General Question

Hobbes's avatar

What if instead of being given content information in school, we were taught about learning itself?

Asked by Hobbes (7368points) October 19th, 2011

What if we studied, from a young age, the very structure and nature of language, thought, and perception? What if children learned epistemology, philosophy, and the scientific method? What if we were taught the structure of language and the nature of information itself? With the rapidly increasing availability of information, it seems to me that what we need most is to understand its nature and our relationship to it.

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42 Answers

wundayatta's avatar

What if we actually wanted kids to learn how to learn instead of merely doing what they have been told?

Who do you think you are? The very idea! People thinking!

SpatzieLover's avatar

I do this with my son @Hobbes. It’s called Homeschool.

Hobbes's avatar

Yeah, but not everybody has parents that can do that.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Unfortunately unless there’s a revolution, public schools will not change. They are adamant about using their curriculum.

marinelife's avatar

That is an excellent idea. Once taught the methods of learning, children could learn themselves at their own pace.

Blackberry's avatar

Sounds great. But then some people will just cry about an “education agenda” being forced on their kids.

Hobbes's avatar


You’re right I’m sure, though the whole point is to not present any particular piece of information as objectively true but rather train children to understand information itself and, as @marinelife put it, the methods of learning, so that they can inform themselves and decide what to believe.

mazingerz88's avatar

I think it’s worth experimenting on that. But I’ll brace myself for kids ending up like Children of the Corn.

Blackberry's avatar

I agree, but there’s too many people that are either willfully or involuntarily ignorant and would see this is an attack or insult.

We should push for it, though!

Hobbes's avatar


Why do you think that would happen? I feel like it would encourage the exact opposite.

thesparrow's avatar

I’m an MA in philosophy. Epistemology is going to be a given with my children.

harple's avatar

I like the concept, and I think the ability to know HOW to learn is such a valuable skill… If it was the basis of all our teaching, however, is there not a possibility that it would create/increase a divide in society, where children without a desire to learn will not then go on to teach themselves the basics in maths and written language etc, and because it has not been actively taught to them, will be worse off than those who at least have it indoctrinated in them that one add one equals two?

Hobbes's avatar

Do you think some children are intrinsically without a desire to learn? I don’t. I think children have learned that school is boring and so they stop caring about it.

sydsydrox's avatar

That is a good question. But if we tried to learn about this, no one would want to be anything in life, besides epistemologists and philosophers. I think that we should all have the freedom to learn, instead of having a school that says: ” Okay, you’re going to learn this at this time, and that at another time.” That is how kids learn to hate school, because they are restrained the right and freedom to learn. We should have school that says: “Okay, I’ll give you technology, and you can learn about everything you have always wanted to.” I think kids would enjoy that. They will actually know what they want to be at a young age, and be smarter. Why wait ‘till middle and high school to learn about what you want? When I was little, I was so interested in the human body, but I never got to learn about it in school until 5th and 7th grade, and then in High School, you have to take special classes to learn about the human body?!?! CRAZY.

harple's avatar

@Hobbes I take your point – I oughtn’t use such a decisive word as “without”, I would have been better to write “with a smaller desire to learn…” or “with less inclincation to learn”. Thank you.

Hobbes's avatar

“But if we tried to learn about this, no one would want to be anything in life, besides epistemologists and philosophers”

Who says we have to be only that? I think people can understand epistemology and philosophy and still have room for whatever else they care to know. I think we’re on the same page really, because I agree with everything else you said.


It’s all good. I’m not even sure the desire to learn is lesser or greater in certain children. Even if it is, how would you measure something like that? In any case, do you really think some people would willingly live their entire lives in this culture and never learn basic math? Especially if they were taught the basis of logical thinking itself.

harple's avatar

@Hobbes hmmm… I have witnessed different levels of desire to learn in children in the classroom, but I agree that it is unlikely that the children were born with those inclinations, and the responsibility lies in many external factors, including their parents, their teachers and the current education systems.

sydsydrox's avatar

Well then, we’ll start this type of learning in advance of simple math and plain english…

Hobbes's avatar


I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t happen concurrently.

