“Kids can recover from missing even a lot of school”

Original article. This is Scott Alexander’s new site, by the way. I agree. Read the whole article, its good.


my prediction is that an average student could miss a year or two of school without even noticing. I mean, their standardized test score would be lower at the end of the two years they missed than some other student who had been in school the whole time. But after a short period they would equalize again. I don’t think you need to burn yourself out working overtime to send your kid to a private school, I don’t think you need to risk your immunocompromised kid’s health to send her to the classroom, I think you can just chill.

I want to present some of the evidence that makes me think this.

In the Benezet experiment, a school district taught no math at all before 6th grade (around age 10-11). Then in sixth grade, they started teaching math, and by the end of the year the students were just as good at math as traditionally-educated children with five years of preceding math education. I interpret this to mean that a lot of education involves cramming things into the heads of very young students who would be able to learn it very quickly anyway when they were older. Certainly it doesn’t seem like a child missing math class in grades 1-5 should have much of a long-term effect.

I intend to be skeptical of these, because they’re going to end up as really complicated adjust-for-lots-of-confounder multilevel regressions that all find that Model #478 shows that closing schools was worse than the Holocaust so surely that one must be true.

He had a few funny lines like the last one in there.

School is designed for the dumbest kid in the class, and they even insist on putting severely retarded students into normal classes these days. So it is way too slow paced for most students, who understandably get bored and rowdy. They would be better served having a list of topics they need to know for a test every month or six months or whatever and studying at their own pace to pass, with just enough oversite by parents to make sure they did it. Plus, now freely available at places like khan academy, video lessons on particular topics as needed. The rest of the time should be spent on play. Especially outdoor play, which arguably should be enforced because of how addictive computers and phones have become. That could be sports, or just hiking. One of the best things a kid could do is play in a creek in my opinion. At least I loved that when I was younger.

From my experience with physics and chemistry, 50% or so of the students aren’t cut out for it at all. Even the basic stuff. And of the 50% who are, for 40% of them it will never be useful to them anyway. Its a big time sink with little or no utility in their future. Nothing learned up to grade 12 couldn’t be learned by a dedicated student in a year once they figured out that was what they wanted to do at 18. Barring basic literacy and arithmetic since its foundational, but that could be handled earlier in the way I mentioned. In short, all important information could be taught to kids without forcing them to sit in uncomfortable chairs 8 hours a day for 18 years. Its a prison, and it doesn’t have to be done that way. Done more efficiently, all the same things could be learned while allowing substantially greater leisure/exploration/play/whatever time for kids.

To add an anecdote to these studies. I missed a large amount of school in 1st and 2cnd grade. And the little school I did get was substandard. When I finally got full-time enrollment in a much better school in 3rd grade, I was behind in reading and writing, believe it or not. Though not in any other subject, such as math. By fourth grade I was fully caught up. The set-back might as well not have happened. Our current education is grossly inefficient, and forces a lot of unnecessary suffering on children. Specifically the regimented, control oriented environment it creates. Honestly, that may be more of the point of current schooling than any sort of learning. All the other conspiracies are coming true, why not that one.

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