David Perell

Why Can’t School Be Fun?

David Perell
Why Can’t School Be Fun?

The only certainty is uncertainty. 65% of students entering primary school today will end up working jobs that don’t exist yet. To enable students to realize the American dream, school should prepare students for the world of the future in ways our incumbent school system isn’t made for. Today’s school system was built for the industrial revolution, not the digital revolution.

The American system was invented to raise compliant workers for the dominant industries of the 20th century where most jobs demanded compliance and obedience. Standardization was the goal. A century later, we still depend on archaic tools for performance measurement — standardized and multiple choice tests. The system trains widespread conformity instead of individual creativity.

We lock our children in windowless classrooms to doze during long, “straight from the textbook” lectures. We teach compliance with fear-inducing rituals that shun bravery and passion. Children who dare to be different and wander off the well-lit path — who don’t follow the directions — are punished with bad grades.

Meanwhile, the cost of education is skyrocketing as the system stagnates.

The solution is new and more diverse systems of education to prepare our youth for this evolving world — a world where entrepreneurs, technologists and self starting generalists will shine. While Americans benefit from widespread freedom of choice from airlines to toothpaste, we’re stuck with a monolithic school system that hinders the success of its imaginative constituents. We’re in desperate need of more choice.

My passionate rebellion against the status quo stems from my frustrations within it. Class boxed me into a clostrophobic mental bubble that prized brute memorization, and where predefined yardsticks served as gospel. I lost points for “drawing outside the lines” and letting my creative mind wander.

Unable to motivate myself to commit to classes, I turned to the internet to educate myself. I dove into the intellectual worlds of StratecheryCrash Course, and Wait But Why, and graduated from college with a job I’m proud of. I crafted a spirited love for learning and mental expansion. Three years later, my rapid rate of learning and personal growth finally reflects the passionate curiosity that school once made invisible. 🙏

While my qualms with the system sparked a restless commitment to self-motivated learning, I wish I had spent less time in classrooms, and more time exploring my imagination. I long for a system that rewards curious exploration, instead of shunning it with rules and tests, a word that still makes me cringe.

The future demands novel approaches to education. The current system shuns technology, thereby contributing to greater levels of economic inequality as the middle class in developed countries gets left behind by globalization.

Seth Godin speaks to the imperative changes in Stop Stealing Dreams: “Amplified by the Web and the connection revolution, human beings are no longer rewarded most for work as compliant cogs. Instead, our chaotic world is open to the work of passionate individuals, intent on carving their own paths.”

As computers become more powerful, they’ll automate mindless tasks with advanced algorithms, spelling the end of the menial jobs school prepares its students for.

Dramatic changes to the economic landscape are underway: 47% of jobs today could be automated within the next two decades! Brace yourselves — turbulent times are coming.

Instead of producing robotic conformists, schools should raise global citizens who dream of a world with more equal opportunity and less hate.

Montessori schools are pioneering the way forward by developing students’ imaginations with intellectual and phyiscal freedom. Under the Montessori system, children grow through trial and error instead of traditional instruction (AKA boredom 😉). Students learn through interaction with students in different age groups and aren’t measured by grades. It’s a liberating system that nurtures the imagination and gives students an entrepreneurial spirit.

Little suprise that Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are byproducts of the Montessori system, attributing their lavish successes to self-directed learning. Additional success stories include Jeff BezosAlexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.

Meanwhile, the AltMBA is an educational program for older students who seek a novel approach to advanced education. The online leadership and management worksop empowers students who learn through trial and error instead of long, university-style lectures. Students ship 13 projects in a month and challenge each other with critical feedback and collaboration. They develop intimate relationships with coaches who offer personalguidance.

Both approaches prove there’s a better way to raise creative minds.

Additional approaches to education reform:

  • Lectures at home instead of the classroom. Teachers should answer questions and serve as personal coaches instead of delivering the same lectures over and over again. Students could learn from the world’s leading minds in a cost effective way. The most informative lectures would be seen by millions of students and distributed at zero marginal cost.

  • While in class, students should work together on long-term projects. Each student will have specific responsibilities and encourage equal participation. Teachers will publicly celebrate those who invest the most effort with attractive rewards to encourage equal participation. This will encourage empathy, and foster a culture where people are comfortable challenging each other.

  • Studies show we learn best by teaching others. Upon completion, students should teach each other about what they learned and where they struggled. Students should be encouraged to take pride in their work and compete to be the best.

  • Give kids time to pursue a subject on their own. Professors can show them how to discover online resources and complete personal projects.

Classrooms were set up in the same way as they are today back when we had black and white photos. We can do better.

2016 Lecture Hall. We can do better than this!

2016 Lecture Hall. We can do better than this!

Let’s prize individuality over conformity and elevate the human spirit. Above all else, let’s build a world where students prize learning and creation. We’ve managed to bore our curious youth with interminable slogs of class that deaden the inventive mind, while teaching students to avoid failure instead of developing through trial and error.

Let’s raise visionaries, not cynics — entrepreneurs, not employees — cosmopolitans, not parochials.

I fear for a future with the same, one-size-fits-all approach to education. Instead, students and their families should be able to choose from a diverse range of educational programs, each with different objectives. Like any successful capitalistic society, consumers will benefit from a vast menu of options to suit their personal desires. It’s time to embrace technology and teach continuous reinvention, the core tenants of our future world. In turn, we’ll create a safer, happier and more prosperous world.


Let’s chat! I tweet obsessively at @david_perell and will probably respond within 30 seconds 😎

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