Traditional Education Is Like Arranged Marriage

Posted on April 20, 2014


I have a theory that arranged marriages actually work relatively well if certain conditions are met:

  1. The society must be very supportive of the arranged marriage, almost pressuring the couple to make it work.
  2. The couple must believe in it and be committed to making it work.
  3. Both people getting married must never have met someone else who they fell in love with.

I just think that given enough time with someone you will likely come to love them. You’ll get to know their quirks and discover interesting things about them that you never would have otherwise. If both people are committed to making it work then eventually each person will come to know the other so intimately that it will work.

If either person has met someone else that they truly loved, though, arranged marriage must feel like a miserable fate. To not have control over something so fundamental to your life would seem insanely cruel.

Even if arranged marriage did work, even if it did make life easier for many people by ensuring that they would have a partner and they they would likely come to love that person, we would never consider arranging marriage today just because it feels so ridiculous to not allow someone control over that aspect of their life. It may legitimately make life harder for someone as they struggle to meet someone they truly love, but we would still never try to dictate it.

This seems like a perfect description of traditional school to me. It actually does work at some level because as a society we believe in it. As children we believe the grades we receive in arbitrary subjects actually define our general intelligence. As parents we worry that giving our children more freedom in their education will make their lives harder, even if we know at some level that the passion one might discover far outweighs the safety of taking the prescribed path.

Most people agree with traditional education and so it does work. We follow the prescribed path and we get jobs and we either come to enjoy them or come to work around them. We don’t really think much about what life would have been like if we had found a deep passion and followed it. We assume that it would have been much harder, maybe too hard. It’s hard enough to pay the bills as it is…

When it comes to our children, we have the same concerns. As parents how can we wish on our children a more challenging life?

The same paradigm existed with arranged marriage. How could we not help our children get married. If they don’t then life may be too hard. It’s just too risky to allow our children to make their own decisions and try to find someone they love. What if they don’t, or what if the person they do fall in love with is not good enough? Will they be ostracized from society?

It really feels like the anxiety parents feel around challenging traditional education is exactly the same as the anxiety one would feel around challenging arranged marriages. If I give my child control over their education then they may never learn anything. Or what if they become passionate about something that doesn’t pay the bills very well? How will they survive in this challenging environment if we don’t force them to learn certain skills?

As it is, we live in a society that doesn’t believe in arranged marriages, so it feels preposterous to be worried about those risks. We all know our children face many challenges as they try to meet a partner that will be with them for the rest of their lives, but we don’t intervene (at least not too excessively). We know they need to do it on their own or they may miss one of the most fundamental joys of life.

I just wish we felt the same way about education…