The following notes were originally about the education of children for home schoolers. Since most people today have been educated in government institutions of learning, almost everyone today can benefit from the principles here.
If there is any doubt about the importance of knowledge and education, please see the article, "The Only Path To Success And Happiness—Knowledge And Work."
What Should You Learn
Knowledge is an absolute necessity for human success, and is one reason we want to have as much knowledge as possible. Since there is an almost infinite number of things one might learn, what kind of knowledge should one pursue?
There is a sense in which no one can tell someone else what they ought to learn, because everyone is different, and what they'll need to know to live their life successfully will be different for every individual. That is one reason most curriculums are bad ideas. No curriculum will fit the knowledge requirements of every individual.
Nevertheless I think there are some basic principles to be observed regarding the goals or objectives of learning. Those goals are very simple:
1. Knowledge is Hierarchical. Begin with the basics.
2. Independence is the hallmark or human achievement. Knowledge that enables individual independence (competence and self-direction) are necessary.
3. Learning, like all work, is easier with the appropriate tools.
4. All achievement requires effort, a long view, and doing some things that are not immediately pleasant or liked.
5. All true knowledge is non-contradictory, and requires thinking (reason) by which what is true, and not true, can be identified. One needs to learn the principles of correct reason.
These five principles do not exhaust all that needs to be said about what is important to learn, but a kind of minimum set of objectives. They also are not, "rules," but principles. Again, how these will be accomplished will, and ought to be, different for every individual.
Whatever one is learning must begin with the fundamentals.
The basic knowledge of math is counting; then addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, complex numbers and so on. This obvious hierarchy illustrates how all knowledge requires certain fundamentals before the next level can be learned. It is possible for people to learn disconnected facts, such as what an "average" is, but if they have never learned how to add, count, and divide, it will be just a vague term, and the mathematical basis for it will not be understood.
All knowledge must be learned in this way. If you have children in a public school, this principle is being violated and your children's minds are being crippled.
Two very bad things have been thrust into government schools that cripple young minds from the beginning. One is called the "whole word" method of teaching reading, the other is called "set theory" in mathematics. The "whole word" method (which is called other things as well) insures a child will never develop a large vocabulary or ever be able to read anything with serious content that requires learning new words and concepts. Teaching "set theory" to children before they have mastered the basics of arithmetic insures a child will either hate mathematics, or never become proficient in it. These harmful affects are not accidents, they are intentional "dumbing down" of children.
[The "whole word" method is an assault on phonics, or phonetics, that is learning the sounds of letters and how they are combined to form words. Set theory, which cannot really be properly understood before basic algebra and some number theory is understood, is thrust on young children before they have a clear ideas of what numbers are, much less, the basics of arithmetic. Both of these mind-crippling ideas were intentionally injected into government school curricula to replace the essential basic principles further learning depends on.]
Once a child has learned the alphabet, and the "sound" of each letter, it is quite easy to teach them how words are formed with combinations of letters, and how the sounds of the words are derived from the sound each letter represents. This is basic knowledge for all one will learn in and by any language.
Independence is always the objective of education. The purpose of knowledge is to be able to think for oneself, to make correct choices, and never need someone else to tell you what to do or how to do it. That does not mean we cannot learn from others, or depend on someone else's expertise, especially as a matter of the "devision of labor"; it means that in any situation an individual does not depend on anyone else to live their life successfully, it means being a competent and capable individual worthy of the society and pleasure of other's company, not being an incompetent dependent parasite, the usual product of government education.
To be truly educated one must be an autodidact. No matter what the source of knowledge is, one must use their own mind to learn and understand that knowledge. No teacher or educator can put knowledge into anyone else's mind. Learning is always an independent self-initiated action.
Tools For Learning
Learning is work, and for all work, human beings use tools. By tools for learning I mean both intellectual tools and material ones.
Using the example of children, the first two intellectual tools a child must have are the basics, the alphabet and counting (numbers). These are learned by rote, as are most intellectual tools. Some other very important intellectual tools are the times tables, spelling of all the more common words (emphasizing the non-phonetic exceptions), vocabulary, basic rules of grammar, (the parts of speech, for example), major elements of the periodic table, basic derivatives and integrals (the Calculus). As long as we live, the more basic knowledge we have memorized and have at our mental finger-tips, the more facile are thinking will be.
The material tools for learning are first books, books, and more books. There cannot be too many books. That does not mean one must own them all, but they must be available. Libraries are wonderful sources of knowledge. Today, there are almost endless resources of knowledge on the internet. Some of the more important internet resources of knowledge and research will be found in the "Freedom Stratagies—Education & Knowledge," section of the Free Individual, "Education Free Online," and "Research Resources"
What Should One Learn?
There is an idea that one really only needs to learn what they are truly interested in and believe they will need to know to live the life they choose to live. If I aspire to be a concert musician, why do I need to know chemistry, or if I Intend to be a doctor, why do I need to know anything about architecture or history? I think that view is mistaken.
One should try to learn as much as they can about as many things as they possibly can. The emphasis, no doubt, should be on those subjects one is interested in and will use in pursuit of their own live goals, but one's entire life is limited by the limits of their knowledge.