lloydbird's avatar

@Hobbes It sounds to me, that you are describing something like classrooms of the heart.

nikipedia's avatar

Sometimes it’s important to be taught content. In many areas, you don’t know what you need to know until you already know it (if that makes any sense). The purpose of a teacher is to know what you need to be taught and give you the information you need in a logical order. So over time you learn the content you’ve been taught and begin to see larger patterns and trends.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Hobbes Posting in a hurry so I haven’t read the latest posts. I have this feeling children are unpredictable. I guess this is one advantage of having a unified learning system, to control and be able to predict knowledge direction that we are comfortable with. The system needs tweaking of course, to plug whatever loopholes we may perceive, make it effective for everybody on the most equal playing field we could muster at the moment.

But giving kids free rein on what they want to do and how to proceed, if that’s what you are saying. I don’t know—parents and their children might have serious clashes instead of compromises or agreement.

Hobbes's avatar


Humans are unpredictable at all ages. The world is unpredictable. Parents and their children always clash, and always compromise.

Why do we have to be comfortable with the direction of knowledge? I’d say that if it’s making us uncomfortable, we’re probably going in the right direction.


I think you’re right, but I don’t think content should necessarily be standardized. People should be able to have access to other people who are knowledgeable about a given field and who are willing and able to share that knowledge, but I don’t think we should make everybody learn the same content, or force content at all.


Yep, sounds about right.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Hobbes Sorry but human children and adults differ when it comes to being predictable and unpredictable. No forcing content, you mentioned, but there will still be a set of choices that you will lay out in front of them. I think.

Hobbes's avatar

Maybe they’re unpredictable in different ways, but in any case I’m inclined to think of unpredictability as a virtue. Why should we be trying to control what people think?

mazingerz88's avatar

@Hobbes I don’t know what they’re doing in school these days but I always thought they are teaching the basics so kids could have the tools to think not what to think. Or am I wrong? Your idea might gain serious traction though if it garners enough believers thinking that indeed unpredictability is a virtue when it comes to kids’ learning.

Hobbes's avatar

Some of it is in there, but the focus is definitely on content.

breedmitch's avatar

When I was in school, some of the more gifted students were taught Bloom’s Taxonomy. Specifically being able to analyze a topic based on knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
Shame it never caught on…

SuperMouse's avatar

I agree with @nikipedia, without the content to help children understand epistemology, philosophy, and the scientific method, they are not going to have a foundation for helping them comprehend these things. @breedmitch mentions Bloom’s Taxonomy and I think we have to give students a solid understanding of the lower levels of Bloom’s in order to help them learn to operate at the higher levels. Lev Vygotsky talked about the idea of scaffolding, building a framework of knowledge to a higher level of thinking. I do think it is important to remember the ultimate goal of teaching students to operate at the higher levels of Bloom’s.

My children are (gasp!) in public schools. My fourth grader is currently being taught word study to help him learn spelling and all three of them were exposed to the scientific method by third grade.

@Hobbes to an extent content has to be standardized. In public schools (and even private schools for that matter), in classes with 20 or more kids, we cannot cater the content to each individual child. There have to be standards so that parents and educators can be sure that students are given the basic tools for functioning in the world and for being able to learn about the things you are suggesting. As students advance into later elementary school and beyond, innovative teachers find ways to teach to these standards while giving students a chance to discover what is of interest to them to help foster a love of learning.

Yanaba's avatar

Not to lower the serious tone, but how many teenagers would study in a great deal of depth the sexual systems and responses of the opposite sex? (or same sex, you know what I mean). Although this would surely lead to an excellent society on some levels, I’m sure there are parents who would like their 13-year-olds to learn to differentiate homonyms first, or learn some basic math.

In principle I’m all for this but it seems to me the bases have to be covered somehow, at a pretty early age, for each child. Perhaps they’d have to have 6 time periods a day or 40 in a month with 20% dedicated to the core subjects in each year? Something like that.

Hobbes's avatar


In the video linked above, the teacher is using Julius Ceaser to teach teenagers structural analysis. I think content can and should be used to teach these concepts, but the focus right now is on presenting a curriculum as objective truth.

