Is the modern classroom teaching anything at all? Can we imagine it on a spectrum between apprentice to sub-10-minute YouTube edutainment videos? Where would it fall, and what is the purpose of school? Can we truly instill maturity in people with objects or even lectures? How much civilizing happens because of the teacher – and how much more could happen if we gave people actual (and perhaps even meaningful – if not challenging) work?
I have no real answers, but I'd like to share the way I go about thinking. My personal educational history is pretty unusual, and has not endeared me to public education at all. Imagine a typical experience, though:
A student enters a grade, relearns some of the prior year's material and then some fractional additional amount. Until high school almost all material is only slightly different between years. Then, even the review is abandoned, and they begin the process of forgetting everything they've learned for the last time as subjects like math and science stop review and language, literature and history never require mastery of previous understanding. Meanwhile, assignments and essays are completed to allow conscientious students to display their ability to satisfy the demands of others.
I would like to submit that this system has fallen into a surprisingly tricky trap. It has become captured by its own facility at producing unimpeachable Nash-equilibria for indecisive parents (which, incidentally, produces indecisive children). There is no meaningful specialization of children until they are 20 years old. Take a moment to imagine that. In an economy more and more specialized every year, our school system doesn't contain more than a suggestion of it. And no practical skills are taught, truly, ever. Not even at a college level, and fields with heavy schooling requirements (doctors, lawyers) have explicit learning on the job phases anyway. No meaningful work is accomplished – ever. A PhD student may be required to do original research, but in many fields it's not clear how useful that work is, outside of a specific desire to do research.
I suspect it's advantageous to begin helping a child master a trade as soon as possible. They wouldn't have to adopt it as a profession, but I can't imagine anyone who'd lament it. In the same way multi-lingual households are normal in many parts of the world, we should see multi-focus households. You speak computer programming because your parents did, but all your friends are marketers, so you choose that for yourself. A general education is an interesting way to sample things, but I assure you children are not so indecisive as to require years and years of exposure to understand their talents and taste. And who's to say they need to? Explore things at the margin, explore broad subjects and learn for as long as you're interested.
I was mostly self-taught, but I strongly, strongly suspect I would have benefited from tutors and more guidance, if it was specific to my interests. It's a bit sad if modern schools are so bad that not using them at all is better, though.