John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)


John Stuart Mill by London Stereoscopic Company, c1870
Vortex in box
This is written in February 2006, in anticipation of having a child together with my girlfriend 
(the guy was born on February 3rd, 2006; on the photo: Vortex in a box from a printer, his first bed).

3 forms of education

Education of people can be separated into 3 parts: 1) formal classes; 2) informal meetings; 3) independent studying by the students. Education should pursue either: 1) method of question and answer (a dialogue), or 2) the method of lecture, or 3) the method of playing (walking, talking, riding, etc.) together. All these methods can supplement each other. 

Stimulate self-reliance

When developing someone, one should not provide "ready-made" answers, but should strive to direct the learner towards finding the answers for oneself. Only when that has finally proven impossible, one may tell where the answer may be. Most important in education is to develop "self-reliance" skills, rather than just memory or raw physical power.

A plan of studies is needed

Teaching anybody requires having a preliminary "plan of study". 

First plan of studies

From age 0-7 a child should be taught music, given physical education, taught to read books. His first books may be folk tales, epic tales, fairy tales including "1001 Arabian nights", "Alice in Wonderland"; books of adventure and resourcefulness, such as "Robinson Crusoe" by D. Defoe, and "Around the world alone" by J. Slocum. 

From age 7-12 a child should be taught mathematics, sciences such as physics, astronomy, etc. Here, it is important that s/he should be given access to experimenting, e.g. observing a distant planet through a telescope. All along, construction skills should be encouraged. A young child can be given various construction sets. An older child can be led to make models of planes, boats, rockets.

From age 12-15 a child can be given philosophy and logic to study (dialogues of Plato, "Organon" of Aristotle, various Greek and Roman writers). Then, perhaps a long break from abstract studies would be beneficial, as the child can go either on a trip to other countries, or, if financial means do not allow that, s/he can get a job, to learn the injustices of the existing society. In this way, his theoretical studies will be supplemented by practical knowledge of the world.

Addition 1: Just like going to a musical school may develop in one a sense of beauty, so going to live in the poorer quarters of a city, working among the workers may develop in oneself a sense of justice. Send my children to dish-wash in a restaurant for a couple of months! A phrase from Alexander Green's "The Crimson Sails" still rings in my ears: when a young boy, the future captain, saw how pained was a cook from a boiled soup that spilled on a cook's hand, the cook suggested to the young boy that he should try to spill some on his own hand, to see how that feels; and the boy did it, and experienced real pain, and understood what it meant. Similarly for humanistic aspirations: to make a young person a real humanist, s/he should first experience the trial of living in real poverty, among the very low layers of society: prostitutes, thieves, homeless, etc.

Addition 2: Mill's education was too theoretical, which is a typical drawback for a society based on division of labor. If one desires to educate a child for a classless society, one should attempt to give physical, intellectual and social education. And the only way to learn something is do it, or do things which lead to doing what one desires (e.g. model -> real thing).

Education not in schools

The education that I would want to give to my child, or children, should be separate from government and private schools. While advancing the child intellectually, this will make him lacking in social skills. These skills will have to be learned later in life, e.g. when taking up some social position.

We should note that the best educated people in history - Alexander the Great, Henry Buckle, Mill, Tsiolkovsky  - obtained their education either through studying with a private tutor, or through studying alone. They did not attend "public schools".

Why separate from established school? Because the purpose of education today should be what is commonly called social "revolution", or what more properly appears as social tornado.

Physical and intellectual education

Education should aim to be both physical and intellectual. At an early age, physical perhaps will dominate.

What is "physical education"? Traditionally, it is understood as gymnastics. However, I think that physical education is mostly traveling. In order to travel, one must develop physically. For example, to travel on bike one needs to learn how to take care of one's bike, and one needs to become strong enough to dare to go long distances. 

The more a person travels, the richer is one's education. Travels on foot, as advocated by Rousseau ("Emile"), on bike, etc. find their symmetry in our travels in various regions of knowledge. Process of overcoming difficulties is the same in both. Such travels teach us self-control, presence of mind, application of thinking to concrete tasks.

Plan of studies should be both standard and open to variation

The need to educate our children provides us, adults, who are striving after our own education, with an opportunity to patch holes in our overall knowledge. To facilitate such studies, "Map of knowledge" will be created. While "Map of knowledge" may offer a comprehensive program of studies and development, each of us, as a teacher, should be prepared to offer own version of a program. We're interested in teaching only those things which we, as human beings, find useful or interesting.

Need to learn foreign languages

Languages are the means to education. Hence, a child should be taught at least 2 major world languages: 1 which is spoken in his native country, plus English, as an international language.

One additional foreign language, for example French, is desirable. Learning 2 foreign languages at the same time will promote a vision of similar structure of foreign languages, and hence will facilitate ability to learn languages in the future. However, such education "for the future" is abstract. One learns a language, or anything, when one urgently needs it.

