Should society eliminate schools? Should we have more compulsory schooling? Should you send your kids to school? Should you prefer to hire job candidates who have received more schooling, beyond school's correlation with the g factor? Should we consider the spread of education requirements to be a form of class war by the better-educated against the worse-educated which must be opposed for the sake of the worse-educated and the future of society?

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Should society eliminate schools?  

That depends on what would replace them.  One could imagine a scenario in which schools were eliminated, no other form of learning filled the gap, and mankind ended up worse off as a result.  However, schooling in its present form seems net-negative relative to most realistic alternatives.  Much of this will focus on the US, as that is the school system I'm most familiar with, but many of the lessons should transfer. 

Much of the material covered has no conceivable use except as a wasteful signal.  "The mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell":  everyone in the US gets taught that, but almost no one knows what it means in any real sense, nor does anyone benefit from knowing it unless they're either going into biology or interested in biology.  And the people who are becoming biologists still need to know what that actually means!  And that's even before we get to material like the fates of King Henry's wives:  divorced beheaded died, divorced beheaded survived.  In what world is that the most pressing thing to learn? 

Even the plausibly-useful material tends to be covered slowly and with heavy emphasis on following steps by rote instead of understanding what's actually going on.  Not only does that make that curriculum much less helpful for actual learning than one might expect from the topics, but it can actively drive students away from curiosity and critical thinking.  

How many people have been traumatized into a fear of math?  

On top of this, we must consider the price of schooling, both financial and opportunity costs.  In fiscal 2022, the Department of Education consumed over 600 billion dollars. That's not trivial, and one wonders what other uses that amount of money could be put to.  And children losing a large portion of their childhoods is a staggering human cost.  And what do we get in return for such sacrifices?  One in five high school graduates can't read.  Over a decade of their lives taken from them in the name of learning, and they never even learned how to read.  

If we hadn't grown up with school as a normal, accepted thing, if we weren't used to going along with it because it would be awkward not to, what would we see?  What would you think about a society that locks children up to perform forced labor that isn't even economically productive, tries to justify it in the name of learning, then barely even teaches anything?  

This is a crime against humanity.  

How does society decide what subjects get taught in school?

Much of the material covered has no conceivable use except as a wasteful signal.

What would you think of the argument that getting taught a bundle of random things practices learning, so that those who have been taught in school are better able to learn other things afterwards?

1. Why would you suspect this is true? This sounds like one of those feel-good ideas that is morally satisfying but could just as easily be false. 2. How big of an effect are we talking? The price is 12 high-quality years, so even a 10% improvement in ability to learn wouldn't nearly justify the cost. Also, your neuroplasticity will probably drop by more than that over the course of the 12 years, so the net effect will be to take 12 years and leave you with a reduced ability to learn. 3. If "getting taught a bundle of random things" is valuable, is it more valuable than doing whatever you would do by default? Even the most wasteful activities you would realistically do--watching TV, playing videogames, surfing the net, talking to friends--all have some benefits. All of them would improve literacy, numeracy, and your knowledge of the world, and all of them would require you to learn a bundle of random things, which (following your suggestion) may be valuable in itself.
When people do something, they tend to become better at that thing by picking up tricks relevant to it. If the thing they are doing is learning lots of random things, presumably some of the tricks they pick up would be tricks for learning lots of random things. I don't know. I've talked with some people who are interested in intelligence research about how to measure learning ability. It would essentially require measuring people's ability to do lots of things, then teaching them those things, then measuring their ability on those things again, and looking at something like the difference in ability. The trouble is that it is simultaneously really expensive to perform such measurements (as having to teach people things makes it orders of magnitude more expensive than ordinary psychometrics), and yet still too noisy when performed at reasonable scales to be useful. So measuring learning ability would be difficult. And even if we found out how to do that, we would still need some sort of randomized trial or natural experiment to test school's effect on learning ability. Maybe. This assumes ability to learn when younger is as valueable as ability to learn when older, which might not be true because you have much more information about what you need to learn when you are older. For instance at my job I had to learn KQL, but KQL did not exist when I was a child, so in order to teach it to me as a child, we would have to be able to accurately forecast the invention of KQL, which seems impossible. I suspect it depends on the person. The sort of person who watches science documentaries on TV, who builds redstone computers in Minecraft, who reads LessWrong and scientific papers when surfing the web, and who talks with friends about topics like the theoretical arguments for and against school would probably have a much more intellectually stimulating environment outside of school than within it. But such people are extremely rare, so we can to good approximation say the
I would think that it's valid, but a smaller effect than getting taught a bundle of random things in a gratuitously unpleasant way resulting in those who have been taught in school having a deep-seated fear of learning, not to mention other forms of damage.  Prior to going to school, I had an excellent attention span, even by adult standards.  After graduating high school, it took two years before I could concentrate on anything, and I still suffer from brain fog.  
Hm not sure such damage commonly happens.
I don’t know how common loss of attention span is, but certainly reduced interest in learning occurs extremely often. Also, potential evidence that more damage occurs than is commonly recognized: in the modern world, we generally accept that one needs to be in one’s late teens or even early twenties to handle adult life. Yet for most of human history, people took on adult responsibilities around puberty. Part of the difference may be the world becoming more complex. But how much of it is the result of locking people up in environments with very little social or intellectual stimulation until they’re 18? The world looks exactly like one would expect it to if school stunted intellectual and emotional maturity.

Poorly-formed question.  Doesn't specify the comparison (school is good compared to forced sweatshop labor starting at age 5, bad compared to ... what?).  And doesn't acknowledge the large variance in student and type of school (across age bands, abilities, extracurricular support, etc.).

Having hired a lot of (primarily software) people, I don't recall any who'd not attended at least some high school, though a few who hadn't graduated, and a noticeable minority who didn't have a college degree (as I myself do not).  That said, a college degree in a STEM major is a serious signaling advantage - it's much harder to demonstrate competence and some dimensions of social conformity if you don't have a degree or a successful work history to show.

I pretty strongly believe that class-warfare is an incorrect frame for this analysis.  This is distributed decision-making, with a lot of mostly-reasonable motivations, not a directed attempt to harm any individuals or groups.  

Epistemic status: personal experience.

I'm unschooled and think it's clearly better, even if you factor in my parents being significantly above average in parenting. Optimistically school is babysitting, people learn nothing there while wasting most of their childhood. Pessimistically it's actively harmful by teaching people to hate learning/build antibodies against education.

Here's a good documentary made by someone who's been in and out of school. I can't give detailed criticism since I (thankfully) never had to go to school.

EDIT: As for what the alternative should be, I honestly don't know. Shifting equilibria is hard, though it's easy to give better examples (e.g. dath ilan, things in the documentary I linked.) For a personal solution: Homeschool your kids.

I would very much assume that you have a strong genetic disposition to be smart and curious.

Do you think unschooling would work acceptably well for kids who are not smart and curious?