I think the basic tools for functioning in the world are the skills of critical thinking and analysis, the ability to direct mental energy. If people have need of a given set of information in their lives, they can learn it with these tools. Now, people don’t have to learn on their own. Teaching and learning are social phenomena, and there should be ways for people to find other people to learn from and with, but I don’t think all children need to learn the same things.


Sexual education is generally terrible. I think it would be a wonderful thing if teenagers voluntarily studied the sexual systems and responses in depth. Also, you seem to be implying that this would blot out all other interests. I see no reason why people couldn’t learn about sex, homonyms and math.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Hobbes Here’s an attempt to inject some humor on this board. This guy worries me!

Please scroll down to the third strip entitled “You’ve taught me nothing except how to cynically manipulate the system.”

Yanaba's avatar

@Hobbes I’m not. As I said, I support this idea in general terms, believe me. But balance and future-prediction are not among the strengths of young children. They’re things that come with certain cognitive milestones later on in adolescence. So there would have to be at least a small amount of structure.

rooeytoo's avatar

It would be great until you have to make change and don’t have a calculator with you.

talljasperman's avatar

Then the education system would be more open and free… I like the Mark Twain quote on education…something to the effect of “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”... I was happy to learn that lesson early in life… it made turned me a from a troublemaker to a truant (who hung out in the library learning whatever my whim took me) ...but I survived…and became a life long learner.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Hobbes don’t get me wrong, I believe students should be taught all of the things you mention. I also believe that we can’t really put the primary focus on teaching thinking at the upper levels of Bloom’s until we have taught the skills at the lower levels. As I mentioned, I currently have children in the public school system and as they get older, they are being encouraged more and more to analyze information and come to their own conclusions. Once we have the basic three R’s down we can and should start teaching all the things you recommend, but without the basics we run the risk of students not having to tools for that kind of analysis. Also, let’s face it, some curriculum is objective truth: 2 + 2 will always equal four and i before e except after c will sound long a.

mordred's avatar

The government and lobbyists would never allow it. They can not control democracy if the masses are thinking for themselves. There would be a revolution.

Response moderated (Off-Topic)
augustlan's avatar

I love the idea, and two of my kids got a pretty good dose of this type of education when they attended the G&T magnet elementary school. It’s a shame that it’s not offered to all students, because it makes learning so much more fun! Of course, they still had to learn the standards, but the way they learned them was so much deeper than in the ‘normal’ elementary school classes my third child attended.

I do think a balance is important though, because, let’s face it… you’re not going to get very far if you can’t read or do simple math, even if you understand quantum physics.

Yanaba's avatar

I’d be willing to give them a pass if they understand quantum physics. NO ONE understands quantum physics. Oooo the nose bone is connected to the….Queen’s….toe bone??? ;)

Ron_C's avatar

That is the way liberal arts education in public schools was originally meant. Later, during the industrial revolution, employers wanted employees that could understand the job and work with minimal training. That transformed into building students that could mouth certain trite government mandated philosophies and histories, learned to follow orders, and not make trouble.

Now, they want to insure that the students learn these lessons in an easily monitored form, hence the constant testing.

Personally, I’d dump the whole system, go back to reading, writing, languages, physical education, and the classics. Science and job training should be done in the later years of High School and in the Universities.

Teach children to think for themselves, love learning, and keep propaganda away from them until they can understand that it is propaganda. (American History and Religion) are typical propaganda courses)

SmartAZ's avatar

The problem is that most people do not understand what home schooling is supposed to be. They are so fully indoctrinated in the slave school system that it takes a while to learn what traditional schooling was. Here are a book and an essay to help you understand:
The Lost Tools of Learning
The Underground History Of Public Education

Another eye opening piece is “Dress For Success” by John Molloy. He has a lot of advice for students, and it has no resemblance to guidance you get from school counselors:
1. Vocal skill will affect your earning power more than any other single detail.
2. Acting skill will get you a job offer even if you are not qualified for the job.
3. The most important thing you get from your college years is your address book.
4. The main difference between a successful man and a very successful man is the latter knows hundreds more people, and he knows them quite well.

Plan your schooling accordingly.

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