The last 48 hours of my life have been a full-on Elon Musk-fest. I was already interested in Musk because I have read a little about the school he started for his children so I was primed to be interested. A friend sent me this article, about all of the exciting, extremely innovative things Elon Musk is doing to, it would genuinely seem, help humanity. And then I had to read how Elon Musk proposed to get people between LA and San Fransisco in 30 minutes. I got a very bad night’s sleep after reading about the Fermi Paradox and various theories on The Great Filter. I might have taken a small detour into his love life because I was curious to see if he could view patriarchy with the same fresh lens as he viewed the automotive, banking, and space industries. It seems that he can’t – or isn’t.
All of this – love life jaunt excepted – led me to wonder what made Musk who he is. I mean, here is a guy who has disrupted major, seemingly entrenched, industries – and made millions doing it. Given that I am in the business of disrupting an entrenched institution of my own, I knew I had some things to learn.
This article, “The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce” put words to the past 4 years of planning for and actually running a self-directed learning centre in Ottawa.
So what have I learned?
I learned nothing new about what brilliant, creative minds say about school. I already knew what those people thought and I’ll write a blog post about it soon. The nutshell version: traditional schools do not help our brains develop our own style of reasoning, which is not only essential to the critical, creative thinking that is being widely touted as an essential skill for the 21st century workforce, but also just plain helps us in designing an original life. Schools were created to help train people to behave, fit in and live a life set within the parameters of the status quo. No amount of tinkering around the edges is going to change that unless young people are given real choice.
The author of “Wait But Why”, Tim Urban, divides people into cooks and chefs, the latter being those relative few who work on “first principles” reasoning. If you barely passed physics class, like me, you may be wondering what “first principles” are. In Musk’s own words: “You look at the fundamentals and construct your reasoning from that, and then you see if you have a conclusion that works or doesn’t work, and it may or may not be different from what people have done in the past.”
The opposite of looking at the world in this way is known as dogma, which is often served to us in the form of “conventional wisdom”. Conventional wisdom is usually decades behind what can actually be achieved. Conventional wisdom says that, in order to learn, all children must go to school and follow the curriculum. To suggest otherwise is seen as ludicrous at best, and irresponsible at worst. The thing is, most of us are running on out-dated software regarding our attitudes toward learning. Why are we running circa 1879 software in 2016? I mean seriously, the download speed of traditional school is way too slow! This is an actual paraphrase of how Musk describes traditional school.
Why are we so loathe to question the institution of school, despite the fact that it is failing many, many kids? It comes down to fear: fear that we will fail our children by “experimenting” with their educations, their very futures we think.
I aim to chip away at that fear, blog by blog. Let’s go back to first principles together to explore what can be done in the here and now, not well over a century ago.