1Ulisse Mini1y
I think school is huge in preventing people from becoming smart and curious. I spent 1-2years where I hardly studied at all and mostly played videogames - I wish I hadn't wasted that time, but when I quit I did so of my own free will. I think there's a huge difference between discipline imposed from the outside vs the inside, and getting to the latter is worth a lot. (though I wish I hadn't wasted all that time now haha)   I'm unsure which parts of my upbringing were cruxes for unschooling working. You should probably read a book or something rather than taking my (very abnormal) opinion. I just know how it went for me :)

"Homeschool your kids" isn't an option for, like, more than half of the population, I think.

3Ulisse Mini1y
I was directing that towards lesswrongers reading my answer, not the general population.

Epistemic status : n=1.
I very much enjoyed my school years. I learned a lot on subject that turned out to be actually useful for me like maths and English, and on subject that were enjoyable to me (basically everything else). I would definitely have learned much less without the light coercion of the school system, and would have been overall less happy (In later years at college level where I was very much my own master I learned less and was less happy ; in my three years of "classe prépa", the most intensive years of my studies I learned the most and was overall happier). In particular I would not have learned as much in STEM fields and definitely would not have become a mathematicians had I been home schooled or not schooled. 

Now obviously this is n=1, but beware of the typical mind fallacy. One size fit all school means it is enjoyable for some and soul-sucking for others ; one size fit all no school would be exactly the same.

Should society eliminate schools?

The question is too vague as it's stated, but I think society should eliminate schools in their present form. This is a rather worthless statement though, at least unless it's fleshed out by a reasonably detailed description of what that alternative world would look like.

I think it would be a substantial win to at least cut down the years of schooling on the margin and replace them with work and/or apprenticeships whenever possible. An uncontroversial example: the fact that physicians and lawyers in the US have to complete a whole separate undergraduate degree before going to medical school or law school seems like a colossal waste of time and resources, and many civilized places in the world get by just fine without this extension.

So on the margin, I think it's good to move in the direction of "eliminating schools". Whether you want to go all the way and what happens if you do is more complicated, though I think there are definitely more promising alternative systems that would qualify. These are more speculative and only of theoretical interest given where we currently are as a society, though.

Should we have more compulsory schooling?

On the margin, I don't see how more compulsory schooling would help with anything useful, and the costs are significant, even aside from the moral concerns with forcing children to go to school et cetera. So the answer here looks fairly overdetermined to be "no" unless marginal years of schooling are shown to have substantial benefits.

Should you send your kids to school?

Depends on the situation. Do the kids want to go to school? Do you think careers that would be the best fit for them require one to go through some formal accreditation process that involves schooling? How feasible it is for you to arrange an alternative to going to school for purposes that are relevant, and what are the costs of not participating in the existing system?

I would put significant weight on the preference of the kids in question here, and I can easily imagine that some of them want to go to school and others don't. A "one size fits all" policy seems inappropriate here.

Should you prefer to hire job candidates who have received more schooling, beyond school's correlation with the g factor?

There are other reasons to prefer such candidates, but it depends on exactly which job you're hiring for. People who are "competent" despite not going to school right now are all highly unusual people in various ways, and they might generally be unusual in a way that makes them poor fits for the specific job you have in mind. So in that case going to school would be a valuable signal above and beyond the correlation with g.

Should we consider the spread of education requirements to be a form of class war by the better-educated against the worse-educated which must be opposed for the sake of the worse-educated and the future of society?

Probably not. I don't see what reason there is to invent such an explanation for the phenomenon of schooling, or what predictive power or utility it would have.

I find it more productive to view schooling and its shortcomings (as many other things) as coordination failures and problems imposed by scarcity than any kind of "class war" by some group against another. Useful thinking about these questions should contend with the coordination issues surrounding signaling etc. and the substantial opportunity cost of having high-quality teachers in too many classrooms.

Epistemology: intentional sophistry hits bong

Anti-schooling is probably a luxury belief used to signal intelligence and wealth. Having the belief implies that you're so intelligent you are unable to intuitively grasp the importance of schooling for the average human being. Full (read: barely acceptable) literacy and numeracy require years to learn if you're not gifted. A prole actually not encouraging his children to engage with the school system likely ensures a lower quality of life for them, while the consequences are much less dire for a knowledge worker, whose children can skate through with minimal effort.

As a compromise for the bored intelligent children suffering through the school system, I propose a new technocratic system that redistributes resources away from the least effective programs (special ed) to the most intelligent students, who can be segregated in gifted schools starting from elementary school and be pitted against each other in games, tests, and projects designed to demonstrate their creativity, intelligence, and willpower. They are shifted among different schools at the end of every school year based on their performance. This will be enormously demanding, with instructors encouraged to push students to the breaking point and beyond. R programming will be taught in the 5th grade, on average, and Javascript never. This continues until college, when they are allowed to unwind and engage in hedonism for a few years before companies pick through the merits and demerits of each student to determine their ability. The lowest-performing are assigned to menial tasks best suited for them, like data entry for the illiterate and medical fields for those unable to do algebra.

Yeah, it's basically the Chinese educational system, only with more pressure, and instead of the top students trying to hit 100% on every test, they are instead given increasingly harder curriculums until they hit their limit. Also science fairs that don't disqualify anything "too good" because the judges consider anything more complex than a chemical volcano to be proof of parental help.

Totally agree with the first paragraph. Totally not sure about the rest.

I think, I can imagine the superior culture, where all parents can teach (or arrange teaching) their children all the necessary things without compulsory education system. Perhaps, dath ilan works that way. We are not there. May be, some part of intellectual elites live in the subculture that resemble dath ilan enough and this is why they think that schools are bad on net. 

AFAIK, in our (Earth) culture, schools definitely should be reformed. I'm really doubt that they should be reformed the way you describe, though.

Full literacy and numeracy are not what the school system is designed to teach, and certainly can be learned for most people without going to college. The vast majority of anti-schooling arguments you'll see from anti-schoolers have nothing to do with expecting people to learn things on their own. We simply question the value in coercing children to learn most of the things schools teach, and think that putting children in halfway houses and forcing them to do meaningless busywork is mean. We also don't want hundreds of billions of tax dollars funding what is empirically and definitively an actual signaling contest.

empirically and definitively an actual signaling contest.

I'm not sure I trust The Case Against Education. I had once heard a review of it mention how the book debunked the notion that education teaches thinking skills. This interested me as I was trying to understand some things about how psychometrics works, so I skipped to that part of the book and looked at his references.

However, it turned out that the references were unconvincing. For instance, one of the main arguments was based on a small, old study that used an ad-hoc test of critical thinking skills. It was unclear to me how good that test was, and the study did not give any of the usual measures of goodness like internal reliability.

