Educational Research,

School Learning and Real Life

by C.C.M.Warren, M.A.(Oxon), Retired Professional Educator

In her 1987 Presidential Address to the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Lauren B. Resnick summarised the research on learning in and out of school that she had done. What she discovered is how very different learning is in school from what it is on the job. School learning, Resnick pointed out, demands individual cognitive effort, generally unaided by tools. However, individuals in the work world are generally involved in cooperative thinking and use a variety of tools and artifacts to support their learning process. Reasoning in school is generally a matter of manipulation of abstract symbols, whereas at work reasoning is contextualised and concrete. As a result, learning in school tends to be of a very general nature whereas at work it is very specific to the job situation.

Resnick's research concluded that schools do not prepare students for the world of work and she is now supported by numerous educators as well as employers. She summarised her research results in a chart which I here reproduce below (from Lauren B. Resnick, Learning in School and Out in Educational Researcher, December 1987 and cited in New Foundations, Causal Fallacy in Teaching and Learning):

Differences in


 Individual, Isolated
 Cooperative, Teamwork
 No tools. "Pure mentation"
 Tools for thinking.

Manipulation of media


 Manipulation of symbols
 Contextualized reasoning

 Highly generalized
 Situation specific

 Unadaptive, stymied

Of the five criteria cited by Resnick, only one (the last) served any use for children going into the real world. I know what she means. I had one of the best school and university educations a boy could ever hope for, my parents sacrificing and saving to send me to one of the most prestigeous private schools in England and to Oxford University. I got an excellent do what my teachers did, teaching! So if you want to be a teacher in a school, go to a school and they will teach you well! Otherwise, frankly, school did not do much good for me at all. And when I consider all the damage it did to me and to the many people I know, I became convinced that my own children should, as far as possible, in their best interests, be spared such a fate. With half of my children having gone through state school and half being homeschooled, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind which of my children's interests were served the best.

I have taught in private and state schools all my life as well as doing one-to-one tutoring and tutoring in small groups, including running a tutorial college for many years as its Principle. The latter was the most enjoyable, the pupils got the most out of it, and it provided me with one of several valuable models for home education. Education is in my blood, I have seen the many different types, and I have very firm opinions about the subject.

A few years ago, the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, delivered a speech to an American High School about the eleven things they cannot and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings of modern liberalism have created a generation of children with no concept of reality and how this concept has set them up for failure in the real world. And much as I dislike Bill Gates personally, I cannot fault him on his observations:

    Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

    Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

    Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

    Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

    Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.

    Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

    Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

    Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

    Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

    Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

    Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

School is the most unnatural environment you could possible find and the only thing it comes anywhere near to resembling in a real-life situation is a military barracks. Hardly surprising since the school system as we know it was invented by the Prussians who, though admirable in many other respects, created and modelled schools based on the army and with the purpose of controlling people's thinking. So I stand corrected - schools are useful for teachers and for those who want the regimentation that comes with an army life. Little wonder that the Swedish school system has banned all alternative forms of education except this state-sponsored and -regulated, military-style, thought-control one, since the education minister who supervised the new Swedish School Law was none other than Major Jan Björklund, a military officer who grew up in a military school and has no experience of education in the real world at all. The Swedish State School system was modelled on that of totalitarian Communist East Germany which took Prussian militarism and made it serve Marxism after it had tweeked the Nazi version and made the relatively easy transition from Hitlerism to Stalinism.

I know something about the army myself, having spent a few years training as a cadet in the Cranleigh Cadet Force, Second Batallion, the Queen's Regiment in England and Germany (Düsseldorf), so I know the military mind-set. And whilst the army was great fun (sometimes) and taught me one or two useful skills, most of what I learned was useless for the real life world outside the army.

I have chosen to homeschool my children for many reasons but one of the most important ones is that it better prepares them for real life. They are, in many ways, far better adjusted to people of all age-groups and walks of life than state school ones. I consider the school a most unhealthy environment socially and educationally. And when the defenders of state-schooling accuse homeschoolers of missing out on 'socialisation', I am reminded of the words of Perry Marshall who said:

    "Accusing a home school kid of missing out on 'socialization' is like accusing a work-at-home entrepreneur of missing out on corporate politics".

Frankly I don't think my children are 'missing out' on the conformist, promiscuous, bully-infested, drug and gang culture of state-schools! Education Minister Major Björklund and his gang may like it but I do not, and my children do not and have said time and time again both to me, teachers and others, that they prefer the learning environment at home. 'Children have rights!' they insist, and the state says they have, but it is a huge lie. Children don't have rights, only the totalitarian Swedish state does! As for the education, Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it best:

    "We are students of words; we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing".

