Life isn't about getting to the right answers; it's about discovering the right questions.
Crossposted from Curious Human.
In school, we're constantly being asked questions and instantly rewarded when we find the right answers. We're praised in class for saying "25" when we're asked what "5x5" is. We're given perfect scores on tests when we answer every question correctly. We get good grades for repeatedly getting good scores. Students who give the right answers when asked are "good students".
We're also instantly punished when we propose the wrong answers. We get scolded, lose points, and get poor grades. Students who don't give the right answers are "bad students".
For 16+ years (12 grades + 4 years of higher education) we're literally conditioned, in artificial learning environments, to find the right answers to other people's questions. How often do students finish a paper assigned to them in a class and want to write more on the subject? Rarely, if ever. Because the questions - the essay prompts - were never truly ours in the first place.
It's the same for every subject. Take the way math is taught in schools. General concepts are broken down into extremely specific questions. Students are then given a list of methods to answer each specific type of question, which they memorize for the sole purpose of using them to quickly find answers on tests. This process only makes sense for basic, fundamental concepts (times tables, finding the areas of common shapes, etc.); anything more complex and it quickly becomes unnecessarily complicated. Even worse, it detaches math from reality and ruins its purpose, which is to allow us to take first principles, generalize them, and apply them to as many real-world cases as possible.
We weren't designed to learn this way. Have you ever seen a child learn something new? They're playing, and suddenly something sparks their interest. They come up with a question. You see their eyes light up as their curiosity takes over. At that point, they're insatiably motivated to learn - it's only natural.
The things you learn by yourself stick; the things that are “taught” to you do not stick. - Nabeel Qureshi
This way of learning - by starting with our own questions - isn't just more effective. It also gives our lives meaning. I think the beauty in life is precisely in finding our own big questions - with no "correct" answers - that we want to spend our time solving. One of Elon Musk's is "How do I get to and live sustainably on Mars?". Albert Einstein's were "What the fuck is up with light and matter, the motion of particles in a liquid, special relativity, and energy-mass equivalence?".
Our questions don't have to (and realistically won't) start that big. I like the way Paul Graham put it: "The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost."
So the fundamental principle of education should be to give students an environment, and tools, where they can make discoveries themselves. Teach them the most basic foundations of knowledge - math and language - and give them space, time, and autonomy to explore. All human beings are born curious (how could we not be; the world is fascinating!). Don't destroy it by training people to search for answers. Life isn't about getting the right answers; it's about discovering the right questions.