(I'm Russian, and my experience with schools may be very different.) Then why are they called "anti-schooling arguments" and not "arguments for big school reforms"? I think this is misleading. Schools are not perfect? Yes, sure. Schools have trouble adapting to computer age? Yes, sure. Schools need to be reformed? Yes, sure! Schools are literally worse than no schools, all else equal? I think, no, they aren't.
In the case of higher education, yes, they are literally worse than no schools, all else equal. If you burned all higher educational institutions to the ground, my prediction is that after a small transition period where people figured out how to get the 5% of actually economically productive information somewhere else, global GDP would significantly increase. A world where adults skip paying a hundred thousand dollars for 4-6 years of college, and learn how to perform their trade, for free, via a 1-2 year unpaid internship at an actual company, or at the equivalent of a bootcamp, is much better than the extraordinarily expensive and wasteful credentialing race we have now. I cannot understand why this is so controversial, and why people resist the vast empirical evidence supporting this take with such absurd intensity. In the case of K12, I still call my position "anti-schooling", because the vast majority of the stuff we coerce and threaten children into "studying" is useless. It happens that a couple of those things are really important, like literacy and numeracy, but since the important lessons represent less than 10% of what K12 does, and it's accomplished in such a harmful way, I still call my position "anti-school".
3Lao Mein1y
That doesn't match reality at all. China had a massive program to send students for college education in the US. US college grads have very obviously wider knowledge and skill bases than their Chinese peers (probably because they were studying instead of drinking). Don't get me wrong, there are absolutely firms that don't pay a premium for "returners", but they very much fall behind. I'm sure that if keeping the same person around at the company doing the same job but with a bit more mentoring was more efficient than asking them to take a few years off to get a Master's/PhD, more companies around here would do so. 
Governments make mostly incorrect decisions, both for reasons of misalignment and incompetence. They're not hedge funds. Xi and Biden don't get paid more if they hit good Gross Domestic Product targets. I'm unfamiliar with the business practice of letting employees "take a few years off" to get a Master's/PhD; that might be a Chinese thing. Here employers will pay for employee's higher education, but that's generally pitched as part of the compensation package for working there and done for tax reasons, not upskilling. Employees go for higher education because of the signaling value of having more education, not because the knowledge will make them more valuable employees. No one would ever go to anything like a University if the University was unable to award degrees certifying that the person had done so. This is obvious.
3Lao Mein1y
There is no signaling reason if it's your own employee. You already know the guy. You know him far more intimately than any degree. And people audit college courses all the time for upskilling. I'm considering doing so for grad courses right now.
I understand. My point is that if a person is going to get a Master's degree anyways, it's cheaper for the employer to compensate them by paying for their education than by actually paying them extra money, because the government will give them tax breaks for doing so. This is the real reason employers pay for employees' education (besides a misguided sense of charity), not the other thing. Yet the vast majority don't audit courses, even when it's free. In the United States, you can walk into very respectable universities like UC Berkeley and sit in on any class you like. Even people who live next to the campus almost never do. Anomalous if you believe most of the value of education comes from imparting skills, obvious if you believe most of the value of UC Berkeley education is transacted via the degree that says "UC Berkeley grad" and not the information students study while attending.
1Lao Mein1y
A lot of what students learn in school is sheer willpower, and a coercive environment is needed to maintain it. Let me put it this way: Chinese elementary school students frequently study for 8+ hours a day. No busy work. They're doing crazy advanced trig that most US college grads don't even know how to approach. This escalates into even longer study sessions in HS (12+). For various cultural reasons, everyone goofs off in college. Chinese people maintain this work ethic into their adult life to their benefit. As far as I can tell, it really doesn't have any negative effects on their personality, and most still look upon their school days fondly.  However, the lack of focus on creativity in schools results in lower productivity in their careers. I think it is possible to combine creativity and peer-competition to create an even more capable person, one who combines willpower, creativity, and curiosity. I think it is LS custom to refer to Jews here, who do exhibit all these traits, but my only close Jewish friend was my ex (heartbroken, in a thousand pieces. The wind blows. But the sun rises again), so I don't think I have an objective view on this. The lack of coercion in Western schools hurts the gifted students the most, I think. A lot of them just skate by without really trying, which can really hurt them in college or in their career.
Citation needed. This willpower certainly does not seem to manifest itself empirically in terms of increased wages or career prospects, EXCEPT in terms of how the subsequent degree and certification signals preexisting conformity+intelligence+conscientiousness, which are traits valued by employers. At best (in any country) I'll grant that children are heavily coerced to follow arduous orders, and the ones that have the least pride and are most enthusiastic to do that get promoted into top government and official positions, who then set policy so that the next batch of students are rewarded based on their willingness to do pointless work at the behest of their bosses, etc. etc. However "ability to do lots of useless work when an authority figure tells you to" is a very different psychological skill than the kind needed to do actually productive work, proactively, for your or the world's benefit.
3Lao Mein1y
I will do a statistical deep dive on all this later. But this anti-schooling idea is very counter-intuitive, requires extremely coordinated incompetence to work, and runs extremely counter to my personal experience. With the recent Replication Crisis trashing counterintuitive studies that are used to push political agendas, I suspect anti-schooling is simply untrue. Let me give a personal example: I currently exercise regularly. It is good for me in many ways. When I first started, however, it was akin to torture, and only self-coercion allowed me to continue. I dreaded my visits to the gym, and feared the pain and nausea that would greet me at every visit. But I pushed myself, most out of vanity and partly out of disdain for my physical weakness. After several months, however, the pain began to fade, and soon I started to enjoy it. Without the self-coercion, I would still be out of shape today. The same applies to my job. When I first started working, focusing on my job instead of browsing the internet was very painful. And doing it for 8 hours a day made my daily utility became negative - I would have paid money to not experience those days. But through self-coercion, I was able to continue until it first became endurable and then enjoyable. For the first time in my life, I feel free - my sarkic desires and my ambitions are no longer in constant conflict.  This is very under-valued skill. It isn't sexy. It sucks. And self-coercion can only be taught through external coercion, which sucks even more. I absolutely wish I had more of it as a child.
It's indeed an incredible waste that higher education is almost entirely a credentialing race; doesn't mean it requires that much coordination or even incompetence. The root causes are simple (intense government subsidies + a natural race to the bottom to be Most Credentialed among the working class), and could only be fixed by people and institutions which aren't fired if they govern incorrectly. Biden and Xi are simply optimizing for different things than the general welfare of their constituents. You should read this if you have the time. For what it's worth, however counterintuitive you find this, I am fairly certain I find the idea that schooling does anything worth paying for more counterintuitive.

I know pretty solidly that society should not reinstate child labour. So it totally depends how they are supposed to spend their days then. The trivial option of just keeping child labour forbidden and keeping them loose is a surprisingly strong candidate compared to keeping them in school. But I would expect a real option to have some structures present.

What would happen if society reinstated child labour?

