldn't be able to destroy your belief by just linking a wiki article :P

Maybe just... give them your e-mail and tell them to feel free to ask anything

I think we should emancipate 15+ year olds.

comment by CronoDAS · 2014-02-19T03:31:39.331Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do we really want children learning from or respecting people who chose one of the easiest careers possible and conceded to be lower-middle class for the rest of their lives?

According to what I've heard this isn't true in Finland...

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2014-02-18T22:28:02.678Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like this needs a lot more examples to be useful to actual students. What are the useful/non-useful clubs? What are the important/non-important subjects (and parts thereof)?

comment by JonahSinick · 2014-02-18T23:01:21.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, we have draft pages about these things that I haven't posted. Thanks.

comment by TsviBT · 2014-02-18T20:31:38.038Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yep. My three biggest regrets so far, in order, are:

Going to high school

Going to elementary school

Going to college

(as opposed to homeschooling)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-18T15:04:58.835Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. What do you advise for your Germany readers? Do you have any quantified data comparing homeschooling to state schooling (and religious schooling)?

comment by trifith · 2014-02-18T16:07:20.152Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For Germans, I personally would advise homeschooling anyway as a supplement to the formal schooling. There are vast educational resources available online for both parents and students, and the fact that formal schooling is going on is no barrier to making use of those resources. Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.

comment by Creutzer · 2014-02-18T17:32:39.355Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There are vast educational resources available online for both parents and students, and the fact that formal schooling is going on is no barrier to making use of those resources.

Actually, it is, because your children spend a lot of time at school and you'd have to teach them in their "free time".

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-02-19T13:39:43.614Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You can probably achieve a lot even if you select just one afternoon in a week. And you should try to optimize also for fun... maybe it will be the kids' favorite afternoon in the week. For example, you could offer your neighbors who have children in the same age, to include them in your "afternoon school"; then the children will get each others' company as a bonus: it's more fun doing things together with friends.

Also, you can start before the school begins.

Yeah, it's not the same as being allowed to optimize freely, but you can still try to optimize within given limits.

comment by JonahSinick · 2014-02-18T17:46:54.546Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We still need to do research on the situation in European countries.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-02-18T14:41:37.172Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The lesson I derived from Amy Chua's first Tiger Mom book (to the extent that we can get any real information from the public image) was that if you frog-march your children through all the "right" school and extracurricular activities, they'll end up with the confidence and opportunity to seize all of life's many possibilities -- not depressed, neurotic, hating their parents, or whatever else is thought to afflict such children,

As her daughters reached adolescence, they rebelled a little -- by dropping some extracurriculars and adopting others, for example. Not through crime and drugs, and not by dropping out of high school to carve out their own way of life . They went to Harvard and now the world is open to them, and as far as we can tell they also have a rich social life.

Is this the right lesson to draw? I hope not.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2014-02-18T15:24:32.387Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Amy Chua's kids have two Yale law school professors for parents. Genetically and in terms of social capital they rolled a natural 20. I suggest reading Judith Rich Harris's "The Nurture Assumption" and/or Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" if Chua is getting to you.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-18T19:53:08.697Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And Amy's father was a super-genius, even compared to Ivy league professors.

comment by JoshuaFox · 2014-02-18T20:21:47.303Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but note that the the type of advice Jonah is giving is disproportionately aimed at gifted kids.

So, Chua's technique and Jonah's are indeed aimed at the same population and so we can look at the results that each offers. Chua's two daughters are not a big data sample, however.

Certainly, kids who are pushed to "play the game" succeed in life along all relevant parameters more than those who are not (those Upper East Side kids whose parents prep them for Harvard are going to end up with above average outcomes as compared to the US population). But there are some major confounding variables there, of course.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-02-18T17:27:58.988Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are certainly a lot of people who followed the standard advice about school, work, and home-buying, and ended up badly burnt.

I'm not sure what it would take to understand when a system is failing so that you should avoid being dependent on it, or what a good approach is to acquiring enough flexibility to do well in the face of large social changes.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-22T09:30:59.513Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You might want to add “school” before “system” in the title -- on reading the title, I assumed that by “system” you meant something like ‘society’ and/or ‘government’.