Nothing of real value in life is easy or comes without effort, and sometimes is unpleasant at the time. Real achievements almost always are accomplished over time, even very long times. It is very important to learn that the greatest achievements, with the greatest rewards are almost always future ones, and they will require enduring some level of grueling perseverance to accomplish.
If the objective of learning is one's competence and independence to live successfully in this world, and to fully enjoy it, one has to have the kind of knowledge this world requires. Learning that immediate present comfort and gratification, as pleasant as it might be, will often bar the way to having and being what is of a much higher value is a reality of this world. I think everyone needs to learn some things they are not particularly interested in, and perhaps at least one thing they think they loath.
Beyond the subject matter itself they will also learn they can accomplish important and rewarding things, in spite of their distaste for them, and many times they will even discover that what they thought was going to be boring or tedious turns out to be very interesting, something they may never have discovered if they had never studied what they thought they would not like.
For some suggestions on what and how to learn as much as you can, see the article, "What And How To Learn—The Lifetime Pursuit Of Knowledge"
Learning How To Think
Thinking and reasoning are not some esoteric or mysterious process that one has to be taught. Most bad thinking is the result of have been taught wrong idea or one's failure to apply their ability to think.
Thinking comes naturally to children. Children begin asking questions almost as soon as they can talk, and soon after do something else, which bewilders many parents, they begin to argue. Unfortunately, this is often discouraged. (Arguing should be managed, not discouraged.)
Thinking, in the serious sense, is very much like arguing, but it is arguing with oneself. When trying to decide what to do in the face of alternatives, one considers various thoughts or ideas about a possible choice, considering the consequences, and deciding which one is preferred and why.
The field of logic, which is the formalization of correct reasoning is very large and technical, but there are basic principles on which all correct reasoning is based. These are not formal rules, but simple principles that for most human being are obvious. These are some examples:
All contradictions are a mistake. (There are no paradoxes.) While there is no such thing as a priori knowledge, some things are learned so easily and early it just seems as though we always knew them. That there are no contradictions is one of them. In formal logic one might say "if A is A, A cannot be non-A," but informally, everyone knows the kitty cannot both be outside and in the closet.
It is not so important to teach the concept of non-contradiction explicitly, at least until and if the child becomes interested in philosophical questions, but very important to avoid contradictions in your own dealing with the child, and of course to point out any such contradictions that might show up in the child's own thinking.
Consensus never establishes truth, or what is right. If you are a parent, there is one thing you are going to hear a lot: "everyone one else ..." is doing it, is going there, is buying one, has some, believes it, or says it. The earlier a child learns what "everyone else" thinks or does has nothing to do with what is right or wrong or true or false, the better. This should be explicitly taught. The next is related to this.
Other's approval is never required. I do not know what the modern day form is, but I'm sure there is one. When I was young, when someone chose not to do something other children did, especially if it was wrong, the children would call him a "sissy," "chicken," or "coward." There were two lies in that which I was very fortunate to have a very wise mother make me understand. The first is that I never had to have the approval of anyone else to know what I was doing was right. "A real coward is someone who is more afraid of being called a name than of not doing what they really want to do," she explained.
The other thing she taught me is a little poem, "sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." This is one of the most profound truths I have ever learned. How I feel as the result of someone else's words, is not caused by the words, or the person saying them, even if it is their intention to make me feel something, like "insulted" or "hurt." How I feel is determined entirely by what I think about what is said, what I make it mean to me, and the amount of importance I attribute to it.
You have no idea how liberating these two simple truths are, or how important they are to one's independence. Most adults today do not understand them. The first is integrity itself. With regard to what is true, or not, what is right or wrong, what anyone else thinks, or thinks about you, or says or says about you, is totally irrelevant. If you know you are right, you never need anyone else's agreement or approval. The other is sometimes called learning to have a thick skin, but the truth is, it is learning how to be free of the manipulation of others. No one can hurt you with words. If you are hurt by other's words, you have done it to yourself, and have made yourself their victim.
Feelings and reason are mutually exclusive. This may be the most important thing to understand to prevent bad reasoning. It does not mean that one must ignore their feelings, or should not think about them, or consider them. It means feelings never provide information other than about themselves, and that nothing is ever true or not true because of what or how one feels.
Most adults never learn to clearly discriminate their feelings from their thoughts, and consequently have both confused thinking and confused feelings.
Feelings are just that, feelings, and nothing more. The feelings are like pain. A pain provides no information beyond the fact of it's existence, its severity, and where it is located (sometimes). A pain does not provide any information about its cause or what can be done about it. What causes a pain and what can or cannot be done about it must be discovered and decided by investigation and reason. This is true of all feelings. A feeling provides no information beyond the fact of its existence, what it feels like, and its intensity. A feeling does not provide any information about its cause, or what should or should not be done about it. A feeling's cause and what someone should or shouldn't do in relationship to it must be discovered and determined by reason.
I've covered the nature of feelings (which includes desires) elsewhere, [Feelings And Emotions—Their Nature, Significance, And Importance. What is true is true no matter what anyone feels.
[Note: The mind-numbing results of government schools is not a failure, it is exactly what those schools are created and designed to do. Please see "Our Prussian 'Public' Schools" to see where our school systems came from, why we have them, what their purpose is, and how they are destroying your children's minds.]