Adults would be a lot more simpler as the time that childhood has time to make its magic would be shorter. More labour supply, lower job complexity and blander humans. I am not super confident with the specifics but quite certain that childhood is doing important effects.
How is this any different from school, except that you could get paid rather than your parents losing money to pay the teachers?  There are many valid arguments against child labor (though also many valid arguments that the child should be allowed to decide for themselves), but nearly all of them apply to schooling as well.  School eliminates the time of childhood magic, actively makes it harder to be curious (many jobs would not have this effect) and you don't even get paid.  
If "being paid" means not only that children get money, but also that the people paying them are motivated by profit, that creates bad incentives on the part of those people. If children are paid but parents still have control over the children and the money, that creates bad incentives for the parents.
How is this different from adults having jobs?   To be clear, there are plenty of good reasons why one might not want children to work.  You might want them to be able to enjoy childhood without the burden of a job, you might want them to focus on learning to be more productive later.  But "the people paying them are motivated by profit" is equally true of adult jobs. 
The question was how this is different from school. Adults having jobs is also different from school. In addition, the part about parents having control over children and children's money doesn't apply to parents of adults with jobs.
Oh right, the whole world doesn't have education as a right. It does apply also to start of school. It is about developmentally appropriate environments. Schools are supposed to be where that can be a high objective. Keeping up skill development in work is rather hit and miss and can be quite narrow for profitability increasement. That both destroy magic doesn't mean the destruction is it to the same degree. And school has its own magic. Jobs tend to have way less magic of their own.
"Oh right, the whole world doesn't have education as a right." Are you trying to argue from existing law to moral or practical value?  That would be easier if the whole world hadn't had slavery and monarchy until fairly recently.  "That both destroy magic doesn't mean the destruction is it to the same degree."  That's a good point.  But jobs ideally produce value.  School often doesn't, and "learning" in a toxic setting specifically makes it harder to learn later.  That's a harm specific to school; most jobs do not have it. "And school has its own magic. Jobs tend to have way less magic of their own." I'm glad it was magical for you.  That's far from universal.  The largest problem with schooling is the compulsion.  If you enjoyed it or benefited from it, well and good.  But those who didn't should not have been forced into it.  The alternative to compulsory schooling doesn't have to be no option to go, it can be letting people choose. 
My tone is bad and inappropriate especially in this contex. What I actually mean or should have meant is that "parents lose money" is not really descriptive of my local reality and I have trouble taking on that perspective. Trying to imagine a counterfactual what would have needed to be different to not have universal education starts to baffle me a little. My brains come up with questions like "Do people in this world have to pay the police if they call them to protect from gunmen?" which are more obviously out of touch what I know to be the case. The money loss is a facet of some corners of reality. I am familiar with the organization where teachers are first accountable to society or state rather than accountable through parents. So "What are we paying you for?" has two sides to it that I am extremely unfamiliar with. What I am used to is that the public option is mostly appropriate, so children and parents are not constantly trying to escape it. Keeping "study duty" firm has for me the most important role that a parent while having large custodial rights may not fail to educate their kid. Alternative venues are fine but they can't be shambles, they must be worthy of the dignity of the progeny of civilization (so need to pass goverment checks). So if private schools are a large part of the equation why are not parents using the customisability if they are going the hard route anyway? If students are suffering why are the parents not advocating for their kids needs? Is it because the solutions exist but are paywalled and some that need them can not get them? How come the public options gets a pass for maleducating a significant stream of citizens? Is this some kind of thing where the most prestigious places are prestigious because they are harsh (and failures are because of students and not schools) and thus misery is a sign of status? The word "value" has so different meaning in job context and school context that I am not confident on which idea this expresses
On the "exploration - exploitation" scale, schools at least try to teach you, even if not very efficiently. Jobs typically do not try at all... and when they try, it is usually very narrow, the thing you will immediately need for your work. ("But you learn by doing", yes, but only a very narrow selection of things. If you need to learn too much, it is typically more effective for the company to hire someone else for that job.) In school there is more slack; you can spend a lot of time daydreaming, you finish earlier, you have summer holidays. At work you get responsibilities, unrealistic deadlines, for many people it is difficult to stop thinking about their job when the shift ends. So, in some sense, both school and work suck in similar ways, but school sucks relatively less. Doesn't pay you, though. But if you consider the market value of what a small child would produce, it is peanuts. For more precise discussion, we would need to be more specific. Are we talking about jobs for 6 years olds, 10 years olds, 14 years olds? Full time or part time? What is the consequence of quitting the job or getting fired? The "childhood magic" from my perspective means, importantly, not being responsible for paying the mortgage or making enough money to buy food. As long as that is your parents' responsibility, and you are allowed to completely ignore this, you are mentally a child. When the metaphorical gun is put to your temple, adulthood begins.
"Schools at least try to teach you."   I am curious where you went to school.  That was not my experience, and I was in an unusually good school district by American standards.  Some of my friends had noticeably worse experiences than I did.  Are you conflating the nominal purpose of a school with its real-world actions?  Alternatively, did you go through a good enough school system that it might be worth replacing a great many existing "educational" systems with yours as a stopgap along the way to school abolition?   "Jobs typically do not try at all... and when they try, it is usually very narrow, the thing you will immediately need for your work."   Exactly!  Surely that is precisely how it ought to be?  Forced learning is a difficult thing to justify, and when a job teaches you something, it is incentivized to help you learn it in short order.  Note that I am not calling for removing the option to learn and/or take classes, just removing the requirement.  Likewise I am not calling for the forced imposition of child labor, just wondering if children who want to work should have the right, and questioning the idea that it's so much worse than forced schooling when by many metrics it's better.  "In school there is more slack; you can spend a lot of time daydreaming, you finish earlier, you have summer holidays. At work you get responsibilities, unrealistic deadlines, for many people it is difficult to stop thinking about their job when the shift ends."  This is true, and a fair point.  But a situation that creates little to no to negative value is bad, even if there's enough slack to make it less bad than it could conceivably be.  And a situation that creates meaningful economic value is at least potentially worthwhile (again, I suspect a minority of children would choose to work, and none of them should be forced to.  But the option should potentially exist, and morally it's plausibly better than an "education" that tends not to be actually educational.)  "Th
Back then it was called Czechoslovakia. I am puzzled about the disagreement votes, given that I have hedged my statement as "try to teach you, even if not very efficiently". Not sure how people do things on the other side of the planet, but I imagine that there are these things called textbooks, which are full of information, and they at least make you read them. I am not saying that the information is especially useful, or especially well explained; just that it is there, and the school exposes you to it. There were subjects that I hated, mostly history. That one was taught literally as a list of facts that I considered utterly irrelevant -- I couldn't care less about what year exactly which king was born, or what year exactly was a battle that happened centuries ago. There were subjects that I would have learned on my own anyway, especially math and computer science. A subject where the school provided the most added value for me, was probably chemistry. Explained sufficiently well that some information stuck in my brain, and yet not something I would have studied on my own. Okay then. Correct. Perhaps this is another case of what I call "America succeeds to go to all extremes simultaneously". Excellent universities, dystopian elementary and high schools. In Eastern Europe things are more... mediocre, at both extremes. The universities are meh, but the elementary schools are kinda okay, mostly. Or maybe one of us generalizes too much from personal experience. It would be interesting to make a survey (not limited to the rationalist community). I was seriously considering the possibility of homeschooling my children, but it turned out that my daughter enjoys school (she is currently in 2nd grade), so I am like: "well, if there is no problem, I do not need to solve it". Of course, enjoying and learning new things are not the same; she probably likes the fact that she is one of the best in the classroom. Then she does Khan Academy and Duolingo at home. That doesn
