Education Should Be RESPECTFUL — Introduction to AGES Part III
Saving the world with an Alternative Global Education System
By MARTIN REZNY
Schools don’t respect students. There, I said it. Certainly not at all before they reach adulthood. Arguably, in many ways, schools don’t respect students even when they finally give them the right to maybe start making some actual decisions about their own education. I’m being very serious.
For starters, everyone who read Foucault, or watched enough The Simpsons or South Park, knows that the modern school environment is quite analogous to prison, on purpose. Apparently because this form of organization is efficient. Let’s go through the list of similarities:
- School is mandatory, you literally have to go there, until you’re old enough, at which point it becomes only almost required.
- When you go there, you’re ordered to stay in a room, sit down, shut up, pay attention, respond only and always when spoken to, and all that for the better part of the day, which is demonstrably unhealthy.
- You’re actively punished in progressively severe ways for any non-compliance, often regardless of any legitimacy that your objections may have.
- Assuming you comply with all this, you don’t even get to select what, when, or how you can learn, except for maybe some rare minimal token customization.
- Once you’re finally released after being held and indoctrinated for a day at school, you’re usually expected to do further homework, thus letting the school usurp even more of your time, or risk humiliation or punishment.
And most adults wonder why most kids dislike school so much. Just as they did when they were kids themselves. If you think about this at all, this isn’t minor or tolerable level of disrespect. None of this has to, or for any good reason should, be this way. And that’s just the first layer of disrespect.
None of this has ever been proven scientifically to result in effective education when compared to almost any other approach that’s more respectful to the interests or personal autonomy of students, which means that the only motivations for it left are delusion, inertia, or convenience.
Try being personally disrespectful to any adult to this extent and then excuse yourself for it by arguing that you can’t be bothered to check whether you’re doing harm; that you know you’re doing harm, but can’t be bothered to change your habits; or that you like it this way. It won’t go well.
Some more progressive national education systems have already shifted in a more respectful direction in the recent couple of decades, for example by abandoning the idea of mandatory homework or by banning most direct forms of punishment, but these are just bandaids, not real solutions.
Not to mention that beyond the system being immediately disrespectful and beyond responsible adults doubling down on it for all the wrong reasons, there’s the additional issue of school and government administrations in many places intentionally misleading students.
In the modern developed world, the education system is often treated as a political battleground and an opportunity to make a profit, students be damned. The curriculums and admission standards are often warped to cater to an imaginary or censored version of reality; the students are either entrapped in debt for the rest of their lives or otherwise treated as a commodity; and sometimes, the policy is to outright sabotage learning.
I was very fortunate in that I was a naturally talented student who was participating in one of the better education systems in the world. My education was all publicly paid for and not very ideological. Plus I had a pretty lenient headmaster. So much privilege, and I still hated it.
I hated the education, to be exact, not at all learning. While having to sit through pointless classes, I have pursued many interests outside of school. Since I was quite successful at a number of competitions, I was allowed to miss school sometimes to go actually learn useful stuff somewhere else.
It may sound like an exaggeration, but in my case, literally everything I learned because I wanted to turned out to be valuable in my life, and literally everything I was forced to learn at school against my wishes turned out not to be valuable. Exactly as I suspected while being a teenager.
Thanks to mastering debating early on, I was able to earn the respect of the adults to such an extent that they usually let me pursue my interests, but it shouldn’t take being a debating champion to be able to have any degree of control over one’s own development. I’d very much prefer to have had less of an advantage, while also not being shunned for being privileged.
Maybe it is a delicate balance to strike, between everyone’s political biases, conveniences, and sensibilities, and an effective, universal, objective truth-based education. Maybe some form of education has to be required, maybe children shouldn’t be allowed to be autonomous in every single respect.
But even if compromise is the best we can do at scale, I think the current normal is objectively awful and ought to be upended. The extent to which most adults in the world don’t seem to notice or care that there’s so much wrong with education is all the evidence for that you need. I rest my case.
The third of four core principles of what we call Alternative Global Education System (AGES) is respect. What follows is a list of ways in which it should be applied within education. If you’re interested in perusing the whole thing, see the state-of-the-art version of the AGES charter.