Develop writing for thinking

One attains to serious thinking when one starts to write independently. J.S. Mill started doing this at around 12. Thinking = writing, and this should be supplemented by reading and practical, experimental modes of investigations of reality.

The intermediate stage between reading and writing is taking notes on what one reads, re-reading these notes, trying to arrange one's thoughts (i.e. notes) in some kind of order.

Struggle for finishing projects

Most important in the process of self-education is "finishing", or pursuing things until they are "finished". In artificial division of knowledge there are grades, term papers, etc. But in real studies, there is only the infinity of knowledge in front of you, its interconnectedness. Hence, it is important to be able to set certain goals for oneself. E.g. instead of "exam" a student can write a paper on a subject, so that this paper satisfies the student.

We can observe that many geniuses who imparted on the road of self-education have not finished projects they have began. One example is Leonardo da Vinci. He didn't finish the encyclopedia he has began writing, and he didn't finish painting the Mona Lisa.

Goal in life is obtained from study of history and philosophy

In addition to intellectual, physical and social, a child should be given "moral" education. But morality presupposes a study of history and philosophy, and conclusions which follow from understanding the course of human history and civilization. Most important here is defining goal in life. 

"Moral" education should start by addressing the question of "God" and the question of the origin of the Universe. Thus, moral education comes down to two competing world views: that of religion and that of science. From the world view one adopts, one obtains a goal in life. This will govern the daily life of a person.

Child should be given aesthetic education

An important part of our education is appreciation of nature and aesthetic education. Mill was deeply impressed by the mountain scenery of France, on his visit there. I was deeply impressed by the Atlantic ocean, when I was there, sailing on my way to Spain. These scenes make us conscious of vastness and elevation as physical realities. Aesthetic education is something close to appreciation of nature. It can be furthered by sending a child to a music school, to an art teacher, to a dancing school, etc. A child should be exposed to all kinds of music - from classical European to music from other continents. Thus, the child becomes culturally sensitive. ("Map of Knowledge" can help).

Supplement home education with attendance of selective courses, lectures, concerts, etc.

Another part of one's free (not to use the world "liberal") education is taking courses one desires (this from teenage years onwards) with most interesting teachers at universities, attending lectures given on special topics, attending concerts, art shows, special gatherings of people dedicated to learning of one kind or another. Later, one should strive to organize such learning groups by oneself.

Self-education as the next stage

Education naturally leads to concept of self-education. Education we can define as learning under the guidance of others. Self-education, hence, is learning under one's own guidance. The better one as a student, the faster one passes to the stage of being one's own teacher. Criticism from a teacher is substituted by self-criticism. A teacher serves as conscience for a student. Later, this consciousness is student's own self-consciousness.

Internet is essentially a self-educational tool. It is the road towards self-education.

Know the purpose for which you're educating

Passing on to stage of self-education also is marked by a change in the manner of studies. First, Mill asserts that reading gives place to writing. While reading was the dominant mode of studying at the stage of "education", writing becomes the dominant mode at the stage of self-education. Writing does not mean that one is not reading thoughts of others, but here thoughts of others are used to advance one's own thinking on a subject. But we may notice that "writing" confines education to intellectual aspect. Mill was engaged in social life by working for East India Company. Thus, he was responsible for directing, in some way, the affairs in India, an English colony in XIX century. This practical social activity seems to me the real goal towards which one's education should aim at. Knowing one's goal clearly should make education of a child simple. For example, if you want your child to be a social revolutionary, would you send the kid to a school of establishment?

Education should aim to give that to a child, or a person, which the current epoch demands most, that which is most required for the progress of human species. Thus, the concept of education presupposes an understanding of what we mean by "progress".  This is an idea of J.S. Mill: "any general theory or philosophy of politics supposes a previous theory of human progress". Our epoch does not move forward because of lack of technical, or scientific knowledge. Rather, the major stumbling block are old-fashioned institutions, such as capitalist system of relations, such as marriage.

In addition, in our times the goal is not to create "a professional", i.e. a narrow specialist. In our times the task is towards integration of knowledge, towards integration of intellectual work with physical, towards learning about how to work creatively, both physically and intellectually. This is because we're advancing towards a classless society.

Love education

Sexual maturity makes necessary education in love and sex. Here, we should start with a premise that communism is overcoming the notion of exclusiveness, i.e. one should not have an exclusive sexual partner for the rest of one's life (as opposed to standard morals). Educating children on sex and love involves not so much telling them about techniques of contraception (as is done these days in American schools) but in showing them the best works of our civilization that deal with relationships between the two sexes, and discussing these. Most profound question to be addressed here is: what is love?

Choose friends

One should try to cultivate friends who are at least equal, and if possible, richer intellectually, in social skill, or in physical skills. E.g. Mill father's friends were Bentham (philosopher of Utility principle), Grote (wrote a very good history of ancient Greece), Ricardo (a political economist).

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