Thursday, October 20, 2011

Do schools bribe people out of their minds?

Andrew D Atkin:

Here is a clear example. Take someone who has developed great drawing skill. They can take whatever picture they have in their mind and almost perfectly reproduce it on paper. For an artist this skill must of course exist to a given degree, but it's only one half of the story. There is also the ability to conceive of an image that has aesthetic interest in the first place.

My point is that the ability to draw accurately, though an essential skill in itself, is ultimately secondary. It's like a developed limb to the mind, but not the mind itself. The more "primary" mind is the mind that conceives of what image to produce in the first place. That's the mind that designs - not just reproduces.

So crudely speaking, you can see the artist as having three layers to function: the physical control over their hand, the secondary mental skill of being able to articulate their imagined image, and the primary mental skill of being able to design the image in the first place.

My ultimate point from this model is that we can see these three 'layers' operating everywhere, with everything we do.


So what is it that schools teach, relating to my model? Well, from my observation they are incredibly secondary-level thinking heavy. They basically exist to create people who can articulate an image (as my example), yet they do not facilitate the ability to conceive of an image in the first place*.

But schools don't get us to look at it this way. This is because they are overwhelmingly designed to create technicians - not "minds". Schools teach what can be taught and you cannot teach the "designing" (or primary, as I put it) mind.

The development of the designing mind has nothing to do with educational programmes as we know them, because primary thinking simply can't be taught. It always develops from its own intrinsic curiosity/nature - from just mucking around, if you like. It's a development that is (and must be) too autonomous for prescriptive educational programmes to reach.

Note: Can I stress that design-type thinking is not just 'talent' that we are born with. No mental faculty appears out of nothing. It must always developmentally evolve.

The bribe:

All kids love to develop their primary mind, and I would say that they do so because it's the most important level of the intellect (historically!). So, schools have to contradict natural law and buck around 4 billion years of evolution so as to force young people to near-exclusively concentrate on secondary-level thinking; and they do. They do it with bribery and threats.

Schools create programmes which dictate that the child removes themselves from their intrinsic thought processes. If they don't do it they will be humiliated with a label like ADHD or be directly punished; and if they don't do it well enough they will be socially degraded as neither they nor their peers understand that their performance (or lack of it) is not an intelligence test. (Though maybe an IQ test?).

Most parents reinforce the pressure too. They weep with joy when they see their little Johnny create an image which looks more like a photograph than a scribble. They too have been "brainwashed" by a culture of schooling designed to hyper-concentrate the development of secondary-level thinking skills.

As the child gets older the direct emotional bribes/threats retract as they realise (or believe) that their future prosperity will be governed by their academic (secondary) skills, as opposed to the development of their mind. And in this institutionalised world we have created for ourselves their investment might now be rational. Corptopia, as I call it, demands intellectual servitude.


You can never forget that a child (and adult) is operating a 'mental economy'. The kid that does so well at school has given their mind to what will make them do well, and whether or not this is the best place for them to be is subjective, because there will always be a cost. Where ever your mind is also indicates where it isn't -- forcing a child into one zone also means forcing them out of another. And if you think your kid is going to become some kind of a genius for getting straight A's then think again. The so-called greatest minds throughout history have tended to come from people who never took their schoolwork so seriously.

John Taylor Gatto, probably the most famous educational historian today, believes that genius is as common as dirt...if you simply get the programmes out of young children's minds. Maybe he's right? But I would say that the most important aspect of allowing your 'primary' mind to develop is that you can more directly take control of your life. Enslaving your mind to technician-only status is surely not a good place to be if you want to write your own script.

One of my favourite sayings: The most important skill is not the ability to think, but the ability to recognise what you should be thinking about in the first place. The latter comes from the "mind behind the mind", as I put it, which is the primary mind telling the secondary mind what to do. And as I believe, when the primary mind doesn't develop properly empty faith and assumptions come in to take its place. Like intellectual servants operating on faith that their masters know best.

*Schools focus on secondary thinking skills at best. More so they are about psycho-behavioral adjustment to an institutional work environment.


Addition: 23-10-11:

The following video is the first part of 3-part series joined into one clip. The first part in the series I liked in particular. They made some very good insights, and I certainly agree with their [essential] assertion that allowing a child to develop effectively means letting them run with their intrinsic interest. Whether they realise it or not, they are promoting what is described as the "unschooling" method of educational development.


  1. very well written and i totally agree with your point of view, Andrew. children need love, freedom, and protection. they learn best when they are learning what they WANT to learn. their WANTS are determined by their NEEDS. the child knows what he/she needs. the parents and teachers would know what the child NEEDS to learn if only they listen to the child, instead of taking control. parents and teachers do not trust 'mother nature'...partly because they are afraid that their child will fall below the institutional standard. the parents feel threatened, and then they threaten their children in the kindest possible ways.
    free-schooling continues to prove that mother nature knows best, as she has done for hundreds of thousands of years.
    love your kids - don't control them. they are smarter than you think. if you let them "fall behind" they will learn stuff that is invisible to you, but incredibly important to them.

  2. Thanks Richard,

    "Institutional standard" is the word. That's the hole we are driven into. The problem is, I believe, we leave our brains behind in the process.

  3. Following on: It's true that our thinking is driven primarily by feelings, and our feelings are direct representatives of our needs. So our thinking, like everything, is ultimately need-based. (We are a survival machine at the end of the day).

    The lower feeling brain 'drives' the thinking brain, and that primary mind I speak of is intimately integrated with the feeling brains (mid brain and brain stem).

    Indeed, there are apparently twice as many "wires" that exist for the purpose of the lower brain/s to communicate and drive the neocortex (bottom-up), than the other way around (top-down).

    Forcing kids into an excessively externally-controlled curriculum forces them out of the feelings/needs. More specifically, it forces them to respond directly to the crude needs of acceptance and punishment-avoidance; needs which should otherwise be taken as given. The result, I believe, is an emotionally and likewise neurologically crude relationship to the learned material and ultimately the external world they live in alround.

    So the primary mind, at worst, becomes crudely rooted in the need for passive conformity as opposed to understanding.

    1. Hmmmm...are you factoring in, Andrew, the pressure from a child's peers for their drawings to be recognisable or conventional (looking like the 'heroic' images they see on tv for example). I'm not sure you've plumbed the depths of why children adjust their 'free-style' drawing as time goes by. There are a number of influences upon them. Teachers might not be as powerful a factor as you seem to think.

  4. Oh, and have you read, "How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen" but Russel Hoban?
    Brilliant. All about mucking around.

  5. Robert:

    Hey I don't dismiss the need for those secondary skills - lots of lazy artists out there using "freestyle" as an excuse for rubbishy art, in my opinion.

    All development, for children and adults, requires periods of boring discipline, of course. I just believe that 'primary' and 'secondary' thinking skills should evolve together.