Our current approach to education arose during the Industrial Revolution, when it was desirable to turn out the human version of cogs for the social machine. Age-based classrooms made it simple to create curricula on a per-year basis, and standardized testing made it simple for employers to assess the quality of the product. Prior to this approach, schools were far less age-segmented, and we know from recent studies that children learn best in mixed-age environments where the older children help teach the younger ones (and the best way to learn is often by teaching, as one’s gaps become apparent) and the younger ones also learned implicitly the value of helping one another. We also know that many approaches to pedagogy are hopeless when judged on the basis of actual results (e.g. children who understand what they’re supposed to know after a certain module has been taught).

Ironically, in the very few cases where attempts have been made to introduce evidence-based approaches to teaching, it’s often been teachers themselves who have provided the greatest resistance to change. This is because while there are a few teachers who are in the profession because they truly want to make a positive difference in the lives of others, a great many people become teachers because they are unwilling to face the rigors of the private-sector workplace. For this latter, and sadly quite large, group the most important thing is to maintain the status quo because it provides a relatively comfortable life in return for very little effort.

My own suspicion is that just as in so many other areas of society we cling to anachronistic structures merely because we find change with its implied unknowns frightening, we will continue to cling to utterly ineffectual approaches to education for decades and decades to come.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.