Who can relate?
You post something on social media or mention something to a relative or acquaintance about your belief that kids should have a lot more free time, spend a lot more time at play, or that structured compulsory education perhaps isn’t the most effective way to raise and educate children, and you get a response that looks something like this:
“Well that’s great, but how are you going to prepare your kids for the real world?”
Ahh.. the “real world.” Or as I like to think of it—the mythical place that people use to justify their bleak and dismal view of life.
When I hear someone say something like this, what I actually hear is:
“Since I believe that life is miserable, that my best years were spent in my youth and have already passed me by, and that the normal path of life is working until I’m sixty in a mind-numbing 9-5 that I don’t enjoy until I can finally retire and “live” a little before I die… aren’t you afraid that you are setting your kids up to be horribly disappointed that life is actually so awful by giving them so much hope and excitement and broadness in their view of life and their future? How are they going to settle for how much drudgery adulthood involves when they’ve had such a free and empowering start?”
That’s not my “real world,” and it’s not a world I want to prepare my kids for, either. Being a grown up isn’t synonymous with being a victim of circumstance or having to settle for a life that isn’t life-giving, but it seems that a lot of people have settled for that idea.
I can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the industrial, worker-driven “education” that so many adults endured through the most formative years of their lives. Entire generations have entered adulthood with the idea that the only path through life is a decade and a half of sitting in a classroom and that success looks like having an office to go to every day for the next forty years where you spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week, making someone else rich.
I saw a post on Facebook the other day that sums up my thoughts nicely. A young woman said:
“In high school I wondered why they pushed college on us so hard instead of trades?
“They didn’t tell me plumbers can make $1600 a week with no overtime and no degree, or that truck drivers can make 6 figures if they buy their own truck with no degree, or that traveling welders can make over $100,000/year with no degree.
“For some reason they made it seem like college was the only way to be successful. I swear… it’s as if the guidance counselors’ training was to direct our thinking and to fixate our minds and success in life based on the results we get from the college we choose. Notice they never mentioned us starting a business or even taught us how to in school? They always made sure they pushed the collegiate agenda and never even mentioned an outside option like trade school.
“Our school system is not designed to make bosses. It’s designed to make slaves. Otherwise they would train us to be self-employed and self-sufficient.
“They do not.
“Teach your children that they are more than just a piece of paper, that their minds can expand past the average status quo and that they have skills that can not be put on paper. There are great engineers right now managing a restaurant because they listened to their guidance counselor instead of their heart.”
Few Americans know that the true history of our public education system dates all the way back to 1806 and the fall of old Prussia at the hands of Napoleon at the battle of Jena. In Chapter 7 of The Underground History of American Education, John Taylor Gatto writes:
The most important immediate reaction to Jena was an immortal speech, the “Address to the German Nation” by the philosopher Fichte — one of the influential documents of modern history leading directly to the first workable compulsion schools in the West. Other times, other lands talked about schooling, but all failed to deliver. Simple forced training for brief intervals and for narrow purposes was the best that had ever been managed.
This time would be different.
In no uncertain terms Fichte told Prussia the party was over. Children would have to be disciplined through a new form of universal conditioning. They could no longer be trusted to their parents. Look what Napoleon had done by banishing sentiment in the interests of nationalism. Through forced schooling, everyone would learn that “work makes free,” and working for the State, even laying down one’s life to its commands, was the greatest freedom of all. Here in the genius of semantic redefinition1 lay the power to cloud men’s minds, a power later packaged and sold by public relations pioneers Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee in the seedtime of American forced schooling.
Prior to Fichte’s challenge any number of compulsion-school proclamations had rolled off printing presses here and there, including Martin Luther’s plan to tie church and state together this way and, of course, the “Old Deluder Satan” law of 1642 in Massachusetts and its 1645 extension. The problem was these earlier ventures were virtually unenforceable, roundly ignored by those who smelled mischief lurking behind fancy promises of free education. People who wanted their kids schooled had them schooled even then; people who didn’t didn’t. That was more or less true for most of us right into the twentieth century: as late as1920, only 32 percent of American kids went past elementary school. If that sounds impossible, consider the practice in Switzerland today where only 23 percent of the student population goes to high school, though Switzerland has the world’s highest per capita income in the world.
Prussia was prepared to use bayonets on its own people as readily as it wielded them against others, so it’s not all that surprising the human race got its first effective secular compulsion schooling out of Prussia in 1819, the same year Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, set in the darkness of far-off Germany, was published in England.
Schule came after more than a decade of deliberations, commissions, testimony, and debate. For a brief, hopeful moment, Humboldt’s brilliant arguments for a high-level no-holds-barred, free-swinging, universal, intellectual course of study for all, full of variety, free debate, rich experience, and personalized curricula almost won the day. What a different world we would have today if Humboldt had won the Prussian debate, but the forces backing Baron vom Stein won instead. And that has made all the difference.
The Prussian mind, which carried the day, held a clear idea of what centralized schooling should deliver: 1) Obedient soldiers to the army;2 2) Obedient workers for mines, factories, and farms; 3) Well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4) Well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) Citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6) National uniformity in thought, word, and deed.
When people say—as the young woman whose Facebook post I quoted did—that they’ve begun to think that perhaps the system isn’t geared toward creating self-reliant individuals and bosses but rather “slaves,” they are actually more right than they probably realize. The system isn’t broken. It’s generally working exactly the way it was designed to.
So it’s no wonder that in a modern world with its travel opportunities, relative prosperity, freedom to move and associate, technology that allows for entrepreneurial endeavors, and connectivity, people would be feeling trapped in the 9-5 even more than ever before. The world is, quite literally, open to more people than at any other time in history, and yet most everyone has been conditioned from the age of five to think that the best life they can make for themselves and their families is endless schooling followed by endless work for someone else, and that lives of freedom and fulfillment are reserved for only the “lucky” few.
No wonder there are those who resent the freedom of children and families who choose to still see the world as their proverbial oyster and who seek its treasures with joyful enthusiasm and hope for what their labors can produce. It’s pretty easy to get beat down and discouraged by life.
Dr. Jordan Peterson talks often about the choices we must make to master ourselves and to shape lives of happiness and purpose out of chaos or suffering. He says, “You’ve probably heard me say that life is full of suffering. But before you’re tempted to say that life is meaningless, try to ask yourself this question: What is my reason for suffering? Because this suffering that you experience is a good indicator that something must change.
“Look for people who inspire you to become better. And do it now. The instinct for admiration is part of the instinct for imitation; if you want a good life, find admiration through the chaos.”
It isn’t possible to go back and redo the path we took from our high school years to where we are now. But it is always possible to change. It is possible to take the hours between when we get home from our boring or unsatisfying 9-5 and use them to craft the life that we have nurtured a tiny spark of hope at still creating. It is possible to shape a different future for our kids than what has been the norm for so long now.
I would love to see more adults continue to break free from lives that seem full of suffering or leave them feeling unfulfilled. I agree with Dr. Peterson’s assertion that being miserable can be used as a catalyst for great change, and that finding something or someone that inspires you can go far in making life feel meaningful and exciting again. I know that the men and women whose books I based the Tuttle Twins series on inspired me and created in me a spark that grew into a flame that led me to where I am now.
The Tuttle Twins series puts a lot of focus on self-reliance and self-ownership. It also encourages entrepreneurship and taking what might be a road less traveled in order to bring about big and important change. I hope that it also teaches kids that there is a whole lot that can be accomplished in the creation of the life you desire if you are willing to invest your time and talents in working toward it and that the “real world” is actually whatever world you choose to craft for yourself.