Why? Because the school environment is a most unnatural way to learn. As a school teacher I observed that 70-90% of what is taught is soon forgotten afterwards because the goal is not learning but passing tests. School is not real life:

    "I believe that school makes complete fools of our young men, because they see and hear nothing of ordinary life there" (Petronius, Satyricon)

A few school outings is not, moreover, real life. Everything in school is backwards:

    "What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child" (George Bernard Shaw)

    "Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned" (John Holt).

Please understand I am not knocking teachers. I am one. And the teachers I have met are doing the very best they can in a difficult if not impossible situation. Their hands are tied. Most of them genuinely want to help and serve children and they work very, very hard with little appreciation for what they do. I have been there. My sympathies are squarely with those of my own profession. But they are not to blame for the system even if inevitably there are some bad eggs here and there.

No two people learn in the same way as philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein tried to show with his two elephants illustration (see picture at top of article). And yet in the school system everything is standardised as though every child were alike so that standardised testing becomes a totally artificial and unreal method of ascertaining learning.

I was told that I did not have the intellectual ability to go to university when I was at school based on the standardised tests I took. When I told the school that I intended to go to either Oxford or Cambridge they laughed at me and advised my parents to break the truth gently to me - I didn't have it in me. Well I not only went to university but I went to Oxford at a time when getting into university was a lot more difficult in England than it is today. The system was wrong because it did not - does not - and cannot - understand the human spirit.

What Wittgenstein basically did was to ask us to consider two bushes trimmed into the same elephant shape. We look and see the same two floppy ears, the curled trunk, the curled tail and the raised foreleg on both of them. The bushes have been expertly trimmed into the same configuration. But as you look closely you will see that they do not have the same pattern of branches, twigs, leaves or root structures. Though the surface features appear very similar the underlying structure is very different.

The same is true of education. You can teach children the same curriculum and give them the same standardised testing but no two boys or girls will learn in the same way, nor organise information in the same way. Learning to play the piano is not the same as learning to do quadratic equations, and neither do people learn to do these two activities in the same way! I play the piano and know how to do quadratic equations but I cannot read music - I play by ear. Even when motivation is the same (which it isn't) learning does not have the same effects on different individuals.

The beauty of home education is that you have the very real possibility of allowing a child to learn at its own pace and in its own way - the natural way. Instead of cramming their head with data, the vast amount of which they will quickly forget and be of absolutely no use to them when they get out into the real world, home education allows students to motivate themselves to learn and love it!

Most of what I have learned I learned out of a school context. I taught myself astronomy, history and theology, and had to re-teach myself science. I started writing an Historical Atlas when I was 17. I became a biochemist, educator, historian and theologian. Yes, I learned a lot of things at school which were useful when I became a teacher but a great deal of it I had to relearn (such as history and theology) when I began thinking for myself, something that was not encouraged at school. My love affair with education has only grown and this is something I hope I have passed to my homeschooled children, something this militaristic Swedish government wants to prevent me from doing and doubtless try to punish me if I do, as it has other homeschoolers. However, I would not become the criminal, the Swedish state would, for disobeying the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:

    "Everyone has the right to education... Education shall be directed towards the full development of the human personality... No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any function which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions" (Article §2 of Protocol No.1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Incorporated into Swedish law on 1 January 1995 and since 1 January 2010 and the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, the a priori law of Sweden ... but ignored by Sweden)

The United Nations says the same thing:

    "Parents have a priority right to choose the kind of education their children shall receive" (Article §26(3) of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights, 1948. Not a part of Swedish law but carries great moral and ethical weight - currently ignored by the Swedish government)

In rebuking Germany's poor record on human rights in this field, which Sweden now seeks to emulate, the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported:

    "The respect of parents' freedom to educate their children according to their vision of what education should be has been part of international human rights standards since their very emergence" (The Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 8 April 1999).

Not that the Swedish government apparently cares a fig - it has its own agenda that has no regard for human rights. Children are being denied their freedom by keeping them in schools as batch numbers for a slave society created in their image. They are not interested in education research nor in alternative world views to their own very narrowly defined, out-of-date one that belongs to the totalitarian past...unless, of course, they are trying to create a totalitarian present and a totalitarian future, which all the evidence seems to strongly suggest. And if that is not their purpose, they have only to reinstate homeschooling and deregulate it as in the USA and UK. Let people create their own utopias instead - government-directed ones have always resulted in hell (see the Politics page).

Copyright © 2011 C.C.M.Warren - All Rights Reserved

Last updated on 27 February 2011