For thousands of years, societies taught and trained their children through immersive gameplay and storytelling. Prospect Magazine's Julian Gough wonders why we ever stopped, and ponders a fantasy world where the games of today form the children of tomorrow.
"How would I cut public spending by £100bn? Abolish schools-and have children learn through playing videogames all day." That's the lead-in to Gough's "If I ruled the world" column, which discusses the possibility to teaching children using the most reliable teaching tool of the modern age - the entertainment industry.
Compulsory schooling is a relatively new concept, in the grand scheme of things at least, introduced by the Prussians in 1763. Gough points out that back then, threatening children with violence was okay. Today? Not so much, and without the beatings, children simply don't have any compulsion to learn in school.
The answer is simple - we start beating children again.
Perhaps that wouldn't go over so well. Gough has another, less painful idea.
What will Britain's children do with no schools? They'll sit at home immersed in the internet (reading), texting (writing), and playing computer games (arithmetic, physics, geography, history). Learning is impossible if you are neither motivated nor focused; but it is unavoidable if you are both. Monitor the brain activity of a kid in a maths class-nothing going on. Now monitor it at home while he plays Bioshock at level 13: his brain is growing new neural pathways as though his life depended on it. Only the fear of either death or massive status loss can motivate a teenager to do anything, and computer games are optimised to do just that-even more effectively than a Victorian with a stick.
I'd say that Julian is discounting the power of a Victorian with a stick, but his point stands. Games and entertainment were once the normal way to teach children how to deal with the real world, a fact that Gough addresses with perhaps the most amazing analogy ever written.
Every society in history, until ours, trained and taught its youth through totally immersive gameplay and storytelling. Children (and adults) learn and grow by pursuing their individual obsessions passionately, at the ever-advancing frontline of their own ability, on a schedule of their choosing. Trying to turn children into literate, creative, flexible free thinkers by adding things to the national curriculum is like trying to transform witches into Christians by piling ever-heavier rocks on their chests.
I wholeheartedly agree, not simply because I like the idea of my future child, Professor Ignatius Fahey, playing video games all day long. I was the sort of child who slept through class, because it never was as engaging as the latest video game, book, or movie. A child's attention needs to be grabbed and held, not gently lulled to sleep. Or, as Gough puts it:
School sucks because it's boring, not because it's too challenging. Don't make learning easier. Make it more difficult: set a clock running. And shoot at kids with lasers. We used to learn because a tiger would kill and eat us if we didn't. Abolish schools, and bring back tigers.
If I ruled the world [Prospect Magazine]