Strongly upvoted for clarification and much greater plausibility given that clarification.   "Back then it was called Czechoslovakia. I am puzzled about the disagreement votes, given that I have hedged my statement as "try to teach you, even if not very efficiently". Not sure how people do things on the other side of the planet, but I imagine that there are these things called textbooks, which are full of information, and they at least make you read them. I am not saying that the information is especially useful, or especially well explained; just that it is there, and the school exposes you to it." Typically the material covered in a given day was a repeat, nearly word for word, of the previous day's lecture, or the previous month's.  Seventh grade mathematics spent over a month on adding negative numbers, despite the fact that pretty much everyone already knew how to, and that if someone had somehow managed to avoid understanding how despite the same lecture being given every day, presumably they would need some other method of instruction than repeating it again.  While this could, perhaps, be considered trying to teach a few days' worth of material over months and years, that is so far from what any sane person would do if they actually wanted students to learn that I think it's fair to disagree with saying that American schools aim to teach.  If the Czechoslovakian system was better, well and good.  I can actually believe that; for all the faults of the Eastern Bloc, it was reportedly quite good at education, and I learned a decent amount studying on my own from an excellent Russian textbook called алгебра и начало анализа.  There were textbooks, but they never made us read them.  We typically did not have time to do so, with study time instead going to the aforementioned mostly-useless lectures and equally repetitive and useless homework.    "There were subjects that I hated, mostly history. That one was taught literally as a list of facts that I considere
Well, what you describe is much worse than I imagined... and I still have a problem imagining that this is a typical American school experience. No offense, but I would need more people to confirm this, before I update on American education in general. I have often heard that American schools are "teaching to the test". Would you agree with that statement? If yes, how does that square with... not even reading the textbooks, and adding negative numbers in seventh grade? Were the seventh grade tests about adding negative numbers? On the other hand, I have also heard that as a consequence of "No Child Left Behind", teachers are focusing on the students that perform worst. So, maybe the least performing student in your seventh grade had a problem with adding negative numbers? That would kinda explain. Or do the both things combined together mean that American teachers are "teaching the worst performing student to the test"? Sad, but possible, given the incentives. ("No Child Left Behind" was replaced in 2015 by a new law, hopefully better.) I admit that if I never attended school, and spent maybe 1/3 of the extra free time reading books (sounds likely, I have read tons of books as a child), I probably would have grabbed a few chemistry books, too, just out of curiosity. So maybe the benefit of the school was smaller than I imagine. I still give the school credit for curating the information: filtering out knowledge from bullshit, and ordering the knowledge from simple to more complex. In the alternative reality where I learned chemistry from library books, who knows, maybe a book written by a convincing homeopath would get to my hands first, and I would waste lots of time studying bullshit. The benefits of chemistry for my life would be: (1) It increases the general protection against bullshit. Like, when I heard about homeopathy, I remembered what I learned at school, and I noticed that this is not how atoms and molecules actually work. Water is a liquid, the mol
Adult laborers would have competition! Wiki says: The "International Labor Organization" also seems responsible for a bunch of subsequent anti-child-labor activism.  Although I'm not sure how much one would expect them to represent the economic interests of adult workers—it's a U.N. agency apparently with an interesting tripartite governing structure, only one part of which nominally represents workers. Of course, the meme of "protect children against horrible factory conditions" probably has enough staying power (it's literally "think of the children") that it doesn't particularly need special interests to promote it.  But it would be interesting to know how much it is in fact being promoted by adult laborers who are very conscious of the downward pressure child labor would impose on their wages. Anyway, at least for intellectual/office labor (such as programming), as long as the hours aren't crazy, if a company can find a use for kids' labor I see no serious argument for preventing it.  And, really, it would likely be highly educational. Looking it up... In the U.S., federally at least, it seems that 16-year-olds "can be employed for unlimited hours in any occupation other than those declared hazardous by the Secretary of Labor", which seems reasonable; but for 15 and under, it outlaws work during school hours, which pretty much coincide with office hours and therefore cripples most options.  And under-14s have a somewhat bizarre list of carve-outs: Whenever someone says "We have laws for X because of [principles]", my response is generally, "No, we have laws for X because a ruling body of politicians passed them at some point, and no ruling body of politicians has repealed them yet.  If you think [principles] are the dominating factor in what laws get passed, you will go wrong quite often."  This is a decent example.
Societies evolve. Regardless of why the law was originally created, laws that follow principles are easier to keep going than laws that violate them. In a functional society most of the surviving laws will follow principles even if they were created for other reasons. While this won't be true of every single law, it's a huge influence. Also, I think you're not granting enough charity to whether that set of carveouts could be described by principles. Jobs that are inherently part time, high status, small scale, or involve parents, and are not dangerous, are much more likely to be good for, or at least not harmful to, the children. You could describe that a "bizarre list", but I'd call that a "list of jobs where the incentives are relatively good".
This is true, but (a) I think many people think they're a lot closer to being absolutely determined by principles than is accurate, and (b) this is very especially so for school stuff.  Today's school is the result of a many-generational tug-of-war between many disparate parties, some with more power than others; and the thing they're pulling is a bureaucracy that is plenty old enough to be expected to follow Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Some people think that "the point" of schools is to teach kids.  Others think... well, I'll list the hypotheses that have come up in this thread alone: * educating the kids in math, history, etc. * putting the kids in a place where they'll learn social skills * sorting the kids ("signaling") by conformity+intelligence+conscientiousness * sorting the kids by social class * babysitting the kids Others I've heard elsewhere: * promoting cross-generational upward mobility (the opposite of a prior claim) * making kids into obedient little factory workers * religious indoctrination (not recently, but centuries ago) * ideological indoctrination I could go on.  But even with all of the above, from what I've seen of school, in many cases the dominating concern seems to be: * the convenience of those who run the school To the extent that the external tug-of-war cancels out, school administrators are free to optimize for their own interests at the expense of any of school's nominal goals (whatever you think they might be).  And they often do.  Some administrators, and especially teachers, are idealistic, but the system has a reputation for burning that away. Does being a child star in Hollywood strike you as a safe, healthy environment?  More so than other jobs not on that list, such as doing paperwork in an office? Or do you think that the upsides of being a child star outweigh the dangers?  Then can you think of other jobs where the upsides outweigh the dangers, but aren't on that list? I think what happened had a
"Incentives are relatively good" doesn't mean "bad things can't happen". Of course it's still possible for bad things to happen. I would, however, point out that it's hard to have a factory full of 10000 child actors, and hard to make significantly more money by ensuring the child actors have bad working conditions. And while there are jokes about out of work actors, an actor who does have a job is likely to be paid more than a factory worker. And there are laws about child actors which discourage some kinds of exploitation. Yes, some of this is true of other jobs. But a system which evolves piecemeal without being directly designed will mostly involve jobs that are likely to turn up in real life. It won't include all categories of safe jobs. I suspect that the number of children who are able and willing to do office paperwork for normal office wages just isn't very big.

