What if our children are average?

School is perfect for training children to be nine-to-fivers. At school, you do what the teacher says, you come and leave at fixed times, follow the curriculum prescribed by the school bureaucrats – and if you do well, you are rewarded with good grades. At work, you are expected to sit there during office hours and do what the management says. You are monitored through so called “performance reviews,” and you are occasionally rewarded for your loyalty (which often has nothing to do with performance) with promotions and raises. Corporate office is a logical continuation of school.

All school systems, even Montessori and even the much-praised Finnish schools, have the same compulsory, one-size-fits-all approach at their core. Schools may follow the latest educational methods and have the best technology, expensive equipment, and fancy gyms, but it’s all useless. The only thing kids truly need in order to learn and thrive is freedom, and this is something that no school can provide. Schoolchildren are never free to come and leave at will, to select their own teachers, to mingle with students of different ages and with adults, to study whatever they want, as much or as little as they want, at their own pace. Children are forced to conform, to do the same thing and at the same time as everyone else in class. At school, children are free only as much as the government bureaucrats allow them to be.

School does a perfect job at raising obedient workers. These school kids then go on to work for corporations, for the government, or in the academia, where they become nothing more but cogs in the machine. They do what they are told, don’t ask too many questions, and don’t stick out.

What do kids need freedom for?

You may think, what do kids need freedom for? Shouldn’t they rather focus on academic excellence and learning how to fit in (or, in the corporate Newspeak, “to work as part of a team”)? Aren’t these qualities important for success in the workplace?

School’s objective of preparing kids for day jobs was relevant a generation ago. In these earlier days, people didn’t have to worry about globalization and job outsourcing. If you worked in a company and displayed sufficient loyalty and compliance, your job was pretty secure. You could work in the same place for decades and receive your pension and benefits.

Today, millions of kids compete for a limited set of jobs. To help their children succeed in the competition, most parents enter the same rat race of extracurricular activities, honor rolls, and private schools – all in the hopes that their kids excel academically, go to a good college, and end up with a dream job.

There are two problems here. First, there is no longer any job security. Many jobs can be outsourced to other countries. Even top managers and partners can be let go, if their firms become bankrupt or merge with another company. So, one’s “dream” job may not last long.

The second problem is that, statistically, most children are average at academics, which means that – let’s face it – your and my kids are probably not the smartest and not the best at sports. Since our education system teaches all kids to be nine-to-fivers, those who get excellent grades and who compete in athletics get to go to best colleges and then get prestigious jobs, while the rest of the kids end up holding average jobs and living average lives. They are doomed to fail or, at best, to stay average.

I don’t want my children to follow the mainstream and to compete with everyone else for the same things, because there will always be other kids who do it better: receive better grades, have better connections, or fit in better. Rather, I want my children to find their own paths and unique opportunities. I don’t care whether or not my kids are smart academically. Rather, I want them to be street-smart. They can always pick up academics later, and learn as much as they need and whenever they need it, or hire the people with the necessary skills. I don’t want my children to go to ivy-league colleges and pick up high-status corporate jobs. Rather, I want them to become active, responsible, and self-sufficient adults, and I want them to be entrepreneurs and leaders. But in order to achieve all that, they have to be free from school.

When you live as a free person, no one tells you what to do – you have to find out on your own. There is no book to live by – you have to make your own decisions and solve problems by yourself. When you are an entrepreneur, there is no teacher hovering over you – you have to self-organize and manage your own time. There is no “teamwork” – you have to rely on yourself, do individual work, and rise above the crowd if you want to achieve anything. But you also have to know how to lead and how to work with your team – the team that you yourself put together – so you must have good people skills. You have to tinker, experiment, fail, and self-correct. You have to know how to use resources and capitalize on opportunities. If you are creative and have original ideas, you will always stay in business, because creativity and originality can never be outsourced. And if you ever fail, you must have the strong character to rise up, reinvent yourself, and try again.

The reason why I don’t send my children to school is because I want them to learn how to actively lead, while schools only teach how to passively obey. In school, children are not taught to make decisions, but to follow orders. Despite popular opinion, schools don’t even teach social skills. What kind of healthy interaction can there be in a crowded, age-segregated classroom where children are forced to stay all day long? To learn true social skills, children need to be free to pick and choose their connections and to be able to mingle with people of various ages. But the biggest problem is that schools, even the best ones, are not much better than prisons. Without freedom, there is no creativity, originality, and inventiveness. Without creativity and self-management, there is no entrepreneurship. Without the entrepreneurial spirit, the only option left is to work for someone else, follow someone else’s orders, and implement someone else’s ideas – while all the credit goes to, well, someone else.

P.S. What inspired me to write this post:

My close relative, a top engineer at a leading electronics company, is very pro-school. He would say to us, “Look at me, I studied hard at school and university, I worked hard for decades, and look at what I have finally achieved – a top engineering position, scientific patents, a high salary. So your kids need to do the same.” This approach is both old-school and flawed. Old-school, because these days many employers don’t care about your high grades at school, very few people work at the same job for decades, and many talented people get overlooked for promotions because of company politics. Would you want your kids to toil at school and then toil at the same company for decades hoping that someday they will be promoted to top management? What if that never happens? My relative’s approach is also flawed because it’s based on his personal experience, but he is one of the brightest minds in his field so he is an exception and his experience doesn’t apply to most people. Most people have average intellectual abilities. Most kids are average. My kids are average. They have talents in certain things, but they are not geniuses and I wouldn’t want them to be ones. Average kids can work hard all their life but not get into an Ivy League school or achieve the Nobel Prize or a top engineer/scientist position because they can’t compete with kids who are smarter and brighter, or because they get bypassed for promotions like I was. I worked hard in college, got all A’s, got the highest honors when I graduated, but I never got any significant promotions at any company where I worked. Only when I started my own company did I achieve both personal and professional rewards. For average kids like mine and probably yours, the typical path “good grades – good school – good job – high position and high salary” may not work as expected, which can lead to plenty of frustration in life. There is just too much competition with other kids who are brighter, have better family connections, or can please their bosses better. I believe that average kids are better off finding their own path, focusing on their strengths and starting their companies.