Schooling vs. Intellectual Development: Two Factors

The number one requirement for any serious intellectual growth is time alone — a lot of it. The thoughtful young person, full of the self-doubt of ignorance and always worried about disapproval and rejection, needs the freedom to stretch out and wander without fear of continually running into walls of social stigma and ridicule.

School seeks to occupy this young person’s days with social interaction and thought patterns regimented according to other people’s aims and priorities. He is rarely alone, and therefore acquires the mental habit of looking over his shoulder to confirm that he is thinking “the right thing,” and to ensure that he never gets caught wandering. His focus is directed according to theorized notions of a convenient schedule, and diluted by the constant awareness of having to match his thoughts to the ever-changing foci of an abstract collective, which in emotional effect represents the demands of the crowd.

In other words, at school he learns the lesson that following one’s private thoughts and preferred investigations wherever they may lead is bad. One should think what others are thinking, and only as much as they are thinking.

Nothing short-circuits the development of essential thinking patterns — patient focus, unfettered interest, the practice of making connections between variously related ideas or between past and present observations — more debilitatingly than an external voice repeatedly demanding that all thought along any given track must cease abruptly, at arbitrarily designated points in time. The mind naturally works on problems for as long as they seem both important and unsolved. Take away both the sense of importance and the concern for solutions by incessantly distracting the child’s efforts and compelling him to change topics suddenly for no apparent reason, and you necessarily retard the growth of intellectual enthusiasm and seriousness.

School rings the bell (literally and figuratively) at preset moments during study, dividing the day’s investigations artificially into equal, inflexible segments. Repeated and predictable truncation of all thinking, regardless of subject matter, stunts learning processes by breaking them off summarily wherever they may be, while simultaneously setting off a hubbub of noise and new instructions that prevent even what has been learned so far from being properly digested and catalogued for retention.

Worse yet, the school bell (or equivalent), by being so predictable and regular, also teaches the child not to take anything he is learning too seriously — not to care very much about any of it — since all topics become relative, irrelevant, and abstract when one knows they will always be artificially cut off in mid-stream, as though there were no particular need to solve any given difficulty today. By means of the bell, the child’s adult overseers at the school are teaching him that nothing matters, that nothing is worth thinking about very deeply, and hence that thinking itself is merely a necessary chore, a forced routine, rather than the greatest delight and most urgent necessity of his life.

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