Don't Believe Anything You're Taught

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Venture capitalist Paul Graham recently offered the following advice within an interview he gave to a high school freshman who is writing a book:

I'm sure there are lots of things kids should be taught that they aren't. The combination of forces that produced the default curriculum was so random, and the people teaching it are often so bad. So if there's one thing I'd tell kids, it's that they shouldn't assume that the things they're being taught are the most important things they could be learning. Intellectually ambitious kids have to take charge of their own education. Which doesn't mean ignoring the things they're taught in school so much as supplementing them with what they're not getting. [bold added]
How true. I'd even go so far as to speculate that the truly ambitious usually figure this out for themselves. (But the sooner they realize this, the better, so I am on board with Graham stating this.)

One point on which I differ from Graham regards the sentence preceding the one I emphasized. Kids also shouldn't assume that the things they are being taught are even correct. This admonition goes from simple facts -- as I realized when I corrected my sixth-grade teacher about an astronomical fact -- to broad generalizations. I first realized the latter in college, when I had to concede that my hopes of having religion rationally explained were shown to be false. (I was reminded of the latter again, when I heard that children are being taught that there are no moral facts.)

-- CAV


Steve D said...


Your point in the last paragraph reminds me of Ayn Rand's advice to college students to 'learn in reverse' (this was her idea, I am not certain of her exact words). The idea is to use what you're taught, subject it to critical reasoning and by this means still get value from it.

I don't know if this applies to high school - most students may not yet be intellectually at the level to do this. Parents should encourage them to question what they are being taught and do what they can to help them learn to think properly.

Gus Van Horn said...


My Dad did lots of things I am grateful for and wonder whether they are all that common, such as: (1) explained the reasoning behind why we were supposed to do something, (2) encouraged independent thought by explicitly advising us to think about things, and (3) challenged opinions of ours at the right times and in the right ways (i.e., without making a difference in opinion into a contest of wills). He generally set a good cognitive example and I try to use him as a model for many aspects of my parenting.