The Problem

A preceptor thinks of his own interest more than of his disciple’s. He is devoted to proving that he is not wasting his time and that he is earning the money he is paid. He provides the child with some easily displayed attainments that can be showed off when wanted. It is not important whether what he teaches the child is useful, provided that it is easily seen. He accumulates, without distinction or discernment, a rubbish heap in the child’s memory. When the child is to be examined, he is made to spread out his merchandise. He displays it; satisfaction is obtained. Then he closes up his pack again and leaves.

- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education (1762)

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me. Those guardians who have kindly taken supervision upon themselves see to it that the overwhelming majority of mankind--among them the entire fair sex--should consider the step to maturity, not only as hard, but as extremely dangerous. First, these guardians make their domestic cattle stupid and carefully prevent the docile creatures from taking a single step without the leading-strings to which they have fastened them. Then they show them the danger that would threaten them if they should try to walk by themselves. Now this danger is really not very great; after stumbling a few times they would, at last, learn to walk. However, examples of such failures intimidate and generally discourage all further attempts.

Thus it is very difficult for the individual to work himself out of the nonage which has become almost second nature to him.

- Immanuel Kant, What Is Enlightenment? (1784)

'What’s the problem? So, you tell us Kant said that we should neither be too lazy to use our own minds, nor too scared to question authority. And that Rousseau said that we shouldn’t teach children to try to be reasonable, that school teaches us useless knowledge and that teachers just think of themselves. We get it, really, but, you know, so what? Where’s the problem?

Yes, things haven’t really changed since then but we don’t see what you find so shocking about it. That’s the way things are, right? It sucks but, hey, that’s life. It’s not like we can change anything about it. We are here to get our graduation because we want good jobs, so we work as much we need to get good grades. It’s nothing philosophical, it’s just school.

And what’s the alternative? You can’t just change the whole system over night, that would end in chaos. We wouldn’t know what to do at all, everyone would be confused. It would be a mess! It’s a scary thought, to be honest. School is not perfect of course, but I don’t see how you could make it better.

Sometimes you need authority to tell you what to do. If kids just do whatever they want, it would also be a mess. They’d be spoiled and just run wild. And it is simply human nature to act this way, to not try to change something if the result aren’t clearly positive. You ask us why we don’t find it shocking that so little has changed after 250 years? If people had a hard time seeing these truths then, it of course it is even harder now after all this time. We have gotten used to it even more.

It’s a bit annoying that you insist on this point. We get it, yeah yeah, everything sucks, but you just make us feel bad. We have other things to do. We don’t have time to change the world. And, actually, we don’t really care.'