I'm not so sure! Some of my best work was done from the ages of 15-16. (I am currently 19.)

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I am all for stimulating stuff to do. That sounds like a case where personal lack of money is not a significant factor. To me it would seem that doing that stuff as a hobbyist would be largely similar (ie money is a nice bonus but tinkering would happen anyway because of intrinsic interest / general development). Not being able to mess with computers because your parents needed hands to pull potatoes from fields would probably also made it hard to be a relevant blip when that employer was searching for talent. I am also more worried about when it systematically affects a lot of people, when "so where do you work?" you would get an eyebrow raising answer "I in fact do not work, but my mother insisted that I should go to school" from a 10 year old. It would actually probably be working a fast food joint to pay on the family car loan interest. If we could make work so enriching that it would bring people up all their life then maybe it would be developmentally desirable environment. But as long as you will have adult unemployed people, I consider the job of children to be playing and any employed minor to be a person that is inappropriately not playing. Then offcourse if a framework where education is preparation to be a cog in a factory leads to schools being even more stiffling than actual factories, having a artifically stably bad environment is worse than unstably bad environment. In certain sense this "prepatory phase" lasts until the end of tetriary education. I am of the impression that "mid stage" people do not push off their work to pick up new skill. By doing the aquisitions early in life we have it "installed" and pay dividends during most of the lenght of life. But the environment where you develop the capabilities and where you can use out of them are different. And the transition costs between them are not always trivial.

Should society eliminate schools, for high-IQ LessWrong posters at the end of the bell curve in lots of things? Or should society eliminate schools for children in general?

A lot of the answers here are based on typical-minding from people who are not typical.

Society needs to eliminate schools at they presently exist. The minority of things taught in schools that have positive externalities (language acquisition, statistics) should be subsidized and measured through some other mechanism than is currently imagined by schools, and the rest of the curriculum really shouldn't be subsidized by the state at all. Why this is not obvious to anyone except a few eccentric economists and their followers is one of the great mysteries of life, and I have seen hypotheses, but none definitive.

Well, it's not obvious to me for one. In particular I am not sure what the alternative you propose would look like.

Here is an example: in the current system, K12 students are randomly assigned a subject-specific teacher-grader by their local government. These teacher-graders are tasked with both imparting either background knowledge or skills, such as history, and also giving students personally built examinations designed to determine whether or not they understand the subject. In university, the situation is even worse (from the perspective of the hypothetical person who cares that young adults learn about the subjects they take in university). There, students select their teacher-graders and so systematically migrate to the ones most likely to give them good grades. If schools were actually invested in children and adults learning the subject of history, they wouldn't have the person charged with teaching students be the same person tasked with deciding whether or not the students were taught, because that's insane. There would be a second organization, not embedded inside the school, verifying that in fact students know the things that the school was aiming for them to know, that year and at least several years afterwards. The marks students receive that are supposed to indicate successful learning would be certified by that second party, not from their tutor. The reason that schools have the existing system instead isn't because school administrators are stupid, it's because they do not actually care that children learn the things they say they're trying to teach. "Have a third party verify that the thing you want to happen is happening" is the sort of reasoning that is natural to people earnestly trying to accomplish a goal and unnatural to bureaucracies like the ones that manage our school system. Creating a better system would mean actually figuring out what it is that schools want children to learn, and an administrator would have to expend large amounts of political capital to assert that for little professional gain, so they don't do it. In this fantasy universe whe
It is kind of ironic that in my local culture the stance is more that by not focusing on testing school and teachers have room to care about learning. "they do not actually care" seems to not describe my local reality.
This is not the kind of "stance" that people have when thinking about subjects in near mode instead of far mode. Imagine a doctor who told you that his policy was not to focus on diagnostics so that he could have more room to care about treating patients, or a hedge fund manager who said that by not focusing on returns he has more room to care about making good trades. It doesn't even make sense. You create and "focus on" the best measurements you have of health/returns/learning if you care about those things, you don't if you don't. To be clear, there is a sense in which not caring about testing does make children's lives easier, because most of what we force children to do is learn socially and personally useless skills and subjects and perform busywork, and there's a strong case to be made that if you added consistent and effective testing to the system it would increase their suffering. Perhaps the people in your local culture understand this on an intuitive level and so don't want to measure progress. But the fact that there is no consistent and effective testing at all - never mind the uselessness of the process in the first place - the fact that people hold stances like "tests get in the way of learning", is painfully indicative of how ridiculous the existing system is.
When I was watching the serier Wire there was a depiction of school circumnstances and one of the points seemed to be that the teacher was frustrated with the conditions. It seemed odd that is was supposed to be commenting on real world conditions. The problem (depicted and what I understand) is not that the supervising examinaations woudl be added paperwork and prepartion angst for the students. Rather it is that the teacher is supposed to teach so much in so little time that there is only room for the most route skim on everything. It is teaching to the test, every student barely passes the test (out of those that do). Minimized time budjet and maximised content expectation from school toward the teacher. No slack at all, constantly teetering on the edge of it being possible at all. I guess the argument is that the current state is that we care so little about the effect of teaching that no effect is a acceptable outcome. And therefore caring to test that there is more effect than no effect would be an improvement. I feel like the essential part of that is the lack of care. If you have the expectation that the thing wil not be done if you do not check for it, that is a very low trust attitude. In case you have trust you only need to start monitoring when you lose that trust. If you have to tease and pressure the agent to do the principals bidding you are only going to get exactly what you ask for. Empowering the agent you might get stuff that was not previously tested for. You can't get Goodharted so bad if you do not micromanage while throwing more resources at it will get you more. It is quite easy to think of a doctor that is tired and hurries up the patient in order to get enough patients served for that day, looking at X-rays while not listening to pain descriptions. Difference between 10 and 15 patients served is easy to verify. Misdiagnoses or missed depression diagnosis are hard to verify and to pin the causal pathway. I am also sure that (some) hedge
How would this second organization go about verifying that?
I can't tell you because I have absolutely no idea what skills and information elementary, middle, and high school students are intended to absorb in the current regime and why. No one does, by design. But an answer to how to verify such learning would come naturally to someone who had a specific reason for compelling children to learn about a subject, and thus knew what those children were supposed to be able to do by the end of the year with that knowledge. As an example, one possible exception to my "current school curriculums are useless" brush is literacy. I see a case for compelling chiildren to learn that skill (as opposed to skills that are only personally beneficial, and which could be handled by school vouchers), because communication protocols have beneficial network effects. It's obvious to everyone how a third party could verify literacy, since we know why kids should be able to read and under what circumstances they'd do that. It would work to give children grade-level appropriate manuals, mall maps, technical documentation, essays, etc. - things they might like to read in real life - and just then ask them questions. Notice that you could say to a tutor "teach this kid how to read" and there's not much confusion with regard to what the child is supposed to be able to do, because it's common knowledge what that means and there's an obvious reason why you want the child to be able to do it. On the other hand, if I tell the tutor "teach this kid about ancient egypt", the test could be fucking anything because there's actually no economic justification for compelling children to do so. I would have to write eight more paragraphs either specifying exactly what information I was going to need the kid to memorize by the end of the semester, or drop hints to the tutor as to what was going to be on the test, in order for the tutor to feel comfortable staking his professional reputation on successfully teaching the child.
Why are economic justifications the important justifications? If I give an instruction of "teach this kid about separation of powers", the civic justifications are quite clear, while the economic justifications would be quite nebolous and I think the criteria would not be that up in the air. Also a list of memorized facts is not the main way you would enable a citizen to reject goverment overreach. I am a bit surprised that the teacher would be scared of a low outcome. I guess it makes somewhat sense if it is a PvP ranking game among students and among teachers. But for building actual capabilities some is always in addition and very rarely backwards. I would also imagine that where egypt knowledge would actually be used in the actor would still actively fill in details they need in their specific function. Then it doesn't matter so much whether you were teached A and had to pick up B or whether you were teached B and had to pick up A. And having feel and context for egypt is largely ambivalent about what specific things you know (so that when you encounter a timeline placing egypt, rome and america you are not completely bewildered and can relate).
If you say so. I hope you don't mind if we also do a follow up survey to examine whether or not the kid remembers that information when he's old enough to vote, and trial the class on a random half of the students to see whether or not it makes a difference on political opinions 10y down the line as well. I prefer economic justifications because all of the other types of justifications people make seem to be pulled out of thin air, and they don't seem too enthusiastic about proving their existence, but if you're one of the rare other people, sure, we can try out the civics classes with the goal of doing science to figure out if these benefits actually manifest themselves in practice. I absolutely never said that. The tutor in my scenario simply wants to know what it is he is expected to teach and how such learning will be measured, just like any contractor. There's no PvP dynamic here because student learning on an objective skill like "basic literacy" can be measured by a fixed bar. Everyone gets a 'Pass' on a literacy test if they are able to pass that bar, and the bar for such a test would not move up or down based on the increasing or decreasing aptitude of students. Contrast this with the situation we have now, where schools that give students high marks on average are accused of "grade inflation" by the other schools, because grades are actually a PvP ranking game between students and are valued not as indicators of learning but as signals important in only relative terms for getting admitted to high ranking colleges.
Voting behaviour would very weakly test for that bit. I am imagining a test of hypotheticals and calssifying as "yes" or "no" on whether the scenario is consistent with the role. Voting against someone because of influence of hate adds is hard to separate from voting against somebody for transgressions against political organization. Having solely economic justifications has the danger of narrowing education to only vocational education. But I guess having just some measure that does not get instantly warped doesn't particularly care what flavour it is. I know that some people have a mindset that everything should be measured but it is not intuitive to me why this would be universal. I get that there should not be disagreement on what is the performance and what would be a breach. But that it can always be understood as a quantity and never a duty or a quality is not immidietly obvious to me. I know that other countries have high monetary involment in colleges and colleges are more used for class distinguishment which I understand if it boosts the signal side of it. To me it would be more natural for colleges to complain to high schools that the opening college courses need to be more extensive as the previous stage was slacking. That kind of dynamic does not particularly care about grade distribution among the students. But if it is about particular students getting to particular colleges then I understand that gets shadowed. It seems to me the role of "low end" tetriary education is somewhat different. Having a system where it makes sense to play even if you "lose" is very different from a game where if you "lose" then it is almost as good as if you did nothing.

