Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Decentralized Approaches to Learning

If you are a libertarian and you are interested in issues of education, you may have noticed that there is very strong support throughout the movement for the Montessori Method. Ayn Rand quite famously came out in favor of the Montessori Method as the best way to educate students.

The reasons why Objectivists and libertarians support the Montessori Method is because of the freedom it provides students to learn by pursuing their own interests. That means education is student-guided, with the teacher providing instruction as the students request and require it. This means education is a bottom-up, emergent process that best reflects how the brain itself works. Brains learn best in environments structurally most like themselves (something suggested by Hayek, and argued by Stuart Kauffman). Among the things this would do would be to prepare us, psychologically, for life in civil society, which is made up of a variety of bottom-up, complex, self-organizing, scale-free network processes -- spontaneous orders. An education that emulated free markets, democracy, the scientific order, philosophical networks, the artistic orders, technological innovation networks, etc. would prepare students for living in them, and in creating such familiarity, help them learn to appreciate living in such orders and thus support them.

The top-down educational system we have now prepares us for working in organizations. We learn how to act and interact in firms, bureaucracies, and other organizations, all of which are top-down hierarchies. The problem primarily arises when people mistakenly believe that society itself ought to resemble an organization, which pretty much every leftist really believes in, no matter their rhetoric to the contrary. Religious conservatives tend to more openly support religious-type hierarchies (like we found in the Medieval world), and they tend to more consistently support maintaining the current structures of education. Ironically, these current structures are a result of progressive reforms to make people better able to live and work in organizational hierarchies.

Libertarians of all stripes favor radical decentralization at the social level. This is true of anarchists, who take it there with governance, and this is true of Objectivists, who are far more wary of bringing it to government. But both believe in applying it to educational methods. For the youngest students, that would be via the Montessori Method; for older students, it would take on more Socratic methods approaches. But both of these are decentralized, self-discovery methods. Such methods not only foster comfort in the spontaneous orders, but create more entrepreneurial students, since students are rewarded for their acts of discovery and learning what they need to learn to master their interests. And such methods also foster minds that ask "why?" and which question authority.

It is perhaps no wonder, then, that libertarians favor such approaches to education. Decentralized educational methods help to create more libertarian souls. It is perhaps no wonder that progressives and conservatives continue to favor our current system, since that system is designed to create people who will live in the bureaucratic society they wish to create.
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