What You Master in 15,000 Hours

If Malcolm Gladwell is right then it takes 10,000 hours to master something at the highest level.  I guess that means after the 15,000 hours a typical kid spends in public school they become a master and a half.  But at what?

Certainly not geography, or history, or math, or English, or any of the other arbitrary slivers of factual knowledge called “subjects”.  The learning is too fragmented, inconsistent, and lifeless.  If it’s not the subjects themselves what is the predominant trait or skill that happens consistently throughout that entire, nearly life-consuming 15,000 hours of schooled childhood?  What do kids master?

Seeking permission.

Children master the art of being permission seekers.  They lose the ability, to borrow from James Altucher, to choose themselves.  Each of those 15,000 hours share in common the absence of choice.  Students aren’t free to explore or follow their curiosity outside of incredibly narrow bounds, both metaphorical and cinder block and barbed wire.  Permission must be sought to speak, go to the bathroom, or do anything differently than the officially sanctioned authority figure has prescribed.

Is it any wonder people stick around in unhappy jobs and relationships?  Is it any wonder people numbly obey sometimes absurd and immoral laws?  Is it any wonder people don’t deviate from the education, career, and life path that was explicitly pushed on them?  Is it any wonder people don’t believe in or take pride in themselves or others in the absence of external rewards and badges and credentials?

Sometimes people say that anything other than 15,000 hours in school is radical.  I’m all for radical, but I can’t help but find it an odd way to view not sending your kids to school.  As John Taylor Gatto said,

“Is there a more radical idea in the history of the human race than turning your children over to total strangers who you know nothing about? Having those strangers work on your child’s mind, out of your sight, for a period of twelve years?”

15,000 hours.  Let’s hope Gladwell is wrong.

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