One function of public education is to set a limit on the influence that parents at society's extremes can have on their children. This is most conspicuous when we consider parents in extreme poverty, who likely struggle with mental health and various maladaptive habits and beliefs. Maybe they're poor because they deviate from society's expectations of competence; maybe they deviate from society's expectations of competence due to the demands and stresses imposed by poverty. Regardless of which way causality is flowing there, school gives their kids a chance to be exposed to styles of thought other than the ones that contribute to their continued misfortune.

Public school also serves an important social function, at least in the modern US, as free daycare for those who may not be able to afford other childcare options. It can help counteract the extreme ideological indoctrination that kids may be exposed to at home -- if a set of beliefs is serving the parents in such a way that they can't afford to keep their kids at home all the time, they get less chance to force those beliefs uncontestedly onto the kids. If school were abolished, the world would be worse unless some intervention was added to help children from this type of background have a choice of whether they want to mimic their parents' lifestyle or choose a different one.

School is useful for allowing children to practice socializing with peers, with whom they have little in common other than their parents happening to live in the same area and procreate within the same few months. Schooling which keeps a group of children together for a decade also teaches about long-term games and consequences, in a way that many alternatives might not.

Can you suggest some alternative to school which is uniformly no worse than the current system?

First off, I am not in the USA (from NZ). I dont look back on my school years fondly (and I went to a lot of different schools thanks to family circumstance), but that was mainly due to bullying being incapable of sport, too bright and socially inept. However, the actually schooling part was something I very much enjoyed. Many teachers that inspired and effectively taught things I really wanted to know. I hated programming (we are talking punch card fortran) but was forced to learn it and hey, have been programming (writing models) for decades. Sometimes (often) teachers are right about forcing you to learn things (add propositional calculus to list) . Two of us skipped class for physics in final year as teacher said better off with textbook but please turn up for labs. Similarly learnt geography by visiting teacher after school for assignments as couldn't timetable it. From my own kids, Year 1-8 schooling here leaves somewhat to be desired but both kids thrived at high school and we were happy with how taught. Sciences and maths are very hierarchical in learning. What bothers me about the home schooling is tendency to drop the "boring" or difficult bits which then struggle later because fundamentals missing.

Bad. You learn to cheat and be indifferent, and you are threatened to get good grades or you'll never get a good job. No one likes it. The people who like school are robots.