Respectful education system must be…
Any online global platform where interaction of users is common is effectively a social medium, which means there needs to be a clearly formulated policy of how these interactions should be structured and managed.
The primary social policy of this project is to ensure that all interactions of all associated parties are respectful. Active hate speech or overly partisan or conspiratorial communications will be discouraged proportionally to their level of extremism.
However, in order to help the students effectively address hateful and political speech in their everyday lives, it is important that learning about these topics in the context of philosophy, science, and history is allowed without any form of censorship.
Among all of the existing speech moderation standards, the one most applicable to this project are debate competition rules, or ethical codexes of debating organizations. Put simply, the ideal standard is constructive free speech, meaning that it is desirable to limit all kinds of speech that aim to make objective, fair, and honest discourse more difficult or impossible.
This is meant to cover mainly fraud, bullying, pornography, sexism, xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, and ideological zealotry, not opinions that are merely controversial. Students will be encouraged to debate controversies, only in a respectful manner.
Given that free speech will not be absolute on our platform, some human moderators or AI-enhanced algorithms will need to keep determining and enforcing the limitations. It is also likely that there will be complaints and disputes regarding student or teacher conduct, accuracy or morality of learning content, and outcomes of various tests or assessments. This is something that all existing social media platforms have always struggled with, especially at scale. While there may be no perfect solutions, we intend to learn from their successes and mistakes.
For starters, there have to be humans involved in resolving disputes, not just an impersonal algorithm, and any algorithm used has to be transparent and responsive to the preferences of the community which it polices. In terms of assessing the quality or appropriateness of educational content or communications, we intend to create another organization fully dedicated to that kind of work (see the Truthworks page for details).
Complaints and disputes unrelated to the learning content will initially be addressed by an algorithm optimized by the community, except for extreme cases and appealed cases, where dedicated moderators will have the final say. AGES moderators will be volunteers or paid professionals who passed an equivalent of existing debate adjudicator certifications.
Moderators will have to follow set guidelines (also optimized by the community) in making their decisions. Users will not be able to appeal moderator decisions, but can lodge complaints against moderators. Based on this feedback, it will be up to the moderator community as a whole or internal investigations-focused truth workers to determine if any particular moderator’s status should be revoked.
In terms of determining certification standards wherever that may be applicable, we intend to coordinate with existing corporations and educational institutions and respect their judgment and needs. We do not intend to be an authority on setting professional or academic standards.
While the primary concern of this initiative is to foster personal growth, not to meet the demands of any particular government or industry, the ultimate choice of educational priorities will lie with each individual student.
To ensure maximum usefulness of our platform for all students who seek to improve their position on the job market or achieve specific career goals, we will strive to create learning paths designed to help students meet a broad range of academic, professional, or industry qualifications.
One of the key functionalities of each account on our platform will therefore be an optionally detailed or transparent student profile capable of displaying complex analytic information about the given student’s learning progress and acquired qualifications. In other words, a very advanced accurate CV to help recruiters determine whether the student is a good fit for any given organization. If the student doesn’t opt in, their information will not be displayed or used by us for analytical purposes.
One of the biggest challenges of any educational program, but especially one that aims to be global, is managing to remain as truth-based as possible in a world full of ideological biases.
Most education systems tend to have some kind of national bias resulting in a skewed historical account and a set of preferred political ideas, often right-leaning. In response to this common conservative tendency of lower-level schooling, most high-profile independent universities tend to have left-leaning politics.
While the main political issues in education on both the left and the right side of the political spectrum keep evolving over time and differ across the world, they always result in some objectively detrimental pressures on education — to teach convenient untruths; to not teach inconvenient truths; to sabotage the effectiveness of education; and to control who gets to have an education at all.
If you turn these negatives around, you’ll get the political agenda or bias of our project — objectivity, meaning facilitation of universal access to maximally effective ways of learning true facts, real skills, and honest philosophy.
This may result in our platform being censored, boycotted, or otherwise opposed by those governments, institutions, and private groups that wish to misrepresent facts to make themselves look better or make a profit; that are opposed to effective or universal education on principle; or that wish to be the sole authorities on what objective truth is. While our truth workers will be always willing to engage our opponents in a good-faith debate and moderate our content within reason, intellectual honesty is a central pillar of true learning that must not be compromised.