1 Related Questions

It depends. Can you give some indication of what coalition with this intent you assume?  * A strong majority of the government is in favor of introducing the subject (say, >60%). * A group of experts advising the government has strong evidence that the subject provides large societal value (say, equal to an expected increase of GDP by 1%). * The general population has a consensus that the new subject is valuable (in some clear but not necessarily precise sense, e.g., "good for future job prospects"). * The teachers that will teach the subject are generally in favor of it (either enough of the existing teachers who will have to do this, or the experts who will have to teach the future teachers).  * The administrative organs of the government are given the order to implement the new subject, e.g., by passing a suitable law (assuming the administrative organs are sufficiently capable of doing so). Additionally, I guess we assume that adequate monetary means are available for this endeavor, right? It is an investment, the new subject will start to pay off after 20 years earliest (30 if you have to teach the teachers), right?
1Answer by Dirichlet-to-Neumann1y
Training teachers is probably the main physical cost (it was a big problem for computer science in France), but the main social obstacle is the opposition to change from basically everyone : parents don't want their children to learn different things than they did, teachers don't want to lose curriculum hours to make room for new subjects, and administrators don't want to risk making anything new.
Not sure whether setting this up as a related question that is hidden from the front page was the best approach. Maybe I should have selected that it should be posted to the front page instead. First time I'm using "Ask Related Question".
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BJ Novak in "One More Thing, Stories and other Stories" has Stories (surprise surprise) about this - from a principle who decides (on principle) - fuck it - no more math, to a summer camp run by an eccentric genius for gifted kids to do drugs, have sex, and have fun while avoiding paralyzing levels of self-awareness. It's very refreshing fantasy.

l could easily write about this topic for literal days.

At 16 I tried writing my own choose-your-own-adventure math hypertextbook (US middle to high school algebra and geometry - "common core"), only to be stymied by a vast swath of misty unknowns. Who needs to know what? How deep? To the foundations or just to do some particular task? Why? How do you know if someone has learned the deep ideas? Is it just a novelty effect you're seeing? Is that a problem? How do you structure infrastructure to optimize for the ideals of a fractious mass in a decade-long person manufactory/child jail to fuel the economy with educated workers And democracy with educated citizens And keep millions upon millions of vulnerable serfs with no legal liberties interested and happy and healthy and not shooting each other while ruled over by underfunded low-IQ taskmasters who can't educate without incurring excessive bureaucracy to get extremely overworked students to be competitive in getting to collages that usually don't work.

I was an afterschool math tutor at Mathnasium. I was in the strange position of working at a service business for whom the vast majority of our direct clients did not actually want our services. The only other example I can call to mind is private prisons. That fits very well with my own extremely depressing and disempowering, suffering experience of my ten + years of mandatory education. I was not legally allowed to leave the building without exceptional circumstances and the permission of a superior.

Improving education is an absolutely bizarrely ridiculously hard problem.

The feedback cycles to know if someone has retained their schooling are typically very, very slow. Gamification and digital tracking of activities is useful for this - but remove students from the on-the-ground gears-level problems that their education is supposed to help them solve. This is where I first discovered the idea of an alignment and control problem, in the context of the classic "as soon as a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure". Grades, though empirical, are shit tools for determining how and if things are working - and why they aren't. In math, kids almost always don't know how even to try to solve real-world, unfamiliar problems they haven't already been taught step-by-step how to solve. During exploratory periods of development, children in many places have almost no autonomy over what happens to them or what they do during an average day. This is catastrophic for the development of learning people.

This black-and-white thinking doesn't sound like you.

I don't necessarily expect there to be a black-and-white answer to my question, it's mainly that I was reading Ben Hoffman and was thinking about how schools are a pretty central crux to his writings, yet after having unupdated my beliefs about schools, I wasn't sure what to think of this crux, so I wanted some opinions from smart informed people that I could dig into or reflect upon.

Well, I don't know who Ben Hoffman is, but the obvious answer is "good schools are good and bad schools are bad, and everything in between." 

Personally, I had a variety of experiences from quite bad to very good throughout my school years. It all depended on the mix of teachers, students, admins and my personal emotional place in the system. My own children were schooled, unschooled, private-schooled, public-schooled, depending on what was necessary and available at the moment. 

The questions you are asking appear uncorrelated with what you want to learn though. Evaluate job candidates on merits, of which credentials are a part, but not a huge part. Ignore all considerations based on the conflict theory approach, like "class war." Pick an educational framework that works best for a specific kid, unencumbered by ideological considerations. In general, keep your ideological identity small and such.

Well, I don't know who Ben Hoffman is,

He's a rationalist(-adjacent?) blogger who writes about power, economics, culture, and EA: Compass Rose. His post Oppression and production are competing explanations for wealth inequality might be a good place to start.

Sorry, tried reading it a few times, the meaning escapes me...

That ignores systematic problems with schooling, which even good schools will tend to suffer from:  

Teaching by class risks both losing the kids at the bottom and boring the kids at the top, whereas individual study doesn't have this problem.  

Teaching by lecture is much slower than learning by reading.  Yes, some students benefit from audio learning or need to do a thing themselves to grasp it, but those capable of learning from reading have massive amounts of time wasted, as potentially do the kinesthetic types who should really be taking a hands-on approach.  

Teaching a broad curriculum forces vast amounts of time and effort to go towards subjects a student will never use.  Specialization avoids this.  Broad curricula are sometimes justified on the grounds that they'll give a student more options later if they don't know what they want to do, or on the grounds that they make the student "well-rounded".  However, the first justification seems extremely hollow in the face of opportunity costs and the tendency of aversive learning to make the victim averse to all learning in the future.  The second, meanwhile, seems hard to take seriously upon actually experiencing "well-rounded" education or seeing its effects on others:  it turns out people just don't tend to use ideas they're not interested in that were painfully forced into their minds.  

Also relevant, though you could fairly note that the best schools will not suffer from these as much:

Public schools do not tend to benefit much from good performance nor suffer from bad.  They are not incentivized to do a good job and thus tend not to.

Political and educational fads can result in large amounts of schooling going towards pushing pet ideas of the administrators, rather than anything that is plausibly worthwhile.  This can even be worse than a simple waste of time:  I've seen multiple classmates develop unhealthy guilt due to forced exposure to political propaganda. 

You are correct that some schools are much better than others.  But there are serious systematic problems here, and some schools being somewhat less bad doesn't change that fact.  

I unfortunately don't have any answers, just some more related questions:

  • Does anyone have practical advice on this topic? In the short term we are obviously powerless to change the system as a whole. But I couldn't in good conscience send my children to suffer through the same system I was forced to spend a large part of my youth in. Are there any better practically available alternatives?
  • What about socialization? School is quite poor at this, yet unilaterally removing one kid would probably make them even worse off. (Since presumably all other kids their age are still at school.)
  • As an adult, what actually useful methods of learning exist? I learned the vast majority of my useful knowledge through autodidactism, everything else (school, university) is pretty much noise. I would be open to alternatives, but I haven't seen any kind of "teaching" so far that came anywhere close.

I learned the vast majority of my useful knowledge through autodidactism, everything else (school, university) is pretty much noise. I would be open to alternatives, but I haven't seen any kind of "teaching" so far that came anywhere close.

Collaborating with an expert/getting tutoring from an expert might be really good?

Collaborating with an expert/getting tutoring from an expert might be really good?

Probably. How does one go about finding such experts, who are willing to answer questions/tutor/collaborate?

(I think the usual answer to this is university, but to me this does not seem to be worth the effort. Like I maybe met 1-2 people at uni who would qualify for this? How do you find these people more effectively? And even when you find them, how do you get them to help you? Usually this seems to require luck & significant social capital expenditure.)